Canadian Genealogy · Genealogy How Tos

A trip to the archives #3 – the SK edition

This is #3 in my Archives series. If you’d like to start at the beginning, see British Columbia here and Alberta here.

Update – 28 Mar 2019

The Saskatchewan government moved to consolidate its 4 locations into one location in Regina. The Saskatoon archives are now closed. In addition, the online database is also offline. I will update this post when the situation changes.


It look me a long time to actually visit an archive. I’m not sure why, but I found all kinds of excuses not to go: can’t find parking, don’t have time, I can find what I want online. My first archive visit ever was here in Saskatoon, and I wonder now why it took me so long to go.

For this blog and the next, I would like to thank Bonnie Dahl of the Saskatoon archives office. I have seen her presentation, Meeting A. Friend at the Archives, twice, both times in association with the Saskatoon Branch of the Saskatchewan Genealogy Society. Pretty much everything I know is thanks to her, because she was also the one who helped me on my first in person visit.

Here are my top tips for the Saskatchewan archives. In this week’s post, I’m going to talk about what to do before visiting.

Before you go – getting organized

Ask for help

The fastest, easiest way to get organized is to ask an archivist for advice.

I know, we genealogists like to research everything ourselves before bothering anyone… but really, archivists are very friendly people who are there to help. Bonnie Dahl encourages everyone – whether absolute beginner or long time genealogy sleuth – to call and ask for advice. She said the archivists have access to internal search tools that are not available online, and know their collections well.

Here’s the link.

Give plenty of lead time before a visit

It may be a surprise, but the archives do not have everything of interest on site, and the things that are on site are so extensive that it takes time to pull them off the shelves for viewing. The archivists suggest a lead time of 2-3 months before visiting, especially if travelling in from out of town.

They hate disappointing people.

Don’t be scared off by access restrictions

You may know this already, but SK has some of the tightest privacy laws in the country. Bonnie explained that SK considers health-related information to merit the tighest privacy controls, so anything that has health-related information on it, such as death records, are subject to extra special attention.

That having been said, Bonnie encouraged us to try. She said the access restricted documents require a bit more paperwork and thought, but the rich details are worth it.

Here’s the link.

Choose your archives – Saskatoon or Regina

The SK archives are located in both Saskatoon and Regina, and their archives are roughly divided geographically. Saskatoon contains records pertaining to people and places from the northern border to roughly Davidson, SK. Regina contains everything south of Davidson, SK. The archives strive to make their records as accessible as possible, so on request will ship records for free to the archives nearest to you.

Here is the link with addresses and hours. Do check this before you go, as the archives are not open to the public every day. As of this writing, the Saskatoon office is open WTF only, 10-4 pm.

What to bring

If it’s your first time in an archival reading room, it may be a surprise to know there are quite a few rules involved. Mainly, they pertain to safeguarding the documents. The full list of rules is here.

I didn’t see this mentioned, so I will let you know that you cannot bring notebooks or binders into the reading room. You may bring your cellphone, a laptop, and a flashdrive. If you are someone who really, really likes making notes on paper, you can use their supplied pencils and borrow a few sheets of paper.

If you’re a reader of my blog, you won’t be surprised that I use Evernote to capture the documents I find. Here’s a link to all my Evernote posts to date.

I’m fussy about water, so if you are too, bring a full water bottle. You can leave it in the locker. For that matter, bring a few breakfast bars or what have you. I gurantee you will get hungry at the most inconvenient time.

Plan for a second visit

Even if you are organized, the sheer volume of interesting and available materials will have your genealogical neurons buzzing with all the new lines of inquiry. I brought a list of six homestead files I wanted to see, and after reviewing the documents briefly, I had, oh, about 60 more things I wanted to pursue. Isn’t that the way? Be kind to yourself – plan for a second day.

Transit and parking – Archives at Saskatoon

The Saskatoon archives are located on the grounds of the University of Saskatchewan in the Murray building, behind the Place Riel Student Centre. This is adjacent to the bus pickup / drop off point (the loop in the map), so extremely convenient to access by bus.

The easiest access to the archives is i) enter the Place Riel Student Centre; ii) take a slight right to enter the main building; iii) walk to the very back and exit out the back; iv) look up to your left; v) go up the stairs to the Murray Building entryway. The archives are in the basement, down another flight of stairs. (There is mobility-friendly access available – call the archives for directions.)
Location of the Archives of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

If you’re still planning to drive, bring lots of money. Parking is in short supply and is relatively expensive. The slightly less expensive parking option is the Stadium Parkade. See map below. It’s a pleasant walk in spring and summer, and in my opinion, to be avoided at all costs in the winter.
How to get from the Stadium Parkade to the Murray Building

There is free street parking down Cumberland Avenue, but it is short term and you will be competing with students.

What if I can’t visit the archives?

All is not lost. Here is a link to what the archives have to say about distance research.

Next post

On my first ever visit, I went to see the homestead records. In my next post, I’ll talk more about the homestead files, and then other categories of things that may be found. If you have any questions about this post or about my experiences at the archives generally, drop me a line in the comments below.

Update – 14 Nov 2018

I had planned to virtually tour you through the archives online, but the online search tools are offline until the spring while they implement a brand new system. Rather than show you the current archive workaround, I’ll come back to this topic when the new search engine is online and working (and I’ve had a chance to play with it).



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