Friday, December 17, 2010

The Canadian Homestead Act

The Canadian Homestead Act is more commonly called the Dominion Lands Act which is short for it’s official name: An Act Respecting the Public Lands of the Dominion. It passed in1872 and was in use until 1918. It aimed to encourage the settlement of Canada's prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchwan, and Manitoba. It was modeled on the U. S. Homestead Act of 1862. The Act's purpose was to encourage settlement by European and American pioneers, as well as settlers from Eastern Canada.

by Gene Finke

The act also launched the Dominion Lands Survey, which laid the framework for layout of the prairie provinces that persists to this day. The Dominion Land Survey was the method used to divide most of Western Canada into one-square-mile sections for agricultural and other purposes. It was based on the layout of the Public Land Survey System used in the United States.

The Canadian Homestead Act gave 160 acres for free to any male farmer who agreed to cultivate at least 40 acres and to build a permanent dwelling within three years. The only cost to the farmer being a $10 administration fee. This condition of “proving up the homestead” was instituted to prevent speculators from gaining control of the land.

An important difference between the Canadian and U.S. systems was that the Canadian system allowed the farmers to buy a neighboring 160 acres for the same $10 registration fee. This allowed most farms to quickly double in size. This was especially important in the arid areas of the prairie provinces where a farm of 160 acres was not large enough to be successful.

Manitoba wheat field
The Canadian Homestead Act did not immediately cause a great migration into the prairie provinces. Large-scale immigration to the prairies did not begin until 1896. The first version of the act limited the free land to areas more than 20 miles from a railway. It was very difficult for farmers to show a profit if they had to transort their products by wagon for 20 miles or more and therefore settlement was slow in the beginning. In 1879 the exclusion zone was shrunk to only 10 miles from the tracks and in 1882 it was finally eliminated.

The act went through many changes and amendments and was finally done away with in 1918 when a new system was set up designed to help World War I veterans settle more easily. Then in 1930 Parliament passed the Natural Resources Transfer Acts, turning over the control of public lands and resources in the prairies provinces to the provincial governments and thus relinquishing its right to legislate in these fields. Overall about 480,000 square miles of land were given away by the government under the Canadian Homestead Act.

For more information:
"Homesteading"in The Canadianen Encyclopedia
"Canadian Homestead Act" at E-How
"Dominion Lands Act/Homestead Act" in The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan

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