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Overcoming Isolation

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Reading: Isolation on the Prairies


Parlby with the babyOne of the most pervasive features of the rural Canadian prairies was the extreme sense of isolation. The silence, broken by a gust of wind or a howling coyote, combined with the seeming emptiness of the open prairie coupled to create an immense feeling of aloneness. Families who had relocated from large cities had the most difficulty adjusting to this new setting, and many moved to nearby towns and cities, while some even returned to their former homes. At the other extreme were families with close religious ties, such as Mormon, Orthodox, and Methodist groups, who tended to settle together and were more accustomed to rural life.

Most farmwomen were not only psychologically but physically isolated from one another. Oftentimes, there was not a neighbouring homestead for several miles. Travel to the nearest town could take many days by wagon, and rain made dirt roads impassable. When farm families needed supplies, the husbands would often go alone, leaving their wives to look after the house and their children. As a result, few women prior to the widespread settlement of rural western Canada were able to develop associations, as friends or formalized groups.

Women coped with their isolation in different ways. Some became resentful of the setting that hardly resembled their expectations as portrayed in promotional brochures and posters; others internalized their anger to avoid upsetting their husbands, resigning themselves to their situations; and others still moved through their dissatisfaction by seeking change.

Heritage Trail: A Woman of the West
Irene Parlby talks about the isolation she first experienced on the Parlby ranch. Listen Now
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