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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Homesteading, Part One:
Political Context

In 1870, just after Confederation, the Hudson’s Bay Company gave over control of Rupert’s Land to the Government of Canada.

Rupert’s Land stretched across the northern and western part of what we now call Canada. And, as historian Pat Myers explains, this paved the way for Canada’s expansion into the west.

Now this added a vast area of public lands, which would be under direct federal administration. They didn’t carve it up into provinces right away.

They put into place a whole set of policies, that’s generally known as the National Policy, and within that, the Dominion Lands Policy is one part.

At the same time, the new Canadian government wanted to keep the Americans from establishing in the northwest. For under the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, that’s exactly the land-grab the Americans intended.

An American railroad had already made it to the pacific by a southern route, and there were plans under way for a northern route. So the Canadian government wanted to establish their presence in the west.

This set of polices was generally called the National Policy, and it included such things as a tariff on imported manufactured goods, establishing and sending the Mounties west, signing treaties with the First Nations in the west, as well as the Dominion Lands policies.

These two policies were concerned chiefly, although not exclusively, with railways and settlement.

Under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872, the first order of business was to survey the land acquired from the Hudson’s Bay Company.

A system of townships was established, each containing 36 sections.

And the policy that was generally firmed-up was that the even-numbered sections would be reserved for homestead lands, and the odd-numbered sections would be set-aside for the railways. And from those sections they could select the land that they wanted, and the plan was they could sell that land to raise money to build the railroad.

Now, there were other lands that were set aside too, even among the even-numbered, it wasn’t all for homesteading. The Hudson’s Bay Company had been compensated for giving up all their land, so they received a couple of sections in each township. And, as well, there were lands set aside that could be sold to support the development of a school system.

By the turn of the century, the railway was built, the homestead regulations were in place, and Canada was ready to actively settle the west.

On the Heritage Trail,

I’m Cheryl Croucher.

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