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Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan, N.W. Canada
Chapter XVI. Land Rights of First Settlers


TO one who was accustomed in early life to the quiet orderliness and the almost cast-iron customs and habits of English life, the changes which I have observed here in Edmonton during the last twenty years are very interesting. Not far away from me now the Indians are just leaving off making flints for their arrow-heads, and bushels of these flints may be picked up on the old camping-grounds. When I began my work, the soil of my garden had never before been cultivated; it was virgin soil, fresh from the hands of the Creator. Through long centuries the same grass had flowered and cast its seed; and the wild-roses summer by summer had bloomed, and thrown around their fragrance. The willow - bushes had waved their branches, unmolested by the hand of man, for thousands of years. But now the land has been broken up, and the spade, the hoe, and the plough are in use. Fresh seeds are sown, both for use and for ornament, and trees are brought from afar which revive old memories, the planter hoping they will take kindly to the new soil and thrive in the new surroundings; and this they sometimes, but not always, do.

It seems as if no one country could be altogether like another; even in aspect it must vary, and show certain differences. The sentiments and the thoughts of human beings are influenced and moulded by fresh conditions, and consequently much of the old remains, while the new is not quite new. Old and new commingle so as to produce fresh forms of civilization, even when new lands are inhabited by ancient or imported races. The freshness there is in the commonest things fills the mind with uncertainty, and yet with an unlimited hopefulness. We do not know what is about to happen when we sow the seed or plant the trees; but we feel that anything is possible in new lands, and that any day great discoveries may be made which may prove of the highest importance to the world. We bore for oil, we search for gold, we open coal-mines, full of expectation, and such enterprises consciously or unconsciously mould our inner thought and feeling. We have nothing old to fall back upon; we must make all things new, since the old will not fit the new circumstances.

At first, even if we had an abundance of money, it would be out of place to build palaces; log-houses fit the passing conditions, and we build and plant for awhile, living as close as possible to Nature. By-and-by we decide to erect permanent dwellings, when Nature is fairly conquered and life humanized; but everything must come in its proper place and time. Our politic relations grow in a similar way. First we have the district meeting, which is to arrange about our roads, and our schools, and the other primitive wants of the neighbourhood. Then we take in the township, the county, and the province. These are joined to an older or larger province, and then these provinces unite to send representatives to a general Parliament, which reacts on us by ensuring social order, and making laws which will supplement our local institutions, and weld us together as one responsible people.

A careful observer is struck with the naturalness of these arrangements. They are the working out of conditions which require little statesmanship, only the most plodding common-sense. Confederation is the simple hanging together of a chain of provinces which are similar in climate and circumstances, without the inward union out of which real nationalities grow. To make a people one, some great common idea and sentiment must be cherished, which will give them a common life, that is sure to demand organization.

At present the question arises, as we think of the future of Canada, Where is the uniting principle that will make us a real nation? Is it to be found in religion? That is the first bond of nations. Alas! we are divided into a hundred jarring sects, and these conflict in every settlement, and village, and city throughout the land. Is the union one of politics? All the provinces fight for their own hand, in order to get their own men into power; and the chief object, apart from personal ambition, is to obtain grants of money from the general funds for the local advantage of the districts. Is the uniting principle loyalty to Great Britain? If England would let the provinces do what they wish, and the mother-country would bear the expense of empire uncomplainingly, the feeling of loyalty to the Queen might, in time of strain, hold the provinces together. But distance from the centre of empire, differences in circumstances which may easily occasion misunderstanding, and the self-sufficiency which is characteristic of young nations, will greatly try this loyalty to England, as the basis and inspiration of Canadian national unity.

The Divine Providence alone knows what will make a nation of us; but we are now a people full of confusion, and without either conscious aims or a manifest destiny. Then, the changes that are passing around us speak loudly of the first principles of law and order. Here we have, for example, the land question, which Nature herself is teaching us and solving for us. Land is abundant, and it is of no use or worth until it is occupied and cultivated--until a man puts his labour into it, and lives a hard life while he is preparing it for a crop. It is his honest toil which makes the land his own. Even the Indians are growing out of associated labour, and taking up homesteads of their own. In a neighbourly way one settler helps another, and receives the labour back again. Men see plainly enough that holding land in association, and working it together, would not be a just mode, or one that could be successful in husbandry. The growth of the Socialistic spirit in our new conditions of life is never even thought of as possible. The universal feeling is, that if a man wants land he must go on a piece set apart for him, and improve it by his own labour, and make an estate for himself and his family, on which he may live an independent life, and so form a part of a general voluntary society.

Socialism in land may be the dream of congested cities, and of mechanics in towns who toil hard for daily bread; but it will not lift its head in such countries as North-West Canada, where land is abundant, and the toil of cultivating it is great. Why does not the Socialist take up his common right with us? We will not hinder him; but if after ten years' experience he remains Socialist, and wishes to put his theory on land into practice, he will find himself the butt of universal laughter, and simple common-sense will cover him with ridicule.

The notions which cause so much commotion in Europe, if they were tested in our new conditions, where they would have fair play, and could be tried even by those who believe in them, would soon demonstrate themselves, and show their inutility for the production of human prosperity and happiness. Honest labour alone will make true wealth, and land is yet abundant in God's great world, where all could be fed and clothed if the Divine laws were but efficiently carried out. Crude notions and intellectual dreams cannot cheat Nature. She placidly lets her children try their whims, but behind her hand is surely hid her rod for punishment, when those whims are false, however decorated they may be with the names of wisdom and philosophy.

What can be a greater folly in these new countries than the idea of placing the chief national taxation on the land, in order that it may bear the chief burden of the State? We are in the process of beginning to exist; our wealth has to be made. Our anxiety at first is how to live at all. To take up land, and to work it, is to begin the fight for bread, and very often it is a life-and-death struggle for many long years. Is it fair, or right, or even prudent, to 'kill the goose that lays the golden egg'? What are manufactures, and merchants, and professions, without agriculture as a thriving industry? Absolutely nothing. The land is the mother who feeds them all. Who turned our prairies into farms, and gave them value? The men who rescued the soil and made it useful. No Government did it; no merchant or manufacturer did it. Who, then, can ever claim, on any ground of justice, the right to oppress this interest? or, even on State-social theories, to take the land from its owners for some supposed national good? The land is, with us, pre-eminently real estate, and it is given, at first hand, by Heaven to the first cultivator, who has a title which is as ancient as the title to the Garden of Eden. For 'the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it.'

This reasoning does not apply to the land which is given away, and held, by the favour of men in power, for mere speculative purposes. Such land is to be sold again when the labour of the husbandman has made it valuable in the market. This misuse of land, this stealing of God's domain from the poor and the landless, is a grievous sin and iniquity, which will cry to heaven for vengeance on the guilty and those who rob God. Such speculation in public lands anywhere is the seed of revolutions that almost justify the basest passions and the most universal anarchy. No crime has been more common than this among public men throughout the American Continent. Extreme Socialists and Nihilists fasten their eyes on riches gathered in such ways, and they forget the self-sacrifice and toil of the many in their disgust at the riches of the few and the unscrupulous. They are not in the mood to remember the wisdom of the householder, who said of the wheat and the tares, 'Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.'

Among other changes taking place, there is the growth of villages and towns. But yesterday the land was all solitude, and now on all sides arise centres of business which, to avoid offence, must be gravely designated cities. Some enterprising persons get land surveyed into small lots; advertise the place as the centre of everything and everywhere; a store is set up, a hotel, a room for a meeting-place, a blacksmith's shop, and a church for every denomination; and if fortune favour the audacity, the place grows for a time, lots are bought and sold, until a rush takes place to see what can be 'made,' and then all sorts of people congregate, and endeavour to outwit one another. Often, in these incipient towns, it is as well not to inquire particularly what the idea and practice of the moralities are. It is not long ago since it was considered a witticism worthy of laughter to exclaim: 'The Almighty has not got so far as this yet'--a saying that is suggestive to a wise and thoughtful man of the condition of things if all churches and religious institutions were absent, or if the culture of the sense of God in the human soul were neglected as a basis of civilization. The missionary comes face to face, in a very vivid manner, with the fact that without religion civilization could not exist. Mankind, especially the so-called civilized humanity, would quickly degenerate into mere animal life, and the dwelling-places of men would become dens of misery by reason of the lawlessness of their greed, and of their other base passions. By-and-by this rowdyism gives way to a better condition of things, as people of more settled habits find their way into a new district; but it is always a long time before the intense restlessness of these populations is conquered, and that spirit of reverence and repose comes which alone forms a proper basis for the higher intellectual and religious life. It is true that we have a certain surface intelligence and sharpness in our new communities, but learning, in any real sense, is seldom met with. We cannot appreciate it, and it is generally looked upon as a useless incum-brance. The question is often asked, What use is it? will it bring money? Education comprises simply arithmetic, writing a fair hand, the elements of grammar, and a smattering of history, compiled by almost anybody who can get his books introduced into the public schools; but the idea of correct thinking, the discipline of mind, or body, or spirit, in order that the purposes of life may be wisely fulfilled, is almost nowhere found; the one idea is to get on, to make an appearance, to have a good time--in a word, to enjoy the physical life to its utmost. In our state of society a man who reads, and thinks, and lives a life of contemplation, who has an ideal of any kind that he wishes to realize, is likely to be regarded as a crank, or a very peculiar person; and however gentle in manner he may be, he is almost always disliked, and if he should have the slightest independence of spirit, he will soon be even hated. Such men sometimes come and look on things for awhile, but then quickly fly away to other climes where they may be at rest. Yet these are the men we so greatly need, as an influence to quicken us to higher things, and to show us what civilization really is. Men may be contented with themselves, because they know no better, or they may have lost their sense of the value of deep thought and feeling, and then the scholar, the poet, the artist, the cultivated teacher of religion, are necessary, and all the more necessary in that at first they are so little valued and welcomed.

It is not long since I was on a visit to a distant part of my mission, and was receiving the hospitality of a retired trader. He was an old man, and had lived for years in the Mackenzie River district, seeing little of human life, and only reading of it in books and newspapers. He had, however, thought a good deal, and the desire possessed him to settle where there were more people, so that in his old age he might gather around him a few rays of civilization, and some of the blessings it should bring. Looking earnestly in my face, he said: 'May I ask you a question? Is that civilization which I see when I go into ------?' He had not realized his ideal; he was simply shocked to find 'white men' contented with a condition of morals and manners that was in no way better than could be found around mission-stations in the most distant settlements. It is this kind of civilization which does such great harm in these districts among the natives of the country. They first look on with surprise and revulsion, then they imitate, and quickly and wildly rush on to their own utter extinction.

For sixteen years, in a country as large as England, while these changes were taking place, I was the only clergyman of the Church of England. I had to cover this ground, and to travel everywhere alone, as I could not afford a servant. Alone I crossed the rivers, slept at night wherever I could, and often simply under the trees, and miles away from any human being. Alone I attended to my horse, and prepared my meals. If people were sick they sent for me. If children were to be baptized, or parties wanted to be married, I had to go anywhere for the service. Now, in 1895, in a few chief centres, there are other clergymen carrying on the work, and doing their best to grapple with the difficulties of a large and very mixed immigration. I am supposed to be retired, after twenty years of this real missionary work, to a parish eight miles square, where I can do the duties of a country priest, and comfort myself with the thought that I belong to the class of country clergymen who, like Herbert and Keble, are the glory of the Church of England. Once I broke down when on a journey by a lonely road. I was trying to repair a broken screw of my conveyance, when there came along four persons. One was an American, travelling to view the country; the others knew me well, and with great readiness gave me their assistance in repairing the accident. The American, observing the manner of my native friends, came up to me, and in his friendly fashion said: 'Sir, may I ask who you are, and what is your station in the Church? Are you Archdeacon, Bishop, or what?' Not expecting these questions, I could only reply: 'No; I am none of these, and I have no ambition for such offices. I have only wished for many years to be the good Samaritan of this whole country-side.' With a bright light in his eyes the American answered: 'Thank you, sir, that will do,' and went on his way. This reply of mine was quite unpremeditated, but on full reflection I am quite contented with it. Still, as ever, the lowliest service is the highest in the Church of Him who came 'not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.'


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