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FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION
A part of our heritage...
By the late Nineteenth Century, the railroad had connected eastern Canada with the West Coast. The train offered new access to the vast western prairies - thousands of hectares of fertile soil.
In the 1880s, the Canadian government began to "sell" the idea of western immigration in Europe. Clifford Sifton, Canada's Minister of the Interior, flooded England, the United States, and northern and eastern European countries with pamphlets like "The Wondrous West," "Canada: Land of Opportunity," "The Last Best West," and "Prosperity Follows Settlement." Sifton posted advertisements in thousands of newspapers, sent speakers to deliver glowing descriptions of the good life in Canada, and even paid popular writers to set novels in the romantic Western prairies.
The offer to would-be immigrants was free land in the form of 65-hectare parcels.
The offer sounded like a dream, but the reality was not so wonderful. The immigrants sailed to Canada in crowded, dirty steamships, then boarded trains for days of dreary travel across empty land, only to arrive on a flat, dry, empty prairie. The homesteaders lived miles from tiny towns, isolated from their neighbours. Women and men worked side by side to create a life in their lonely new home.
The first job was to build a house. For many of the immigrants, that first shelter was a "soddie." They broke the earth into chunks of grass and dirt, and stacked the sods like bricks to make walls. The roofs were also sod, supported by rare wood they could find. Often, the roof supports were built out of the wooden wagons that carried them to their land.
Soddies were dark and small. Their thick walls made them cool in the summer and retained heat in the winter, but they also became homes for insects and they became very damp in winter months. The saying goes that when it rained four days outside, it rained eight days inside. But they gave the newcomers shelter and a place to rest after their long days of breaking the prairie soil for farming.
The homesteaders transformed the empty land into an important part of Canada. The immigrants from all over Europe joined together to create lively communities that still celebrate the richness of their many cultures.
Heritage Minute Cast