|I hear you are looking for stories about Scots
settling in Canada. My husband's grandfather and his brother came to
Canada from Ayrshire in 1905. At this time, it was the prairies that was
being settled. The railroad had been built across the country, through
the mountains and into Vancouver on the Pacific coast in the 1880s but
settlement of most of the prairies did not really get going until the
period between 1900 to 1914.|
father had a dairy farm in Ayrshire so they had agricultural experience.
At the time of the 1906 census of the new provinces of Manitoba,
Saskatchewan and Alberta, the two brothers were working as farm hands in
southern Manitoba near Pilot Mound. Shortly thereafter they homesteaded
in southern Saskatchewan, not far from the South Saskatchewan River. They
did not have to clear trees for their farm because there were no trees.
Wood for shacks had to be purchased. The American homesteaders taught
many of their new neighbours how to built sod houses from bricks cut out
of the dense natural prairie grass land. Sod houses had the advantage of
being warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Since the temperatures
in the area fell as low as minus 40 degrees and climbed as high as 35
degrees, this was an important feature.
Sod houses did leak when it rained but
there was not a lot of rain. Southern Manitoba, where the brothers first
lived, was long grass prairie which meant that there was more rain and the
natural grassland grew to a height of as much as 2 meters (well, 6 feet
which is a little less than 2 meters). Southern Saskatchewan was an area
of short grass prairie which meant less rain and, therefore, the natural
grassland was shorter. Grass fires were a problem. Tilling the virgin
soil, with its dense matt of grass roots and other plants, was a problem.
Isolation was a problem. The extreme cold in winter was a problem.
However, those first crops were incredible. The soil was so rich.
A new type of wheat called Red Fife, had
just been developed which was suited to the shorter Canadian prairie
summers. It was very hard, high protein wheat and therefore quite
valuable. Branch lines of the railroad followed the first settlers as the
three "Prairie Provinces" were turned into farmland. Villages sprang up
at even intervals along the rail lines. This is where the grain elevators
were built. Some years during the first two decades of the twentieth
century, there harvest were so abundant that the farmers' wagon loads of
grain where lined up for days trying to deliver their loads to market.
The grain elevators and train cars were overwhelmed.
Supplies came in by train and then to the
general stores located by the train stations and at crossroads beyond the
train lines. The booming mail order business of Toronto based Eaton's
served the settlers and their descendants into the 1960s.
The roads were generally mere wagon trails.
There were few landmarks and no sign posts. Pioneers hired guides to show
them to their homesteads. My husband's American grandfather was one such
guide. He worked at a ferry crossing on the South Saskatchewan River in
the same general area as the homestead of my husband's Scottish
A homestead consisted of a quarter mile by
quarter mile square of land. The homesteader was required to break a
certain amount of the land, grow crops and live on the land for a
prescribed time to earn ownership of the homestead. This was hard work.
Not all would be homesteaders had the required strength, skills and
inclination to meet these requirements.
The brothers were followed to Saskatchewan
by their parents and siblings in 1910. Their father had the proceeds of
sale from his dairy operation in Ayrshire to invest in a large barn, more
land and the latest and best farm machinery available. Their neighbours
gave up or worked hard to "made a go of it". My husband's family had to
work hard, too. However, the added advantage of having money to put into
the farm made this family wealthy by the 1920s.
One of the reasons the parents moved to
Canada with their children was the belief that the dry climate would be
good for their sickly mother's health. Her descendants say she was
bedridden for 20 years. However, she lived to the age of 61, dying in
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1922 following an operation. The father lived
The Great Depression of the 1930s coincided
with a decade of natural disasters on the prairies of Canada and the
United States, including drought, infestations of insects and crop
diseases, extra hot summers and extra cold winters. My husband's Scottish
grandfather and great grandfather lost their wealth but stayed on their