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A DECADE OF DECISION. 1900-1910

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This book represents, in a textual and visual format, Grant MacEwan\'s life work as a chronicler of the history of western Canadian agriculture. Illustrated History of
Western Canadian Agriculture

Copyright 1980 Western Producer Prairie Books
185 pages,
ISBN 0-88833-059-6 bd.
ISBN 0-88833-068-5 pa.

The twentieth century began bravely. Gone were the fears and suspicions inherited from the fur trade that soil and climate were adverse for agriculture. Now, having passed the first practical tests imposed by the homestead years, farming was assuming a character of permanency and looking for appropriate direction and policies. What ensued was a decade of decision.

The census of 1901 showed Manitoba and the Territories with almost twice as much population as in 1891 and an additional 23,770 farms. Immigration was still rising like the morning sun and prospective homesteaders were being assured that free land was still abundant and shortage of capital did not need to be an obstacle in taking it. Single men coming to homestead, according to published advice, could get along with capital of $250 while married men should have a little more, say from $250 to $500. 1

The Barr Colonists coming to the Lloydminster area in 1903 were the most conspicuous of the newcomers although the biggest influx at that period was from the south. Thousands were coming from the western parts of the United States, some of them, like Dr. Thomas Hays, Charles S. Noble, Henry Wise Wood, Christian Jensen, and Benjamin Plumer to distinguish themselves in leadership and service.

It went without saying that the face of the agricultural West was changing. The biggest change was in ranching which had hurriedly moved in to fill the void left by the departing buffalo herds. Now, having fully recovered from the killing winter of 1886-87, ranchers had accepted the necessity of living without open range. Gone were the general roundups. With barbed wire enclosing the ranges, cattle owners could exercise better control of herds - and better care in winter. Only with herd control could they hope to achieve the improvement which could be expected from the use of superior sires. It did not mean that the rancher's worries were over. One of his latest concerns was the insidious parasitic disorder, mange, for which there appeared to be no relief except by a long and costly program of dipping.

Ranch land, of course, had a new generation of personalities. Those who drove their founding herds over the trails from Montana and Idaho were absent. Tom Lynch, the acknowledged "King of the Cattle Trails," died in 1891. The ranchers who were to become known as Canada's "Big Four Cattlemen" were now gaining prominence, George Lane and A. E. Cross in the foothills, Archie McLean on the plains, and Pat Burns in various areas. George Lane's "star" was rising rapidly, especially after 1902 when he, in partnership with Gordon, Ironside and Fares, bought the big Bar U spread with its 8,000 cattle and 500 horses, paying almost a quarter of a million dollars for it. That was fine until the misfortune of another tragic winter struck in 1906-7 and George Lane who had 24,000 cattle and calves in the autumn counted only 12,000 in the spring. It was enough to break lesser men but again George Lane was one of those who survived and prospered, ultimately becoming the sole owner of the Bar U Ranch with its good cattle and the biggest band of purebred Percheron horses on the continent or in the world.

But it was Pat Burns, the young Irish Canadian from Kirkfield, Ontario, who walked in advance of railroads from Winnipeg to file on a homestead at Minnedosa in 1878 and then after making his way to the foothills and fame with beef contracts, was now emerging as the West's most influential force in both production and processing of meat animals. As the old century was greeting the new one, Burns was opening western Canada's most modern abattoir at Calgary and, at the same time, feeding about 10,000 cattle, mainly three-year-old and four-year-old steers. With unusual talent for finding markets, Burns was at this time taking his meat trade to distant parts of the prairies, remote mining communities in the British Columbia interior, and even the far-northern Klondike Goldfields.

Editors were pleased to pay tribute. One said: "Pat Burns, the Calgary Cattle King, is in town. A few years ago he was chasing his only steer across the plains. Today he controls the meat market of British Columbia." Another said: "He is the Armour of this part of the world and is sometimes called the Cattle King of the British Northwest. Last year he shipped 3,500 carloads of beeves and he has now about 20,000 head in his yards. At the beginning of the Klondike gold discovery, he got as much as a dollar a pound [for beef] on the hoof at Dawson."J

The marketing of prairie beef at faraway Dawson City was a feat for which Burns and his helpers were to be remembered, especially by appreciative men and women of the agricultural fraternity. Gold was discovered on Bonanza Creek late in 1896 and as soon as the news reached the outside, the rush began. An estimated 40,000 hopeful miners, and others whose purpose was to "mine the miners," went over the passes and negotiated the other dangers of the route in the next two or three years.

Burns may have been the first to sense market opportunity at Dawson and late in 1897 he sent William Purdue into the North with a small herd of mature oxen, animals selected to carry their own feed over winter trails. Purdue went through but before he was back to report his adventure, Burns was arranging with Billy Henry, Scottish immigrant at High River, to take a bigger herd to Dawson. One hundred and eighty heavy steers, four and five years of age, and twenty-two saddle horses were loaded at Cayley in June and Henry and eight other attendants were on their way. At Vancouver, the cattle were transferred from freight cars to 1,200-ton scows to be pulled north by a tugboat, the Mystery.

The ocean journey terminated at Skagway where the herd was unloaded for the long drive beginning with the Chilkat Pass and then onto the so-called Dalton Trail. Henry and his men drove for more than four months until they were near the mouth of the Pelly River where the mountains came almost to the river's edge to cut off further travel. The summer days had now passed and Henry, knowing the Lewes River might freeze over very soon, called a halt, to slaughter and make rafts. After almost 500 miles of overland travel from Skagway, Henry hoped to complete the journey by river. While half of Henry's crew was making rafts measuring 72 feet by 32 feet, the other half was slaughtering and piling the carcasses on the floating structures.

The river trip was estimated to be 150 miles and dangers and risks remained. There was still some fast water and as days and nights grew colder, there was the greater risk of the rafts being caught in river ice. But good luck traveled with the party and the cargo reached Dawson close to the end of October, just a few days before the ice ended all further navigation for the year and caught some rafts that were still upstream.


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