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The Prairie Provinces
Chapter XVII. Our People


The history of Manitoba and of the North-West Territories has been, as has been said, the history of immigration. It is quite natural that it should be so. In the Western Provinces there are millions of acres of land of which it is estimated that about one-half is suitable for farming. Of this land only a small part is at present under cultivation.

The population in the West has, however, been increasing with wonderful rapidity during the past few years. This is largely on account of the interest taken in the cause of immigration by the Dominion Government and the encouragement extended to settlers. The homestead regulations give every opportunity for persons to secure farms and homes at small expense. These regulations are to the effect that even-numbered sections of Dominion lands, to the extent of 160 acres, may be homesteaded by any person the sole head of the family, of male person over eighteen years of age. This regulation does not apply, however, to sections 11 and 29, which are school sections, and reserved, nor to section 8 and three-fourths of section 26, which belong to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The method of subdividing the land in the "Western Provinces is very different from that adopted in the provinces of Eastern Canada. There are three different systems under which Dominion lands have been surveyed, and while these are similar in their essential features, they differ in regard to the width and number of the road allowances.

In all the systems the land is laid out uniformly in quadrilateral townships about six miles square. A township contains thirty-six sections, each one mile square, together with certain allowances for roads. These sections are divided into quarters, which may be further subdivided into forty-acre plots. In commencing the survey the international boundary was fixed upon as the starting-point, and was called the first base line From it other lines called initial meridians were run due north. The first initial meridian, called the Principal Meridian, passes about eleven miles west of Emerson, in Manitoba ; the second meridian corresponds with longitude 102; the third with longitude 106, and so on, each initial meridian, after the second one, being four degrees west of the preceding one.

For convenience in surveying, the land is first laid out into blocks; each block is then surveyed into sixteen townships, and each township is further subdivided, as indicated above. The townships are numbered in regular order from the 40th parallel, or first base line, northward. These townships lie in rows or “ranges,” and are numbered in regular order east and west from the Principal Meridian, and west from the other initial meridian.

In all townships subdivided, as shown on the accompanying diagram, sections 11 and 29 are set apart for school purposes, while section 8 and three-fourths of section 26 belong to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Of the remaining sections, those bearing even numbers have been reserved by the Dominion Government for homestead entry, while of those bearing odd numbers, a large number belong to the Canadian Pacific and to other railway companies.

All “homesteaders” are required to perform certain duties. They must live for a period of six months upon the land and cultivate the same for three years. In case the "homesteader” owns eighty acres in the vicinity of his homestead, he is allowed to perform his duties without actually living on the land he is homesteading. The same privilege is accorded him if his parents have a permanent residence on farming land owned by them in the vicinity. Inspectors are appointed by the Dominion Government to see that all persons living on homesteads conform to the regulations governing the same.

With such inducements held out to them, it is little wonder that men of many nationalities have found their way to the Prairie Provinces. In 1871, our prairies were peopled, save for the Red River colonists, only by a few Indians, half-breeds, and traders. Since that time there has been a steady inflow of Eastern Canadians, English, Scotch, Irish, and French. These have come in gradually, and have not, therefore, attracted much attention. More noticeable has been the coming of foreigners—Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Belgians, Bavarians, Jews, Alsatians, Icelanders, Mennonites, Galicians and Doukhobors. These have arrived in groups, some small, others large, and have in many cases settled in colonies. Of late years there has been a rapidly growing movement of settlers from the western states, including many Mormons.

Naturally we are very much interested in the character of the people who have come to make their home in the West. The Indians and traders, who have figured so prominently in the early history of the country, may be passed over in this connection. Those who have come from Eastern Canada, the English, Scotch, Irish, and French, are Canadians, and are interested in having the West filled with people who will be loyal to Canada. But what of the foreigners who have been, and still are, pouring into the country? Will they make, not only good farmers, but also good citizens?

The earliest addition to our population, from foreign .soil, was the Icelandic. In 1870, four young men left Iceland for North America. Landing at Quebec, they passed through Canada to Wisconsin. Two years later they were followed by a larger group of emigrants, who settled, some in Nova Scotia, others in Ontario. In 1875, a movement west was made by most of the Icelanders settled in Eastern Canada, and, in July, the pioneers landed at Fort Garry. After examining the neighboring country, they decided to locate upon the west shore of Lake Winnipeg. This settlement they called “ New Iceland,” the beginning of the present municipality of Gimli. Being accustomed to a cold climate and the hardships of a rugged land, the Icelanders have proved ideal pioneers for our young country.

In Southern Manitoba, in the neighborhood of Gretna and Morden, and also in Saskatchewan, near Rosthern, there are prosperous settlements of Germans, called Mennonites, who came to Canada from Russia as early as 1875. Seventeen townships were reserved and divided among six thousand of them. When they first arrived, many Canadians thought they would not make good settlers. Time has proved, however, that their industry and simplicity of life specially fit them for farming.

In Saskatchewan, near Yorkton and Rosthern, and also in Alberta, near Edmonton, are settlements of Galicians who came from a little country in what was once Russian Poland. Nearly 30,000 of these people have been induced, by the hardships of their life in Galicia, to cross the Atlantic to a land where they can enjoy freedom and comfort. They are rapidly adapting - themselves to the ways of the country and making comfortable homes for themselves and their families. A large number of schools have been built in the Galician settlements. The difficulty experienced in getting English-speaking teachers to take charge of the schools in Galician settlements has caused the governments of Manitoba and Saskatchewan to take action respecting the establishment of training-schools for teachers capable of using their own language and accustomed to their mode of life.

The Galicians do not care for town life, but are fund of the country. Their houses, although mere shanties built of logs and plastered with mud, are in some cases whitewashed, and present a neat appearance.

The most recent addition to the peoples of the West is that of the Doukliobors. Our interest in this people has been aroused by accounts of the harsh treatment to which they were subjected in Russia, the country from which they came. They do not think it right to engage in war. As Russia has a large army and needs many fighting men, they were called upon to bear arms. Rather than render military service, they left Russia and came to Canada, where they hoped to enjoy greater freedom. It was in 1899 that the first company of Doukhobors came to the West. Since that time a large colony has been formed north-west of Yorkton, and another about Rosthern. They have been accustomed to a peculiar plan of having all things in common, the community owning all property and receiving all the wages earned by individuals. This plan they find difficult to reconcile with Canadian customs. They are, however, freed from the duty of serving in the army.

During the past few years thousands of people have come from the United States to settle in the Western Provinces. Many of these are experienced farmers and ranchers, and are, therefore, valuable settlers. Among these are several thousand Mormons, who have made their home in Southern Alberta.

Such are the various races represented in the people of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Many of them are foreign, speaking a strange language and holding to peculiar customs and ideas. Moreover, the tendency of some of the new-comers, for example the Galicians and Doukhobors, is to settle in colonies by themselves. Naturally, under sueli an arrangement they retain longer their own speech and customs, and are slower to learn the English language and to acquire English habits.

The future of the parts of the country which are peopled by these foreigners is hopeful. Even those who, upon the arrival of the Mennonites, Galicians, and Doukhobors, said that they would never be successful settlers, have changed their minds. The strangers have proved good farmers. But in addition to good farmers Canada needs good citizens.

Before foreigners can become good citizens, they must be taught the English language and must understand British laws and customs. They are to share in the responsibility of governing Canada, and, to do so wisely and honestly, they must learn to prize the freedom of our government, so different from that of the country from which they came.

A strong influence in making Canadian citizens of the strangers who are coming to join us, is that of the public schools. Only about one quarter of the Galicians and Doukhobors can read and write, so that their need of education is great. In the schools their children are learning to speak and read English. The English language will open to them Canadian books and newspapers, in reading which they will come to think and feel as Canadians do.

But, fortunately, school life exerts a much more immediate and powerful influence upon the children of foreigners, namely, the influence of association.

The classroom and the playground are the meeting-place of children of all nationalities, where those who are strangers to Canada quickly imitate Canadian speech and manners.


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