Prairie Settlement, the Geographical Setting

Prairie Settlement, the Geographical Setting

Prairie Settlement, the Geographical Setting

Prairie Settlement, the Geographical Setting

Excerpt

Toward the close of the nineteenth century a new era of settlement in Canada began. Between 1876 and 1896 population had increased by 25 per cent.; during the next twenty years it increased by 60 per cent. By 1913 annual immigrant arrivals were more than ten times what they had been in the nineties. A colonizing population overran a part of the central plain of Canada greater in area than modern Germany.

Converging events in the later nineteenth century created circumstances favourable to this era of settlement. The railway had become a potent instrument in the economic conquest of the continental interiors. The improved marine engine and steel hull of the steamship had drawn the pioneer fringes of the world closer to the industrial areas and commercial centres of the world. British free trade and its shorter-lived European counterpart had permitted the great expansion in world trade which the revolution in mechanical transport had promoted.

Before the collapse of prices in 1874 ocean freight rates on wheat from Montreal to Liverpool ranged from 18 to 20 cents per bushel; by 1904 they had fallen to less than 2 cents per bushel. When the Canadian Pacific Railway began operations in 1886, the combined transportation charges on wheat from Regina, Saskatchewan, to Liverpool were more than 35 cents; in 1906, they had fallen to 21 cents per bushel. This revolutionary decline in the cost of transport drew the wheat-growing settlers of the United States within range of European markets, but offsetting declines in the price of wheat and other farm products left the early pioneer farms of the Canadian plains still too remote to be integrated effectively in the world's commercial system. Wheat in Liverpool fell from $1.76 in 1873 to 84 cents a bushel in 1896. By 1907 it had again passed the dollar mark, and in 1913 the average price was $1.13. After 1896 the stimulus of rising prices was added to the opportunities of falling transportation rates.

By the time a favourable conjuncture of costs and prices had opened the way to the exploitation of the Canadian plains, the westward-moving agricultural frontier of the United States had gathered experience and fashioned instruments which the Canadian settler could borrow. The chilled steel plough, light but capable . . .

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