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Banner: Moving Here, Staying Here. The Canadian Immigrant Experience

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Free From Local Prejudice
A National Open-Door Policy
Filling the Promised Land
A Preferred Policy
A Depressing Period

Free Land!

by Jeffrey S. Murray, Library and Archives Canada

Individual ownership was a revolutionary concept in the West. For centuries, the ancestors of the Cree and the Assiniboine had lived on the land, but they had never owned it. The idea of individual ownership of land was still relatively new, even for Euro-Canadians. It had been incubated in Tudor England, taken shape in colonial America, and only been fully realized with American independence. In other words, the concept of individual land ownership had only existed for a little over a century prior to the introduction of the Dominion Lands Act in 1872.

One of the unique advantages of the American-style grid system that Canada adopted for the Prairies was clearly demonstrated when the first land patent was issued in Ottawa by the Registrar General on May 5, 1873. It went to Samuel Hume Blake, who acquired a homestead identified as the south half of sections 18 and 22, township 13, range 6, west of the prime meridian. Even now, this is an anonymous parcel of farmland southwest of Winnipeg. However, once it had been surveyed and registered, it could be picked out from the 1.25 million other homesteads in western Canada and a land patent for it could be issued from 1,500 miles (2,414 km) away. (The Western Land Grants database provides access to all the land patents issued by the federal government.)

By dividing up the Prairies for individual ownership, the Dominion Lands Act turned wilderness into property -- property that could be traded, borrowed and speculated. In other words, the Act helped to create wealth, not only for the many immigrant families from Europe and the United States who acquired homesteads, but also for the government agencies that regulated and administered the Act. And although the Act started many immigrant settlers on the road to securing a home and some form of financial independence, the homesteading process required a commitment to decades of unrelenting work and hardship before any homesteaders' dreams were realized.

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