All Frocked Up

Amateur Hour


“There is more to be learned from wearing a dress for a day, than there is from wearing a suit for a life.”

— Larry Mitchell


Souris Valley, Sask. 1934 Four men painted and dressed. c.1914


Despite, or perhaps, due to Saskatchewan’s relatively rigid gender roles, dressing up in costumes, including much cross-dressing, appears to be a common feature of the province’s social life. Folklorist Michael Taft has documented elements of transvestite behavior in many Saskatchewan community events including parades, sporting events, stag and stagette parties, Halloween, community variety nights and school initiations.


Dressed up at Fort Qu'Appelle Sanatorium. Ready for a drama club production
at Fort Qu'Appelle Sanatorium

The Fort Qu’Appelle Sanatorium (Fort San) opened in 1917 as Saskatchewan’s first healthcare facility to combat tuberculosis. Patients from across the province were brought to the sprawling 230 acre site for extended periods of treatment, which involved regimes of relaxation. At its peak the San accommodated over 350 patients. The patients and staff developed a vibrant community at the San, involving themselves in a variety of music and drama clubs. Photographs in the San records indicate that cross-dressing was often a feature of the entertainments devised by the patients to amuse themselves in the months, and sometimes years, they spent away from home. The sanatorium closed in 1972.

Eight female patients in men's attire
at Fort Qu'Appelle Sanatorium.



Unity, Sask. Fair. 1925 Sunday afternoon entertainment
at Mazenod, Sask. 1922


The mock wedding is a folk drama peculiar to the Canadian prairies. Cross-dressed mock weddings are often performed to celebrate a couple’s wedding or milestone anniversary. They are organized by female friends who write or adapt a script and take the roles of priest, preacher, groom and ring bearer. Males, often farmers and ranchers, dress up and perform as brides, bridesmaids, and flower girls. Much of the humour derives from the contrast between the performer’s male characteristics – hair, musculature and swagger – and the mincing impression of femininity he offers. Folklorist Michael Taft argues that only men confident in their own masculinity and its acceptance by their rural community are comfortable in donning dresses for these events.


Cast of a “womanless” mock wedding.

Preacher: (to the Bride) Do you take this man for better, worse or what have you?

Bride: Yes, yes.

Preacher: Do you promise to milk the cows, feed the pigs, and farm the land and make the hay and sell enough eggs to give him money to buy tobacco? Do you promise to clean his house, cook six square meals a day, wash his back, clean his toe nails and take over his job at least three times a week so the poor guy can have some rest?

Bride: Anything he says.


— From a mock wedding script of Alvena Oryszczyn, Lintlaw, Sask.
Saskatchewan Archives Board. Michael Taft Fonds A618. 87-25d


School initiation in Lashburn, Sask. 1943 RCAF variety show
in Yorkton, Sask. 1942


“On the Trail” during Saskatoon's
Red Dress Run. 2001
“Drink It” during Saskatoon's
Red Dress Run. 2001


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