The following excerpt from agricultural innovator Andy Briosi's diary
details the trying experience his family had breaking land around
Purple Springs, Alberta in the early 1900s. After reading this, it is not
difficult to understand what motivated Andy to dedicate his life to
improving agricultural practices in Alberta.
My father came to Canada from Italy in the year 1900 and went to work
the railroad around Fernie and Frank shortly after the tragic Frank Slide.
He then went back to Italy in 1903, to sell his small vineyard and to get
He returned to Canada with his new wife and baby girl. He took out
citizenship papers and became a full Canadian. This, of course, entitled
him to file claim on a homestead near Purple Springs, east of Lethbridge.
[He] built a new tar paper shack with all of the conveniences of the day.
A rain barrel at each end of the shack (for when it rained) and a true
luxury, soft water for washing. A well for general purposes, a smoke
house, a two hole outhouse (a low one for kids), some chickens, two cows,
three horses and some second-hand finery. And all this of course, was
bordered by a neatly ploughed fire field to protect their most valued
possessions. With high hopes and lots of guts, they went into the business
However, after a few years of blood, sweat and tears, their hopes and
dreams were shattered. Around Purple Springs, the land was almost pure
sand and should never have been permitted to be broken in the first place,
unless of course, there had been irrigation.
Yes, year after year of little rain and high winds and prairie fires. Not
even by working in the coal mine in the winter, could the farm be
subsidized, for the money earned in winter was used up in the spring for
seed and then dried up and blown away in the summer and the machinery was
being slowly buried in earth by the drifting drying winds. There were some
blowouts, two and three miles long, where the wind had blown the top soil
as far down as the plough had loosened it. The only thing that seemed to
grow in this dried, parched land, was Russian Thistle, and this was often
stalked harvested, and used as feed for the livestock.
After a few years of this, they finally had to throw in the sponge and
admit their defeat. They loaded their few belongings in the wagon, and
with the milk cows tied behind, they headed for Taber and the coal mines.