Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Prairies, psychedelics and place: The dynamics of region in psychiatric research

Prairies, psychedelics and place: The dynamics of region in psychiatric research

Erika Dycka, E-mail The Corresponding Author

aDepartment of History, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7N 5A5

Received 20 January 2009;

accepted 2 February 2009.

Available online 20 February 2009.


In 1957, the word ‘psychedelic’ entered the English lexicon from a rather unexpected location: an asylum superintendent working on the Canadian prairies in one of the provincial mental hospitals in Saskatchewan. During the 1950s Saskatchewan-based researchers engaged in political and psychiatric reforms that brought international attention to their work in a relatively isolated geographic location. This article considers the influence of location on the development of a medical theory that challenged prevailing ideas about the causation and treatment of mental illness and addiction. Drawing on perspectives from historians, political scientists, sociologists and geographers, this case study explores the historical meanings of region and place and combines older historiographical traditions, which define region in political terms, with concepts borrowed from other disciplines, which offer a more nuanced view of cultural geography, to examine the development of psychedelic research in the post-World War II period.

Keywords: History of psychiatry; Saskatchewan; LSD; Socialised medicine

Article Outline
Region and the Canadian West
Place and psychiatry
Case study
Reforming the province
Psychedelic psychiatry

In 1957, the small prairie city of Weyburn, Saskatchewan boasted that it had attracted international attention for being home to cutting-edge psychiatric theories and treatments. The local newspaper proudly reported that its own mental hospital superintendent, Humphry Osmond, was “fast gaining in national prominence in psychiatric work,” under the headline that claimed “world hears progress of mental health treatment carried out at Weyburn.” (Weyburn Review, 1957). Although Osmond had been born and trained in England, he moved to Saskatchewan in 1951 and soon put Weyburn on the international map for his daring experimentation in psychiatry. Most notably his studies with the hallucinogenic drug, LSD, led him to coin the term psychedelic; a word that would later be wrested away from psychiatric medicine, much to Osmond's chagrin. While his self-experimentation with this drug encouraged him to reconsider spatial conceptualizations within the asylum, his capacity to conduct internationally significant research from a relatively isolated and rural location also draws historical attention to the geo-political influences on medical experimentation. This article explores how elements of local pride, provincial political commitments and psychedelic drugs together produced a scientific approach to the treatment of mental illness with a distinctly regional character. The specific historical geography of Canada, which has lent particular economic, political and cultural inflections to the constructs of region, place and territory, has entered into a complex relationship with the conceptual frameworks of academics seeking to make sense of the substantive processes in all manner of fields, the medical-psychiatric included.

In the 1950s medical researchers in this Canadian prairie province experimented with psychedelic drugs in an effort to institutionalize a new therapeutic paradigm for conceptualizing and treating disorders such as schizophrenia and alcoholism. While they were not alone in their desire to use “mind-manifesting” chemicals to stimulate research in psychiatry at this time, their efforts gained them international notoriety and their programs became a source of local pride. The reception and support of their studies at home shielded them from professional marginalisation and allowed their work to develop differently from that of their contemporaries who often faced stern opposition from colleagues, states and communities (Mills, 2007). The relative success of the Saskatchewan researchers, in terms of sustaining their research efforts, allowed them to contribute to mainstream debates in psychiatry well into the 1960s. Consequently, they did not feel that their work was radical, and did not adopt a position outside of psychiatry in an attempt to publicise their views. Their experiences and the history of LSD experimentation in Saskatchewan draw particular attention to the importance of the location of medical investigations and emphasises how non-medical, indeed environmental and cultural, factors influenced the development of psychedelic psychiatry.

Region and the Canadian West

The Canadian West has been repeatedly reconceptualized according to competing political and cultural justifications.1 Wild, exotic and even commercial, were words used to describe the West in early 18th century fur-trader accounts that recalled encounters with Natives along river routes and at trading posts (Podruchny, 2006; Gillespie, 2007). Empty, vast and fertile referred to a late 19th century Canadian west surveyed by botanists inquiring into its settlement and cultivation capabilities (Owram, 1980; Friesen, 1987). Competing conceptions of, and the rapid politicization of, western Canadian spaces contributed to the demarcation of territories into different kinds of geo-political places, such as creation of the Reserve system for Native Canadians (Harris, 2002). The specific historical geography of Canada, which has lent particular economic, political and cultural inflections to the constructs of region, place and territory, has entered into a complex relationship with the conceptual frameworks of academics seeking to make sense of the substantive processes in all manner of fields, the medical-psychiatric included.

In 1905, the Canadian federal government established two new provinces in the West, Alberta and Saskatchewan, marking a new set of boundaries that carved up the region along political lines and established a formal arrangement between the newly created provincial entities and the nation state. Region then in the 20th century context gradually shifted away from territorial spaces characterized by social groupings, soil types and vegetation and instead increasingly referred to provincial identities, which carried political connotations. The residents of the new provinces gradually organized to register their displeasure with what they perceived to be the heavy hand of the federal government. New political parties formed in these regions to challenge the traditional parties of the East and to articulate a different set of economic and social objectives. Historians and political scientists have examined the kinds of political expressions found in the United Farmers of Alberta (Rennie, 2000), the Social Credit Party (Finkel, 1989), the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (Johnson, 2004; Lipset, 1968), while others have looked more broadly at the distinct political, economic and cultural character of the region (Laycock, 1990) in defining the West. While environmental, economic and sovereign considerations continue to stimulate discussions among historians, interrogation beyond political entities helps to locate communities, ideas and experiences in more nuanced ways.

Geographical and cultural landscapes have received scholarly attention as worthy subjects of study in terms of defining regions, spaces, places and communities and attempting to understand the relationship between places and experiences (Friesen, 2001; Waiser, 2003; Wardhaugh, 2001; Barman, 1991). As Canadian historian Gerald Friesen has argued, the very idea of region in Canada continues to evolve and exhibits tensions between region and nation, while the growing importance of geography, culture and memory also contributes to the social meanings ascribed to spatial and temporal relationships (Friesen, 2001 G. Friesen, The Evolving Meanings of Region in Canada, Canadian Historical Review 82 (2001), pp. 530–545.Friesen, 2001). Region, Friesen contends, historically connoted a politically defined relationship within a federal framework, particularly on the Canadian landscape, but this somewhat static definition does not adequately convey the sensations that the more ambiguous term, place, offers. The vocabulary of place, it seems, helps to depoliticize the analysis and remove the concerns of federalism from the discussion. Nonetheless, Friesen and others have questioned the continued utility of region as an analytical tool for exploring political tensions, as regions are increasingly replaced by provincial identities on the political landscape. In addition to this narrowing process, region then continues to convey a political expression, while ignoring the social experiences that may be better understood through analyses of gender, class and ethnicity; thus, dismissing region as part of an older historiographical tradition of political history or parochial investigations (Wardhaugh, 2001).

Within the history of health, medicine and science, scholars have provided useful theoretical frameworks for examining the ways in which place, freed from some of its political connotations, influences the process of discovery, the evolution of particular therapies, or the delivery of health services (Livingstone, 2003). By combining some of the political characteristics associated with region along with an appreciation for the ways in which place is articulated by inhabitants of a particular location, such scholars have attempted to reconcile regional analyses with cultural histories. For example, Davies (2000) applied a regional analysis to a study of the medical profession in 19th century British Columbia, arguing that region is critical for explaining the development of medical services. Davies moves away from the use of region as a term denoting a community's relationship to nation and instead promotes a more nuanced application of the term as it relates to the ways in which medical services are defined by their communities. Her conscientious use of the term “region” demonstrates an attempt to combine geographical and cultural experiences, while continuing to downplay the specific political connotations of the term.

Place and psychiatry

Within the history of psychiatry, scholars have shown the importance of geography as it pertains to institutional environments and the subsequent treatment regimes engendered by locations, often rural or pastoral ones (Philo, 2004; Rothman, 1971). The various institutional histories of asylum-based psychiatry emphasise the importance of space both within and beyond the walls of treatment facilities, and many even consider the relationship between the environment and the cause or aggravation of mental disease (Goffman, 1961). Region in these kinds of analyses is more often a feature of the professional distance between psychiatry and medicine, or that of patients in an asylum in a relatively isolated setting and their dislocation from mainstream (often urbanized) society. Moving away from institutional accounts and focusing on 20th century psychiatry amid dramatic debates over new forms of treatments (psychopharmacological in particular) along with new kinds of accommodations (care in the community/deinstitutionalization), spatial considerations take on new meaning.

At mid-century, as psychiatric medicine assumed different and competing orientations, place and affiliation also influenced the reception of new ideas within the profession. Somatic therapists, psychoanalysts, behaviouralists, neurologists and psychopharmacologists jockeyed for scientific validity in a field searching for new directions (Braslow, 1997; Healy, 2002; Pressman, 1998; Campbell, 2007; Shorter, 1997). The ability to institutionalize methods, theories, or treatments, and thus gain some degree of professional credibility, depended not only on the scientific integrity of an idea, but also on access to resources, funding, professional cooperation and local support. In short, the cultural geographies of psychiatric research units played an important role in affecting the reception of new ideas.

In a particularly instructive example of this interplay between research and place, sociologist Nick Crossley examined two contemporaneous sets of psychiatric experiments from the 1950s and shows how their intellectual, political and temporal environments shaped the construction and reception of the research. Crossley, argues that R.D. Laing's experimentation with LSD in Glasgow gained him unfavourable notoriety within the local medical community. The lack of collegial and intellectual support seemed to harden Laing's resolve that LSD offered critical insights into the experiences of psychotic patients, but the unreceptive research environment in which he operated encouraged Laing to position himself against the medical establishment, which ultimately characterized Laing as radical, even an anti-psychiatrist. Crossley argues that Laing had to conscientiously struggle to cultivate an intellectually supportive environment where he could carry out his studies; according to Crossley, Laing had to build a “working utopia,” a place where “imaginative projections achieve some degree of concrete realization (Crossley, 1999).” Crossley builds upon Thomas More's idea of utopias as “places ‘which have no place,’ or perhaps more positively, as places which exist in the imagination.” As a result of Laing's determination to resist established views on psychiatry and more orthodox approaches to drug experimentation, he became an outsider to mainstream psychiatry. His attempts to generate intellectual space for exploring new ideas radicalized him, his work, and his reputation as an individual who worked against contemporary trends. Crossley concisely demonstrates, as several historians of science have already shown, that culture and science have an intimate relationship that is often mediated by place (Livingstone, 2003).

Case study

In stark contrast with Laing's experience, researchers such as Abram Hoffer who were engaged in similar kinds of explorations, including conducting LSD experiments as a vehicle for understanding patients’ experiences, were never characterized as anti-psychiatrists, nor were they seen contemporaneously as particularly radical. They did not have to create a “working utopia” in order to bring their experimental ideas to fruition in the local medical community. Place, in this context, arose primarily as an ideological and psychological construct, where ties to region, geography and environment become secondary to the intellectual space that captured the imaginations of medical researchers drawn within the provincial boundaries. During the 1950s, Saskatchewan-based LSD researchers became part of the medical establishment at a time when the province experienced dramatic shifts in its political and cultural identity. Individuals who moved to Saskatchewan to participate in the medical experiments commented on the political and intellectual attraction of the place. In this case, individuals involved in LSD research acknowledged the importance of place in terms of the supportive research environment, the optimistic intellectual atmosphere, and the receptive medical and lay community. This conceptualization of place, as an intellectual space or a psychological construct, is infused with older historiographical notions of region and political expressions of identity tied to state borders and partisan affiliations.

Reforming the province

In 1944, Saskatchewan elected a new government. The ruling party, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) led by Tommy Douglas, campaigned as an activist government, committed to radical experimentation in public policy as well as in domains of science, medicine, agriculture and technology. The party remained in power for five consecutive terms until 1964. Throughout its 20 year mandate, the CCF government expressed a commitment to nurturing innovation. In particular, this government became known throughout Canada as the first provincial jurisdiction to enact a programme of publicly funded health care, a system that the federal government eventually adopted in 1966 (Mombourquette, 1991; Shillington, 1972; Tollefson, 1964; Ostry, 1995; Badgley and Wolfe, 1967; Taylor, 1978; Naylor, 1986). Although it was not the only region that developed a new political party at this time (Finkel, 1989; Morton, 1967), the popularity of the CCF demonstrated the willingness with which Saskatchewan residents welcomed change in the post-war period. The shift in political outlook also set the province apart as a region identified by political borders instead of a region characterized by prairie geography or a staples economy.

The CCF government directly contributed to this shift in identity by embarking on a series of policy reforms that it hoped would also create social changes for residents in the province. One of the major planks of their reform platform was to establish a publicly funded system of health care. In addition to the implications of the policy changes, the lead up to its implementation attracted medical researchers. Enticed by research grants, professional autonomy and an opportunity to participate in the formation of North America's first program of socialised medicine, the province became home, if even temporarily, to a number of medical investigators. The erosion of the region's professional class during the depression had created a professional vacuum. Local residents readily embraced recommendations for new and replenished services in communities that had struggled to retain professionals during the depression. The CCF government recruited doctors and medical researchers to fill senior positions in the rapid expansion of a provincial civil service, as part of its mandate to build a publicly funded health care system. This combination of regional memory and provincial-government initiative meant that Saskatchewan became a place with an allure for medical professionals interested in assuming authoritative positions and who were curious about the ideological implications of socialised medicine.

The optimism and political stability generated by nearly 20 years of CCF governance made Saskatchewan an attractive destination for individuals interested in participating in a culture of experimentation at various levels. One observer remarked: “It was an age of bold experiments. …The pioneering spirit went beyond art and Medicare, though, it dared to explore the brain, the psyche and dimensions that passeth all understanding. In the late 1950s, Saskatchewan was home to the largest LSD experiments in the world (Labounty, 2001).” In the 1940s the province busied itself establishing the groundwork for reforms that would eventually make Saskatchewan a world leader in psychiatric experimentation.

Part of the post-WWII vision for psychiatric services in Saskatchewan involved recruiting psychiatrists to the region and facilitating the development of an active research program. Government officials and psychiatrists alike felt the criteria for reaching this objective in Saskatchewan's post-war political climate had to focus on scientific research initiatives. The shortage of professionals in combination with social stigmatisation in psychiatric services meant that mental health care often languished as a medical speciality and remained a low priority for public spending. Premier Douglas expressed a desire to focus on mental health reforms in a manner that would stimulate interest in the field, in part by investing in psychiatric research and providing researchers and administrators in mental health with significant levels of professional autonomy.

By the mid-1950s Saskatchewan housed over 4000 patients in its two provincial mental hospitals; one in Weyburn and the other in North Battleford, and both hospitals lay on the outskirts of these urban communities comprised of fewer than 10,000 residents each (see Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). These provincial institutions, similar to other asylums across North America, remained relatively self-sufficient with their own staff quarters, laundry and power facilities, farms and even competitive sports teams (made up mostly of staff members). Staff, including doctors and their families, and patients could conceivably live within these institutional communities with very little interaction from members of the nearby towns. The towns themselves were approximately 120 km from the larger urban centres of Saskatoon and Regina, with the first housing the only university and the latter being home to the provincial legislature, and both cities offered the nearest commercial airports. Although the province was proud of its post-war modernization, urban cultural amenities and anonymity were in short supply and became the source of complaints, especially from some of the doctors’ wives who had arrived in the province from large urban centres in the UK and the US.

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Fig. 1. Colour image of Weyburn Mental Hospital (courtesy of Penny Dyck).

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Fig. 2. Photograph courtesy of the Soo Line Museum, Weyburn.

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The environmental conditions on the prairies also affected the rhythms of institutional life; with long stretches of harsh winter conditions, patients, staff and doctors spent more time inside than residents of a more temperate climate might be inclined to do. For research-oriented individuals, such as Osmond, this suited his desire to spend time writing letters to colleagues, publishing articles, and engaging in long conversations with non-psychiatrists working at the institution. His prolonged interactions with others, including patients, are reflected in his articles and in his strong desire, after arriving in Saskatoon, to work closely with allied professionals, including architects, psychiatric nurses, graduate students, psychologists and others (many of whom he eventually co-published with). For others, however, relative confinement and isolation produced feelings of anxiety, a desire to leave the region, and a frustration with the local conditions.

Psychedelic psychiatry

Dr. Humphry Osmond arrived in Saskatchewan, after working in London at Guy's Hospital on a series of mescaline experiments. Within a year after arriving on the prairies Osmond met Abram Hoffer, an MD with a PhD in agricultural chemistry. Hoffer had been hired by the Saskatchewan Department of Public Health that year to establish a research program in psychiatry for the province (Saskatchewan Archives Board, Hoffer Papers). Hoffer and Osmond soon joined forces and began collaborating on their mutual research interests in biochemical experimentation that matched their initial underlying belief that mental illnesses resulted, in part, from some combination of biochemical dysfunctions.

Within a few weeks of arriving in Saskatchewan, Osmond prepared to set up a mescaline study. He volunteered to take the first mescaline samples himself, at home. His reaction to the drug confirmed his belief that he might learn a lot about patients’ experiences with psychoses. He quickly fixed upon this idea that schizophrenia was fundamentally defined by a distortion in perception, an idea he borrows from Carl Jung. If the senses are thus impaired, Osmond reasoned that an individual with a perceptual impairment was more likely to respond to social and environmental cues in ways that seem irrational, illogical, or even “sick.” This theory became the other guiding principle in his work on schizophrenia.

In addition to exploring the distortions of perception, either pathological or stimulated by hallucinogenic drugs (a state he called a “model psychosis”), Osmond also began considering the therapeutic applications of drugs such as mescaline and LSD. Working closely with Hoffer and others, they began testing the therapeutic possibilities associated with the stimulation of a temporary psychosis ([Dyck, 2006] and [Dyck, 2008]).

The most publicised and allegedly successful application of these studies existed in the field of alcoholism. Although investigators did not originally anticipate its use as a therapeutic agent, trials with “normals” revealed LSD's capacity to produce feelings of self-reflection, suggesting that it had some therapeutic properties. These findings led researchers to apply their psycho-biochemical theory of mental illness directly to alcoholism, which was itself being recast by the medical profession as a disease entity. Psychedelic psychiatrists treated alcoholics using LSD and claimed unprecedented rates of success; routinely claiming over 50 percent recoveries, exceeding the rates of recoveries available from other treatments at the time (Chwelos et al., 1959).

As the investigations moved from primarily experimental to a therapeutic application, researchers relied extensively on non-medical participants and exposed the research to a wider audience. In addition to publishing reports in medical journals, the therapeutic trials also relied on recruiting individuals from the community to volunteer for the experiments. Furthermore, a 2-year follow-up period in the alcohol trials forced researchers to identify community contacts, including families, friends, employers, community and religious organizations, in an effort to stay in touch with released patients. This widening of community investment in the experiments served the Saskatchewan researchers well, as it helped to conscript support for the individuals undergoing treatment but it also lent support to the experiments themselves. Reports in local newspapers indicated that the local communities in Saskatchewan expressed pride in the kind of research being conducted in their province. In part this pride was related to the idea that these studies attracted international attention, but also because the research-intensive atmosphere helped to attract medical professionals to communities that had struggled to retain doctors in the past.

While Saskatchewan offered individuals such as Hoffer and Osmond a supportive environment to conduct experimental investigations, psychiatric research in other jurisdictions also began developing new psychiatric theories. The ideological context shaped the research programme in Saskatchewan as well as its local reception, but their medical theories were not altogether inconsistent with broader developments in the field of mental health. The increasing use of drugs in psychiatry during this period had a significant influence on mental health treatments in the second half of the 20th century, and this trend relied, to a large extent, on changes in the theory and practice of psychiatry (Healy, 2002; Shorter, 1997; Montcrieff, 1999; Valenstein, 1998).

Psychiatric practice at mid-century has often been described as existing at a crossroads; institutionally based practitioners often relied on somatic or bodily interventions that seemed outdated or problematic; community-based psychoanalysts used approaches that did not seem to work, particularly with severe mental illnesses, and lacked a biological foundation. More recent studies have shown that psychiatry at mid-century cannot simply be characterised by these two poles, but that practitioners often borrowed liberally from multiple traditions in an effort to tailor treatments to the institutional or individual needs they encountered. Some psychoanalysts, for example, augmented their sessions with pharmaco-therapies, while somatic therapists and psychopharmacologists also experimented with psychotherapy that relied on techniques developed by psychoanalysts.

LSD research in Saskatchewan fit into these broader developments in psychiatry and pharmacology. Ideas arising out of the LSD trials suggested that mental illness had biochemical and psychological precedents, requiring medical interventions that recognised both aspects of the disorder. LSD treatments offered individuals a conscious experience that initially seemed to support practices from a variety of theoretical traditions. Hoffer and Osmond developed a psychedelic therapy that used chemicals to trigger new perceptions of self. The psychedelic experience affected individuals differently; some approached it philosophically, others insisted that the experience invoked changes in spirituality, and still others felt it modified their epistemological worldview. Regardless of the interpretation of treatments’ subjective meaning, individuals regularly believed that the LSD experience fundamentally modified their being. In this way, LSD treatments differed from most other psychopharmacological therapies devised to treat a particular disorder. In short, during the 1950s, psychedelic psychiatry promised a consciousness-raising, identity-changing therapy within a medically sanctioned and scientifically rigorous environment. Moreover, psychedelic psychiatry offered an approach to understanding, accommodating and ultimately treating mental illnesses (and addictions) in a manner that matched the political goals of the region.

Unlike some of the other LSD investigators in the 1950s and early 1960s however, the Saskatchewan-based researchers did not have to fight an existing medical establishment to develop a supportive intellectual research environment. Instead, they played a role in the contemporaneous political and cultural reforms that contributed to the transformation of the province. Before leaving his post at Weyburn, in July 1961 (Regina Leader Post, 1961; Saskatchewan Archives Board, Hoffer Papers), Osmond wrote a letter to Tommy Douglas describing his faith in the psychiatric research being done in the province. In this letter, he affirmed that:

The research is making really encouraging progress. [Ten years ago] it seemed wholly improbable that our idea would last more than a year or so. It is now becoming the centre of more and more attention and gradually confirmation is seeping in…. I could not have done it alone …. I’m not sure what the social implications will be of a measurable, visible, biochemical schizophrenia but it is, I think, (and one can always be a bit premature) very close round the corner (Saskatchewan Archives Board, Douglas Papers).

In addition to a justification for his decade-long investigations, this letter also acknowledged Osmond's appreciation for the political support he received in Saskatchewan.

Like Osmond, by the early 1960s several of the medical investigators central to psychedelic research left Saskatchewan, signifying the slow demise of LSD experimentation in that province. This professional exodus weakened the existing medical research network and the internal support for LSD therapies. By the time LSD became known as a street drug in the 1960s, and later an illegal substance, in the latter half of the decade, many of the psychedelic psychiatrists had dispersed to various destinations throughout North America. In the 1950s the region provided something of an ideological sanctuary for political and medical experimentation with like-minded colleagues. By the mid-1960s many of the original medical researchers remained in contact through correspondence, but few continued to work out of the same institutions. The scattering of these individuals left them more vulnerable to attacks, from within the profession as well as from outside the medical community.

By the early 1960s, the political climate in Saskatchewan also began changing in ways that weakened enthusiasm for supporting a culture of experimentation. On 7 November 1961, Tommy Douglas resigned as premier of Saskatchewan to lead the newly formed national political organization, the New Democratic Party. His replacement as CCF leader and premier in Saskatchewan, Woodrow S. Lloyd, continued promoting health care reforms but the transition in leadership accompanied a number of personnel changes throughout the civil service and several key individuals left the province (Badgley and Wolfe, 1967; Johnson, 2004). After more than a decade of pursuing a reform agenda, the momentum behind the political experimentation had declined. The radical political agenda of the 1950s Saskatchewan government, however, had shielded psychiatrists in that region from larger debates in psychiatry by providing the political and institutional space necessary for establishing a supportive network of colleagues and studies. The embryonic institutionalization of psychedelic psychiatry achieved international recognition for its contributions to a field in search of coherent methodological strategies as a direct result of the local support that allowed it to develop.


Post-World War II experimentation with psychedelic drugs conducted in Saskatchewan may seem radical in hindsight, but considered within the contemporary regional context, these studies appear congruent with broader reforms and attempts to institutionalize psychiatric research in that province. Environmental and social factors that might have seemed unfavourable to some individuals, created fertile conditions for developing a research agenda that required inter-professional cooperation and the time and space to gestate with minimal interference. Saskatchewan provided that kind of research sanctuary. The political support for reforms in health care generated an international appeal to researchers and professionals interested in participating in the North American socialist experiment. It also meant that many of these individuals were hired as part of the provincial civil service, tying researchers to the government and institution-building programs in a direct way. The dual investment of researchers in the political and the scientific experiments unfolding in 1950s Saskatchewan served in part to silence critics within the region. Research that might otherwise be considered unorthodox continued with support from the provincial government, local endorsements from residents eager to garner international attention for progressive programs, and from the researchers themselves who felt free to explore the frontiers of the mind in this environment.


I am grateful to Chris Philo and John Pickstone for inviting me to participate in this collection. An earlier version of this article was published in the Journal of Canadian Studies (2007), and I thank guest editor Peter Twohig for granting me permission to republish sections of it here. Lastly, I thank the Western Canadian Reading Group at the University of Alberta for continually stimulating me to think about how to conceptualize the meaning of ‘place’ in historical scholarship.


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1 The East has also received such attention, for examples see: Margaret Conrad, “Mistaken Identities? Newfoundland and Labrador in the Atlantic Region,” Newfoundland Studies 2002 18(2), pp. 159–174; Conrad, “My Canada Includes the Atlantic Provinces,” Histoire Sociale 2001 34(68), pp. 392–402; Challenging the Regional Stereotype: Essays on the 20th Century Maritimes (ed.), Ernest Forbes (Fredricton: Acadiensis Press, 1989).

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