Beyond the City Limits: Rural History in British Columbia

By R. W. Sandwell | Go to book overview

6 Domesticating the Drybelt: Agricultural Settlement in the Hills around Kamloops, 1860-1960

Ken Favrholdt1

The 1890s were promising years for British Columbia's Interior. The Canadian Pacific Railway had opened the region to large-scale settlement, and towns situated along the CPR mainline were growing rapidly. Kamloops became an important divisional point of the railway and the principal market centre for a large, sparsely populated hinterland.

Until this time, the agricultural landscape around Kamloops was open range used for cattle grazing. Ranching generally prevailed, but where water could be procured, farms and orchards were also established. To most eyes though, Kamloops was at the heart of a landscape characterized by bunch grass and a dry, semi-arid climate--the 'drybelt' as it became known.

Into this scene in the 1890s entered immigrant homesteaders. Most arrived by train, lured west by the promotion of the CPR and the Dominion government, to the 'free' lands made available to settlers. The dry uplands around Kamloops were part of another belt--the Railway Belt--a continuous strip of land twenty miles on either side of the CPR mainline. In this zone, where agriculture was ostensibly possible and thereby promoted, settlers grew grain, raised livestock, harvested vegetables, and even cultivated fruit.

The transformation of this drybelt area from a natural grassland to an agricultural landscape, from a grazing to a farming economy, was an experiment that epitomized agriculture on the margin. Various crops and methods were tried at different times; many farms were abandoned, others were consolidated. Trial and error was a symptom, indeed a characteristic, of agricultural adjustment. Failure, which plagued some settlements, such as nearby Walhachin, was only part of the process. 2 Through hard work and perseverance, a small number of settlers successfully adapted to the drybelt environment and established farms and ranches that persist to the present. 3


Theoretical Considerations

Historical geography, which traditionally has looked at the evolution of

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