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Settlement

Native People

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Round-up crewCompared 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 tennis matches.

Group of wealthy hunters

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 to settlement.

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.

Western Stock Growers Association

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 ranchers’ power.

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 colony.

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.


Lewis SwiftWhether 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 (PDF)

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 status.

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