NICHOLAS FLOOD DAVIN - A GREAT WESTERN FIGURE - GEORGE BROWN OF THE GLOBE - POLITICAL PERSECUTION - THE RUMBLING OF THE LAND "BOOM" - A MIGHTY INVASION - UNFAMILIAR FOLK - C. W. SPEERS - SASKATCHEWAN VALLEY LAND COMPANY.
I went to Regina from the Qu'Appelle Valley to meet my brother Joe who had come from the Ranch. While walking along South Railway Street one gloomy afternoon I met Mr Davin. He was boring into the wind with his head down, talking to himself. He came out of his abstraction on recognizing me, and his greeting, as always, was cordial. He asked about Zack and my people, but I saw he was worried and distraught. He was returning from the funeral of Cayley Hamilton, a pioneer lawyer of Regina, who had been a tried friend and loyal supporter.
Among the pioneers of the prairie country for the first two decades of settlement, Nicholas Flood Davin was easily the most outstanding figure. He had been born in the south of Ireland, the son of a country doctor whose early death made things difficult for the widow and young family. The boy had the poetic heritage of his race and environment. Mourners by their dead still hearkened to the cry of the "Banshee", and there were those who believed that the fairies came out in the dim of the summer night and danced on the green hillside. It was the very home of poetry and romance, of joy and sorrow, of persecution and of glory. Reared in such an atmosphere a child of a brilliant mind could not help but respond to its influence.
The financial position of the family was such that a university education was out of the question, and the lad was apprenticed to an iron merchant. While doing his best in that uncongenial occupation, the Davin home was visited by a rich old lady, a distant relative. She recognized the spark of genius and made provision for proper schooling. He was educated at Queen's College, Cork, and called to the Bar in England. Later he engaged in journalistic work in London.
His descriptive writing attracted attention, and he was sent to the Franco-Prussian War, representing two important British journals. He witnessed several of the major engagements, and his description of the battle of Gravelotte placed him in the foremost ranks of the war correspondents of the period. He was injured at the siege of Montmedy and returned home to recuperate.
About the middle seventies, there was a strong movement in the Dominion in favour of annexation to the United States, and Mr Davin was given a commission to proceed to Canada and write a series of articles on the subject for a London journal.
Times in Canada were difficult. The Confederation Government of Sir John Macdonald had been driven from power over the "Pacific Scandals", the North American continent was in the grip of a severe economic depression, and there were many people who believed the destinies of Canada were bound up with those of the United States. A celebrated orator from. New York, a certain Dr Tiffany, was imported to give an address in Toronto that was a thinly veiled advocacy of annexation. He created a strong impression.
In Toronto, however, there was "a suffering remnant" that refused to "bow the knee to Baal". A party of young men gathered to discuss the situation, and it was suggested that a demonstration be staged to offset the effect of the eloquence of the American orator. But the question was, where to look for a speaker with sufficient power to stir the people. Then spoke up a young man, who in later years was to become one of the foremost journalists in Canada. "There is an Irishman at present in Toronto who can do the trick," he said. "I once heard him at a Student's Union in Ireland, and he had the true gift of oratory."
Nicholas Flood Davin was approached in this matter. A hall was secured and a meeting announced. Never was he in better form. He sounded a strong and encouraging invocation to those who believed that Canada's future lay within the British Empire, and this speech had no inconsiderable effect on the patriotic spirit that then gathered and grew in the land. From then on Davin's lot was cast with Canada. He was called to the Dominion Bar, joined a Toronto legal firm and engaged in journalism.
He defended Bennett, the Printer, who was tried and convicted for the murder of George Brown of the Globe, and he always regarded Bennett's execution as a tragic miscarriage of justice. Indeed there were many people who argued that the wound inflicted by Bennett was not a mortal one and that Brown's death was much more attributable to his own disregard of his doctor's instructions than to the injury he received.
Not long before his death, the late Sir James Lougheed, long the Conservative Leader in the Dominion Senate, when speaking of the incident, told us that at the time he had been a student in the same Toronto law firm with which Mr Davin was associated. He said Davin was dreadfully depressed on account of Bennett's conviction. One day the Sheriff called at the office and gave Mr Davin, as Bennett's lawyer, a card to admit him to the execution. He threw the card aside contemptuously, declaring he would have nothing to do with it. However, he told young Lougheed if he wanted it he could have it.
The Senator said the morning of the execution was dull and depressing with a promise of rain. The scaffold was a raised structure in the jail yard, something like a small bandstand with a railing around it, and "the drop" in the centre.
Bennett was dressed in a decent blue suit and seemed quite cool and collected. He asked and received permission to address the little group of spectators. He leaned upon the railing and said that no one was sorrier for Mr Brown's death than he was. He had been employed on the night shift of the Globe and having to pass through a disreputable district on his way home at four o'clock in the morning, he had bought a small revolver which he carried in his pocket.
There had been a strike in the Globe office and Bennett was delegated to interview Mr Brown in respect to the grievances of the printers. The irascible Editor refused to discuss the situation and ordered him from the room. Bennett persisted and Mr Brown proceeded to throw him out. In the struggle, the printer produced the pistol which went off, wounding Mr Brown.
"And now," said Bennett, "After this explanation, let us get on with the business that brought us here this morning."
The attention of Sir John Macdonald, then engaged in consolidating his shattered forces for a renewed attack upon the citadel of power at Ottawa, was directed to Davin, and he sought the aid of the young Irishman in the ensuing campaign. He was the Conservative candidate in Haldimand and, although defeated at the General Election of 1878, gave a good account of himself. About that time he published a book entitled The Irishman in Canada which achieved immediate popularity and remains a Canadian classic.
Sometime after the Dominion Election of 1878, he was given a commission by the Federal Government to report upon the best method to be employed in the establishment of Indian schools in western Canada, and in 1881 his duties in this connection took him to Winnipeg. The possibilities of the West attracted him and he decided to cast in his lot with the new land of the far horizons. He returned East, but in 1883 was in Regina, where he commenced the publication of The Leader, a newspaper with which his name will always be associated.
In his opening editorial he declared that his paper was the advocate of the pioneers, of the brave men and women who, undeterred by unfamiliar conditions, and braving the rigours of a severe climate, were laying well the foundations of a great new country. "The humblest," he wrote, "will receive justice at our hands and the most powerful can expect no more."
Brilliant and eloquent articles flowed from his pen and, in a time of distress and detraction, he was the foremost advocate of the country. As he put it himself, his was the task "to fan the fainting flame of hope". He had the gift of making the printed page live and could describe in a few words the farmer with his ox-team bringing a load of grain to market in a manner that visualized the struggles and privations of the pioneer.
In 1887 when the North West Territories were granted Federal representation, he was elected for Western Assiniboia, one of the largest constituencies ever represented in the Dominion Parliament.
In and out of Parliament he was unceasing in his labours on behalf of the settlers. He made their cause peculiarly his own and understood their problems as did no other. He was nominally a Conservative but did not hesitate to take issue with his party when the interests of his constituents were at stake. If the claim of Grit or Tory was just, it found in him a powerful advocate.
His popularity was unbounded. He went in and out among the people, sometimes travelling great distances, exposing himself to all the asperities of an austere climate. He was as much at home in the sod shack of the homesteader as in the most pretentious mansion, and all honoured him.
His appearance was picturesque and arresting. In stature, he was tall and well-formed. His features were of the dominant type usually attributed to Norman ancestry. He was nearly bald, and the lack of hair gave his forehead a high and intellectual appearance. His clear blue eyes shone brightly beneath bushy brows. His expression was remarkably mobile and his whole face lighted up as ideas came to him faster than he could give them utterance.
Mr. Davin had a very wide humanity. I have seen tears run unrestrained down his cheeks on receiving the news of the death of a child of a poor homesteader at whose shack on the prairie he had been the guest of an hour.
On the streets of Regina, he spoke to everyone and seemed to know and have at heart all their troubles. His progress sometimes took on the aspect of a procession and he would discuss political questions with supporters and others not so friendly with the greatest freedom. Once after his return from a contentious session at Ottawa, there was quite a crowd around him on one of Regina's wooden sidewalks. A man known to be one of his most consistent opponents said: "Mr Davin, I understand you nearly killed the speaker at Ottawa, last session."
"In what way?" said Davin.
"By talking him to death," said the other.
"Oh!" he replied: "'Tis not the first Grit I have slain."
He once made a mistake, however. He met on the street one day an Irishman who had been too free with his neighbours' cattle and had suffered some months in jail. Mr Davin, who was ignorant of what had happened, greeted him warmly and asked him where he had been because he had not seen him for some time. Quite unabashed, the man replied: "I have just been discharged from a Government institution."
"Bless me," said Mr Davin, "that is too bad. I am supposed to control the patronage in this constituency, but I have never been consulted. Give me the details. I will have you reinstated immediately."
He was loyal to his friends but just and fair to all. He was covetous of neither wealth nor position and, in a rather venal period in Canadian political history, his name was never smirched by the suggestion of self-interest or scandal.
It was inevitable that Davin should be defeated at the General Election of 1900. It was the heyday of Liberalism. The generation of the builders of Confederation was passing away, and the mighty name of Laurier was casting a spell upon the land. He was defeated by Walter Scott, to whom he had sold The Regina Leader some years previously, and whom he had befriended when Scott was a young printer.
When it was seen that he, who had been so powerful, had fallen, there was little magnanimity shown by the victors. Scott himself, I think, would have been glad to extend consideration to his vanquished adversary, but the proud old man was then in irreconcilable mood. Some of Mr Scott's followers were of a different disposition, and a policy of considered and incredibly mean persecution was adopted in respect to Mr Davin.
During the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to Regina in 1901 those in authority did not see fit to include Mr Davin amongst the leading citizens selected to meet Their Royal Highnesses, and to inflame the wound thus inflicted, but proudly concealed, his wife was bidden to the Government House function. Of course, feeling keenly the slight to her distinguished husband, she did not go, and they stood among the jostling crowd on the muddy sidewalk to see the Heir to Britain's Throne go by. It was felt that this was poor treatment to accord the man who had sounded one of the first Imperial notes in the democracy of a representative Canada and whose facile pen and splendid eloquence, for a quarter of a century, had been constantly devoted to that cause.
He then held no public position that might have made him the legitimate object of criticism, but week after week, the local partisan press held him up to ridicule. The very gifts which, in other days had won him the plaudits of the multitude, were spat upon and derided. His presence in Regina seemed to infuriate these petty politicians, and a few days after my meeting him, he went to Winnipeg and in God knows what bitterness of mind, took his own life.
When the news of this tragedy reached Regina, it was stunning in its effect. The voice of detraction was shamed into silence. Expressions of sorrow and regret poured in from every portion of Canada; it was felt that a great man had passed.
Nicholas Flood Davin was buried in the beautiful Beachwood cemetery at Ottawa and a graven effigy, erected by his friends and colleagues in the Dominion Parliament, marks his resting place. His monument bears the inscription:
"WHAT A WORLD OF HOPE MAY BE BURIED IN A SINGLE GRAVE."
I had returned to the Valley before the news was received of this tragic event. Mr Davin had been on terms of intimacy with the Hamilton family ever since their arrival in the country; I had known him from childhood, and we were among his sincerest mourners.
But in the course of the next few days, I received a telegram from my brother Joe that informed me of a nearer and more personal loss. My father had died suddenly in the Province of Quebec, where he had gone with the intention of passing his closing years. I had not seen him since my marriage; his death was a sad and unexpected blow. It seemed to me as if it was a season of sudden bereavement, and I was anxious to return home as soon as possible. Accordingly, I left for Calgary without delay.
During the summer of 1902 I was in constant ill health and my doctor advised me to seek a lower altitude. Accordingly, when my husband was given the opportunity of a position on a Winnipeg newspaper, he resigned from The Calgary Herald to accept it.
Shortly before leaving Calgary, Senator Lougheed asked Zack if we were going directly to Winnipeg. My husband told him we were taking two weeks' holiday with his people in the Qu'Appelle Valley.
"Well," said the Senator, "I think there is going to be a land 'boom' in that part of the country. You know the district well. See if you can locate a good tract, and if it is all right, I will finance it."
When we returned to Regina my husband went land hunting and located a large acreage not far from Craik near the railway that ran from Regina to Prince Albert. Senator Lougheed sent an experienced man to examine the land and a deal was closed. A good commission was realized and my husband decided to give up journalism for the time and engaged in the land business which then seemed to have excellent prospects.
discovered in our remoteness, and an army of argonauts, one of the greatest land-hungry expeditionary forces of history, was being equipped to converge upon us.
We found many changes in Regina. It was no longer the self-contained community with which we had been familiar. New people were arriving on every train; hotels, stores and other establishments were doing capacity business, and there was an air of alertness and expectancy about everything. The first mutterings of the Boom were audible.
For the first twenty years of its existence, neither Regina nor the district surrounding it had made notable advancement. There was, of course, some development, but progress had been hampered by a succession of dry years, and during the early nineties, the North American continent had lain under the cloud of an economic depression. The last years of the century, however, witnessed a business revival and a wave of prosperity was gathering volume.
Regina was situated in the heart of a wide alluvial plain of great fertility. The face of the country was nearly level and there was little variety to the soil. A person might travel twenty miles in any direction and find scarcely an acre of waste land.
The northern limit of the Regina Plain was marked by the Qu'Appelle Valley, and when that boundary was passed, the region took on an entirely different appearance. The contour of the country was rolling, and the ridges were often bestrewn with stones and boulders. In some places, chiefly near its southern extremity, the soil was light and sandy, covered with a coarse, scanty herbage although as an advance was made into the heart of the region contour and soil improved. The whole region was annually swept by prairie fires that gave it a desert appearance.
This district which was bounded on the east by Last Mountain Lake, swept in a north-westerly direction from the Qu'Appelle to the South Branch of the Saskatchewan. It was almost uninhabited but traversed by a branch line railway, the chief function of which was to carry supplies and mail to the country north of the Saskatchewan River. About twice a week a mixed train strolled backwards and forwards along rusty rails. There was neither station agent nor operator between Lumsden and Saskatoon, a distance of more than a hundred and fifty miles.
During the first two years of the century there had been some immigration to what was even then known as the Saskatchewan country, a thin trickle at first, but steadily gathering volume flowing into the North West. It was directed chiefly towards the "park" district of the North where there was wood, water and shelter. Such places as Yorkton, Swan River, Rosthern and Duck Lake were receiving most of the new arrivals, and some colonization was being done by American companies in the fertile southern prairie region served by the "Soo" Line constructed a few years previously, which entered the North West Territories at the southeast corner and found its Canadian terminus at Moose Jaw.
But the great wilderness between the Qu'Appelle and the South Saskatchewan continued to be shunned by "man and beast". Indeed the immigration officials arranged with the Railway Company that settlers going into the northern wooded region should be carried through this ill-omened country during the night so that they might not be intimidated by its desolate appearance.
In 1901, my husband and I were discussing this tract of country with D. S. McCannell, Dominion Land Agent at Regina, and he told us that in all the millions of acres lying between Lumsden and Dundurn only six homestead entries had been recorded.
At that time the Dominion Colonization Agent was a man of remarkable character named C. W. Speers. He had been engaged in farming and stock-raising in the vicinity of Brandon and had also taken some prominent part in local politics. He was a man of strong personality and a convincing public speaker. He had an abiding faith in the destiny of the West and was able to inject others with his enthusiasm. Clifford Sifton, the Minister of the Interior, always a good judge of men, had selected him to take charge of western colonization work.
The wilderness that lay untenanted beyond the Qu'Appelle had long been an eyesore to Mr Speers. In the early summer of 1901, he made a personal inspection of the region and came to the conclusion that some areas within its boundaries could be colonized successfully. He suggested to the Minister that a sum be provided in the departmental estimates for some agricultural experimental work in the district. But Mr Sifton turned an exceedingly deaf ear to his recommendations. Speers' chance came the following year.
Early in 1902 Mr Sifton sent for him, and in the familiar colloquialism of the West said: "Look here, Wes! We are in some trouble about the country you have been bothering us about. A goodly portion of it consists of the land grant earned by the Company that built the Railway from Regina to Prince Albert. Their charter calls for good agricultural land, and they claim there is scarcely an acre which answers to that description. They are suing the Dominion Government, and if a great area like this is declared unfit for settlement by a decision of the Courts, it will be a black eye to our immigration campaign. You are the only friend the confounded district has; suppose you go down to the States, where the people are land-hungry, and see if you can swing a colonization deal. The Government will stand behind you, but don't get us into any jackpot'."
Mr. Speers packed his grip and took the train to St. Paul, then the headquarters of the American land movement to the Canadian North-West.
At Minneapolis he made contact with Amos Warner, a wealthy businessman who had been engaged in some colonization enterprises in the States. Speers was a persuasive talker and soon interested him. Warner got together a coterie of Minneapolis capitalists and arranged a meeting at his house to be addressed by Mr Speers, who turned up full of enthusiasm.
But the bad reputation of the ill-starred region had spread even beyond the boundaries of Canada, and the eloquence of Speers was quite wasted. They would have none of it. The land in question, they said, was a desert with which the Sahara might compare favourably, and they even warned Mr Warner that if he listened long enough to the arguments of the Canadian official, it might have disastrous effects upon his fortunes and well being. Then taking their hats and overcoats, they departed from the conference, which they implied they had attended only out of courtesy to their host.
Speers was sadly discouraged. He thanked Mr Warner for his efforts and departed for St. Paul, intending to take the train to Winnipeg. When he reached the station he discovered he had lost his transportation and, being of a thrifty spirit, had scruples about buying another ticket. He decided to remain over one more day in the hope of finding it. Accordingly, he returned to the hotel and, tired out, sought repose.
The next day was Sunday. He had a good night's rest and awoke refreshed and encouraged. He determined to make another attempt, and after breakfast, again sought Mr Warner at his home. He found him alone, his family having gone to Church. He secured his undivided attention and advanced every argument he could muster in favour of the much-maligned territory.
At length Mr Warner said: "Well, Speers, you are persuading me in spite of myself. I could do nothing for you yesterday. Those fellows had made up their minds before they came. You saw how it was, but a man experienced in land matters is coming on Tuesday. If you can convince him, I will go in on a deal and perhaps interest some others."
The man to whom Mr Warner referred was Colonel Davidson, a native-born Canadian, who had spent many years in business in the northwestern States. He lent an attentive and understanding ear to Mr Speers and accompanied him to Regina.
The two men spent some time travelling through the district, and Colonel Davidson decided that it was suitable for colonization. He returned to the States and succeeded in interesting a number of capitalists in the project. It was thus the Saskatchewan Valley Land Company, one of the most successful colonization enterprises ever undertaken, came into being.
But Colonel Davidson's task was by no means an easy one. He had to combat prejudice and bad report. It was, however, the hey-day of agriculture in the American Middle West. The great movement across the Mississippi that followed the Civil War resulted in agricultural and pastoral development then unparalleled in the history of the United States. Practically every acre on the fertile mid-western plains was under cultivation; there was no room for expansion, and the prosperous farmers of Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas were looking for new lands in which they might invest their surplus dollars, and find an outlet for the inherited pioneering spirit of the younger generation.
With the assistance of the Canadian Government, the railway land grant in dispute was acquired for a ridiculously low figure, I think it was a dollar and seventy cents per acre and to sweeten the transaction, the Government threw in a large area of Crown Lands in the same district at a nominal price.
Years afterwards when the Saskatchewan Valley Land deal had become western history, Colonel Davidson told us some of the difficulties he encountered in its promotion. He had been in Ottawa, he said, to close the transaction. He had paid a large sum and made commitments on behalf of himself and his associates for which the money was not then in sight. If the project were to be self-sustaining, a tremendous selling campaign would have to be inaugurated and a nation-wide scheme to advertise the Saskatchewan country undertaken. He boarded the train at Ottawa bound for Chicago, a prey to misgivings. The magazines purchased to beguile the tedium of the journey lay unopened beside him and he was frankly worried.
He was still in this state of abstraction when he reached Chicago and went to the Union League Club for lunch. The waiter knew him and found him a window table.
He had scarcely commenced his meal when he was joined by an acquaintance, a banker from Iowa. In the course of the conversation, the banker said: "You have just come from Canada; do you know of any good land in the Saskatchewan country? Some of the people in my district are pretty keen about Canadian lands and they have plenty of money."
Colonel Davidson's interest was at once aroused. "Why! yes," he replied, "I am going up there next week. Will you come along as the guest of the Saskatchewan Valley Land Company?"
His friend accepted the invitation and at the conclusion of the meal the two men went their separate ways to attend to the business that had brought them to the "Windy City".
At dinner time the same evening the Colonel was approached by his friend, who introduced another banker and asked if he might be included in the Canadian expedition.
A great light dawned on Colonel Davidson. Here was his advertising scheme ready to his hand. He explained: "Why, certainly; not only must your friend be our guest, but pass the word to all interested people bankers, farmers with good bank accounts, businessmen. We will fix up a special train and all go on an excursion to the Saskatchewan Valley."
A special train was prepared, provisioned with the best eatables and drinkables and, when it pulled out from Chicago, it carried as passengers a large number of substantial businessmen and farmers of the American Middle west. At St. Paul there was a considerable augmentation of the company, and when Winnipeg was reached a number of prominent Canadian men of affairs joined the party.
Never was there a more successful land buying expedition. Wherever the country took the eye of the excursionists a halt was called, the passengers descended and spread out over the prairie, examining soil and taking in the surface features. These men were no amateurs at this business. Many of them had built up substantial fortunes in dealing in similar lands on the American side. They were not influenced by report or detraction; they trusted their own judgment.
At Dundurn on the return journey buying commenced. When Girvin was reached, it had attained carnival proportions. The late A. D McRae, the Secretary of the Company (afterwards a member of the Canadian Senate) sat at a table in the dining car, accepting cheques as fast as he could write receipts. He had two large waste paper baskets beside him which he used as receptacles for the slips of coloured paper representing so much money. Before Regina was reached both were full.
The scene was a remarkable one. A man would approach Mr McRae and say: "Give me three sections 'of this land at your list price; here is the money." Another would remark: "Bill Smith of Sioux Falls" (or Des Moines, or Fargo, or Council Bluffs or wherever the place might be) "will want to be in on this; give him a couple of thousand acres on that plain out there. I'll write you a cheque for it; make out the agreements in his name."
Some of the Canadians who were accustomed to regard the whole region as worthless were frankly sceptical. R. L. Richardson, member of the Dominion Parliament and proprietor of The Winnipeg Tribune said: "These fool Yankees can have all of it for me; it's not worth ten cents an acre."
When the train reached Winnipeg on the return journey, certain members of the party were so impressed with the country and so sure of its coming development that they purchased large blocks of stock in the "Soo" Line Railway which they thought would receive a deal of the traffic of the impending American movement, and of the Hudson's Bay Company which, with its great landed holdings, could scarcely fail to benefit.
Amongst those who became heavily interested as a result of this expedition were : Geo. Howe, a millionaire Minneapolis miller; Amos Warner, who had introduced Mr. Speers to Colonel Davidson; F. E. Kennaston, an agricultural implement manufacturer; Wells, of a great packing concern in Chicago; Peter Jansen, a capitalist of Nebraska; and Detchen, a patent medicine manufacturer, who bought and developed a great tract near Davidson. Only two Canadian men of affairs had the courage to join in the enterprise. They were D. H. McDonald of Fort Qu'Appelle, a member of a well-known Hudson's Bay family, and A. J. Adamson, a private banker from a small western town.
Colonel Davidson afterwards declared the special train cost the Saskatchewan Valley Land Company ten thousand dollars, but as a result, the money for all future financing was made available through land sales. Later the Company extended its scope and more land was acquired.
Under the Dominion Survey system a section of land contains 640 acres.
Senator McRae in a letter to my husband shortly before his death, stated that the Company sold and settled an average of one million acres of land annually for four years.
After the consummation of the Saskatchewan Valley Land Company deal, the influx of settlers to the prairie region of western Canada, of which Regina was the recognized metropolis, became one of the most remarkable land movements in the story of Canada. It was as if the flood gates had been suddenly opened, and the great human stream flowed over the face of the country.
For a limitless time the prairie had lain uncultivated and almost unexplored. Yesterday it was the untrodden wilderness in which the only life was that of the wild animals native to the solitudes. When the wayfarer had climbed the north bank of the Qu'Appelle and fared out on the plains, he was lost in a region of incredible distances of ever undulating prairie, where the low butte he was approaching had nothing to distinguish it from the one he had left in the rear, or the one in the far distance.
Almost overnight the scene was changed. Habitations, from the rude shack of the homesteader to the more pretentious farm buildings of the prosperous American newcomer, began to dot the landscape. Long black strips of ploughing made a sharp contrast to the brown prairie grass, and the unwonted sound of farm machinery startled the herds of antelope that flitted through the prairie haze.
The first selling activities of the Saskatchewan Valley Land Company consisted of efforts to interest other colonizers. They specialized in selling tracts of five, ten and twenty thousand acres, and the purchasers in their turn sold to the individual settler. The land business centred around the stations on the railroad between Regina and Saskatoon, and places like Chamberlain, Craik, Girvin, Hanley, Davidson and Dundurn, that previously had been nothing more than names, developed into flourishing and busy little towns.
Regina was the clearing place for a great land commerce, and it thrived amazingly. Heretofore most of the settlers had come from eastern Canada or the British Isles. We were now astonished at the cosmopolitan throng descending upon us. Most of the earlier arrivals were Americans from the Middle West, although the East and South furnished quotas. Shrewd, slow-speaking folk they were, many of them of the strong Anglo-Saxon stock and others of German or Scandinavian ancestry. They were thoroughly familiar with similar conditions south of the Boundary and embarked on no new experiment. The farmers from Iowa, where land was often worth three hundred dollars per acre, visioned an almost equal productiveness from the Saskatchewan plains, where the choicest tracts could be acquired at from five to ten dollars per acre. They came to the country in droves, bringing with them their families, their stock and implements, and their substantial bank accounts.
About this time, too, central Europeans began to arrive in great numbers. The railway yards at Regina
were the scene of remarkable activity. Special immigration trains were arriving daily. Every siding was full of cars of livestock and settlers' effects, while passenger trains were crowded to capacity. Galicians in wadded and embroidered sheepskin coats and knee boots, the women with kerchiefed heads, provided a note of strangeness to the scene. (Today the children of these immigrants wear tailored clothes and silk stockings.) Doukhobors, members of the strange sect that, fanatical in passive resistance to authority, had furnished a colourful page in Russian history for nearly a hundred years, were much in evidence, their robust and often comely women presenting in many cases a remarkable contrast to their attenuated and be-whiskered male companions.
There was a perfect babel of tongues. One could hear the nasal drawl of the American "Down Easter", and the slow intonation of the Middle West mingle with the rough "burr" of the Lowland Scot, or the clearer open vowelled enunciation of the English rural dweller. German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Roumanian, Serbian and other European tongues all united in a confusing medley. The North West seemed to have opened its gates to strange and hitherto unfamiliar people.
All were land-hungry. Most of them were experienced tillers of the soil. Rich and arable acres, which only required a season's cultivation to stir them into production, were theirs for the asking, and they were responding to the call of the land.
Nature itself was furnishing its contribution to this feverish movement. There had been a succession of wet summers with abnormal production. Forgotten were the dry years of the nineties, and the newcomers witnessed with amazement wheat crops of forty bushels to the acre, and oats returning from the land a hundredfold. The virgin earth seemed proud and eager to display its newfound fecundity. In many districts, it was no unusual thing for a newcomer to buy a tract of land, erect buildings, place it under cultivation and realize his total outlay from the first crop.