Canada's acquisition of the Hudson's Bay Company lands in 1870 opened western Canada for development. The building of a transcontinental railway and the signing of treaties with the Indian populations were other essential preludes to settlement. At first the rate of immigration was disappointingly slow and was further hampered by the North-West Rebellion of 1885. However, in the period following 1896, a vigorous program was developed to attract settlers from elsewhere in North America and from Great Britain and the European continent. A flood of immigration literature was distributed to proclaim the fertility of prairie soils and explain the government's policy of free homesteads for agricultural settlers. Success was quickly achieved, as the immigrants came in their thousands.
Once the settler reached the West, he had to face the often formidable task of building a home and bringing his homestead land under cultivation. The large number of homesteads which were abandoned is evidence of the high rate of failure, but many of the newcomers succeeded, and within a comparatively short time Saskatchewan had become an important agricultural producer. The wheat economy had replaced the buffalo economy.
Crowd observing a working model of a Saskatchewan grain elevator,
Canadian Emigration Offices, London, England, about 1912.
. . . Jutting out close to the corner of Parliament street, the Canadian government offices face the historic open space of Trafalgar Square. . . . That the more central position of the offices will serve Canada well is proved by the crowds who throng round the windows, and the bright and attractive nature of the buildings, will be emblematic to many of the bright future which Canada has to offer. . . .
Department of the Interior
Annual report. 1904
Leaving Liverpool for Canada, Date unknown.
After all the baggage had been taken on board the gangways were taken away and the people were allowed on the landing-stage near the ship. Thousands of people lined the stage, and about four o'clock as this great liner thronged with people all eager to catch a last glimpse of some friend, . . . the band played Auld Lang Syne, and cheer after cheer rent the air. As the ship moved away from the stage the great crowd of people was seen to advantage, all waving handkerchiefs. It was a sight to move even the stoutest heart, and we all stood taking a farewell look until the crowd became but a speck in the distance.
Emigrants for Canada on a liner crossing the Atlantic, about 1913.
The cabins were 7 feet square, with upper and lower bunks on 3 sides, and the door on the fourth side, and all below the water line. So you can guess we spent most of the time on deck. The grub was dished up in wash tubs and you helped yourself . . . It took 12 days to make the crossing, and I want to tell you the North Atlantic is no place to be in April. . . . There was no privacy on a boat this size with 2000 people jammed together, but we got along ok.
Scottish immigrants aboard a train on their way west, date unknown.
Special after special brings its multitude of eager hardy home-seekers. Freight trains, heavily laden with settlers' effects, crowd the tracks. The steamships leaving Europe for Canada are overcrowded, and many, unable to secure passage for Canada directly, come via New York and Boston. Still they come, and promise to come, their faces turned westward, where free farms are to be had. ...."On to Canada!"
Regina Morning Leader,
27 April 1907
Interior of a colonist car, 1908.
Our train consisted of several long coaches and looked huge compared to our English trains. Each coach has a long corridor down the centre with seats accommodating four on either side. The entire coach seated eighty-four passengers. At night, the seat pulled together forming a sleeping place for two persons and the roof portion above pulled down making another berth for two. . . At the end of each coach was a small apartment furnished with a stove for heating water and warming up food. Wash rooms and lavatories for both men and women were also provided. There were no mattresses for the berths and no privacy if you wished to undress when going to bed. It was rather embarrassing the first night, but after that the women either erected a blanket or pinned up sheets of paper. This method of travelling was quite novel to most of us but we soon got accustomed to it.
Hembrow F. Smith,
Dominion Land Office and Customs Office, Maple Creek, about 1906.
To attract settlers to the vacant lands of the North-West Territories the government of Canada adopted a free homestead grant system by Order-in-Council in 1871. While there were subsequent changes in the legislation, the basic system remained the same. Entry for a homestead of 160 acres was permitted on the payment of a ten-dollar fee. In order to obtain title to the land, the homesteader was required to complete specific residence and cultivation duties. The homesteader registered for his land at the local Dominion Land Office. Settlers coming from the United States were allowed to bring certain settlers' effects free of charge, but, these would have to be cleared through the nearest Customs Office.
Lineup for land, Yorkton, 1907.
When highly desirable areas were made available for homestead entry, land rushes sometimes developed. Not infrequently this led to long lineups at the local agency office by those anxious to register for one of the coveted homesteads. This lineup in Yorkton developed when lands formerly occupied by or reserved for Doukhobors were thrown open for entry.
On Friday morning, June 14, one of the choicest townships of the entire Doukhobor reserve was thrown open at the land office here to homestead-seekers and resulted in scenes of great excitement. . . .
At three o'clock a large crowd gathered which kept increasing until at six o'clock the street and sidewalk were both impassable and the police were almost powerless.
20 June 1907
Barr colonists, Saskatoon, 1903.
While most of the intending settlers arrived alone or in small family groups, some came as members of organized parties. The Lloydminster area was settled by English people who had been brought together by the Rev. Issac Barr. They travelled as far as Saskatoon by train but had to complete their journey in wagons.
In the course of the next week, the camp [of Barr colonists at Saskatoon] was all bustle. Men were making purchases of horses, oxen, wagons, ploughs, food, etc. in preparation for the journey to the location of the land. Much money changed hands and it was rumoured some five hundred waggons, a thousand horses, cattle and oxen, eight hundred ploughs, 150 mowers and 50 binders had been sold to the settlers and it was also reported the Bank of Hamilton, the only small bank in the village, had cashed drafts for the colony members of over a quarter of a million dollars. Men in waggons could be seen all over the camp trying out their new horses and oxen, and not being accustomed to driving the latter, some very amusing incidents occurred. . . .
Hembrow F. Smith,
Leaving Moose Jaw for the homestead,
We bought two hornless shorthorn oxen for $200.00 with harness consisting of leather collars which are put on the opposite to horse collars as the withers of the oxen are the widest part. . . . We also bought a sound used wagon, three sections of drag harrows with draw bar, walking plough, shovels, picks, crowbar, ten by twelve tent, camp cot, .22 rifle, cooking utensils, sheet iron camp stove, one burner primus stove and fuel, two tin three gallon milk cans with tap in bottom and transparent panel showing, amount of cream when running off milk, a butter one pound print and wooden bowl to work butter in, a tin dash churn, large covered tin bowl for bread making and various kitchen utensils. We also bought a storm lantern and coal oil lamp, three 25 foot tether chains and last, but not least, a two year old recently calved cow bought from my late employer for $28.00. She supplied all our needs with surplus butter to trade in the store. As to food - 100 lbs. flour, 98 lbs. rolled oats, 100 lbs. sugar, 10 lbs. corn syrup and several pieces of home cured bacon from the same source as the cow. Thus equipped, we started for our destination about thirty miles away.
Doukhobors plastering a log house,
place and date unknown.
Sod and lumber home, built by Menno Moyer in the Redvers district, about 1900.
Mr. Moyer began residence on his homestead in May 1900.
His family consisted of his wife and eight children.
Martin Larson's tarpapered log house with pole-and-sod roof near
Preeceville, about 1912. Children are Inez, Bessie, and Milly.
A barn made of poles and flax straw, on the homestead of John Porter
(west 1/2 27-13-12 w.2), about 1906. Left to right:
John Porter, Rev. David Irvine, Ed Porter, Israel Hoover, and Ora Porter.
The people in the picture were members of the Brethren Church.
The home of Mrs. Roseland, which served as the Landrose Post Office,
located about ten miles north of Marshall, 1910.
Everyone was anxious for a post office and school. My father worked hard for both, but found the post office the easier to get. When the government wrote for particulars, such as where he was born, etc., my father replied that he was born in Zorra, Ontario. To our surprise, when the post office equipment arrived in August of 1905 it was addressed to Zorra, Sask. - and thus it was named. . . . The post office became the centre of many attractions and gatherings. Saturday was mail day and the arrival of all the settlers would begin by 4 o'clock for this weekly event. They came in ox wagons, buggies, horseback and on foot from miles around. They often had to wait until dark and sometimes all night. I've seen them sleeping on the floor just in case the mail would arrive at any moment.
6 October 1955
A settler's shack near Lloydminster, 1906.
In open spaces, loneliness must . . . [be intense]. In this parkland belt our spaces are small in comparison and there are so many things here to hold one's attention and occupy the mind. The first few years I spent alone, away in a poplar log shack. My nearest neighbor was located only seven miles to the north - west. In winter time if snow drifted badly it became impossible to keep in touch. One diversion from loneliness was found in keeping diaries on different subjects: weather, general conditions such as wind (velocity), clouds (density, form), rain (graduated measure), first and last fall of snow (dates, height); the number of wild life - deer, coyote, lynx, grouse, other animals and birds over an area. . . . Only once did I feel that oppressive power of absolute loneliness, that was when I endured for two weeks that painful affliction, snow blindness. My dog, Jock, a Husky, was a friend indeed - guided me to feed stock and would help bringing wood for the heater and stove, a guide, guard and friendly comforter, and asked for so little in return. They'll share your troubles, help you in difficulties to their last breath. All they ask is your kindly friendship. A man and his dog are never lonely, and he'll point you out things with his steady gaze you'd never see otherwise, oft times averting danger to one self. Once Jock saved my life in the worst blizzard I experienced here.
Sheep ranch near Moose Jaw, no date.
The rancher, not the homesteader, laid first claim to the grasslands of southern Saskatchewan, often drawing on his experience of managing livestock on the American plains. In place of the buffalo which had once roamed the open range, cattle, horses, and sheep now grazed on lease lands. Riding the range often meant long hours of hard, lonely work which was far different from the romantic depiction of the life of a cowboy in contemporary literature.
J. R. Warn Ranch, Reliance, date unknown.
A good deal of more or less interesting literature has been written at one time and another dealing with the almost superhuman daring and the reckless deeds of the cowboy, but in actual practice he is found to be very much like his brother man, neither more daring nor less reckless, and, as a general rule, a sober, hard - working member of his own community. . . . round - ups signify work, and work too of a kind that is no sinecure for anyone connected with them from the captain down to the horse wrangler, as the gentleman in charge of the horse herd is named. What with bull round - ups, spring round - ups, beef round - ups, calf round - ups, fall round - ups; gathering the weak cows on whom the grim and heavy hand of winter is making itself felt; feeding the young weaners, doomed to their orphan lives, herding the bulls, all these, with many other duties too numerous to detail, fully occupy the lives of those who gain their daily bread by ranching in the Canadian Territories.
Branding calves on the prairies, Horace Greeley Ranch, no date.
Mr. Greeley established a ranch south of Maple Creek in 1890
and ranched there for many years.
The animals are each in turn roped (lassoed) by the hind - legs while on the run, and thrown by a man on horseback. This is an accomplishment which months and years of practice will never make you efficient at, if you do not acquire the knack readily after repeated attempts. It is a heaven - sent go to any stockman, and too few in the cattle country can, in these days, lay claim to handling the "hard - twist" as it should be handled. Should you, my reader, be one of the favoured few, good luck to you! You will never want for a job at $30 a month the year round. The calf is then dragged by the rope (which is made fast to the horn of the Mexican saddle) to the fire, where a man should be ready to apply the irons to whatever part of the body is indicated on your brand certificate, while another man holds down the beast's head, and another one its flank.
Clearing land, White-wood district, 1910.
In the grain lands, as on the ranches, calloused hands did much to win Saskatchewan for agriculture. Between arriving on the land and gathering the first crop lay many farm operations that demanded perseverance and hard work. Perhaps as important to the homesteader as good seed grain was his faith that land, climate, and other factors would work together to keep him on the land and that, eventually, title would be obtained to make the land his own.
Breaking land with oxen and walking plow,
St. Luke district, 1912.
Benjamin Smith plowing with a steam engine,
Horse-drawn seed drill being used on the farm of
A.W. Lauder, Govan, date unknown.
Haying, place and date unknown.
Owing to the value and scarcity of labour, farmers and ranchers have contrived various expedients for getting the hay together with more or less success.
One such plan, where a stack is put up on the spot, is what is known as sweeping it. A beam of wood some twenty feet long, with a team of horses or bulls harnessed to each end, is used, and when it works well, will draw huge heaps together ready to be put into a stack.
Cutting the crop, place and date unknown.
Setting up a binder, 1902: Enos Beach and his children
assembling a binder for J. Mitchell.
Thrashing on the farm of George Kidd, about 1906.
The Canadian thrasherman is a sort of machine. He has little to say, just bolts down his food, and is up and off to his beloved engine. He seems only happy when enveloped in a cloud of smoke hurrying from the engine to look how the separator is running. Only do his features relax when he is surveying the busy workers around the stacks; he appears to have only one aim in life, and that is to see the neatly - built grain stacks converted into an untidy straw pile. . . .
This outfit was only a small one, but required twelve men to run it properly, and when you are having the thrashing outfit - well - it's a busy time. . . .
The men came back with the water tank, and placing it alongside the engine, commenced to fill the boiler . . . in about an hour's time the toot - toot of the whistle caused every man to hurry to his post.
Have you ever pitched big, heavy sheaves of grain for a thrashing machine? If not, I can tell you it is no soft job. . . .
John Matthiesen's new elevator,
Estevan, about 1907.
To promote the bulk handling of grain, the railway companies offered incentives to companies and individuals who would invest in building grain elevators alongside the tracks.
The vast increase in production on this Continent . . . rendered obsolete the old methods of marketing and selling grain. . . . Bulk handling was facilitated by the elevator, which took advantage of the flowing property of grain to make the force of gravity do what had formerly required a great deal of labour. This saving in labour was accompanied by an even greater economy of time; whereas it formerly required roughly a day to load a car from a wagon or from a flat warehouse without loading machinery, a car can be loaded from an elevator in fifteen minutes.
Undoubtedly this product of Yankee ingenuity is the most economical and most rapid method of handling grain that has ever been devised. . . .
W. C. Clark,
The Country Elevator ...
Dumping grain, 1900.
We bagged our wheat in sacks; heavy cotton sacks which cost as much as thirty cents apiece for the heavier brands. At the elevator we dumped the contents of these bags through a kind of hatch into a hopper, where the elevator man would weigh it and give a ticket in exchange. This grain-cheque could be cashed in any bank or in most of the better stores. We used what was called the 'Manitoba knot' for tying these bags; a simple twist, or half-hitch, which would keep the bag tightly tied, but, at a tug of the mittened hand would untie easily. Fiddling with an unruly knot in zero weather is not a very nice job, and these little conveniences mean a great deal to the average working man.
In later years, grain was hauled in open wagon-boxes called grain tanks and I have often hauled over a hundred bushels in one tank with two good horses; but that was after I left the Qu'Appelle and its steep banks. Now, of course, with the march of progress, wheat is handled in heavy trucks with five or even ten ton capacity loads.
wheat blockade, Wolseley, 1901.
Heavy yields, a late harvest, and a shortage of cars caused a "grain blockade," preventing the delivery of much of the grain crop before the close of navigation. Storage had to be found on the farm. Farmers complained of the congestion at the elevators, as well as of inconsistent grading and high service charges. These grievances were factors in the development of the Territorial Grain Growers Association, through which producers hoped to remedy their grain - marketing problems.
In 1901 it was my house that Mr. Peter Dayman and I . . drafted a letter to send to a number of farmers from Wolseley to Qu'Appelle, asking them to meet at Indian Head on a given date to consult as to what were the best steps to be taken in order to work out some remedy to existing conditions. . . .
We met at Indian Head and it was the same day [18 December 1901] that Premier Roblin and Premier Haultain were meeting in connection with boundary matters between Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. . . . I took advantage of the presence of [the] crowd; their meeting was at night and we called our meeting for the afternoon. Instead of about a dozen farmers there, as I had expected, the movement got noised abroad with the result that we had from sixty to seventy - five farmers there in addition to a number of public men.
At this initial meeting we decided to form what was called then 'Territorial Grain Growers Association' and they appointed me as provisional President and John Millar of Indian Head was appointed provisional Secretary.
Left, W.R. Motherwell -
Right, Peter Dayman, 1903.
Thirteenth Annual Convention of the 'Saskatchewan Grain Growers Association',
Moose Jaw, probably Zion Church, February 1914.
After the establishment of the Province of Saskatchewan in 1905,
the Territorial Grain Growers' Association in Saskatchewan
became the Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association.
Every corner of the province had its representative present among the seven hundred delegates who constituted the convention and it was apparent that they were picked men who knew why they were present and what the association meant to them and their fellow farmers. . . . the large attendance generates greater enthusiasm and the delegates are able to become acquainted with a larger number of farmers from other parts of the province. . . . the world is watching these conventions and their conclusion as to the importance of the movement is liable to be judged in many quarters by the number of delegates in attendance quite as much as by the conclusions reached.
Grain Growers Guide,
18 February 1914
Women Grain Growers of Saskatchewan executive,
Moose Jaw, February 1914.
The far - reaching effects of such an organization of women cannot be over - estimated. They came right from their kitchens to the convention and have demonstrated beyond debate that they are capable of performing valuable work for mankind outside the home which many men like to call their "sphere".
When the business of the nation comes to be conducted in such a manner then it is a bad day for the nation. We wish the women every success in their organization.
Grain Growers Guide,
18 February, 1914
The MacLavertys, Battleford area,
For many of the early farm people, political involvement had other attractions besides the chance to improve economic conditions. The meetings and conventions also brought a welcome respite from the routine of everyday life. The domestic life of the pioneer was marked, not by the hands of a clock, but by the regular calling of daily and seasonal chores. Much time was spent meeting the physical needs of the day and preparing for winter. These tasks called for the energies of the husband, the wife, and often the children.
Every family had a garden and grew melons, marrows and pumpkins as well as potatoes and other root crops to store in the cellars. The main annoyance was the mosquitos, and even the men wore mosquito netting over their heads and gloves on their hands. . . .
The children worked almost as hard as their parents. They walked, rode or drove two, three or even four miles to school. They helped with all the chores and work on the farm. They learned how to cope with emergencies. The training and hardship made them valuable citizens. . . .
Alec Howard, Whitewood,
Corline Convery milking a cow,
Ernfold, about 1923.
By and large these women were the salt of the earth. They worked such long hours with none of the amenities found in farmhouses today. They did the milking, separating, churning, baking, cleaning, washing - scrub board and maybe a wringer, otherwise by hand - no tattle tale grey ever came out of her wash - boiler. And what great meals and lunches she provided. She baked 10 loaves of bread every day except Sunday. Her kitchen stove was in constant use, summer or winter, for enormous baking sessions, heating the water in the reservoir attached to it, heating irons to do the ironing and pressing on Friday, if there was a dance in the offing. Also, it was a dandy place to sit with your feet up in the oven and . . . you could sit on the oven door to warm your posterior.
W.G. Palmer, Mrs. Palmer, and David Wilkinson watering horses
(Nancy and Lorna), Keddelston, about 1908.
Unfortunately I cannot live on it [the homestead], since there is no water to be found. The cattle must be driven 4 or 5 miles to a watering place, and we have to go 5 or 6 miles for drinking water. I have hunted all over the homestead, and can find no water. What is the farm to me if I have no water.
We tried for water in 4 different places; 3 wells we went down 60 feet and one 106 feet without finding water. At the time of thrashing last fall we had to drive 30 miles for water to do our thrashing with.
Mrs. Violet McNaughton hauling water,
Harris district, about 1909-1914.
I remember that to get water, Alf Murch who lived west of Abbey and south of Lancer, carried two pails of water on a yoke over his shoulders, from the spring north of Campbells to his place three and a half miles away. In the winter, he melted snow for water. Others, hauled water as far as eight to ten miles, either on a stoneboat or in barrels on a wagon. The people who had oxen would starve the animals down, until they got good and dry. The oxen would drink as much water as was in the barrels, this would be like taking two loads of water back, one load in the oxen and the other in the barrels.
Rabbit hunter, possibly in the Peterson district,
Game was plenty. The rabbits sat around the haystacks by the dozens. If the doors were open they often ran in the house especially if the dogs chased them. They were so frightened they did not no [sic] where to go. One of our main dishes was rabbit. There was fried rabbit, stewed rabbit, rabbit ground into hamburgers, and smoked rabbit and rabbit everywhere winter or summer.
Scraping a pig,
date and place unknown.
One morning early we were taken out of bed to go pig butchering at grandpa Wiens place. We may have gone for breakfast, that was the style then. Father used a rifle on our hogs, some people still did it in the more primitive way with a knife. The pigs had to be scalded and scraped very clean, then washed, and the insides taken out. There was a long board table rigged up where the men cut the meat with sharp knives.
The women were busy at first, cleaning the entrails, those things had to be turned inside out, where they used a lot of warm water. . . . When they were ready to make sausages that was the time we liked to watch, they came out of the machine as if by magic. Liver sausage came next, they were made of the partly cooked jowls and the liver, then cooked for an hour or so. Things were cleaned up and every family went home with a small parcel of spare - ribs and liver sausage.
Scandinavian settler, Hulda Swedberg,
grinding coffee, Marchwell, 1906.
Coffee beans were freshly ground before the coffee was made. This beverage was served about four times a day in many early Scandinavian homes.
We got from three to five meals a day and with an occasional letter and the latest paper, from two weeks to a month old, with the great big hope of a wonderful future of seas of golden grain, and the network of railways, [this] gave us strength to overcome the unsurmountable [sic] barriers in making a home . . . which called forth every ounce of physical strength we had to give. How did we do it? Baking dozens of loaves of bread, making our own butter, caring for chickens and turkeys, and gardens, milking cows, making our own soap, pickling our own pork for smoking and canning and preserving under almost primitive conditions, doing our own sewing for our family didn't leave much time for dreaming, and yet the dreams were there; engrossed in our homes, we accepted all that went with it. But always dreaming of better days to come.
Mabel (Wilson) Hawthorne,