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Domestic Life


Homesteaders with loaded wagon.  Glenbow ArchivesAfter the Canadian government purchased Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869, a period of settlement began in Western Canada. People from all over including the United States, Europe and Eastern Canada migrated to the west in hopes of making a better life. Most of these pioneers accepted the 160 acres (641/4 Hectares) of free land from the government and began the enormous task of breaking the land and developing agriculture. Others came to open businesses or be involved in the new governmental enterprises, like the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway and still others came as missionaries to bring Christianity to the new world. 


While families migrated together to the West, the majority of migrants were single men, causing a major population imbalance between men and women. The Canadian government, therefore, began a campaign to attract "strong-willed" and "able-bodied" women. It was believed that women were essential to the pioneering of the West because not only would they contribute to the tremendous amount of work, but they would also create homes and families - the basis of a stable society.

Of course, families and homes had already existed in Western Canada prior to the settlement period. Aboriginal families and homes had existed for centuries and during the fur trade many male traders and aboriginal women had intermarried to form families of mixed descent. However, by the late 19th century, the society that was emerging as dominant in the West was white, English, Protestant, and middle class, and with it came new ideas of family and home - ideas that were largely based largely on Victorian notions of the private and the public sphere. The private sphere of the home was to be occupied by the women; it was where she conducted her primary work of raising the children and creating a clean and comfortable living environment. The public sphere or the world outside the home was to be occupied by men; it was where they conducted the work of business and politics. 


Sources and Suggested Readings:

  • Cavanaugh, Catherine. "Irene Marryat Parlby: An 'Imperial Daughter' in the Canadian West, 1896-1934." Telling Tales. Eds. Catherine Cavanaugh and Randi Warne. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000. 

  • Jackel, Susan. Flannel Shirt and Liberty: British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West, 1880-1914. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1982.

  • Millar, Nancy.  Once Upon a Wedding.  Calgary: Bayeux Arts, 2000.

  • Silverman, Elaine Leslau. The Last Best West: Women on the Alberta Frontier 1880-1930. Montreal: Eden Press, 1984.



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