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Contact - Making the West Canadian


The cornerstone of commercial agriculture in western Canada was the quarter-section homestead. The Dominion Lands Act (1872), and its later amendments, set out the conditions under which the head of a family or a single male, 21 years or older (later 18 years), would be eligible for a free quarter-section homestead grant. Until 1889, homesteaders could also "pre-empt"  -  that is, purchase an adjacent quarter-section homestead at a guaranteed low price when they received title to their free grant.

In an effort to avoid private speculation (corporate speculation by the Hudson's Bay Company, the railways, and the government itself was allowed to proceed unchecked), the Dominion Lands Act required a potential farmer to "improve" his homestead before the Crown would award a Land Patent on the grant. "Improvements" generally meant that the applicant resided on the land for at least a three-year period (and for at least six months in each of those years), built a residence, and broke (depending on the time period) from 15 to 50 acres of land and planted another 10 to 30 acres of crops.

Not all western lands were reserved for agriculture. In 1881, an amendment to the Dominion Lands Act allowed the federal government to lease large blocks of land for ranching purposes. The leases were generally awarded for a 21-year period at an annual fee of one cent per acre. Some of the lease holdings of western cattle barons were incredibly large; Senator Matthew Cochrane's ranch in southwestern Alberta, for example, encompassed 367,000 acres (144,000 hectares).

To induce new homesteaders from Europe, the federal government introduced the concept of block settlement by ethnic groups. This policy allowed entire communities to leave their ancestral homes and move en masse to the Prairie West where entire townships were set aside for them. The federal government successfully used this provision to attract Mennonites from the Russian Ukraine, as well as Scandinavians, Icelanders, Danes, Mormons, and Doukhobors.

Further Readings

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Plans for Functional Farms

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Map of southern Alberta showing the disposition of homestead lands, 1913
Map of southern Alberta
showing the disposition of
homestead lands, 1913

Plan of the Hudson's Bay Company's reserve in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1887, by C.V. Brydges
Plan of the Hudson's Bay
Company's reserve in
Winnipeg, Manitoba,
1887, by C.V. Brydges

Homesteaders seeking Doukhobor lands, 1907
Homesteaders seeking
Doukhobor lands, 1907


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