Finding Friday – The Settlers in the west


A little history of the Canadian West

Saskatchewan Anglican

Before settlers arrived in any numbers, the Canadian government set up Northwest Mounted Police forces in forts scattered throughout the west.  It is a tribute to them that settling the west was done in a mainly law and orderly fashion.

It was then the government started recruiting farmers who mainly came from Europe to escape persecution.  My grandmother talked of being on a ship crammed into the ships’ holds for over a month, then put on a train for a few thousand miles –  to step out into a wilderness I doubt we can imagine.  Nothing – absolutely nothing with many places having no trees as well. They often settled in groups as English was not their first language.  My grandparents learned English very fast though.  Schools were set up to teach only English as well.  People were assimilated very quickly into Canadian society at that time.

For building a dwelling, digging up 10 acres and digging a well within a year, families were given 160 acres (1/4 section) of land. All their implements and livestock was purchased. The land was plotted into squares (which if you recall was one of the reasons the settlers – mainly Metis – were not happy).  My grandparents with ten children lived in a sod hut. When my mother, the youngest was born, it was that year they moved into a wooden house.  They lived in Southern Saskatchewan and my grandfather took his grain to elevators over forty miles away by horse and hay-rack.

The largest single group of people were the Doukhobors.  8,000 came from Russia when allowed to leave.  They settled mainly in Manitoba or Eastern Saskatchewan.  But again the government’s square section idea wasn’t liked by the Doukhobors either.  Many moved to British Columbia to avoid that rule.

Indian Head

The other migration was mainly from Northern Europe – Germans, Ukrainians, Swedes, Norwegians, Polish but some migrated from the UK as well. Most of these were not farmers but people trying to escape their meager life in the cities.  They actually had signs saying – Englishman need not apply.  But those were different times than now.  In my research I discovered that when someone like Barr tried to set up an all English settlement, chalk diagrams of how to harness a horse were given as well as the inability of many not understanding their livestock needed feeding.  They often kept the horses tied up on a short rope so they weren’t able to graze.

But it is amazing to see what those farmers accomplished in a short period – from building schools, churches and hospitals (usually without government assistance) to turning our west into the bread-basket of the world  and especially helping us to have the life-style we enjoy today. Communities paid for their own doctors, teachers and ministers.  Winter moon

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4 thoughts on “Finding Friday – The Settlers in the west

    • I did my genealogy on my family. My life was very much ‘Little House on the Prairie’ growing up. But it was fun. Thanks. It was different than the American settling of the west. Thanks.

  1. Great post, Mary. I always love to hear stories of the early immigrants. Did you ever get a chance to see a series called ‘Prairie Quest’ on CBC about 10 years ago? Two couples lived as pioneers in Manitoba for a year. Fascinating programme – I wish they’d repeat it some time. Can’t believe how hard much have been like for those early settlers.

    • I experienced it nearly first-hand for a time and knew my grandparents so got some really great stories. I never heard of Prairie Quest – will look for it. There was a book called Mrs. Mike which is a story of a North West Policeman’s wife – back in the days the RCMP were called that. It was so good.

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