Recently, I have been reading some local history books about the pioneers in West Central Alberta who came in the late 1800s.
The influx of immigrants into Western Canada began a bit earlier in Manitoba, and as farm land was claimed, the ongoing influx of immigrants continued to move Westerly in search of available land, and opportunity.
Specifically, these books, cover the period from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s and tell of the daily life of those folks who homesteaded in this area.
Many of them arrived from places within the Northern U.S. to carve out a better life in Western Canada, before Alberta was even a province.
Other pioneers originated from Europe after having been exposed to the Government of Canada enticements for them to come to Canada for the “Last Best West”.
Our federal government wanted to populate the West, and advertised far and wide to welcome immigrants . . . and they came by families in bunches. Even today, a scan of the phone book tells you that one area contains many Scandinavian surnames, another area British surnames, and yet another area dominated by those from Germany or the Ukraine.
Regardless of country of origin, these pioneers were all a tough, proud and independent lot. Survey crews from the Dominion Land Survey had already been through in the late 1800s to establish the benchmarks in order to create the Townships, Ranges and Section corners so that future homesteads could be filed.
Shortly after, the railroads were built, followed by roads.
By the early 1900s most of what was to become Southern Alberta had been surveyed, and by 1920 much of northern Alberta was surveyed as most homesteaders arrived to take up the arable lands. Most of these local history books were written by the pioneers themselves. In their own words, before they died, they left a legacy of the times.
Each family was asked, and contributed some snippets of their history and life to the whole book, which was published while they were in their senior years, and still remembered those times. These folks left a legacy of words, stories and photographs by which we now know them.
We are well aware of the hardships and privations these folks had to overcome.
Fortunately, food was relatively abundant in the way of wild game, or some domestic cows, pigs and chickens.
Basic staples like sugar, molasses, salt and flour were available at the nearest general store which may have been a full days ride away.
Finding a cash job was also necessary for some to keep the wolf from the door. Most of these local history books have photographs, cherished photographs, that the pioneers submitted to augment their stories.
In those early days, few people owned a camera and the photos taken are usually of some community event or family gathering where the taking of a photo, although expensive was warranted.
Then, in the early 1900s more folks had access to simple box cameras and took photos of everyday life and events. The photos usually show a large number of people, faces smiling, in their Sunday finest clothing. They worked hard, yet in those days, Sunday was typically a day of rest.
Stores were closed and Commerce came to a stop. Not no more. Today, in the New West, we still have lots of proud, independent and hard working folks. Some of them find themselves working long and hard hours to make ends meet, with hardly anytime off to rest and relax like the pioneers did on a Sunday. Everyday of the week is either spent at work, or at home doing things that need doing when they are not working. Sunday is like any other day of the week, and I have to remind myself that it was not that long ago, in Alberta, that many businesses could not open on account of provincial bylaws against Sunday commerce, except for some critical businesses. The Lords Day Act did away with Sunday closures and commerce carries on like any other day in our more material New West.
And many of the hard working folks today carry the problems of their workaday world into the weekend, not being able to let go for one day of some problem or issue that hangs over them with the pointy index finger of business and what they will do on Monday. As a result, their is less time for friends and family or community spirit. Rather than band together to build a rink or baseball diamond people will spend a few hundred dollars to go to the city to watch an NHL game. And to pay for it, they work longer and harder. But are they happy? My sense is that many feel their is something missing in their lives, something that is hard to articulate, or identify, other than a lacklustre feeling that life is slipping by with something missing.
That something, may be the lack of time spent with friends and family, because at the end of the trail, the only things that matter are not things.
Paul Hemingson is a freelance writer who lives near Spruce View. His column appears every other week in LIFE. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.paulhemingson.ca