Western Canada in 1886
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1963-64 season
At present when historical geographers study the geography of a region, they tend to favour what has been called the "vertical theme" - the approach which emphasizes geographical change through time. But there is another method used by historical geographers, the "horizontal theme", in which an attempt is made to reconstruct the past geography of a region at a critical period or stage in its development. In such a study, rather than looking at dynamic changes through time, one looks at dynamic interrelations in an area at a given time. Ideally, of course, one should follow the changes through both time and space, but this cannot be done simply or briefly and therefore is seldom attempted. Besides, the holding of one element static-time, for example-may serve to bring out relationships that would otherwise be obscured. Often the geographical forces are abstracted when a long sweep of time is examined, and one does not learn the full geographical context in which they are functioning. In my talk tonight I am experimenting with the cross section approach - emphasizing the horizontal and subordinating the vertical theme - in a study of Western Canada  in the decade of the 1880s.  I am doing this in the hope that an audience of historians in Manitoba may find that there is value in learning something of the geography of the Canadian West during a critical stage in its development, in a period with whose history you are all familiar.
I believe that the decade of the 1880s is an important period in the evolution of the Canadian West, because it was during those years that many of the forces that produced the present day geographical pattern of the area began to operate effectively. Before 1870 the conditions of the fur trade era still prevailed. But why select 1886 as the year in which to reconstruct the geography of Western Canada? In the first place, there had been a decade and a half of immigration and agricultural development since the transfer of Rupert's Land to Canada and the end of the domination of the fur trade. Thus we can learn something of the problems encountered by settlers in occupying the plains. Yet, the cross section is not taken so late that we fail to catch the pioneer stage in the development of commercial agriculture in the West. Furthermore, the Canadian Pacific Railway's transcontinental line was functioning efficiently by 1886. Besides the C.P.R. main line, a few other lines were in operation in 1886, yet the railway net was barely begun, so that some interesting tensions are revealed, pointing up the great importance of transportation as a factor in shaping the geography of an area. Finally, data is available in 1886 for a geographical analysis. A fairly good census was taken in 1886, and enough newspapers were being published by that time to make information on settlement available.
On July 1, 1886 the first Canadian Pacific Railway transcontinental train passed through Winnipeg, marking the inauguration in Canada of fast efficient transportation from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. Between Lake of the Woods and the Rocky Mountains this train did not cross an empty land. By 1886 there were approximately 163,000 people in the province of Manitoba and the provisional districts of Assiniboia, Saskatchewan and Alberta in the North-West Territories (Figure 1).  (The great flood of immigrants did not come until after 1900.) Ontario had a population of 2,020,000 in 1886, and British Columbia 74,000. Most of the people in Ontario were in southern Ontario, over a thousand miles from the prairies, and those of British Columbia were concentrated along the Fraser River and on Vancouver Island, roughly four hundred and fifty miles from the plains. And a great sparsely settled land, inhabited by natives and a few traders, extended in an arc around the northern limits of the plains, stretching to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean. But south of the 49th parallel, in the United States, occupation of the plains had been well advanced. Grain farmers had reaped some great crops in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and Dakota Territory, and were spreading west towards the Missouri River. The Northern Pacific Railway had reached Bismark in 1873, Miles City in Montana Territory in 1881 and Portland two years later. Little land was broken by farmers beyond Bismark, but ranchers had been moving into the Dakota and Montana Territories in the '70s and the livestock industry was well established in the '80s. Settled areas, however, were far apart in 1886, and the land along the 49th parallel was virtually unoccupied, except in the area extending from the Red to the Souris River.
In the Canadian West the pattern of occupation showed no greater uniformity than in the American West. The marked variations in the distribution of population in 1886 are shown in Figure 2. These variations are, of course, a reflection of the history of the settlement and the economic development of the area to this time. Another way of ascertaining the pattern of growth is to examine the distribution of hamlets, villages and towns. Little contemporary information is available to show the difference in commercial development from place to place across the West. In Figure 3 an attempt has been made to show the relative significance of the different trading points by plotting the gross postal revenues for every post office in the West. Though not a completely reliable index of the relative economic positions of different places, gross postal revenue still does indicate where the most important urban concentrations were and points out the great variations in the geographic development of the West at this time.  In this talk, my object is to try to account for the variations by reconstructing the regional geography of Western Canada in 1886.
A study of the geography of Western Canada in 1886 not only provides us with the opportunity of seeing the faint outlines of the West we know today, but also sheds some light on the process of settlement in the area at a critical period. In 1886 the agricultural potentialities and limitations of the physical environment were not yet understood, so that the settlers could only proceed by trial and error, and gradually develop a suitable agricultural technology.  Changes in farm implements at this time did not have nearly the importance they were to have in the next century, when steam power was more widely used and the gasoline engine introduced. But another group of factors had an important effect on the development of the West in the 1880s. Improved transportation facilities were touching off great changes in some districts in the West, whereas their absence was holding back other districts where the land was of equal quality. The ideas of individual homesteaders regarding farm operations, the experiences that the immigrants in group settlements could apply to a new land, and the ambitions of investors all played a part in forming Western Canada.
Predominantly then, it is the interplay of the nature of the land with the form and extent of transport available, the homestead and immigration policy of the Canadian Government, the agricultural technology of the time, and the aspirations, ideas and abilities of the farmers that created the geography of Western Canada in 1886.
For the purpose of this study I have divided Western Canada into nine occupied regions and a nearly empty intervening and outlying area within which these more developed regions are found. (Figure 1 shows these regions). In 1886 there was no continuous settlement through the West, so that some of the regions were simply isolated focal districts of occupation within a sparsely settled matrix. Further differentiating characteristics used in defining the regions were the character of the settlement pattern and the nature of the prevailing land use. In this talk I do not intend to analyze the advance of the farming frontier across the West, but most of the reasons for the varying pace of exploitation will become evident from the regional discussion. Almost certainly, the inhabitants would have recognized other regions both smaller and larger than the ones I have selected, depending on the definitions they were using. The division used here, however, distinguishes satisfactorily the major geographical variations in the area between Lake of the Woods and the Rocky Mountains. 
The Manitoba Lowland (See Figure 1 for boundaries and the location of neighboring regions) is a flat lacustrine basin ranging from 713 to 1200 feet above sea level, bounded on the east by a higher wave-worked till plain, and on the west by the alluvial slope to the Manitoba Plateau. It is paradoxical that this monotonously flat prairie, with trees only along the rivers and in the area north of the Assiniboine River, should in 1886 have been the most complex geographical region in Western Canada. Yet the paradox is not difficult to explain. Flat clay plains with extensive marshes can ward off farmers just as effectively as very rough terrain. Settlers faced with the wet plain clung to the natural levees bordering the Red and the Assiniboine rivers or settled on the edges of the region where the land was higher and better drained and the waterlogged clays had given way to coarser-textured loams. In future years millions of dollars were to be spent in draining this rich lowland, but in 1886 the magnitude of the task had only been revealed by a few futile attempts at drainage. Consequently, continuous agricultural settlement was impossible in the lowland. The development of settlement over three quarters of a century added further complex human contours to this region. Situated between Lake Winnipeg and the United States boundary, this region was the threshold to the West, almost as if it were a bridgehead beyond the Canadian Shield from which an agricultural start could be made on a vast unknown land. Since the time when Lord Selkirk's agricultural colony was established on the Red River in 1812, all settlers from Eastern Canada or Europe passed through here, whether they arrived via Hudson Bay, Lake Superior or St. Paul, and, naturally, the earliest immigrants made this area their home. Only in the 1870s did settlement increasingly begin to fan out from this marshalling ground of the West.
In 1886 the Lowland held approximately 63,000 people, 39% of the total population of the West, and contained about 24% of the cultivated land.  Settlements were densest along the Red and the Assiniboine near Winnipeg, where the descendants of the Selkirk colonists on their river lots formed the oldest agricultural settlement in the West. Scotsmen, Englishmen and Scots half-breeds predominated north of Winnipeg, but to the south the French half-breeds, called Métis, were in the majority. A notoriously careless mixed farming characterized these long-settled river lots, a far cry from the commercial grain farming prevailing even as close as Portage la Prairie!  Beyond the river lots the prairie was empty, partly because of the marshes, partly because the land was in the hands of speculators. Winnipeg 'businessmen were conscious of the bad impression visitors gained of Manitoba when they saw these empty lands surrounding the capital city of 20,238 people, and in 1886 were anxiously looking for solutions to the problem. 
Away from the confluence of the Red and the Assiniboine the settlements were much more recent, most of the farmers having arrived since the creation of Manitoba in 1870. Generally these settlers homesteaded 160-acre lots, laid out according to the regular rectangular survey which was used through most of the West. As yet the settlements established in different parts of the region had not coalesced, remaining separated by scattered marshes.
Ontario people of English, Scottish and Irish ethnic origin established themselves on the eastern fringes of the region, near woods and meadowland at Emerson and Birds Hill and in similar country north of Winnipeg at Stonewall. Drainage works had been undertaken in these districts during the Manitoba land boom of 1881-82. After the boom broke, in the Birds Hill district at least, there was such a burden of public and private debt that further progress was difficult.  By comparison, the Ontario settlers who had leapfrogged the marshes and settled on the western margin of the region at Portage la Prairie, Carman and Morden had extremely bright prospects. These western slopes consisted of well drained, coarse-textured high quality soils, and by 1886 it had been proven that they were excellent for growing grain. Even in the drought year of 1886 these districts produced adequate crops. Already these farmers were experimenting with new varieties of wheat and with fruit-growing; horses were replacing slow-moving oxen and frame buildings log structures, and land was selling for high prices. The progress is best revealed in the fact that on the Portage Plains, north of Portage la Prairie, the average farmer was already cultivating 85 acres in 1886. Such results attracted to the West people who often ignored the fact that conditions elsewhere in this extensive country might be quite different.
Non-British ethnic groups had also made their homes in the lowland. At Ste. Anne and St. Pierre, French Canadians from Quebec and New England lived on river lot settlements along small tributaries of the Red, depending upon mixed farming for their livelihood. In 1874 the first large group-migration from Europe since Lord Selkirk's colonization brought Mennonite farmers into the bush and meadow country near Steinbach, and a year later to the well-drained prairie west of Gretna. Both Mennonite settlements consisted originally of agglomerated farm villages, but by 1886 these villages were beginning to break up. This was particularly so at Gretna where the Mennonite farmers had made a success of growing grain, and felt that more land could be acquired and greater flexibility of operations achieved on the dispersed homesteads. In 1886 this was the most densely settled area in the West outside the Winnipeg district.
Since 1875 a group of Icelandic settlers had been living in the northern part of the region near Gimli, completely separated from the other settled areas, in a district where farming was virtually impossible. By 1886 many of the Icelanders had left for better lands in Manitoba and the United States. Those who remained made their living partly from fishing but mainly as lumbermen.  On Lake Manitoba at St. Laurent there was a Métis fishing and trapping community dating from the 1850s.
Gimli and St. Laurent could be reached only by long trails through bush country, though in summer the former could also be visited by steam boat, but nearly all the other settlements in the Lowland were connected to Winnipeg by rail. Local roads were very poor. Road allowances were generally ignored and trunk routes followed the higher ridges, except in the Portage Plains where roads were already built along section lines. Because of the poor roads, grain was often not hauled to the trading centres until freeze-up.
Trading centres were always quickly established once farmers moved into a new area, and all parts of the Lowland were well served. Winnipeg on the Red River was a centre for the entire West as well as for the surrounding area. All the trading towns offered essentially the same services. Each had a post office, a number of stores, a lumber yard, hotel, blacksmith shop, grain buyer, a grist mill, and perhaps a roller mill.
In addition to Winnipeg there were two other important towns located on the Red River. Selkirk (population 705 had hoped to become the hub of railway operations in the west, but when the C.P.R. crossed the Red at Winnipeg, Selkirk had to be content with remaining the centre of steam boat, lumbering and fishing operations on Lake Winnipeg. Seven steam boats operated out of Selkirk, including three on the run to Grand Rapids connecting with the Saskatchewan River service.  The saw mills on Lake Winnipeg (Figure 2) shipped their products to market via Selkirk, and there were the two largest fishing firms in the West based in the latter town. Emerson (population 796) had thrived as the supply base of southwestern Manitoba until 1883, when the Pembina Branch of the C.P.R. diverted the trade of that area to Winnipeg. In 1886 Emerson was a dull place with empty warehouses and stores. Many houses were vacant, and people were leaving to establish businesses in the new towns along the Pembina Branch.  Morris, in the midst of the poorly drained area, had been built up in the Manitoba boom of 1881-82 even though there was no sustaining hinterland around it, but by 1886 it had declined so far that even its grist mill was moved west.  Portage la Prairie (population 2028) had suffered severely from over-expansion and dispersion of buildings in the boom, but it had a sufficiently productive hinterland so that it had weathered these conditions and was recovering in 1886. It was reported that "the dull times are benefiting the town by forcing the centralization of business and giving the business street a more compact appearance."  The Manitoba and Northwestern Railway (M. & N.W.R.) line built from Portage la Prairie to the Riding Mountain region during the 1880s added to the town's importance.
Railways were a matter of life and death to all these trading centres. Morden came into existence in 1883 when the Pembina Branch reached the Escarpment, and it grew quickly at the expense of Nelson, five miles to the northwest, which had been the leading centre in southwestern Manitoba. In 1886 Morden had about 600 people, Nelson only 83, but Nelson was not a ghost town, for instead of abandoning their buildings the departing townsmen had dragged them to Morden. Small centres such as Steinbach, Ste. Anne and Gimli survived away from the railways as centres of various ethnic groups.
In this region the first wave of development was completed, and many farmers were sadly bound here with the investments they had made on poorly drained land. Further settlement here would require the investment of thousands of dollars in drainage works, so most immigrants were continuing west, to the chagrin of local municipal officials.  But in this region there was already a sense of history, for the distinctive ethnic groups - Scots, French Canadians, Métis, English, Mennonites and Icelanders were proud of their established settlements. And this region was already in 1886 contributing people to the regions farther west where more easily developed lands were open for homesteading.
In 1886 the Riding Mountain region was virtually the northern fringe of settlement in Manitoba; not because there was no good land farther north, but because it was at the limit of adequate transportation facilities. The region was almost entirely located above the Manitoba Escarpment on the southern and southeasterly slopes of Riding Mountain. Most of the area was an undulating till plain, covered by many shallow lakes, sloughs, meadows and scattered clumps of aspen. In 1886 this region was often referred to as the Manitoba Highland because of the prominence of the moraine-covered Riding Mountain which rose to 2200 feet above sea level towards the north. Streams flowing from Riding Mountain across the region have eroded valleys over 100 feet deep in the plain, most of which lies at an elevation of 1400 to 1900 feet. The old cart trail from Winnipeg to Edmonton wound through this area, and by the 1850s the country was well known at Red River for its quiet beauty. It was part of the famous "Fertile Belt" that both Captain John Palliser and H. Y. Hind recommended as suitable for settlement.
Settlers began to move into this pleasant park country in the 1870s, well in advance of the M. & N.W.R. which was not completed through this region until 1886. About 12,000 people were living here that year; most had come from Ontario but there were also many from Great Britain. However, the M. & N.W.R. was beginning to change the composition of the population by placing settlers from Hungary, Scandinavia, Iceland and Germany in the rougher lands north of the railway close to Riding Mountain  and on prairie land at the end of the line at Langenburg, Assiniboia. Despite the fact that the park landscape had drawn many of the settlers here, some farmers became impatient waiting for a railway, and in 1886 there were already many vacant homesteads in the area, the farmers having taken up new holdings near the C.P.R. main line.  Fortunately the approach of the railway had halted this exodus, but as the editor of a local newspaper said, "in the meantime the number of vacant farms is a sad evil, injuring the trade, making it difficult to operate schools, discouraging farmers." Roads were starting to follow the road allowances between farms, though on the flat interfleuves between Minnedosa and Birtle, where there were many sloughs, the cart trail to Edmonton was still in use, crossing section lines and farms indiscriminately. 
This region was the great mixed farming area of Manitoba in 1886, with a substantially higher number of cattle per 1000 acres of improved land than the southern part of the province. A few enterprising persons with capital had even brought in large herds of purebred cattle, and sheep ranching was being introduced. But grain farming was still important; the region contained about 9% of the cultivated land in the West. Wheat was the most widely grown of the grains, but oats and barley did have greater importance than elsewhere in the province. Acreages cultivated on each farm were relatively small, and as a result, there were still comparatively many oxen in the region. Oxen even outnumbered horses in the newly formed Hungarian and Scandinavian colonies. Log buildings were still very common, though those farmers close to the railway had been established long enough to replace log with frame structures.
The trading centres of the Riding Mountain region were like all the others in the West, except that there were saw mills in some places (Figure 2), sawing logs obtained from the highland to the north. Minnedosa (population 549) was the largest centre in the region, and the great concern of its citizens in 1886 was to secure a road across Riding Mountain to the fertile Dauphin country in the hope that they could then control the future trade of that region.  All the centres of the region were strung along the M. & N.W.R. except Rapid City, 23 miles southwest of Minnedosa. Rapid City, founded in 1878 on a projected route of the C.P.R. had at one time been the largest village in this region. But both the C.P.R. and the M. & N.W.R. had bypassed it and brought Brandon and Minnedosa respectively into being; as a result, Rapid City lagged far behind. By the spring of 1886 businessmen had begun to desert the village, despairing of ever getting a railway,  but late that year a spur line did reach it from Minnedosa. This was the first branch line in the West that was constructed to reduce the length of haul for farmers living between main railway lines. In their descriptions of the Riding Mountain region travellers invariably dwelt on the opportunities for hunting, but in 1886 settlers were feeling the need of other forms of recreation besides shooting, and the M. & N.W.R. was making plans to create a recreation centre at its settlement of Shoal Lake. But though newspapers went so far as to call the settlement the "Saratoga of the North", the project came to nothing, and Shoal Lake was to remain a farm centre.
There was a peaceful quality about this region: the feeling of a people well satisfied with their choice of a home, even though everyone realized that, much work remained to be done and that progress could never be as quick as in the grasslands south of Brandon. But the feeling of haste had receded, mixed farming made an adequate living possible, and shooting provided relaxation. This region, with its ravines and the gentle mountain, was very appealing, and there are many sympathetic descriptions of the country in travellers' accounts.
Most of the Brandon region is a well-drained plain rising in a gentle gradient from 1000 feet in the east to 1400 feet in the west, containing soils suited for grain growing and with enough trees to give variety to the landscape. Further, there are some distinctive landforms in the region which enabled settlers to identify themselves with a locality far more readily than the settlers lost in the indeterminate Manitoba Lowland. The Assiniboine river flows through the region in a trench that is up to 200 feet deep and a mile wide. There are some extensive duned areas in the eastern part of the region and there is an end moraine (fondly known as the Blue Hills of Brandon) to the south of Brandon. The history of agricultural settlement here was brief but it was an area in which farming was spectacularly successful. Frost damage to crops had caused some concern to farmers, but not until the drought of 1886 did there appear to be a serious obstacle to farming in the region.
Fur traders had been active in this area from the 1790s to the 1830s (partly to prevent the furs from going to the United States), but after 1830 the trade swung more and more to the northwest so that this area was practically ignored for about forty years until 1874, when the C.P.R. announced that it would build the transcontinental line south of Lake Manitoba. In the late 1870s steamboats brought farmers up the Assiniboine, and then, when the railway was constructed through the region in 1881, settlers entered in force. This region was quickly overrun by farmers from Ontario, and also many from Great Britain, who saw the advantages of the light-textured soil for easy breaking of the sod, and appreciated the convenience of having the railway right at hand for delivering grain. In 1886 there were about 11,500 people here, and the region contained approximately 17% of the cultivated land in the West. Many of the farmers had come in with some capital as well as experience and rapidly turned this region into a great wheat growing area, comparable to the Portage Plains and the Mennonite area near Gretna. Amazing progress was made. In no other region was there such a high acreage of cultivated land per farmer. In the municipality over 95% of the land occupied was under cultivation, and in another the average land cultivated was 125 acres per farmer. In 1886 almost a million bushels of grain were shipped from Brandon alone.  Cattle were of little significance and oxen had been largely replaced by horses.
Farming on such a large scale meant that the carrying out of farming operations began to be a problem. Even with the use of horses it was impossible to prepare large acreages carefully in spring for seeding, and therefore fall ploughing was adopted. Sometimes it was found that fallowing had "to take the place of fall ploughing, which is generally so largely interfered with by wet weather and threshing operations."  The value of summerfallow to conserve moisture was also becoming apparent in 1886, when only 8.75 inches of precipitation fell between April and September  (21% less than the average for those months) in Brandon. This is well revealed in the Manitoba Crop Bulletin: "This season will have the means of teaching Manitoba farmers a valuable lesson. By the judicious management of lands under cultivation, through summerfallowing, there is no reason to dread even a year of drought ... "  Others were making similar observations,  but an even fuller appreciation of the value of fallowing for conserving moisture was developing in the drought stricken Qu'Appelle Region, and will be described later.
The advances in agriculture were apparent in the landscape. Roads were good, barbed wire fences were common, farmers were planting shelter belts, and journalists were commenting on the exceptionally fine farm buildings in the region,  though there is little likelihood that the latter were very numerous. But these advances had not been achieved without some casualties, because there were reported to be extensive mortgages in the region, as farmers recklessly embarked on great farm improvements. 
Brandon (population 2348) was the second largest town after Winnipeg in the West. After its founding in 1881 on the C.P.R. main line, it had grown rapidly as the supply point for the surrounding area, and in 1886 it was actively working to retain its dominance against all possible rivals. Brandon grimly watched the extension of two lines from Winnipeg into Southern Manitoba in the summer of 1886, being well aware, as the Birtle Observer warned, that her trade was "endangered by the building of railroads to the south. Two lines are creeping up into the fine country tributary to the country town."  Brandon interests argued that "What we desire to see in this country is a network of roads that will leave no farmer more than twenty miles distant from an outlet; but at the same time we are for easily supported reasons desirous of seeing these same roads centering where general interests desire their convergence.  Naturally, the Brandon newspapers recommended and pleaded that the C.P.R. build a branch southwestward from Brandon into the Souris country, but nothing was resolved in 1886, though the approaching lines from Winnipeg were extended far enough (Figure 1) to cut seriously into Brandon's trade and to ensure that Winnipeg wholesalers would control southwestern Manitoba. Many small community centres (often consisting merely of a school or church and post office) served the farmers in the region, and most of these not on the railway line were connected to Brandon by mail stages (Figure 3).
This region specialized in wheat production; it had been hurt by frosts in 1885 and again by drought in 1886, but not enough to cause any basic change in land use. Farmers here did not have the extra work of clearing trees as in some areas to the north, the drainage difficulties of the lowland farmers, nor the problem of severe aridity that was plaguing the Qu'Appelle region to the west.
The Brandon region comprised the gradual rise from the Manitoba Lowland to the Manitoba Plateau, and the Riding Mountain region part of the southern slope is separated from the Lowland by a relatively abrupt escarpment formed of Cretaceous shales. There is a sharp rise of from 400 to 500 feet over a distance of a few miles to a plateau at approximately 1500 feet whose surface in 1886 consisted of undulating tree-covered slopes, meadows for grazing and many potentially arable stretches of grassland. The plateau also has its more scenic features. An impressive valley, up to three miles wide and 350 feet deep that is occupied by the Pembina river and a number of long narrow lakes, crosses the region from northwest to southeast, and the eastern and northern margins of the plateau are crowned by rough forested hilly country, partly morained and rising to over 1700 feet, called the Pembina Mountains and Tiger Hills respectively. A plain sloping from the Tiger Hills to the Assiniboine River is included in this region because the deep valley of the river and a large tract of sand dunes separated it from the Brandon region.
Settlers began to move to this plateau in the late '70s, when heavy rains made the high plains greatly preferable to the flooded lands of the Lowland region. Many farmers preceded the railways, since the Pembina Branch only reached Manitou in 1883 and was not extended through the region until 1835, and the Manitoba and Southwestern Railway (Glenboro Branch) was only built to Holland in 1885 and reached Glenboro the next year. Ontario people predominated in this region of 11,000 people, particularly in the southern rather open plains, which had been reached easily from Emerson by what was called the Boundary Commission Trail in the '70s. In the Tiger Hills to the north there was a greater variety of settlers. French Canadians from Quebec and New England had settled near St. Leon. In the western part of the hills at Grund some Icelanders who were dissatisfied with the Gimli area had started a settlement in 1880, which was progressing more quickly in 1886 than the settlement on Lake Winnipeg. British people had also selected homes in this region, and one journalist commented that "Wherever in the Pembina or Tiger Hills you come upon a picturesque spot, you find that an Englishman had caught on, if obtainable." 
Mixed farming was characteristic of the entire region, and in 1886 it held 10% of the cultivated land in the west. Along the railway line grain farming was nearly as far advanced as in the Brandon region; at Pilot Mound the farms averaged 75 acres under cultivation.
Some high quality cattle herds belonged to a few of the farmers of Ontario origin, and this area resembled the Riding Mountain region with regard to the livestock enterprise. In the rougher country north of the Pembina river, among the French, Icelanders and some German settlers, agriculture was not as far advanced, less grain was grown and the stock was of low quality.  As yet all parts of the Pembina region had a raw appearance, and one journalist was quite critical of the farmsteads near the Pembina Branch:
I expressly exclude the average farm house from everything I may say as to the beauty of the country. With a few noteworthy exceptions they are veritable Bleak Houses in appearance. Here and there a house was met with a coat of paint and some trees planted before the door, and if the farmer only knew how much more comfortable and home like it made them look, there would be very few bare farm houses left to mar the landscapes. 
The dry weather of 1886 made the grasslands everywhere in the west extremely susceptible to fire and from this region in particular there are some descriptions of the disastrous consequences of the prairie fires. Hay stacks were consumed, many farmers lost their cattle, stables and houses, and even trees on the hill tops were burned. It was reported that the prairie fires of 1886 caused more damage than the frosts of previous years.  The feeling of utter frustration the fires produced is revealed by a letter published in the Brandon Times, where it was suggested that anyone caught firing the prairie in fall "would meet that summary justice which would save all legal disputes in the matter."  Prairie fires remained a problem in Western Canada until settlement was sufficiently dense to make it possible to control the fires.
In this region trading points had been established before the railway lines were built, but as new town sites were surveyed on the railways the buildings in the existing centres were moved to them. Only in the area between the two railway lines did the first centres like St. Leon and Grund remain intact, but they had little hope of growing.  As the townsites were laid out, occasional businessmen from older trading centres, usually located in the Lowland, came out to appraise the new districts in the region and then settled in the places where they thought it would be most advantageous to found new businesses.  This approach was most often followed on the sites along the Pembina Branch because it was built through country already partly settled so that there was a farm community waiting to be served. A credit reporting agency stated that in 1886 the trading centres on the Pembina Branch expanded more rapidly than anywhere else in the West.  But by 1886 there were more than enough prospective tradesmen in the region, so that one local correspondent felt it wise to "inform outsiders that there is not room for more businessmen than we have at present except perhaps in a few callings that are not represented."  But it was still difficult at times to bring grain buyers to a station, and there were frequent complaints in the weekly press that no buyers have arrived at particular points. They were essential to attract trade. One village even sent delegates to Winnipeg to fetch buyers to the community.  At this time trading patterns were just being established, and sometimes there were great shifts in trade when buyers arrived at a station. In the winter of 1885-6 the Icelandic farmers transferred their grain trade from Brandon (a fifty-mile haul), to a station on the Pembina Branch (a thirty-mile haul), to Holland (a twenty-mile haul), as buyers finally appeared at the latter two places. 
Most of the Moose Mountain-Turtle Mountain region, despite its name, is Great Plains country. This area is about 1400-1700 feet above sea level and has the characteristic rolling surface of the plains. It is covered nearly everywhere with buffalo grass except for the bushes around depressions. If it had not been for two forested moraine covered uplands, Moose Mountain (2730 feet) and Turtle Mountain (2525 feet), that are really oases within the plains, and a major stream, the Souris, with fertile bottom lands and a belt of trees along it, this region would have attracted few settlers at this time. Some settlers, however, moved here, because they thought that on their claims they would escape the frosts that had damaged so many crops in the West in the '80s.
There were about 7,000 people in this region in 1886, not scattered over the countryside as in the older settled regions of Manitoba but gathered in carefully selected sites on the Souris River or close to the forested and ravine-scored slopes of the two "Mountains". Before settlement, this area had often been visited by Canadian fur traders on their hurried visits to the Mandan Indians on the Missouri, but it had not been on any important route until the Boundary Commission marked a trail close to the 49th parallel in 1873. A few squatters, usually coming in by this trail, had taken up favoured spots in the region before 1880,  but widespread agricultural settlements did not really begin until the railway reached Brandon in 1881. Settlers deliberately left the lands near the railway to hunt out favourable sites. They followed the Souris River to the flanks of Turtle Mountain, and also proceeded from Moosomin to Moose Mountain and the country about Alameda where there were coal deposits on the Souris. In the Manitoban part of the region most of the settlers hailed from Ontario, with a few from Britain as well, and by 1886 this district was part of a continuous (though greatly thinning) zone of settlement extending from the Brandon and Pembina regions. Saw mills on Turtle Mountain supplied these farmers with lumber. Moose Mountain was the centre of a British colony where the settlers hoped to re-create English country life on the park-like slopes of the highland. This colony was unique in the West because it was the only large group settlement whose location had been deliberately selected on the basis of the beauty of the landscape as well as for the agricultural potentialities of the land itself. The colony and the farmers at Alameda were still separated from both the C.P.R. to the north and the Pembina Branch to the east by relatively empty plains.  This then is the region where the westward advance of settlement had stopped in 1886.  But the farmers were still tied closely to the trees and water of the higher lands or the rivers, and not many had really ventured on the plains.
Effective agricultural settlement dated back only to 1881, yet the area already contained about six per cent of the land cultivated in the West. The census figures indicate that this was a wheat growing region, though little grain was marketed, because until the Pembina Branch reached Deloraine in October, 1866, grain had to be carried up to one hundred miles to market, and half the proceeds or more were used to pay for the haulage. Farmers intended to turn this into a grain growing region, and cattle were scarce, though there were surprisingly many oxen in use, partly because they could endure long distance trekking to market better than horses.
For the eastern part of the region the year 1866 was rather exciting, because the railway finally penetrated into the region, reorienting the trade from Virden and Brandon to new towns on the Pembina Branch. Profiteering lumber and implement dealers flocked to the new places,  their arrival resented by residents who knew that these businessmen were generally only transients. This feeling is expressed in the following quotation concerning Killarney, one of the new villages: "those who come here should do so with the intention of staying and growing up with the place, and not of coming here expecting to reap a harvest and then move on."  Killarney even received trade from North Dakota, and some immigrants heading for North Dakota travelled via the Pembina Branch and Killarney because it was the easiest route to their American homesteads.  At Moose Mountain a town site was being developed to serve the British colony, and the only roller mill in the West away from a railway already expressed the ambitions of these colonists. Mail stages connected the settlement to Moosomin, forty miles away.
The eastern part of the Moose Mountain-Turtle Mountain region resembled the Brandon region in that it lacked cattle, but as yet it had not become an important grain producing district. The western part of this region was unique in that it was the only settled farming area in the territories located well south of the C.P.R. main line. Unlike the farming districts on the Saskatchewan river, which were also well away from the railway, it was growing without the help of direct government expenditures. But the fact remains that the sustained development of the region was going to be dependent upon a railway, and in 1886 there was talk of building a line from Brandon to the Souris coal fields.
The Qu'Appelle region is a plain, varying between 1500 and 11'00 feet in elevation, extending from Virden in Manitoba to Moose Jaw in Assiniboia. Around Regina is a flat lacustral basin, that looked especially barren in 1886 because of the lack of trees, but cast of Qu'Appelle the land is a gently rolling till plain, with the trees along the creeks and in the numerous depressions setting off the many meadows which could easily be ploughed. There are no higher lands in this region to attract settlers as in the Moose Mountain-Turtle Mountain region, but the wide valley of the Qu'Appelle River, similar to the Pembina Trench, with its small lakes, partially compensated for this. And of course the C.P.R., which passed through this region in 1882, tipped the balance in favour of this region, even over the once much-publicized lands along the Saskatchewan river. But a large part of this region was within "Palliser's Triangle" and the main problem of the settlers was the dependability of rainfall. Obtaining water for domestic purposes and livestock was also of concern, and in the Regina and Moose Jaw areas government-owned well boring machines were being used in 1886 to try and find water. 
Settlers have bypassed the Qu'Appelle region for the more wooded Saskatchewan country in the 1870s anticipating that the first transcontinental railway would be built through that area. But as the C.P.R. pushed past Brandon in 1881, the same wave of Ontario and British settlers that had occupied the regions to the east moved in here, till it was stopped by the semi-arid lands of the Missouri Coteau west of Moose Jaw. In 1886 settlement extended south of the C.P.R. for 15 to 20 miles, and north for about 30 miles, right across the Qu'Appelle valley, and some group farm settlements had even penetrated 50 miles into the park country beyond (Figure 2). The Brandon region had received Ontario and British settlers almost exclusively, but here these groups comprised only half the population of about 23,500 people. Immigration agencies and societies found this a most suitable area for promoting settlement in the West, since it was an extension of the central Manitoba settlements and was served by the railway, so groups of Jews, Germans, Hungarians, Icelanders and colonies of poor folk from Great Britain were placed in this region - an indication of the diverse ethnic groups that would populate these plains in later years.
A considerable variety of farming enterprises was to be found in this region, but the individual homesteader was still the most significant human element in the development of this land. Each homesteader had psychological as well as climatic hazards to face. Some settlers complained about the scattered settlement resulting from the regulation that only even-numbered sections could be homesteaded. This made it difficult to create true communities,  and even the Assiniboia Agricultural Society deplored the day to day isolation, and admitted that "The loneliness preys on the minds and nerves of the women."  An attempt to solve at least part of this problem of isolation was made in the winter of 1886 at Qu'Appelle, where market was organized on the first Saturday of every month bringing the farmers of the district together to exchange and sell stock. 
The colonies made up of people who had little or no experience in farming and no capital fared worst of all. Not only did these settlers face a new environment but they also had to learn how to farm. A Dominion Immigration Agent reported in 1886 that most of the colonies found farming a very severe struggle. 
There were also settlers of some means in this region. Along the Pipestone River near Grenfell, just south of the C.P.R. line, there was a district, occupied by Englishmen with capital, where the well equipped farmsteads contrasted sharply with the average pioneer homestead of the West. But by 1886 some of the Englishmen had already regretted their decision to settle on the prairie and had departed with a bitter feeling against the country. A few large "bonanza" farms, similar in conception to those of the Red River valley of the United States, were operated in this region in the 1880s. Yet not nearly as many investors were operating company farms here as were involved in the cattle ranches of the Bow River region, probably because wheat growing was still too precarious. The Bell Farm at Indian Head, owned by a Winnipeg-controlled syndicate, was the largest company farm in the West, extending over 57,000 acres (6,000 were under cultivation in 1886). It employed 300 men with 150 teams in the summer season, and paid out $10,000 a month in wages.  Homesteaders resented the few company farms that were in existence because they brought few permanent residents into an already sparsely settled land. 
All these settlers had moved into this region with the intention of growing grain, and about one quarter of the cultivated land in the West was found in this region. Farmers were specialized. In some districts there were fewer cattle than in any other part of the West, and horses already outnumbered oxen in the western part of the region, though in the east, where there were more settlements well away from the railway, oxen were still of great importance. The drought of 1886 caused a crop failure in this region and pointed up the hazards of growing grain in areas where there was still an inadequate knowledge of the environment. Stock raisers at Regina even resorted to driving cattle to Saskatoon for the winter after hay and water had given out in the drought.  Little wonder that settlers were apprehensive that another crop failure would ruin the country's reputation.  Outside newspapers were already suggesting that more immigrants should not be sent into the region until an appropriate method of farming was devised. 
The habit of neglecting even the most self-evident farming requirements, stemming from the first years of settlement when some farmers had only thrown the grain on the ground and obtained a crop, had aggravated the basic problem of undependable rainfall. But astute farmers everywhere were aware that not only would tillage operations have to be carried out more carefully, but that some changes in techniques would have to be made. There was already a strong indication as to what the solution would ultimately be. At Indian Head Mr. Angus Mackay was experimenting with a system of summerfallowing, fall ploughing and harrowing, early seeding and heavy rolling, and he found that land treated in this way produced far better yields in 1886 than land ploughed and seeded in spring, even though the rainfall was the same.  Correspondents in a number of papers suggested similar agricultural recommendations. It is interesting that in Manitoba mixed farming was strongly recommended as the best means of improving agriculture, whereas in this area of wheat specialization, careful tillage that would ensure a good seed bed for grain was advocated as the key to successful farming. And unless summerfallowing was adopted there simply was not time to accomplish this over large acreages in fall and spring alone. 
The trading centres spaced at regular intervals along the C.P.R. had a special importance in 1886 as supply bases for the settlements to the north and south of the line. Virden and Moosomin, however, were beginning to be affected by competition, as Birtle on the M. & N.W.R. started to cut into their hinterlands in 1886. Most of these places had only from 100 to 200 peopled  yet great quantities of supplies were distributed from each. Broadview served the York settlement, and Qu'Appelle was the main supply centre for the 5,000 people in the Prince Albert area. Regular stage and freight services were maintained between the latter two points.
Regina, with a population of 1,000  and the capital of the Northwest Territories, deserves special mention. The bitterness felt by most other centres in the Territories over the selection in 1882 of Regina as the capital had somewhat abated by 1886. Many people, though, were still genuinely dismayed about the site; one correspondent suggested that the capital be moved to Long Lake but that some building should be left behind "as mementoes of the failure of founding the capital of the Northwest on a treeless and waterless plain."  Once established, however, the capital city was intent on commercial advancement. Regina citizens were envious of Qu'Appelle's northern trade and unsuccessfully attempted to wrest the northern mail route from it over Qu'Appelle's strong protest.  Nothing daunted, the Regina Board of Trade later in the year endeavoured to gain a share of Moose Jaw's trade with the Saskatoon and Wood Mountain settlements, by marking and improving the trails from Regina to those places.  Moose Jaw countered by holding a public meeting to decide what improvements could be made to the trails leading towards it.  But there were indications that trails alone would not suffice to control trade with outlying points for many more years. In June, 1886, the Regina and Long Lake Railway was opened for 22 miles north of Regina,  and a boat was later brought from Selkirk, Manitoba,  to operate on the lake and bring steam transportation another 40 miles northward.
There is no denying the fact that the Qu'Appelle region was settled at this time mainly because of the railway, and that settlers had moved in before anyone really knew whether arable agriculture was possible. Half a decade of settlement in the region was revealing important farming problems, and eyes were turning again to the "Fertile Belt" along the North Saskatchewan River as a more suitable place for settlement.  But settlers were in the Qu'Appelle region to stay - and they were in the process of learning how to live in this environment. This was the only region where "Palliser's Triangle" was really being penetrated by homesteaders in 1886, but Palliser's view that the area was virtually a waste land was only slowly being revised.
The Saskatchewan region is part of the northern park country of woods and meadows that was so widely praised for settlement by all who saw it. It is a rolling land occasionally rising to hummocky end moraine, which gains its separate identity within the West from the North and South Saskatchewan rivers whose waters meet in the area. Fur traders used the North Saskatchewan for many decades to travel westward; when a mission settlement was planned for this land in the 1860s and when the Métis, many from Manitoba, began to rendezvous and then settle here, it was only natural that they would live on, or close to, the great rivers. Prince Albert - the mission settlement - and the Métis settlements near Duck Lake and at Batoche would probably have remained relatively unnoticed for many years if the first route of the C.P.R. had not been projected through this area in the 1870s, and the telegraph line actually built at that time. The headquarters of the telegraph contractors, called Telegraph Flats (later Battleford), became a new centre of settlement in 1874 (it became the territorial capital three years later), and Manitoba and Ontario settlers anticipating the railway, moved into the region.
But after the decision was made in 1881 to build the C.P.R. along a southern route the region stagnated and even the capital was transferred to Regina. Only one new settlement, Saskatoon, was founded in the 1880s, in contrast to the many which were growing along the railway line to the south. In 1886 there were 7,000 people living in the region, including many Indians, Métis and English and Scots halfbreeds.
Potentially this was a splendid mixed farming country, but in 1886 it contained only about 3% of the cultivated land in the West. Agriculture had received a severe setback in the rebellion of 1885. Much stock had been destroyed and farmers had not even raised enough grain for seed, with the result that the government had to supply it on loan for the 1886 seeding. During the year following the rebellion foodstuffs were barged in from Edmonton, and grain hauled by cart from points on the C.P.R.  The Métis in the mesopotamia of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers were particularly poor,  and the government was only able to prevent widespread suffering by donating provisions and furnishing remunerative employment in freighting.  Though the region was not receiving immigrants in 1886 no one had any doubts about the suitability of the land for agriculture. The farmers were very proud of the results of their efforts, and two agricultural societies held exhibitions in 1886.  Since the farmers did not have an outside market for their produce, the purchase of supplies by the government for the Indians and the North West Mounted Police was extremely important in the economy. Advertisements requesting tenders for supplies such as grain, hay, wood and ice frequently appeared in the weeklies, and even when commodities were brought in from the outside, money could still be earned by freighting.
The region was connected with the outside world in a variety of ways. There were four steamers operating on Lake Winnipeg between Selkirk and Grand Rapids, and at Grand Rapids they connected with three steamers (two at the end of the season) that ran on the North Saskatchewan as far as Edmonton. The boats did not operate on fixed schedules, but the time required to go in 1886 from Selkirk to Grand Rapids was roughly one and a half to three days, and from there to Edmonton fifteen to seventeen days.  The Hudson's Bay Co. used these steamers for goods and employees. Goods were also conveyed down the two great rivers. Coal, timber and grain were carried from Edmonton to Battleford, and goods were barged from Medicine Hat to Prince Albert, but this latter route was too slow to make the venture successful.  The overland stage and wagon route to the C.P.R. railway remained the fastest connection for passengers and the most reliable for freight most people used it while the region was waiting for railway service. Prince Albert received most of its goods via Qu'Appelle, Battleford via Swift Current (Figure 1), along routes that were well marked and had stopping places. Occasionally freight for Battleford was also shipped via Regina or Moose Jaw. The 194-mile stage coach trip from Battleford to Swift Current was scheduled for 96 hours. Freight was usually carried in Red River carts for two cents a pound; in the 1886 freighting season, four million pounds of freight were hauled to Swift Current from Battleford. 
Prince Albert (population 600) was the trading and administrative centre of the region.  The main street paralleled the North Saskatchewan River, and its occasional substantial buildings of brick and stone made the town stand out in strong contrast to the hastily built trading centres to the south.  Battleford had not achieved Prince Albert's solidity as yet, but improvements were under way; new buildings were being constructed as the site of the town was shifted to higher ground from an area that was prone to flooding. This move was hastened after most of the old town was destroyed during the rebellion of 1885.  Kinosota on the Carrot River and Saskatoon on the South Saskatchewan were only small farming communities as yet.
The settlements in this region were not growing in population through immigration, but neither were many families leaving. Everyone was positive that the area would receive railway service before many more years either from an extension of the M. & N.W.R., or a branch line from the C.P.R. In the meantime the inhabitants liked to point out that life here was much more pleasant than in the southern prairies, and in Prince Albert there was even humourous speculation as to whether the town would accept connections by rail from a place like Regina. 
There really was little difference between the topography of the Edmonton and the Saskatchewan regions in 1886, and they need to be distinguished only because there was no continuous settlement between them. Forts located in this region had served as the coordinating centres for northwestern fur trading operations for a hundred years, and in 1886 Edmonton still continued this function. Settlement followed the pattern of the Saskatchewan region. Many Métis had settled on the shores of lakes or on the tributaries of the Saskatchewan River, and in the '70s other settlers entered from Manitoba and Eastern Canada following the projected route of the C.P.R. Many remained, even when the railway was not built, when they found that this region had a wide variety of resources. Of the 4,000 people in the region over 25 were of Indian origin.
This was another mixed farming area, in which coarse grains were more important than wheat, though less land was cultivated in the entire region than in many single municipalities in Manitoba. The editor of the Edmonton Gazette extolled the advantages of the region for mixed farming, and suggested that farmers in this park land could play a "waiting game" until a viable agricultural economy developed, whereas the farmers along the C.P.R. line would not be able to weather an economic storm.  In any case, farming here was restricted by a lack of market and low prices so that in 1886 less land was in crop than in 1885.  Lumbering was important west of Edmonton, and coal was mined on the banks of the North Saskatchewan, with 1200 tons produced in 1886.  Besides this the operations of the Hudson's Bay Company were still important to the economy of the region, and a prospector could average $5.00 in gold dust a day, panning in the North Saskatchewan River. 
As in the Saskatchewan region, the steam boats were in competition with the railway and stage route, and in 1886 were even offering, a lower rate for freight.  Local residents felt that the river connections with Battleford and Prince Albert were inadequate, and hoped that a local steamboat service on the upper North Saskatchewan would be started.  But since 1883 when the stage connection with the C.P.R. at Calgary had been established, the river's importance in carrying passengers had decreased. The stage was well patronized, and with stopping places every twenty miles the journey could be made in reasonable comfort. North from Edmonton there was an overland route to the Peace River, and it was suggested that a proper trail should be built in order to open a new market for Edmonton farmers. 
In this region there was still a sense of continuity with the fur trade days; as yet its character had not been greatly changed by agricultural immigrants. There was great confidence in the future possibilities of this region, and the editor of the Gazette stressed that Canadians should recognize that there were regional variations within the West. He maintained that such differences were especially evident in a year such as 1886 when Edmonton had a good crop whereas there was a general crop failure in the south.  A pointed reference to other centres in the West, made four years earlier, reveals the prevailing spirit: "The people here rest their hopes on the country and on themselves, not on the railway and the Government." 
The Bow River region extends from the Cypress Hills to the Rocky Mountains, rising from 2500 feet near Maple Creek to 4000 feet at Calgary and then to over 10,000 feet in the mountains. Precipitation averages as low as twelve inches annually in the east, but increases to eighteen inches in the foothills, so that short grasses cover the area, except in the forested Cypress Hills and in the mountains. Winters, as elsewhere in the West, are cold, but the chinook winds occasionally bring warmer weather, melting the snow and making winter grazing possible. The chinook, together with the many valleys and ravines in the foothills that provide shelter for cattle, makes this a fine ranching country.
Unfriendly Indians kept fur traders away from this area, except for an occasional foray, until the 1870s. By that time steamboats were navigating the Missouri to Fort Benton in Montana so American traders crossed into Canada in one direction, while settlers from Edmonton passed through the region to obtain supplies from Fort Benton in the, other. In 1872 an Edmonton missionary drove cattle from Montana to his mission. Two years later the North West Mounted Police ousted the "whiskey traders" and brought order to the region. In the same year cattlemen from the United States drove their herds into the district about Macleod. Their example was shortly followed by British and Canadian investors who established ranches in the foothills and stocked them with American cattle. By 1886 about 12,000 people lived in the region, over half of whom were Indians living in two large reserves. Most of the newcomers were from Great Britain and Canada, though in some districts there were many Americans.
The total area cultivated was little more than in the Edmonton region; but on the other hand the ranching industry was off to a good start. Ranchers leased land from the government for two cents an acre (though the even-numbered sections remained open to homesteading), and were required to stock the range within a certain time. In 1886 101 leases covered an area of 3,793,792 acres.  In the early '80s it was still thought that the only land suited to ranching lay near Macleod, but by 1886 the Calgary, Medicine Hat and Maple Creek districts were being stocked.  Most of the animals were still driven in from Montana, but with the completion of the C.P.R. in 1886 many cattle were obtained from British Columbia,  and carloads of carefully selected stock, including pedigreed bulls, were brought from Ontario.  There were few sheep in the region before 1886, but that year a large number were driven in from Montana to the range north of Calgary, high quality rams were imported from Ontario,  and a wool depot was established at Calgary.  There were 104,000 cattle and 25,000 sheep in the region in 1886; 34,000 cattle were imported in 1886, 26,000 from the United States, the rest from Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba.  The industry was just reaching its first turning point in 1836, because until then government purchases of beef for the Indians had supplied a sufficient market, but the ranchers were beginning to realize that the industry's current rate of expansion would force them to find an outside market. The severe winter of 1886-7 was a devastating one for the cattle industry of Montana and Dakota Territories but though cattle died in the blizzards of 1887 in Alberta, the Canadian ranches were not hit quite so hard as those in the United States because the ranges were not overstocked and the grass was heavier so that the cattle entered winter in a better condition. In fact, some American ranchers drove their herds into Alberta during the arid summer of 1886 seeking better grass.
Mining was very important in the economy of the region. The mines at Medicine Hat were opened in 1883, and after being closed for a time were producing 100 tons a day in 1886.  Colliers at Lethbridge were producing double this amount of coal, and sales were made as far east as Winnipeg.  Coal was mined in small quantities at Calgary, and an important anthracite mine was being developed near Banff in 1886.  Oil seepages were only being noted as yet in the region, but natural gas was being used as a fuel at a railway station near Medicine Hat,  and there was talk of using it in the larger centres.  The spectacular mountains also had their uses. Besides supplying lumber for the ranching country they also provided opportunities for health and recreation seekers, and by Order-In-Council November 25, 1885 the government created the first National Park in Canada at Banff. 
There was more variety among the trading centres than in any other region in the West. Calgary was the dominant centre, with about 1700 people; because of its location close to the Rockies it often was called the "Canadian Denver."  It was already the supply centre for the Edmonton region and was increasing in importance as a distributing point for all Alberta.  Macleod was frequently described by visitors as an American frontier ranching town. Lethbridge, a ranching and a mining centre, had the appearance of a company town with company-owned houses in the midst of the mining buildings and coal loading facilities.  Medicine Hat was an important railway divisional point and, together with Maple Creek and Lethbridge, served as a shipping point in 1886 for some ranchers from northern Montana, who were dissatisfied with the service provided by the Northern Pacific Railway. Cattle and sheep were driven to these points for shipment to Chicago. 
Lack of transportation facilities was no problem in this cattle country. It was even reported that ranchers at Macleod were strongly opposed to having rails brought any closer, because they thought that this would cut up the range and locomotive sparks burn the grass. But the reporter cynically added that "I have heard it said that they fear their monopolies will be destroyed."  Farmers were taking up homesteads peaceably along the C.P.R. line, but at Macleod relations between farmers and ranchers were not so agreeable. Ranchers complained that farmers selected homesteads on the bottom lands along the streams which were needed for watering stock, and it was reported that "There is little or no animosity now, but there is a feeling that they lead to it."  The government was trying to devise a scheme that would protect the ranchers' interests,  and there was even a suggestion that farmer and rancher could work together, with the farmer supplying the feed for the final feeding of the animals.  A few of the ranchers were seeding grain in the bottoms already.  The idea of irrigation for this dry land was being prophetically suggested by one government official,  and one Alberta rancher was already attempting to irrigate 190 acres.  Mormons from Utah began to migrate into this region in 1887, and it was they who later developed the first comprehensive irrigation system in Alberta.
The Bow River region had a distinctive way of life in 1886. Here there seemed to be a love for the spacious country as a whole, in contrast to the tie with the particular individual homestead that characterized the Manitoba and Assiniboia farming countryside. Nor did the region in 1886 feel the economic stress that affected many of the farming districts to the east; this seemed to be a land of great and varied resources, and already in 1886 a man from the United States was transferring the phrase "God's Country" to this region. 
Many of the regions that have already been described were only thinly settled, but the intervening and outlying areas were virtually empty, except for the Indians on Reserves and a few settlers in selected localities. Yet so great was the size of this "left over" area that there were about 12,000 people within it-mostly Indians. In eastern Manitoba the Canadian Shield prevented agricultural settlement, in northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta the lakes, muskeg, poor drainage and short growing season kept out farmers, and in southern Assiniboia aridity was effectively halting arable agriculture. The plain between the C.P.R. and the North Saskatchewan River was not physically formidable, but so far there was not sufficient population pressure in the West to send many settlers into the region. And always, of course, there was the deterrent of poor transport facilities.
In many places, however, pioneers were investigating the resources of this empty land and even beginning to occupy it. At Whitemouth, fifty miles east of Winnipeg, saw milling had been started, and just to the north settlers were occupying the belt of clay along the Winnipeg River.  Farmers were looking at the Dauphin country across Riding Mountain from Minnedosa, and homesteads there were being taken up in 1886.  Oil seepages had been noticed and drilling for oil had commenced.  If the area had been on a major route it would undoubtedly have been settled earlier. At the other end of the region, at Red Deer in Alberta, a mixed farming district had been growing on the trail from Calgary to Edmonton since 1882.  But between these embryonic settlements there were few settlers; only some stopping places, such as Touchwood and Humboldt, on the main north-south trails.
The real problem in 1886 was the semi-arid district extending from Moose Jaw to Maple Creek and south to the United States boundary. The newly established farmers at Moose Jaw, for instance, suffered severely from the drought of 1886. "A majority of the buildings (around Moose Jaw) are deserted and the scene presented to the eye is not a cheerful one, particularly when one remembers the toil and care it took to build these places only to be deserted in the end."  At Swift Current, the shipping point for Battleford, there was no farm settlement visible, though two or three homesteads had been taken up in 1886,  and the Regina Leader reminded its readers that "Its entire vitality is received from Battleford".  In 1886 the equivalent of 2,725 Fled River cart loads were hauled north, and the freighting season extended from April 15 to November 11.  To the south of Swift Current the land was nearly empty, except on the Wood Mountain plateau where an American rancher leased land in 1886 and drove in 5000 to 6000 cattle to start a ranch, close to a settlement of Métis and a Mounted Police post. 
In 1886 in the outlying area in the north the life associated with the fur trade continued to survive, but it will not be described here. The hardships that went with trapping and making long wearisome trips through the many inter-connecting waterways were of another kind than those involved in starting a homestead in an unfamiliar climate where the settler could only wait and hope that farming would eventually bring returns.
At this time there was no talk of the pioneer fringe, though there was much said of pioneering. Farmers as yet had barely touched the lands to which scholars later would apply the term pioneer fringe.
However, in the 1880s, one could readily see the change in relative desirability of lands within the West as southern districts began to be served with railways, making commercial grain and livestock farming possible, and other areas were left to stagnate. The park country that runs from Edmonton through Prince Albert into Manitoba was successfully settled in the next generation, and during that time the district on the outer margin of the park lands gradually assumed the character of a persistent pioneer fringe with an immature economy relative to agriculture in other parts of the West. 
Winnipeg in 1886 contained nine times as many people as the next largest urban centre, and had more inhabitants than all of Saskatchewan. Its growth is easily explained: the C.P.R. had made it the communications heart of Western Canada, and it grew into the distributing, collecting and administrative centre of the agricultural lands that were being settled. In December, 1886, construction was commenced on a railway from Winnipeg to Hudson Bay though the Bay was not reached for another four decades and then by another route. It was anticipated that this railway would ensure Winnipeg's commercial supremacy in the West.  Winnipeg's ease of communication with different parts of the West is clearly shown in Figure 4. In terms of time the railways had brought Banff almost as close to Winnipeg as places in south-eastern Manitoba. Of the main settlements in the West only those along the North Saskatchewan could not be reached quickly.
Improvements in transportation caused many changes in the flow of goods in 1886. British Columbia lumber and fruit began to arrive on the prairies, Manitoba flour drove American flour from the British Columbia market,  Manitoba beer was shipped to British Columbia for the first time,  and it was anticipated that the Pacific Slope would become a market for Alberta beef. It was even suggested that Victoria and Winnipeg might become rivals for the wholesale trade of the West,  though of more immediate concern to Winnipeg were the attempts of Brandon, Regina and Calgary to become wholesale centres. Wholesale trading began in each of these cities, but none of them was an immediate threat to Winnipeg. Winnipeg already had 88 wholesale houses in 1886, and over fifteen million dollars worth of wholesale business was done in that year, making up more than sixty per cent of the city's total business turnover. 
There were few large industries in Winnipeg. Except for a substantial iron works, the factories were mostly devoted to producing flour and lumber. Pork was packed on a small scale and there was considerable enthusiasm for erecting a stock yard in order to emulate Chicago as a meat packing centre. Nothing concrete was accomplished in 1886, though meetings were held that brought employers and employees together to discuss ways of promoting industry in Winnipeg.  But in 1886 Winnipeg's distributing function still overshadowed all others.
As yet the city was small enough to be extremely conscious of its role as a service centre for the farmers of the West. News of the activities of agricultural associations was carried in full in the daily papers, and such questions as suitable locations for experimental farms, or the best varieties of grain for the West were keenly debated in the press.
Winnipeg was suffering from growing pains. In the boom of 1881-82 many shoddy structures were built; one newspaper suggested that great ingenuity had been shown in making buildings of as temporary a character as possible.  Constructing methods had improved, however, and in 1886 the business streets were lined with two to four storey brick structures, with overhanging stamped metal cornices ostentatiously framing the rectangular fronts. One discerning local critic suggested that the only problem was the "snag-toothed" appearance that resulted from the uneven heights of adjacent buildings.  A financial and a wholesale district had already evolved, and there were areas of better quality housing. Streets were being paved in Winnipeg, and there was a gas works (using petroleum from Ontario for the raw material) and a small electric light plant. Water was obtained from the Assiniboine River, but distributing it was a problem. The water mains served only a limited part of the city, and people in many streets were still buying water by the barrel. The sewage system too was inadequate, and cesspools were still quite common, though water closets had already been introduced to Winnipeg.
There was little concern for town planning or for preserving historic districts within the city. In 1882, for instance, old Fort Garry had been torn down to make way for an extension of Main Street. There were many complaints that the park system in Winnipeg was inadequate, though hope (forlorn, as it turned out to be) was held out that the land near the junction of the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers would be turned into a recreation area.  Since little space was provided in the city for their summer recreational needs, people were taking the trains out to Selkirk, Hawk Lake and Kenora.
In 1872 it was still quite appropriate for an author to title his book on the West "The Great Lone Land".  Consequently it is surprising to see the extent of economic development that had taken place in Western Canada by 1886. Transportation facilities, of course, had guided the flow of settlers, so that areas having similar natural environments did not necessarily have corresponding levels of development. Only more railroads and continued immigration could (and did) change that. But mixed farming in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northern Alberta, grain growing in Assiniboia, ranching in southern Alberta, fishing in the Manitoba lakes, lumbering in many scattered wooded areas, utilization of fossil fuels in Alberta, and the development of recreational facilities in various areas had already begun, even if only sporadically. Agricultural techniques were being devised to cope with the farming problems presented by the low rainfall, and there was talk of starting irrigation projects. Industries at this time were small and like the roller and saw mills were in the main related to local resources and local requirements. As yet, few processed goods except flour were exported from the West, though there was much said of establishing meat packing plants to process meat for export. In 1886 the first cattle from Western Canada were shipped to Great Britain and there was much. interest in this experiment to determine the commercial feasibility of shipping livestock across the Atlantic. 
There were indications in 1886 that the migration of many different ethnic groups might create a problem of integration in the future. The Mennonites and Icelanders had apparently been inserted with little difficulty into the midst of the Ontario Canadian majority, yet already a few differences between the Mennonites and their neighbors had arisen. But most groups were still so isolated from each other that close contact, leading to possible difficulties, was only limited. It is therefore of interest to note that the only apparent problem, though how real it was is difficult to assess, was that of integrating the Englishman into Western Canadian life. This was first really faced in Assiniboia. Here the newspapers entered gaily into discussing the qualities of the English. It was politely suggested that "a man without a definite purpose to accomplish on landing in Canada had better remain on the other side of the Atlantic,"  but on the other hand it was also realized that Canadians often mistreated the immigrants, who were "frequently fleeced of their money by interested parties who often induced them to purchase unnecessary things which could be well done without for the first two or three years."  In general, despite some unfortunate exceptions, the Englishman was considered "a worker".  The newspaper discussions of the experiences of the English often appear somewhat patronizing, because many Ontario settlers (not to mention people from every other group as well) also found life difficult in the West. There appears to have been remarkably little concern about the Indians and Métis, even though the rebellion had only occurred in the previous year. Some people of course feared that there would be continued Indian troubles, but most settlers seem to have been so busy with their own affairs that they gave the Indians little serious thought. Ill feeling against the Métis is still reported at Prince Albert,  but even in Batoche the Métis who had taken part in the rebellion were returning to their homes in late 1886. 
In my discussion of the regions of Western Canada no attempt has been made to identify regional attitudes and to determine whether people had a real sense of place. Various regional viewpoints can, however, be found in the newspapers, though by 1886 there had been insufficient time for regional characteristics to evolve and attain a deep meaning. It appears to me that the people in the West did not feel any need to make a deliberate distinction between themselves and the inhabitants of either Eastern Canada or British Columbia, because in those days of new settlement and slow communications they already felt very definitely that they were in another and a very distinctive world. It is a very revealing comment on the attitude of the people to themselves, however, that an able author and editor while campaigning in an election had to explain why he would "condescend" to live in the West.  Apparently it was felt that the raw West was quite good enough for farmers and tradesmen, but other men sometimes were distrusted until they had proven themselves as genuinely tied to the West as a farmer on a homestead.
During the 1880s the progress of settlement and the development of the settlement pattern in the interior plains of Canada and the United States seemed to be proceeding along parallel but independent lines within each country. But despite the appearance of separateness there was considerable interaction. It was most effective, however, at a higher less apparent level than the occasional direct contact between individual Canadian and American settlers.  When government officials were formulating immigration regulations, when railroad executives were devising promotion schemes to attract settlers, when machinery manufacturers were designing implements or when editors of farm magazines were looking for ideas, they were eager to modify their own procedures or adopt new concepts from others so as not to be left behind. Any new techniques or procedures that might be adopted from the other country would then be transmitted and diffused through the administrative structure and communications system of each country. Thus the same general pattern of development and level of technology prevailed on both sides of the 49th parallel not as the result of the direct movement of ideas across the border, as is sometimes believed, but by the movement of these ideas through a few key channels, many of which were in the Eastern United States and Canada, and then from higher to lower levels within each country, via the existing structure of government agencies and newspapers. 
There was an occasional conscious effort to establish a difference between the American and the Canadian Wests. It was recognized, for instance, that the southern part of the Bow River region was similar to Montana; American currency still circulated freely and the Macleod Gazette regularly carried Montana news.  But from the frequent references to the havoc caused by tornadoes in the United States (to cite only the favorite example) one must conclude that the editors wanted to assure themselves and their readers that they had made a good choice after all in settling in Canada. And the Regina newspaper comforted its readers by telling them that there was a characteristic respectability in the communities of Western Canada that stood out in strong contrast to the rowdy behaviour generally found in American settlements. Western Canada's greater propriety was attributed to prohibition and a good and fearless press.  But settlers in 1886 must have begun to doubt such extreme contrasts because there were two stage robberies that summer, one each on the Prince Albert and Edmonton stage coach runs, and the Edmonton editor was complaining that a "criminal element" had accompanied the railroad. 
Some major regional differences within the West were clearly recognized by the inhabitants. Their distinctions were not so much related to the famous three prairie levels first recognized by Dr. James Hector in 1857, and ever since a favoured device of geographers for describing the West, as they were related to the Palliser expedition's climatic and vegetational divisions of the West into the arid plains close to the United States boundary and the partially wooded fertile country farther to the north. Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan were quite emphatic about their distinctiveness vis-a-vis the communities along the C.P.R. The northern farmers were confident that mixed farming would provide an assured livelihood for many future immigrants. In the plains districts to the south a stable agricultural economy was still not established, and there was an undertone of anxiety in this area though there was an indication that a solution to the low precipitation was in the process of being found. The Bow River ranching country was proud of its unique character and the Macleod editor was affronted when the Regina people founded a Stock Association in 1886 in what was after all supposed to be a wheat growing region.  In comparison with these younger settlements of the Far West, Manitoba in 1886 with its railroads and proven agriculture, its comparatively dense settlement and established communities, already appeared staid.
1. Western Canada (or the West) as defined in this paper comprises the area organized in 1886 into the province of Manitoba and the provisional districts of Assiniboia, Saskatchewan and Alberta in the North-West Territories. It does not include British Columbia.
2. I am deliberately not making any incursions into the realms of geographical change through time tonight, because I won't have time. I regard this study of geographical change as very important, however, and this talk, in fact, is a side excursion from a broader and larger study of the province of Manitoba in which I am investigating how the present geographical pattern of Manitoba evolved through time.
3. This is not a precise figure, because a census was taken in Manitoba in 1886 (population 108,640) and in the North-West Territories in 1885 (population 48,362). To obtain the 1886 population for the Territories, I have followed the estimate of population increase made by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture in 1886 and adjusted the 1885 population figures as given in the census. See Canada, "Report of the Selected Standing Committee on Agriculture and Colonization," Appendix 4, Journals of the House of Commons, 1887, p. 27. Further information on the Indian population for 1886 was obtained from Canada, "Annual Report of the Department of Indian Affairs for 1886," Sessional Papers, 1887, pp. 252-257.
5. Special mention must be made of the effect that climate had on agriculture in the Territories in the early 1880s. In 1881 and 1882, when settlers first really started to move into Assiniboia, the precipitation and temperature conditions appeared favorable for wheat growing, and what little seed had been sown produced good yields. In 1883, 1884 and 1885 there was barely enough precipitation to produce crops and there were also disastrous fall frosts in many areas, especially in 1885. But the worst blow of all came in 1886: the first drought to affect the Territories after the settlers had started to occupy the land along the C.P.R. Winnipeg had 14.8" precipitation in 1886, Qu'Appelle 10.1", Swift Current 10.6", Medicine Hat 6.7", Calgary 11.3", Edmonton 9.2". Long term average precipitation figures are: Winnipeg 19.72", Regina 15.09", Swift Current 14.89", Medicine Hat 13.55", Calgary 17.47", Edmonton 17.6". (Canada Year Book, 1963-64) In these years farmers were enduring hardships because of their lack of knowledge of the climate. Some farmers were gradually learning how to carry out field operations that would ensure at least some return of crop under these marginal conditions. But others felt it was useless to remain, and by 1886 some of these already had moved elsewhere.
6. The Indian Reserves are not discussed, since they are a special problem in themselves. The Indian population is, however, shown in Figure 2. There were approximately 24,600 Indians in the West.
7. All the agricultural statistics are based on the Census of Manitoba for 1886 and the Census of the North-West Territories for 1885. To obtain the cultivated acreage for the Territories in 1886, the Acres Broken, Fall, 1884, and Spring of 1885, have been added to the Total Cultivated in 1885. I have assumed that approximately the same acreage of land was broken in the fall of 1885 and spring of 1886 as in the previous twelve months.
43. T. R. Weir, "Pioneer Settlement of Southwest Manitoba, 1879 to 1901," The Canadian Geographer, vol. VIII, No. 2, (1964) pp. 64-71.
48. Ibid., April 2, 1886. In general, effective contact with American settlements was surprisingly slight along the 49th parallel, though occasional purchases or deliveries of products were made across the border. Settlers, too, crossed the boundary one way or the other to settle in the country, but generally this decision as to whether to settle in Canada or the United States had been made well before immigrants arrived on the land available for homesteading. Occasionally farmers would pull up stakes and try the greener country across the line.
60. The origin of dry farming in Western Canada is usually attributed to an involuntary summerfallow made on some lands in 1885 in the Qu'Appelle area by farmers who were absent teaming supplies to the troops quelling the Riel Rebellion. Next year some of the farmers observed that only the fallowed fields produced a crop despite the drought, and the idea of a deliberate fallow to conserve moisture was born. (See E. H. Oliver, "The Beginnings of Agriculture in Saskatchewan", Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, vol. XXIX (1935), pp. 30-32). This account is correct as far as it goes, but the general adoption of fallow was a slow process. In 1886 only a few individuals saw the relationship between fallowing and conservation of moisture. Most farmers thought that the better cultivation made possible during the fallow year was the chief benefit to be derived from the practice.
143. In the first three-quarters of the 19th century there had been a close and more direct relationship across the border in the West as indicated by examples such as the annual buffalo hunt, and of trade with and through Saint Paul. Later on, in the twentieth century, the migration of many Americans to the Canadian West, the building of James J. Hill's railways into Canada, and the rise of the Dry Farming Congress and agricultural research institutions resulted in a closer contact again across the border all the way from the Roseau River to the Rocky Mountains.
Page revised: 22 May 2010