Moon Fleur ~ Luna Rose by Julia Adamson
How did Saskatchewan Pioneers Homestead
|“Those years were hard,” the farmer said to me,
And hardened lines then deepened round his eyes,
Which narrowed like he read each memory
From chalky scrawls that streaked the prairie skies,” Byron Anderson
“The early settlers to the prairies were from Sweden, France, England, Ireland, Germany and the Ukraine,” recalled the Kelliher Historical Society in Reflections: Kelliher Jasmin District, “They came by way of the Touchwood and Carlton trails or to the end of the rails then overland until they found their particular area or homestead….These people came …on foot, by ox teams or horses on wagons, buckboards or squealing Red River carts.”
Railway, government and land agents distributed advertising encouraging immigration to and settlement of the “Last Best West“. The Canadian Government established the Dominion Lands Act / Homestead Act in 1872 similar to the United States of America’s Homestead Act of 1862 and its policy and regulations passed under President Abraham Lincoln .
Commencing July 10, 1871, the survey system established the township model granting the Canadian Pacific Railway odd numbered sections twenty four miles on either side of the rail tracks extending across the plains. The survey system expanded to the area now known as Saskatchewan in 1877. Besides railway lands, land administration set aside block settlement land grants which were made available to ethnic groups, various Land Colonization Companies, Soldier Settlement Grants, South African (Boer War) Scrip, North West Mounted Police Bounty, school lands (sections 11 and 29), and Hudson Bay lands (sections 8 and 26).
Surveyors would place survey monuments at the intersections of sections in a township grid. An immigrant after traveling for weeks across the ocean on their steamship, would disembark and travel as far west as possible via rail, then commence across the North West Territories to the prairie country where they wished to settle. First arrivals would seek soil conditions similar to their home country so that their agricultural tools and methods would provide the greatest chance of success. Later immigrants would seek lands near the first homesteader from their family or town.
To find an available quarter section to homestead, persons roamed across the grasslands searching for an iron post set approximately every mile apart set in the centre of four pits three feet square and eighteen inches deep. In the center of each section would be a wooden post demarking the quarter-section corner. Allowances were made for roads and correction lines
Upon finding the land, the pioneer would thence travel to the land titles office to file an Application for Homestead Patent, often standing in line ups. In the first three decades of the 1900s, there were 303,000 homestead applications. However, before dry land farming techniques were established, three out of very four homesteaders failed, filed a Declaration of Abandonment and moved away.
Basically Homestead Entry for a quarter section (160 acres) of surveyed land could be had by any person who was the sole head of the family or a male reaching twenty one years of age on payment of a $10 application fee. The age was thereafter dropped in subsequent revisions to 18 and allowed provisions for younger males already head of a family. The first Dominions Lands Act of 1872 only allowed those women to receive a homestead who could prove their status as the head of the household as widows, divorcees or abandoned wives with family to support.
With this protocol of land application out of the way, the pioneer had to “Prove up the Land“. Again, the regulations changed over the years, the homestead duties of 1904 required residence upon the land, and cultivation of the land each year during the term of three years. Settlers would need to break the land, clear the land, and make improvements such as buildings and fencing.
The land would need to be first cleared of trees and rocks before the land could be tilled. Stone boats were employed behind horse, oxen or mule team to pull large rocks from the land. Stone houses, schools, fences were occasional uses of prairie fieldstones. In the 1880s and ’90s, getting access to construction materials was not easy because there were few railways and the roadways weren’t conducive to easily hauling lumber,” said construction historian “Frank Korvemaker. Trees, scarce as they were, were invaluable as winter fuel, for construction material, for tent framework or as a foundation for thatched roofs on sod houses before a log home could be constructed. Tree roots in the field were pulled by oxen or horses.
The earliest pioneers employed hand tools to break the land. The axe, hoe, pickaxe, spade or shovel were utilised to clear and turn over the soil. Following the shovel, a hand rake was used to smooth the surface and break up clumps of soil.
The first crops to be seeded were Red Fife Wheat which needed a longer growing season than the northern Great Plains provided. In 1909 Marquis Wheat was available. Red Fife wheat crossed with Hard Red Calcutta produced Marquis wheat which matured 7-10 days earlier than Red Fife, and had a more phenomenal yield than Hard Red Calcutta. Wheat growing expanded, and farmers met with greater success in the shorter growing season.
Besides wheat, farmers also tilled alfalfa, flax, sunflower, corn for fodder, oats, and winter rye. Mixed farming ensured food for the family, a milk cow provided dairy products, chickens laid eggs, pigs and cattle were slaughtered for meat.
Before winter came, a dwelling was required to fend off the cold and blizzards. A “soddy” or sod house may be erected by cutting sod bricks with a plow into rectangles two feet long, one foot wide and between four to six inches thick which were stacked one upon the other to form the walls. Pioneers made the walls stronger by cutting central slits in the root mass, stacking the bricks alternately widthwise then lengthwise or stacking the sod bricks with a base wider than the apex of the wall. The sod walls were protected from erosion by planting ivy, or providing a covering. It would take approximately one acre (43560ft² or 4047 square meters) of sod or 2,304 bricks for the walls of a basic 12 foot by 20 foot home. Additional sod would be needed to cover the wooden poles or purlins which provided the framework for the roof unless the settler made a thatched roof from straw or rye grasses covered in clay.
If the crop survived drought, grasshopper plagues, and raging prairie fires, the harvest would need to be taken off. Hand tools were again the first implements at harvest time. A hand scythe would mow the stalks, threshing would be accomplished with a hand flail before winnowing the chaff.
Over the winter months settlers used their proceeds from the year’s crops to buy supplies, wagons, plows, and harrows. These improvements enabled the homesteader to employ a plow rather than a shovel, and a harrow in place of a rake. Different plows were required for specific soil conditions. Pulled by horse, oxen or mule team, a “single furrow plough” or a “Sulky plow” were common implements used by the farmer who walked behind. A disc harrow was used to break up the sod, whereas a chain harrow could cover seed or spread out dung. Often six to ten acres of land were all that could be broken within the 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile quarter section in the first years.
For an idea of the size of land being worked, the American football field with end zones comprises an area of about 1.3223 acres or 0.535 hectare and the Canadian football field has an area of 2.0145 acres or 0.815 hectare. A quarter section envelops 160 acres.
Sheaves were created with binders which both cut the stems of the plant, and tied the stems all gathered together with twine. Stooks were several sheaves leaning on each other allowing the seed heads to dry in the autumn. When the harvest was dry enough to store in granaries, the sheaves were threshed.
An investment in a threshing machine eliminated the laborious and time consuming task of threshing by hand with scythe and sickle. Threshing bees and steam driven threshers began dotting the prairie scene in the early 1900s.
The government and rail lines collaborated during harvest time offering low fares and high wages to encourage temporary helpers to travel west from Ontario and the Maritimes to assist with the harvest.
The next challenge was getting the grain to market. The crop taken of in 1901 sat in storage due to a huge shortage of grain rail cars. Farmers would load their hay wagons, and traveling by horse take the harvest to the nearest grain elevator. As early as 1890, there were ninety elevators in the prairie provinces. The first roads were not much more than prairie red river cart trails until Local Improvement Districts and Rural Municipalities began the task of constructing and grading roads.
Better Farming Trains were the province’s first foray into distance learning. Between 1914 and 1922, farmers could see exhibits and displays offering information and advice on agricultural and farming improvements and methods.
In the spring sod houses leaked and roofs collapsed as the piles of snow collected over the winter months began melting. So along with breaking and clearing another 6 to 12 acres of land, and sowing seeds as part of the homesteader duties, after the last frost, construction of a new roof for the home was added to the chores.
Agricultural tasks helped the homesteader fulfill the homestead duties. However, additionally the family needed to find and haul water, collect firewood, build dugouts, construct fire breaks, furnish home and barn, construct fences, make furniture and repair agricultural implements. The people needed clothing and food, the livestock needed tending and feed.
The demise of the Canadian Dominions Lands Act came about in 1930 when the federal government transferred any and all remaining lands and resources to the control of the provincial governments. The Century Farm Awards are a testament to those who succeeded at pioneer farming methods through thick and thin, and the family remained on the farm for better than one hundred years.
Pre-1930 Homestead File Series contains about 360,000 listings of those who applied for land under the terms of The Dominion Lands Act.
People arrived out west along the rail lines. Most settlements and homesteads were established alongside the rail for ease of transport, however ethnic bloc settlements were established before the arrival of rail. A random sampling of the opening up of Saskatchewan with Rail Lines:
Canadian Pacific Railway CPR arrived at Balgonie in 1882
Candian Northern Railway arrived at Humboldt in 1904
Canadian Pacific Railway CPR arrived at Kerrobert (previously Hartsberg) in 1910
Canadian Pacific Railway CPR arrived at Melfort in 1904
Canadian Pacific Railway CPR arrived at Moose Jaw in 1882
Canadian Northern Railway CnoR arrived at North Battleford in 1904
Qu;Appelle, Long Lake and Saskatchewan Railway Company arrived at Saskatoon in 1890
Canadian Pacific Railway CPR arrived at Swift Current in 1882
Canadian Northern Railway CnoR arrived at Tisdale in 1904
Canadian Pacific Railway CPR and Canadian National Railway CNR arrived at Warman in 1904
Manitoba and Northwestern Railway arrived at Yorkton in 1888
Canadian Pacific Railway CPR arrived at Yorkton in 1891
“…Pioneers, who had taken up their homesteads in a spirit of hope and determination that, by years of hard work ahead,… the land that they were breaking and bringing into cultivation could be developed into productive farms,” said the Aberdeen Historical Society in Aberdeen 1907-1981, “Faith in the power of the soil to yield good crops of grain and hope for future prosperity were key words”
Saskatchewan Homestead Index Project SHIP
Click on an embedded link for further information.
- Many got their start with Homestead Act (modbee.com)
- What’s New on Saskatchewan Gen Web (aumkleem.wordpress.com)
- Homesteading and History – Creating experiences for learning (ardinger.typepad.com)
- Homestead Act Sewed Its Way Into U.S. Fabric (npr.org)
Why were Canadian “Last Best West” homesteads created?
How do I locate my ancstor’s home town in Saskatchewan?
Have you ever visited your ancestral home?
Thank you for stopping by, your comments are much appreciated. All rights reserved. Copyright © Aum Kleem. All my images and text are protected under international authors copyright laws and Canadian photography laws and may not be downloaded, reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without my written explicit permission. They may be licensed throgh Getty images. Peace and love be with you. Namaste.