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The Terms of Settlement

When they arrived in Alberta new settlers had the option of acquiring "free" homestead land from the Canadian government and/or buying additional land from the government, the railways or the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). Where the land had been surveyed, it was divided into 36 square-mile townships. The townships were subdivided into mile-square sections, which in turn were divided into 160 acre quarter-sections. A little less than one half the acreage of a township was set aside as "free" homestead land. The homesteads were scattered throughout the township on even-numbered sections, with the exception of sections eight and 26, which had been allocated to the HBC. Odd-numbered sections, with the exception of sections 11 and 29 which had been reserved for schools, were the property of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and the other land grant railways.

A "free" homestead of 160 acres could be acquired from the government for a $10 registration fee. The homesteader received title to his land after at least six months' residence for three consecutive years. The regulations also specified that 30 acres of wild prairie had to be brought under cultivation and a habitable house constructed before title could be granted. The homesteader was also encouraged to preempt an adjoining 160 acre quarter section. It was to be paid for within three years at $4 per acre. If these terms seem generous, it should be borne in mind that of the 34,650,000 acres of land taken out in homesteads in Alberta between 1905 and 1927, more than 15,800,000 were cancelled. About half the homesteaders could not fulfill the terms of the Homestead Act.

Railroad and HBC lands were more expensive. From 1890 to 1902 CPR land sold for less than $3.25 per acre. By 1908 the price had passed an average of $10 per acre. It reached $17.80 per acre in 1914 and $21.53 per acre in 1917. In east central Alberta most of the railroad lands belonged to the Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR). The price of CNoR lands rose from $3.44 per acre in 1903 to $9.75 per acre in 1910 and $18.52 per acre in 1918. Prior to 1906 the HBC sought to withhold as much of its land as possible from sale in anticipation of high prices when the region became more populous and prosperous. The average price of HBC land was later calculated at $12.10 per acre.

From Martynowych, Orest T. The Ukrainian Bloc Settlement in East Central Alberta, 1890-1930: A History. Occasional Paper No. 10, 1985 (1990).

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