Settling the West; exhibit focuses on Canadian homesteaders CanWest News Service
Published: Saturday, October 29, 2005 Article tools
At the end of the 19th century the federal government began an international campaign to attract settlers to Western Canada. That campaign, and the experiences of the more than two million people who came to this country, are the focus of Acres of Dreams: Settling the Canadian Prairies, a new exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Homesteaders were offered 65 hectares for $10 on the promise that they would break the land and build a house.
The exhibition includes promotional posters and pamphlets in a dozen European languages, most of which paint "an exceedingly rosy picture of life" in the new "Promised Land," the museum says.
"Winters are 'invigorating' and harvests are invariably 'bountiful.' "
Among those who took up the offer were Ukrainian peasants and American farmers who were attracted by the prospect of cheap and fertile land. Mennonites and Doukhobors were enticed by assurances of religious freedom and communal land ownership. There were also Germans and Swedes; British patriots and French-Canadians; Catholics and Jews.
For many of them, life on the Prairies was "more akin to a nightmare than a dream," the museum says. Bountiful crops often did not materialize. And some of the newcomers faced discrimination: two newspapers quoted in the exhibition labelled immigrants "the scum of other lands" and "the refuse of civilization."