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Overview of the Settlement of the Canadian Prairies


The Canadian Prairies were settled in waves. Evidence indicates the Americas were populated long before 13,300 years ago. Various theories exist, but none fit current and existing evidence. Indigenous peoples were the first people living on the land we know call ‘Canada.’

By 1640, it is estimated there were about 20,000 – 50,000 Indigenous people that lived in groups that had been here for years. Before diseases like smallpox, there were many more Indigenous people living in Canada. Some First Nations people referred to the continent of North America as ‘Turtle Island’.

Artwork of a turtle is shown with blue and green sections in the background.


The story of Turtle Island varies among Indigenous communities, but by most accounts, it acts as a creation story that places emphasis on the turtle as a symbol of life and Earth.

The second wave of people that settled on the Prairies were a few thousand fur traders that moved from Europe and Eastern Canada between 1640 and 1840. This group of people set up several outposts for trading furs and a settlement in the Red River Colony. Many of these settlers married First Nations women and their descendants became known as Métis.

An illustrated settler and a First Nations woman hold hands.

Distinct Métis cultures developed along the fur trade routes.

The third population wave to the Canadian Prairies happened between 1840 and 1890 when Canadians who had previously immigrated from Britain and were living in eastern Canada moved to the Prairies.

The fourth wave to the Prairies was the largest and happened between 1896 and 1922 when two million immigrants came to Canada from Eastern and Western Europe, Britain, and Scandinavia. About 17,000 of these newcomers to Canada planned to head West to settle on the Prairies.

A group of settlers are standing in a line at a train station.


Two million immigrants travelled to Canada between 1896 and 1922.

In 1911, the census showed that Saskatchewan was Canada’s third-largest province by population. There were 13,380 farms in Saskatchewan in 1901 and the province continued to grow.

Settlement in Western Canada gave settlers the opportunity to buy their own land but adapting to the climate, learning to farm, and breaking the land was very difficult work.

A large group of people together in a field.

Adapting to life in Canada was difficult for many immigrants.

A photograph of three Indigenous girls in skirts posing beside two harnessed horses. A wagon and grain elevator are in the background.

Life changed for First Nations people when settlers arrived.