Monday, March 29, 2010

South Dakota and Minnesota to Alberta - What's the Connection?

My great uncle on my father’s side and my great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side both went to Alberta, Canada. Neither my mother nor my father could tell me why. My great-great grandfather on my mother’s side came back to the United States while my great uncle stayed in Alberta.

In the 1900 US Census both of them were living in Minnesota, albeit in different parts of Minnesota. My great uncle Andrew was still living in Minnesota in the 1910 Census as was my great-great grandfather. However, I found my great-great grandfather in the 1906 Canadian Census living in Alberta, Canada. My great uncle Andrew moved to Alberta after 1910.

My father’s uncle Andrew was a first generation American, his parents having been born in Denmark. I really hadn’t given much thought about why my great uncle Andrew moved to Alberta, Canada. On the other hand, I was intrigued as to why my great-great grandfather moved so much.

He was born in Ontario, Canada but married my great-great grandmother in Sangamon Co., IL in 1872. My great grandfather, his son, was born in Nebraska in 1874 and his brother was born in Iowa two years later. The other children were born in Brookings Co., SD. So it looked to me that he moved a lot.

I was driven to find out more about Alberta, Canada and why some of my family would move there. I found some books written between 1895 and 1918 concerning the history of Alberta. I discovered that in 1901 the population in Alberta consisted of Canadian and native born (54%) and immigrants. The immigrants represented 6.8% from the British Isles, 16.6% from the United States and 24.4% from continental Europe (Austria, Hungry and Russia).

So why was the second largest group of immigrants to Alberta, Canada from the United States? I learned from reading The Tercentenary History of Canada Volume III by Frank Basil Tracy (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1908) that land had become so expensive in the United States because land in the Mississippi Valley was mostly claimed and crop yields were so good that farmers were realizing great crop revenues.

Between 1890 and 1897/98 land in the Mississippi River valley had gone from $32 per acre to between $50 and $60 per acre. Homestead land in the United States by 1900 was not available. So the sons of farmers in this region were faced with working on their father’s farm and not having the means to finance a farm of their own. At this same time, the Canadian Pacific Railway was opening up western Canada. A person could obtain farm land at a very reasonable price with good terms.

However in the years after 1880, Canadians from Manitoba had moved to North and South Dakota because of total crop failures due to frost, wheat rust, hail and unpredictable rainfall during the growing season in Manitoba. Even though a man could obtain farmland cheaply in western Canada, why would he be enticed to settled in western Canada if there is a threat that frost, wheat rust, hail and unpredictable rainfall could wipe out his entire crop?

Although the Canadian Pacific Railway could not control frost and hail, they recognized the water problem was something for which they could find a solution. Thus, the Canadian Pacific Railway Corporation initiated a massive irrigation project that would provide water to 3 million acres of land along the route on either side of its right of way.

It worked out well. My great uncle Andrew and his offspring and descendants have lived in western Canada since.

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