Once Upon a Time There Was Land

In the fall of 2012, a 3rd year English major at University of Lethbridge volunteered in the Archives to conduct research and write about it in contributions to the Galt Museum blog. Steffi Reynolds’ first blog post on October 12 was about an occurrence on May 1, 1912, as reported in the Lethbridge Herald of that day, which changed the lay of the land in southern Alberta.

Canada had been advertising for 20 years worldwide to attract settlers to this ‘most progressive of colonies’. But the time of free farms was running out; it was Alberta’s last great land rush.

On May 1st, 1912, hundreds of people gathered in Lethbridge to file for a homestead in “The Lease Country” – a 90,000 acre tract of land between the Milk River and U.S. border, previously sub-leased by the McIntyre Ranching Company. Most came for the land, but many came simply to watch.

As it turned out, this assembled crowd of onlookers left a little disappointed. Not because of a lack of success for the landless; over 300 people, including two women, were given plots that day. The disappointment stemmed from boredom.

Canada had previously employed the line method for land leases: getting in line and waiting. This had potential for mishap, like budging and fistfights. Lethbridge authorities made it their mission to avoid the chaos and violence involved in the customary land rush. They allotted each person a square of the sidewalk, numbered with chalk. The result was a day that passed with no incidents; “neither jostling nor dispute”.

It is hard imagine a time when land was so available it was free to those who wanted it. This last great land rush in Alberta, anti-climactic in its sensibility, was called “humane, sanitary, and in every way acceptable”.

To find out more about land rushes (and so many other things), a visit to the archives at the Galt is a must. Look for details at www.galtmuseum.com.