Where Saskatchewan Mining and Minerals Began

Men of the Chaplin plant in 1948. Photo courtesy of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society.

Prior to 1948, Chaplin Lake was simply a landscape feature for a small farming community. Then a sodium sulphate operation called Saskatchewan Minerals (now Saskatchewan Mining and Minerals) opened its doors, and the village, the lake and the plant began a long and prosperous relationship.

“I remember the plant going up around 1946, ’47. I was just a young kid then.” Jim Bauck is now 76, but his memory of that time period is crystal clear. “The town was mostly farmers then, and there were storekeepers and hotel-keepers, a blacksmith and a dray service, a midwife, station agents from the CPR.” Bauck has lived in Chaplin and the surrounding area all his life. He worked at the Saskatchewan Mining and Minerals plant for 31 years, first as a welder and later as an engineering technician. “Back at the start, farmers worked at the plant during the off-season for extra cash. My father worked at Saskatchewan Minerals in the winter.”

Left: Sodium sulphate stockpile and pumphouse, 1948. Photo courtesy of the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society. Right: Account Manager Ruby Cozart holds up the old photo in the same location, 2013. Photo by Jared Sych.

In 1951, Regina’s Leader-Post ran a story by George Murray on the new Chaplin plant, declaring it an economic boon for the region. “Alkali, the stuff which prairie pioneers cursed for years, today is proving to be the salvation of the Chaplin community. The 18-mile-long-Lake Chaplin is the source of one of the richest and purest sodium sulphate deposits in the world and the product is providing a livelihood for many residents of the community who formerly were totally dependent on their grain crops or cattle sales for their livelihood.”

During construction, many of the plant buildings were moved from Mossbank, Saskatchewan, where they’d been part of an air force base during World War II. According to Bauck, “They picked up the shop, the lab and the machine shop and moved them to Chaplin piece by piece. There was a building we called the H-Hut, built for workers to stay in. Over the years many people stayed there, both Saskatchewan Minerals workers and other people. These days it’s a brine shrimp factory.”

The Leader-Post story describes changes in Chaplin resulting from the plant’s opening: The community was electrified to supply power to the plant, the Highway 1 leading to the village was black-topped and a much-anticipated curling rink was built. “In addition, stores and garages have expanded, a modern theatre has been added, and last year, a fourth room was added to the school.”

Bauck says, “Saskatchewan Minerals built 10 new houses in Chaplin for the plant manager, engineer and some of the workers. We used to call them the ‘new’ houses. They’re all still there.”

Saskatchewan Mining and Minerals 2013

Brent Avery standing at the Chaplin Saskatchewan Mining and Minerals plant in 2013. Photo by Jared Sych.
A new name for Saskatchewan Minerals

We recently made the decision to change our name from Saskatchewan Minerals Inc. to Saskatchewan Mining and Minerals Inc. Why? We’ve evolved during our 65 years in business, and the name change reflects that. It also reflects the direction we’re going, slowly becoming stronger and more efficient, expanding our offerings to customers without compromising the reliability we’ve built our business on. As we honour our origins in Chaplin and the long history of our sodium sulphate operation, we’re looking far into the future too.

Next month: How’s the harvest? Senior Quality and Process Engineer Glenn Jackle assesses current conditions and makes predictions for the 2014 harvest season.