Abstract Paleoclimatic records from the climatically sensitive Canadian prairies are relatively rare due to the scarcity of study sites with continuous Holocene stratigraphic sequences. Oro Lake, a meromictic lake in the dry grasslands of Saskatchewan (Canada), contains a continuous Holocene diatom record spanning the last ∼10,000 years. Here we present analyses at three different time scales and resolution: (1) 1–3 yr resolution of the past ∼80 years, (2) century-scale analysis of the Holocene, and (3) decadal-scale analysis of the past ∼7000 years. Recent changes in the diatom assemblages and their respective salinity inferences were significantly related to measured effective moisture (precipitation minus evaporation, P−ET). The droughts of the 1930s, and a wet period during the 1950s are clearly evident in the diatom record, suggesting the Oro Lake record contains a sensitive archive of past climatic conditions. Century-scale analysis of the diatom record during the Holocene is consistent with a cool and moist climate in the early Holocene (prior to ca 9700 cal yr BP, 8600 14C yr BP). An abrupt increase in diatom-inferred salinity at 9600 cal yr BP (8500 14C yr BP) indicates the onset of an arid climate, with continuing arid conditions throughout the mid-Holocene. Decadal-scale analysis of the past ∼7000 years suggests that the mid-Holocene was more complex, with extended periods of increased variability in precipitation, particularly between ca 5800–3600 cal yr BP (5000–3200 14C yr BP) which is characterized by intervals of increased effective moisture. The past ∼2000 years is characterized by reduced salinities and generally wetter conditions in comparison to the mid-Holocene. The combination of the different scales of analyses in this study provides a detailed account of the dynamic nature of climate from sub-decadal to millennial scale in the Oro Lake region within the Palliser Triangle. Climate model predictions suggest that the Canadian prairie region may see a higher frequency of extreme droughts under projected global warming, potentially similar to the most arid periods seen during the mid-Holocene when many lake basins completely dried out.