Settlement in Saskatchewan with special reference to the influence of dry farming
"I have been assured that the British public do not care much about Canada, except as a refuge for the superfluous population. It is quite satisfied, say my informants, with pamphlets on the subject distributed by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and other emigration agents. This is doubtless true of a large class. The pamphlets in question record only the successes of the British settlers in Canada. It is no business of theirs to give the many losses, their cause, and how to avoid them. A boy is backward at school - he cannot pass an examination for a profession; why trouble, says a sanguine friend, to work up for a second attempt? Why don't you go and make your fortune in Canada? how this fortune is to be made, or even how the small capital which the boy perhaps takes out with him is to be safely invested and kept from melting away, does not seem to occur to his adviser. So an inexperienced sanguine youth sets forth from his home - credulous because he has lived among honest people, unacquainted with any species of labour except cricket and football, but confident in his own judgement - to fall an easy prey to those unscrupulous gentry who in every colony are prepared to welcome the novice and dispose of unprofitable land, unsaleable machinery, worn-out cattle, and anything else they want to get rid of - at his expense. This is the commonest way in which fortunes are made and lost in Canada. "Yet we have heard men, who have started a son with £500 or £1000, speak as confidently of a certain interest on that sum within a year or two, as if it had been invested in British console. If farming is hazardous and slow to bring a profit in England, it is much more hazardous and experimental in the most uncertain climate of the North-West; but then many of us cannot afford to indulge in farming at all in England, and it can be enjoyed by everyone for a comparative trifle in Canada, if a man farms on Canadian soil in the Canadian way."(1) But to farm on Canadian soil in the Canadian way was exactly what the early settlers failed to do; and it was not until this simple truth was brought home to them, after years of failure, that settlement on the western plains made any progress. Ignorant of the true conditions of the country, the people, not only of Great Britain and Europe, but of Eastern Canada, had flooded upon them a mass of propaganda in the form of pamphlets, books and lectures, telling of the wonderful opportunity awaiting them in the country west of the Red River. According to the propagandists, all that was necessary in order to grow wheat in this distant land was to turn the sod over and plant the seed - the crop would never fail. The larger the quantity of seed planted the more fabulous would be the proceeds. After a few years farming the settler would be able to return to his native land and spend the remainder of his life a retired man. Unfortunately all this propaganda was believed by many people. Leaving their old homes, and often good positions, they set out for the land of "milk and honey", unprepared for the problems with which they were to be confronted but confident that in a very few years they would be wealthy, and, if they desired, would be able to return home and live at ease. The vicissitudes which these people experienced in the country of their adoption will be told in the following pages. Although the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883 solved, in some measure, the transportation question, there still remained the problems of drought and frost and for some time it seemed that the statement of Sir George Simpson, made before the Select Committee on the Hudson's Bay Company in 1857, would be borne out. He had said: "I do not think that any part of the Hudson's Bay Company's Territories is well adapted for settlement; the crops are very uncertain." (1) Ridiculed by propagandists of the 'seventies and 'eighties, and even by present day writers (2), this statement has been interpreted as dictated by his interest in the fur-trade. His modern critics, in claiming that the west to-day has given the lie to his contention, forget that Simpson spoke before the discovery of an early- maturing wheat and dry land farming. he could not foresee that agriculture science was to revolutionize the possibilities of the west. In his day, besides the lack of transportation facilities, there were no means of coping with the problems of drought and frost; both of which constituted the barrier to the settlement of the west, as he well knew. The propaganda of the immigration officials and railway agents made no mention of either of these; and, as a consequence, the settlers did not come prepared to guard against them. Located along the railway line, their one and sole aim was to produce thousands of bushels of wheat and they sought to increase the acreage of this grain at the expense of proper cultivation and other branches of agriculture. A visit of drought or frost meant complete failure, and, in most cases, bankruptcy. Only after years of bitter experience which often resulted in the depopulation of whole districts did the settler learn the lesson of proper farming. To guard against drought he must practice better methods of land tillage and to guard against frost he must diversify his farming operations and grow less wheat. The failure of the settler sooner to learn this lesson and the consequent ill-effects on settlement was caused largely by the false impression given him by the eastern propagandists.
Master of Arts (M.A.)