Dividing Prairie Lands into Townships
A simple, effective survey system divided the arable prairie lands into square townships, each comprising 36 sections of 640 acres (259 ha), with the basic homestead comprising one 160 acre (64.75 ha) quarter section. Under the terms whereby Rupert's Land had been acquired, the Hudson's Bay Co was entitled to retain possession of 1/20th of the land. That meant that the company received the same for 2 (or 1¾) sections in each township. Two sections in each township were reserved for the support of education, and a variety of grazing, haying and quarrying leases were available for lands not yet claimed for homesteading.
The Pacific railway, regarded as a national necessity, was to be financed through an elaborate system of land subsidies. Since it was not possible to sell most of the lands before the railway was built, when large sums were needed to pay for the construction costs the federal government authorized the issuance of land grant bonds and also provided substantial cash subsidies. Once the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, the desire to open new areas to settlement and to bring in more settlers resulted in the granting of land to various COLONIZATION COMPANIES, which were then expected to bring out settlers, construct needed branch lines and provide other assistance needed to establish new agricultural communities in the West.
In the 3 decades after 1870, settlement on the prairies was slow, but early in the 20th century it advanced rapidly. Prairie politicians regarded federal control over western Dominion lands and resources as an unfair intrusion into areas clearly given to provincial jurisdiction in the BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT. Negotiations undertaken to transfer control of the remaining western lands and resources to the provincial governments were completed in 1930. Thus ended the 60-year existence of Dominion lands.
See also PRAIRIE WEST.
Author T.D. REGEHR
John. A. Eagle, The Canadian Pacific Railway and the Development of Western Canada, 1896-1914 (1989); J.B. Hedges, The Federal Railway land Subsidy Policy of Canada (1934) and Building the Canadian West, The Land and Colonization Policies of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1939); C. Martin, "Dominion Lands" Policy (1938); Irene Spry and Bennet McCardle, Records of the Department of the Interior and Research Concerning Canada's Western Frontier Settlement, The Records of the Department of the Interior (1993).
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Pacific Railway
The CP Rail website features information about the company's extensive services and operations. Click on "General Public" to access the multimedia "Our History" section.
The Canadian West
View an extensive collection of historical photographs and other archive material about European settlement of the Canadian West prior to the 1930s. From Library and Archives Canada.
Saskatchewan Homestead Index
The Saskatchewan Homestead Index is a file locator database to the homestead files at the Saskatchewan Archives. Contains 360,000 references to people who, from 1872 to 1930, under the terms of the Dominion Lands Act, took part in the homestead process in the area now known as Saskatchewan.