The Prairie West as Promised Land

The Prairie West as Promised Land

The Prairie West as Promised Land

The Prairie West as Promised Land

Synopsis

So the emblem of the West Our bright Maple Leaf is bless'd To its children of the goodly open hand; All the nations of the earth Are now learning of its worth And are flocking to this wealthy, promised land. - The Sugar Maple Tree Song, 1906 In 1906, the Sugar Maple Tree Song was just one example of the rhapsodic pieces that touted the Prairie West as the "promised land." In the formative years of agricultural settlement from the late nineteenth century to the First World War, the Canadian government, along with the railways and other Prairie boosters, further developed and propagated this image within the widely distributed promotional literature that was used to attract millions of immigrants to the Canadian West from all corners of the world. Some saw the Prairies as an ideal place to create a Utopian society; others seized the chance to take control of their own destinies in a new and exciting place. The image of the West as a place of unbridled prosperity and opportunity became the dominant perception of the region at that time. During the interwar and post-World War II eras, this image was questioned and challenged, although not entirely replaced, thus showing its pervasive influence. This group of essays, which includes contributions from some of the best-known Prairie historians as well as some of the most promising new scholars in the field, explores this persistent theme in Prairie history and makes an important contribution to the historiography of the Canadian West.

Excerpt

R. Douglas Francis and Chris Kitzan

So the emblem of the West
Our bright Maple Leaf is bless'd
To its children of the goodly open hand;
All the nations of the earth
Are now learning of its worth
And are flocking to this wealthy, promised land.

So concluded the final verse of “The Sugar Maple Tree,” subtitled the “New National Song” and published in 1906 with various other songs, poems, letters, and testimonials in The Last West: The Latest Gift of the Lady Bountiful. While the song never amounted to anything, it did capture a popular image at the time of the Prairie West as the Promised Land. Thousands of others around the turn of the twentieth century could be found singing a similar tune. Winnipeg, one itinerant traveller rhapsodized, was the “gate to the promised land – the bourn to which flock men from all parts of the world who desire to convert into gold the infinite capabilities of a rich, virgin soil.” Boosters of Swan River, Manitoba, described their West as “God's good gift to a tired, teeming world; the new promised land running with peace and plenty,” while the railways depicted it as “une veritable terre promise oú la fortune attend l'homme laborieux, l'homme d'initiative.”

These quotations provide but a small sample of the countless ways in which the Prairie West was identified and depicted as a Promised Land in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, this image became the dominant perception of the region during the formative years of agricultural settlement from the mid-nineteenth century to the First World War. It motivated a group of Canadian expansionists in the mid-nineteenth century to pressure the newly created Canadian . . .

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