Geography, Plants and Animals

Geography, Plants & Animals of Southeast Saskatchewan

Almost the entire Province of Saskatchewan (with the exception of parts of the Cypress Hills and some of the hills near Rockglen in southern Saskatchewan) were glaciated during the last Ice Age, when enormous glaciers moved southward, scouring and eroding the land.  On retreating, the glaciers left thick coverings of glacial debris in many areas, especially in the south.

The Great Plains section rises fairly abruptly from the central lowlands along the Missouri Coteau, a hilly belt extending northwestward from North Dakota. The highest point in the province, 4,816 feet (1,468 m), is in the Cypress Hills, near the Alberta border in the extreme south west of Saskatchewan.

The central lowlands section of present day Saskatchewan consists of fertile prairies in the central and southeastern parts of the province. Here are found most of the population of people and the richest farmland. Like the prairies of the north-central and midwestern United States, it is an area of level-to-rolling terrain crossed by broad river valleys. Except for a few isolated ranges of hills, the surface elevations range from 1,000 to 2,000 feet (300 to 600m) above sea level.

There are many small lakes, rivers and streams in south east Saskatchewan. Fishing is common in many of the natural lakes throughout the area. The primary waterway, the Souris River, flows past the City of Weyburn and the City of Estevan, south into North Dakota before turning north to join the Assiniboine River near Treesbank, Manitoba. Water from the Souris ultimately drains into the Arctic Ocean. In the 1890s, this river was used to barge coal from Roche Percee to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Some years there is very little water flow in the Souris River after spring runoff but in other years, flooding has been a problem. In the 1990s, the Rafferty and Alameda Dam project was undertaken through a joint agreement between the Province of Saskatchewan and the United States of America (USA) to protect Minot and other communities in North Dakota from flooding. An older dam, the Boundary Dam was constructed in 1957 along Long Creek (a tributary of the Souris River) to provide cooling water for the Boundary Dam Power Plant. Nowadays, a channel links Boundary Dam and Rafferty Dam, allowing water flow between the two reservoirs to provide water to the newer Shand Power Plant. The reservoirs also provide opportunity for recreation – swimming, boating and fishing. Additionally, water from the Souris River is used for irrigation.

Trees, such as poplar, aspen, Manitoba maple, bur oak and birch are common toward the southern part of the province as the forest gives way to a zone of scattered wooded areas, small lakes and sloughs. Southeastern Saskatchewan was mainly covered by vast expanses of grassland prior to pioneer settlement in the early 1900’s. Natural prairie grasses still grow in wildlife preserves, designated areas for ‘community pastures’ and Moose Mountain Provincial Park. Coulees and natural wooded areas are abundant with a variety of willow, chokecherry and Saskatoon berry bushes as well as potentilla and sage. Cattails flourish in marsh areas. Wild flowers are abound in or near natural wooded areas, parklands and along roadways. Some common wildflowers to south east Saskatchewan include the prairie lily, blue bells, harebell, golden aster, golden bean, fleabane, buttercup, coneflower, crocus, yellow ladyslippers, prairie rose and golden rod – just to name a few. Many plants native of south east Saskatchewan are edible and can be used for medicinal purposes.

This unique landscape of southeastern Saskatchewan offers a home to a wide variety of birds who are both migratory and permanent residents. Birds common to the region include hawks, owls, robins, several species of sparrows, meadowlark, pelicans, crows, starlings, gulls, ducks, partridge, swallows, Canada geese, grouse, and pheasant.

The types of wild animals that inhabit southeastern Saskatchewan have changed somewhat since most of the area was converted from grassland into agriculture land. Animals common to this part of the province now include: white tail and mule deer, moose, antelope, coyote, red fox, badger, raccoon, skunks, rabbits and, of course, the prairie gopher which is a pest to farmers. Lynx and cougar have also been sighted.

South east Saskatchewan is rich in natural resources. Since the pioneer days, coal was mined in the Bienfait and Estevan areas and used as a source of heat. Today lignite, or brown coal, is strip mined in large amounts and used primarily for generating electric power. In the early 1950’s drilling and extraction of oil for global markets became a major industry in southeastern Saskatchewan. Gravel, used for road construction, is found in abundance in some parts of the region.

There are a host of historic attractions in south east Saskatchewan, including an 1860s Hudson’s Bay Company Post, Roche Percee rock formation in the Souris Valley, the province’s first Hungarian settlement, Cannington Manor, and remnants of the fur trade to name but a few. The south east is host to several of Saskatchewan’s largest First Nations’ pow-wows – a venue for the region’s First Nations people to display their culture and heritage.