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Canadian Life as I Found It
Chapter XII February, 1905


IT is lovely weather here now, hardly any snow left. All the streets are like young rivers. It's beautifully warm in the day time; too warm, for every one says that we shall pay for it later on.

There was a talk of a bridge being built over the Saskatchewan river, and I hoped to get some work on it to keep myself in trim; but I see no signs of it yet, and even if it did begin now, it would be useless to me, as we shall be soon thinking of leaving here for the prairie. The correspondent of the Standard you write about, who is starting his journey paid to Canada, but with only 5 in his pocket clear on arrival, will prove nothing really as to homesteading difficulties. Of course he will succeed in getting work if he is not afraid of taking anything that presents itself; there are not half enough men down East to meet the demand. But what I should like to see him try, would be to bring out a wife and child with him, and take up a homestead in the North-West, then I guess the accounts he would write home would be slightly different. If I were alone I could get I dare say my 2 dollars a day, because I can turn my hands to almost anything; but even then I should have to go East to the settled parts, for up here no one has any money to spend on hiring labour; we all help each other as much as we can.

I expect young P---- has given you glowing accounts. They may be true of his part of Canada, for Winnipeg and its immediate vicinity is civilized, and this part is very far from being so as yet. I don't blame him for buying a farm and staying in a civilized district, near a big town, if he can afford it, for this homesteading is no feather-bed business up here.

I hope that he has not been telling you any ghastly tales of lonely men on the trail. Of course we never know what may happen, but we don't allow our thoughts to dwell upon it, or we should have no nerves left. We do the best we can and look out, and if we break down and there is no one about, why we sit down, light a pipe if we have one, and wait till some one comes along.

My wife is very plucky, she makes the best of everything. If it were not for her I should often feel inclined to throw it all up, I see so many difficulties ahead of us.

We have very good neighbours on the prairie, very helpful ones, which is a great thing. Three young Scotchmen came out last spring; took up free grants 4 miles from our place. We saw a great deal of them before coming into town, and we shall be glad to meet them again; they stayed out this winter.

What P---- told you about the railway is all twaddle, no one can tell yet when we shall get it, but I do know that in the spring they are to start with it from Winnipeg West and then go on from several points at once, and meet on the road. This railroad is to be opened by 1910, so they will have to hurry up, as after that all delay will mean so much out of the contractor's pockets.

We do not know which survey will be taken, but anyhow our place will not be far from a line, and then later on we hope a town will be built near us in time.

What P-- told you about selling one's claim is perfectly true. One can sell a claim and take up another, but one cannot take out a patent for the second one. One can never have its title-deeds, neither sell mortgage or even rent it out on shares, for it always belongs to government. I think that if ever I sell my claim I shall not want to buy another; only I am afraid that when I get the place cropped and more comfortable, I shall not like to sell it, after having gone through all the hard times, and built up a home.

Our nearest neighbour, Captain R--, came into town yesterday, and he has fallen so in love with this country, that he is selling property at home to invest the proceeds on his place here.

He took out a seeder with him and told me it would be as much for my use as for his. I must take out a plough as I have not got one; the breaking plough I bought first is only used for turning up the sods.

I expect that this year will be a pretty hard one, but I shall fight through it, God helping me, and we hope next winter to be able to stay out, for this town business does not pay.

We are having another cold spell now, 400 below zero nearly every day, but one can bear it very well, if there is no wind. We are told that it will be worse next month. I hope not, for it is most uncomfortable to go about packed up like a mummy.

We expect an awful rush up here in the spring, we are told that it will beat all records. Some are already coming out in spite of the cold, and go straight on to the land. Those coming now are from the States, they don't seem to feel the cold at all.

Mr. J--- is in England and if you send to his address he will bring anything out. What I want you to send is a Union Jack; I cannot get one here, and I should like to have one to fly on Sundays; it would look like a bit of home.

The Scotch neighbours were in town the other day, and met an old schoolfellow of theirs who was having tea with us. It is strange how one meets in unexpected ways.

These neighbours have done wonderfully well. They have a good big shack on one grant, a small one on each of the two others, a sod-barn, a cow and calf, poultry, hen-house, three horses, 20 acres each broken, and they only got on their place last June, but had 600 capital between them. As for the living part, I should think there was a certain amount of drawback, for men are rather at sea in housekeeping matters; but as one of them told me there ought to be no waste on a well-regulated farm. If they can't eat the bread they have made, there are the dogs or the poultry, and as a last resource the British Museum, where it would sometimes be as great a curiosity as the Fiscal policy.

They have really accomplished much more than I have, but then they were three men together and I was alone.


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