These activities are intended for use with the following primary-source materials:
Poster advertising train rates for immigrants travelling west, 1872. In order to travel the 1 078 miles from Toronto to Fort Garry, travellers had to take a train, steamer, wagon, open boat, and finally cart or wagon
Hungarian immigrants travelling by train, 1920
"Father went out first by train to scout out the land. Then he wired Mother, who followed him by train with us children. The rail line ended at Kindersley and our homestead site was another three days’ travel by horse and wagon. We had two wagons to carry the family and the things we’d need to get started. Behind all of this, we had a cow and a few other farm animals tied on, so we were quite a procession. When we finally got to our destination, we had to search for most of a day to find our property. We knew it was somewhere in those thousands of flat, empty acres, but the only marker was a corner stake driven into the ground."
"Father Was the Wrong Man in the Right Place", by Hilda Urquhart. Voice of the Pioneer, Volume Two, edited by Bill McNeil. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, ©1984, p. 20
Have students plot the immigrants’ journey from Toronto to Fort Garry on a supplied map or a map of their own creation. Students can research the type of terrain in each segment of the journey and include this on the map. If students create their own map, it can be drawn to scale. The type of transportation used for each segment could also be added to their map.
Discuss the reasons why so many different means of conveyance were needed to make the trip from Toronto to Fort Garry.
In a class discussion or in groups, ask students to determine how long a journey from Toronto to Fort Garry would take today. Do the students think the immigrants were able to reach Fort Garry in one day? What clues in the advertisement helped the students reach their answer?
Using the provided primary-source material, ask students to imagine what the journey must have been like and to write a short story, diary or journal entry, or letter from the point of view of one of the travelers; to write about how it felt once a traveler had arrived; or the differences between the traveler’s old country and his new home. Ask each student where the character in his or her story was from. Plot the different countries of origin on a grid and determine the ethnic make-up of your class’s imaginary community.
Imagine an immigrant family, with specific ages given for each family member (students could also use their own family.) Students will calculate the cost for the family to travel from Toronto to Fort William or to Fort Garry. Give students the weight of baggage that each member of the family will be bringing. Remind students that extra baggage will change the total. Students could also be given a budget and be required to decrease the baggage in order to be able to afford the tickets. Students could calculate total mileage for the trip and cost of tickets per mile and convert miles into kilometres.
Students are to imagine that they and their family will be making the trip to Fort Garry to become homesteaders in 1872. Their piece of land has no shelter, electricity or running water. The land will need to be cleared. What will they need to bring with them? What can they buy along the way? What will they have to buy once they get to their destination? Students must keep in mind the weight restrictions for baggage that they are allowed to travel with.
Encourage your students to imagine that they and their family have just arrived on the land that will be their homestead. What things would need to be done first? What could wait for later? Have students draw up a plan for their first year, prioritizing what needs to be done and making a schedule.
Have students record an oral history. Students can interview grandparents or elderly community members and document their memories of travelling by train or working on the train, how it felt to leave behind a home in another country to come to Canada, and what struggles they faced as they started a new life in Canada. Individuals could be invited to visit the classroom for further discussion.
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