Ingrained Legacy: Saskatchewan Pioneer Woodworkers 1870-1930


Woodworkers in the early days of settlement in Saskatchewan were scattered all over the province from remote backwoods to bustling communities along the rail lines. Some operated successful commercial businesses in towns and on their farms, while others honed their skills in obscure seclusion. Some were well trained and accomplished, while others had never before held an axe. Not only did they demonstrate a great deal of ingenuity and perseverance, but they also showed a deep passion and a sense of creative  achievement.

Ingrained Legacy: Saskatchewan Pioneer Woodworkers 1870-1930 surveys the lives and creations of over eighty dedicated pioneer woodworkers who made their home in Saskatchewan, all of whom carved their creations by hand with locally available materials. Synopses of their lives, backgrounds, and talents are accompanied by over 400 black-and-white photographs and insights into the difficulty of survival in pioneer times. A “must-read” for anyone interested in the history of woodworking or seeking inspiration from those who considered it their passion when breaking ground in a new land.

Read an excerpt

Ingrained Legacy: Saskatchewan Pioneer Woodworkers 1870-1930.

Spiral Communications Inc., 2003.

ISBN-10:0-9732879-0, Adult Non-Fiction, p. 168


JOHN DANCHILLA (1903-1979) – Romanian – furniture – fretwork – Canora

John Danchilla – corner shelf



Danchilla furniture

MALCOLM MCDONALD (1868-1952) – a stone mason, painter, and carver, furniture builder – Southey

Malcolm McDonald – Doll heads for his children


Malcolm McDonald – furniture – upholstered



Melvin Zeigler fashioned chairs from buffalo horns -Maple Creek




SALO, OSCAR (1873-1966) – Scandinavian – New Finland (near Tantallon and Whitewood) – trinket boxes, wall boxes, etc. – interlocking pieces, tables


MCGUIRL, JOHN (1850-1913)  – Scottish – Moosomin area – small furniture factory, ornate desks, tables, chairs, etc. for Government House, Legislative Building, country churches and masonic lodges.

John McGuirl holds the honour of being one of the earliest woodworkers to operate a successful, full-fledged commercial venture on the prairies.Almost immediately after he arrived in Moosomin, McGuirl “opened a small carpentry shop, and built many of the first houses in the neighbourhood, the majority of the earlier arrivals then living in tents.

John McGuirl – Masonic Lodge chair & detail

John McGuirl – church interior






ONESIME  *DORVAL (1843-1932)– Batoche/Duck Lake – table, wooden tulips, wooden sidewalks (only woman found at the time)

Onésime Dorval’s pursuits as a prairie woodworker were only incidental to the entirety of her extraordinary life, yet this was one of the many talents at which she excelled. In spite of being delicate physically in her youth, Dorval’s feisty spirit compelled her to venture forth in 1877 to not only become the first qualified teacher in the great Canadian North-West, but a pioneer lay missionary nun, an artist, and a woodworker in her own right.

Onésime Dorval – bellows and birch bark flowers


HAROLD JOHN COOMBS,(1885-1964)- Maymont, Sask. – carved figurines and lawn ornaments, carved nick-knacks from roots and figures from bits of wood. (Artifacts in Saskatoon.) English

Men like Harold Coombs, though, managed to survive by touching a deeper source of creativity, that allowed their minds the freedom to explore, and their hands to produce original works.

Harold Coombs – carved monkeys hung in trees in his yard & decoration for his home


DOUKHOBORS Several colonies of Doukhobors immigrated to Saskatchewan beginning in about 1899. Many of them later moved to the Castlegar and Grand Forks areas of B.C.  Although they worked communally, many individuals were also noted. It was part of the doctrine, according to the Doukhobors that “all men should work in wood.” They were continually apprenticing the next generation of men, passing down their knowledge. They decorated their furniture with tulips, a traditional design.

Doukhobor bed and trunk


OLE LINUS PEARSON (1868-1961) – Scandinavian – Percival (near Whitewood) – carver and furniture builder (chests & desks)

Without a doubt, Olaf Linus Pearson was the most ingenious and prolific woodworker to emerge in Saskatchewan during the early 1900s. An artist whose medium happened to be wood, his productive period spanned more than seventy years. During that time Pearson created hundreds of distinctive artifacts and pieces of furniture. Even his tools were crafted with incredible detail and precision.


Olaf Linus Pearson – desk, boxes, tools, dog house