One of the most pervasive features of the rural Canadian
prairies was the extreme sense of isolation. The silence,
broken by a gust of wind or a howling coyote, combined with
the seeming emptiness of the open prairie coupled to
create an immense feeling of aloneness. Families who had
relocated from large cities had the most difficulty
adjusting to this new setting, and many moved to nearby
towns and cities, while some even returned to their former homes.
At the other extreme were families with close religious
ties, such as Mormon, Orthodox, and Methodist groups, who
tended to settle together and were more accustomed to rural
Most farmwomen were not only psychologically but
physically isolated from one another. Oftentimes, there was
not a neighbouring homestead for several miles. Travel to
the nearest town could take many days by wagon, and rain
made dirt roads impassable. When farm families needed
supplies, the husbands would often go alone, leaving their
wives to look after the house and their children. As a
result, few women prior to the widespread settlement of
rural western Canada were able to develop associations, as friends or formalized groups.
Women coped with their isolation in different ways.
Some became resentful of the setting that hardly
resembled their expectations as portrayed in promotional
brochures and posters; others internalized their anger to
avoid upsetting their husbands, resigning themselves to
their situations; and others still moved through their
dissatisfaction by seeking change.
|Heritage Trail: A Woman of the West
||Irene Parlby talks about the
isolation she first experienced on the Parlby ranch.