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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Government of Alberta

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Dominion Land Survey Part Two: Alberta

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Before homesteaders could settle on the Prairies, the land had to be surveyed.

And, according to historian Merrily Aubrey, the Dominion Land Survey was not an easy task.

The early challenges encountered included the amount of time it took to survey some areas. In a report to the federal government in 1870, somebody noted, "Well, nearly all contract surveyors are complaining of the unexpectedly large proportion of wood on their lines, and of course, are all bidding to get a township with much prairie."
Another problem that first year, in 1870s, was the Fenian raids.

By 1876, the surveyors had finished laying out a grid of meridians and baselines. And, in 1880, they began surveying sections for homesteading in Alberta.

As a result of all the surveyors' work, starting at the American border, much of southern and central Alberta had been surveyed into six-mile by six-mile townships.
Each of these was divided into 36 sections of 640 acres. Sections were surveyed into quarter sections of 160 acres each, and this 160-acre parcel of land was the standard homestead grant.

Since there were fur trading posts and other settlements already established in the West, the surveyors for the Dominion Land Survey often had to relax their grid to accommodate these communities.

These old ones were based on the long lot system established in the East, and usually fronted onto a body of water of some sort, maybe a lake, mostly rivers.
From an 1885 departmental report of the Dominion Land Surveys, the Surveyor General assured, "In no case where settlers have been found on a river front in advance of a survey, and desired that their holdings should be laid out with river frontages, has the privilege been refused."
There was some concern in 1885, especially with the Métis uprising, and that kind of stuff. They were kind of worried that the settlers were going to come in and takeover.
There are still communities in the province that base their land division in this old way, including Edmonton, St. Albert, and Fort Saskatchewan.

Along with setting aside land for homesteading, the Dominion Lands Act stated that in each township, sections 11 and 29 were to be set aside for schools.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.