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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Homesteading Part Five:
Getting Started on the Land

The only thing that greeted homesteaders at the turn of the century was a surveyor’s stake marking their quarter section, and a sea of grass or a forest of trees.

As historian Pat Myers explains, the homesteaders started their new lives with no house, no barn, just the few tools and supplies in their wagons.

The first priority, of course, was shelter. Many people slept under their wagon, if that’s how they’d come, for the first while. If they had a tent, they could erect that. There were tarpaper shacks built. If you had chosen land in the parkland, you could perhaps fell some trees and build a log home.

If there was a lumberyard in the nearest town, and you had enough money, you could buy planed lumber to build a shack.

Now some sod homes were built here, although not as many as the mythology might suggest.

Most of these early homes were put up quickly to give shelter. They had one room, most had dirt floors for the first while, and often things like binder canvas and tent material to cover the door and windows at first.

Homesteaders came to Alberta with whatever supplies they could carry with them – tools, cooking utensils, even horses, oxen and swine. A long list of essential items was suggested in the guides sent-out to prospective settlers.

And while the only cost of the land was a ten-dollar homesteading fee, the settlers still needed to bring with them a substantial amount of money.

They suggested that you really needed a minimum of 600, 700, 800 dollars to get started. And when you look at the prices of things, for example, a team of good horses could cost $400, a wagon could cost, you know, 90, 100 dollars, a set of harness, a walking plough, a seeder—all those things cost money. And if you didn’t bring them with you, you had to buy them when you arrived.

So it wasn’t simply enough to come and file on your land, really. You needed a fair bit of money to get started.

And there was no time to relax once the homesteaders arrived. They still had to clear and break some land before winter.

On the Heritage Trail,

I’m Cheryl Croucher.

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