Early Rural Life
Before the opening of the west to settlement and after the transfer of the Northwest to the Dominion of Canada there developed a unique feature to life in the Great Northwest. In a region composed of vast open prairie, it is no surprise that ranching became the first major occupation. Initially, ranching had begun on a small-scale, after the extermination of the prairie buffalo herds as a means of providing food for the local police forces and Treaty Indian populations in the early 1880s.
However, with the completion of the treaty negotiations, the extension of the railway in 1883 and the arrival of wealthy, mainly British, entrepreneurs, large scale ranches were built such as the Cochrane Ranche, the North West Cattle Company and the Walrond Ranch. Soon beef became the main export good from the Canadian west. However, the era of the large-scale ranch was short lived. In 1896 the federal government cancelled all large leases in order to break up the lands in the West for settlement. Some ranches remained, but generally on a much smaller scale. As settlers flooded into the region, the landscape of the Canadian west remained agriculturally based but it was now dotted with small farms and homesteads, not large, sprawling ranches. Here we would like to share with you not only the story of the transition from ranching to farming in Alberta, but what those ranches and early farms were like to live and work on.