THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS
In 1896 an event took place which had far-reaching effects in the West -- the Dominion election which swept Sir Wilfrid Laurier's Liberal party to power. A young westerner, Clifford Sifton (later "Sir") was selected by Laurier as Minister of the Interior. His aggressive immigration policies encouraged settlers from many countries. Sifton's campaign coincided with the exhaustion of free arable land in U.S.A. This resulted in a tidal wave of immigration, continuing until 1913. Between 1896 and 1903, 367,000 emigrants arrived and between 1904 and 1913 almost two and a half million more. The bulk of these people came to the prairies, first following railway lines, then fanning out to more remote regions.
Sir Clifford Sifton used every means to encourage immigrants from Great Britain and continental Europe. The government created the North Atlantic Trading Co., with headquarters in Hamburg, to seek out "the stalwart peasant in the sheepskin coat". Hundreds of thousands came -- from di-verse and distinctive backgrounds, leading to an extraordinary mass immigration that changed the face of Canada.
Lured by the romance of pioneer life, many left a prosperous existence. Some brought fancy wardrobes. They found there was free land but making it yield was a different matter. Some were successful, some were not.
We have only one or two pioneers left to tell their stories, so in the following pages it is mostly the children of the pioneers who write their history. They tell of the loneliness; the homesickness; the burden of death and illness; the importance of family and neighbors; the joys of community, church; threshing gangs; and the one-room schools.
They remember the first fifty years -- 1907 to 1957.
Settlement in the Elk Point Area
by Marvin Bjornstad
This group of hardy families came into the country in many different ways: some came by waggon, some on horseback, some by rail to Edmonton or Vermilion and others by rafting down the river with their settlers effects. All found almost no services except the policing in place (NWMP), some itinerant ministers, and a few neighbours who often were they support system for a wide range of newcomers. The diligent families began to take care of some very basic survival needs: shelter, food planting, water and fuel as soon as they could. Many failed, usually through lack of support resourses and families moved on. Others proved up their land, sold out for some capital and moved on to start again where perhaps they stood a better chance of getting a good restart. Jobs were few, entertainment was whenever a few people could get together.
Family histories are looking back and likely a bit more positive than negative, filled with a mixture of pride and awe at what had been accomplished.