Two volunteers and a promissory note started it all

It is often noted that volunteers are the heartbeat of the sport, culture and recreation system in Saskatchewan, a sentiment that was never truer than in the 1970s. 

Since 1974, Sask Lotteries has been operated by Sask Sport. Sask Lotteries is a one-of-a kind, longstanding fundraiser aimed at enriching the lives of Saskatchewan communities through sport, culture and recreation activities and programming.   

This was all possible thanks to two founding volunteers from the Sask Sport Board of Directors – Joe Kanuka and Cas Pielak.  

After Sask Sport was incorporated under the Societies Act in January 1972, a need was noted to help fund amateur sport organizations in the province. Truly believing in the model, Kanuka and Pielak agreed to sign a promissory note with the Government of Saskatchewan to help start the lottery fundraising program. 

“Once we got the licence from the government, we then became the spokesman for the Saskatchewan Lotteries,” said Pielak, in an interview to celebrate Sask Sport’s 50th anniversary in 2022. “We had to put up a $100,000, which we didn’t have at the time, so Joe and I signed a note at the bank. It was a big move on our part and it was a good move because it meant that sport was in charge of the lotteries. I’m glad we signed it. It’s something in my life that was very important to me. It’s been a wonderful thing.”  

Tickets for the original ‘Sweetstakes’ draw started to be sold on Sept. 1, 1973, with a draw on Jan. 3, 1974. The tickets were $1 with a chance of winning cash prizes totalling $100,000. ‘Sweetstakes’ was a success, which allowed $197,443 to be split by sport, culture and recreation groups.  

After the success, Pielak, as president of Sask Sport, lobbied the Saskatchewan government for Sask Sport to become the marketing agent for the Western Canada Lottery Foundation in the province through Sask Lotteries. The government agreed and 50 years later this arrangement remains.  

“Not only has Sask Sport become what I thought it could, it’s become beyond what I thought it could be. It is a tremendous vehicle of volunteers that help sport, culture and recreation in this province.” 

Cas Pielak – Sask Sport Board of Directors

Pielak, Kanuka and many of the early founding volunteers work cam to fruition on July 15, 1974 when Bill No. 122 ‘An Act Respecting Lotteries in Saskatchewan’ was signed giving the proceeds of the lotteries to sport, culture and recreation.  

“Without the volunteers doing the work they did, and are still doing, Sask Sport wouldn’t have existed,” said Pielak. “Not only has Sask Sport become what I thought it could, it’s become beyond what I thought it could be. It is a tremendous vehicle of volunteers that help sport, culture and recreation in this province.” 

In the 50 years, more than $1.4 billion has been provided through lottery proceeds including supports like Sask Sport’s Member Assistant Program Grant, Sask Lotteries Community Grant Program, supports for awards and training conferences through Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association or SaskCulture’s Annual Global Funding. 

“The volunteer of today is going to have to decide where it goes to and hopefully they’ll just continue to get more volunteers and more grassroots people,” said Pielak of his vision for the future. 

In May 2023, a new five-year lottery licence agreement was signed with the Government of Saskatchewan to help continue to secure the unique funding model.  

“I’ve travelled to probably 49 countries, and everybody asked ‘how the heck did you guys do this?’ It was a unique deal, it was a Saskatchewan deal,” said Pielak. 

Individuals who continue to purchase tickets through Sask Lotteries are part of the fabric that supports numerous volunteer-based organizations in the province and have helped Sask Lotteries develop over the last five decades.

See how ticket proceeds have played a part in Sask Lotteries timeline

 July 31, 1973: A promissary note started it all

Sask Sport Volunteers, Joe Kanuka and Cas Pielak sign a promissary note with the Government of Saskatchewan to run the “Sweetstakes” draw.

September 1, 1973: The first ticket

Tickets for the ‘Sweetstakes’ begin to be sold. The ticket was $1 for a chance at prizes totalling $100,000. The proceeds would be split between sport (50%), culture (40%) and recreation (10%). This is an arrangement that remains today.

January 3, 1974: The sweet results of ‘Sweetstakes’

Sask Sport’s first ‘Sweetstakes’ draw was made. The total split between sport, culture and recreation was $197,443

May 15, 1974: Sask Lotteries began

Thanks to the profits of the ‘Sweetstakes’ draw. Sask Lotteries was formed and joined the Western Canada Lottery Foundation.

June 21, 1974: Welcome the WESTERN

The WESTERN CANADA LOTTERY FOUNDATION ticket (renamed THE WESTERN in 1975) made its debut in all western provinces. The ticket helped secure the lottery-rights for WCLC in the provinces. Prizes ranted from $100 to $250,000. Players were also given the opportunity to purchase mail order.

July 15, 1974: Bill No. 122

Bill No. 122 An Act Respecting Lotteries in Saskatchewan legislation gave proceeds of the lotteries to sport, culture and recreation under the current Minister of Culture and Youth Ed Tchorzewski. This Ministers agreement, also signed in Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, made the WCLC the managing rights to gaming-related activities in the provinces.

1976: Sask Lotteries funds

Since 1976, Sask Lotteries has supported the celebration of more than 280 deserving projects, individuals and volunteers across recreation and parks industry through the Sask Recreation Awards

1977: Kiosks rethink lottery sales

Sask Lotteries began operating kiosks to sell tickets through retail locations. Previously tickets were sold through sport, culture and recreation groups.

1980: SaskCulture joins

Saskatchewan Council of Cultural Organizations (SCCO) was formed to support and deliver funding to 30 provincial cultural organizations through Annual Global Funding from the Culture Section of Sask Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation. In 1997, the members of SCCO voted to become a new organization called SaskCulture, in order to ensure funding was accessible to the broader cultural interests in the province.

1985: The Members Assistant Program Grant

The Members Assistant Program Grant was created with a sport eligibility list for distribution of Sask Lotteries funds.

1985: The Community Grant Program

The Community Grant Program was established. The grant was established to help sport, culture and recreation groups across the province develop innovative and impactful programming and events. It gives roughly $6 million annually to more than 950 organizations in Saskatchewan.

1987: The first ever SaskFit Conference

The first SaskFit Conference, an annual professional development event for more than 300 Fitness leadres across the province. The leaders have been inspiring and helping us lead more active lifestyles over the past 37 years through Sask Lotteries funding

1989-2023: Lottery licence agreement

A three-year lottery licence agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan. It was the first multi-year agreement since the original bill was signed to direct lottery profits to sport, culture and rec and allow for a not-for-profit to be the marketing agent of lottery. This agreement has continued to this day.

1997: The impact of SaskCulture

SaskCulture was formed by the cultural community to unite the interests of the broader cultural engagement in the province, which includes arts, heritage, multiculturalism and cultural industries, as well as supporting First Nations and Métis cultural engagement. In the beginning, SaskCulture delivered Annual Global Funding and several different project funding programs to meet the needs of a diverse range of cultural groups.

February 18, 2020: Sask Lotteries reimagined

Sask Lotteries gets a brand refresh after over 30 years. In the history of the organization, only two other logos existed.

May 10, 2023: The recent lottery licence agreement

The most recent lottery licence agreement with the Government of Saskatchewan was signed for five years.

January 10, 2023: Sask Lotteries turns 50

Sask Lotteries launches a 50th anniversary campaign to celebrate it’s impact in the province including the $1.4 billion given to sport, culture and recreation organizations in the province over the 50 years.