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Compared to farming endeavours by individuals or group
pioneers, Alberta’s ranching community in the chinook belt
enjoyed considerable financial backing from eastern Canada,
Britain, and the United States.
While many ranch managers were from eastern Canada or
from the United States, lease holders were often former NWMP
members or landed middle to upper class Britons.
Naturally, shared community values and social interests
developed between the ranching outfits. Language, class
consciousness, and by large, a protestant faith were
qualities that ranchers held in common.
In 1900, Margaret Polson Murray founded Imperial Order
Daughters of the Empire, a Canadian women’s volunteer
organization. Its primary focus was to improve the lives of
children through education and social services. Now known
simply as IODE, it has 369 chapters across Canada. Its
vision is to improve the physical and emotional health and
expand the educational opportunities of all Canadians within
a unified country.
Social volunteerism among the ranches included organizing
formal balls, horse races, fox hunts, polo, cricket, and
Big ranch domination of south western Alberta from 1882
to 1891 set ranching and farming interests on a collision
course. Ranchers tried to prevent "sodbusters" from gaining
homesteads in ranching country. In fact the NWMP had the
authority to evict farmers for squatting.
From historic to contemporary times, most associations
and societies are formed by volunteers who feel the need to
address a specific situation or cause.
In 1885, the Alberta Settlers’ Rights Association was formed
in Calgary to pressure the government to open cattle leases
Associations built by volunteer action often present
various perspectives and act as a societal check and
balance. In 1886, the Western Stock Growers Association was
formed to present and lobby educational, economic,
philosophical, environmental and social issues.
Still too close to the unrest created by the 1885 Riel
Rebellion, the Canadian government made a few small
concessions to the settlers. Some leases were cancelled and
two townships near Calgary were opened for settlement.
Government appeasement to farmers and settlement didn’t
dismiss the facts that the NWMP continued to evict
squatters, water reserves were given solely to ranchers, and
ranchers were given control over previously leased land.
The ranchers throughout this crisis had a strong champion
in Calgary-based William Pearce, the senior western official
in the Department of the Interior, who believed the
southwest to be ideally suited for ranching and too dry for
large-scale agriculture without irrigation. But as
settlement gradually expanded, political pressure increased
to end the privileged position of ranchers and to open the
south to farmers. The pressure increased further in 1896
with the election of the federal Liberals, who were tied to
settlers’ interests. In Alberta, pro-settler Frank Oliver,
editor of the Edmonton Bulletin, defeated rancher T.B.H.
Cochrane for the federal seat from Alberta. Oliver’s
election symbolized the shifting balance in political forces
as growing numbers of farmers gradually chipped away at the
Generally, in Canada’s early years, trade unions not only
fought for bread and butter concerns but they also promoted
social policies such as unemployment insurance and old age
pensions that would benefit their entire communities.
Alberta’s earliest labour organization was the Knights of
Labour. The Knights of Labour was begun in the United States
but spread Canada, Britain, Belgium, Australia, and New
Zealand. An Alberta assembly was established in Calgary in
1886 to advocate education and the formation of
cooperatives. By 1902 The Knights of Labour was edged out by
the American Federation of Labour.
Meanwhile to the north, Father Lacombe remained true to
his mission to help the Métis become farmers. He petitioned
the federal government for help in establishing a Métis
colony in Alberta. He wanted Métis to become economically
self-sufficient farmers who had land that could be not sold
or taken away from them by fraud. The colony of St. Paul des
Métis was established in 1895, under a federal cabinet
order-in-council. St. Paul des Métis was adjacent to Saddle
Lake Reserve and was given a 21-year lease.
The normal size of a homestead was 160 acres (64 ha). The
Métis who came to St. Paul des Métis had title to only 80
acres (32.4 ha) each. Successful Métis farmers were not
allowed to move to the colony. Instead, the Oblates,
particularly the colony’s manager Father Therien, encouraged
French Canadians to come to the colony to act as model
farmers for the fifty Métis families who lived on the
Although the farming colony had eight more years left on
its lease, it was terminated by the board of management in
1908. The land was open to the public. Some Métis farmers
fought and won the right to retain their St. Paul farms.
Many French Canadians farmed and settled in this area.
In 1897, hordes of transient people bound for the
Klondike Gold Rush passed through Alberta. While many
Alberta pioneers settled the land in ethnic and religious
groupings, some people homesteaded as individuals.
| Whether determined by group actions or by an individual,
positive voluntary endeavours contribute to building
communities. A stark reminder that individual pioneers made
a difference to Alberta’s society is best illustrated by
looking at one kind and generous pioneer family who resided
in the Rocky Mountains. Secret Places
Eastern Canadians, Americans, and Europeans, trickled
into the North-West Territories (Alberta) until 1896. As
Canada approached the 20th Century a number of factors
contributed to a massive influx of settlers. In addition to
the CPR, Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern
pushed through the province and built branch lines. Poor
weather and subsequent crop failures of the early 1890s had
waned. There were new inventions in farm machinery,
mechanical grain elevators, and the development of
early-maturing wheat. Last but not least, Canada’s newly
elected federal government with Prime Minister Wilfrid
Laurier at the helm and Clifford Sifton, as cabinet minister
for immigration pushed for an aggressive immigration policy
aimed at drawing farmers to the North West Territories.
While Clifford Sifton recognized the Anglo-Canadian
preference for British, American and north western European
settlers, he also actively publicized free land in Canada to
central and eastern Europeans.
Advertised as the "Last Best West," immigrants flocked to
a land that in a few short years would be given provincial