The prairie farm rehabilitation administration and the community pasture program, 1937-1947
Balkwill, Daniel M.
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In 1935, following years of drought, economic depression, and massive relief expenditures, the federal government of Canada passed the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (PFR Act) to arrest soil drifting, improve cultivation techniques, and conserve moisture on the Canadian prairies. Activities under the act were to last no more than five years and cost no more than five million dollars. By 1937, the act was amended to remove unsuitable land from cultivation permanently, and develop federally controlled community pastures. Settlers on unsuitable land were relocated to reduce relief expenditures, and farmers on quality land could balance their operations by grazing livestock on nearby pastures. The first ten years of the community pasture program (1937-1947) represented an important stage in the federal interpretation of the prairie region. For decades, Ottawa had administered the prairies with policies that reflected a sense of the region's uniformity and a faith in the power of dry farming techniques. The community pasture program acknowledged the ecological diversity of the prairies and the need for agricultural activities to suit the region's natural limitations. Efforts to develop community pastures were complicated however, by economic, political and social circumstances. By the five-year mark of the program, pasture development was at a virtual standstill. But as federal rehabilitation officials negotiated with prairie governments and private landowners for control of land in community pastures, the region was increasingly understood. In practice, the community pasture program reflected the understanding that broadly-based land use policy had to be flexible in order to accommodate the ecological and social diversity of the prairies.