1840-1890: 3rd Wave
Coast to Coast
After 1878, the Canadian government began to push settlement in the West. It was decided by the government that a railroad would be built to join the eastern provinces with British Columbia in the West. The railroad could be used to bring settlers to the West. It could also be used to ship farm products to Eastern Canada. Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway began in 1872, but it was not completed until 1885.
The railway from Eastern Canada made it easier for people to move to the Prairies. Without the train, the only option was to use a horse and wagon for the entire trip. There were very few roads for wagons to travel on so the trip was bumpy, long, and had many challenges.
Riding the train to Western Canada was much easier than making the long journey on a bumpy wagon.
Railways and First Nations
One of the reasons the treaties were made was to prevent First Nations people from disrupting the building of the railway. The railway cut through traditional hunting territory for First Nations people, and they put a halt to building it at times. This slowed the process and upset the government.
Settlers built towns close to the railways on land that was a hunting territory and home for First Nations people.
PHOTO CREDIT: WESTERN DEVELOPMENT MUSEUM
The government wanted to stop the First Nations people from slowing down progress on the building of the railway.
The railway made it easier to move resources across the country. It also made it possible to deal with rebellions quicker. Members of the North-West Mounted Police would arrive on trains and be sent to deal with Indigenous groups who were resisting the government in any way. There are many examples of how the railway hurt Indigenous people. The soldiers also arrived by railway to deal with the Métis Rebellion in Batoche.
The railway made it easier for soldiers to travel so they could help with any conflicts the government felt needed attention.
First Nations people were known as ‘Road People’ because, in the late 1880s, several major roads and the telegraph lines were built through their territory. Soldiers disturbed and destroyed their property when they travelled through.
Railways and Grain Elevators
Getting crops to grow in harsh Canadian conditions was difficult enough, but the farmers’ troubles didn’t end there. The farmers needed to get their product to people who wanted to buy it. In the beginning, grain elevators popped up all over the Prairies along the railway tracks. They were built close enough together so that farmers could make the trip to the elevator and back home in a day. This is why the Prairies have so many small towns so close together.
Photo Credit: Western Development Museum
Grain elevators were built next to the railway so grain could be shipped in railcars.
With an elevator came a train stop, and with a train stop came the opportunity for business. People would bring their wheat to town and pick up supplies for the farm. Often cream and other produce was delivered to the train so it could be moved on to the bigger markets in the cities. This meant there was a need for a hardware store, a grocery store, a post office, a church, and of course, a school. It did not take long before a town was born.
Farmers hauled their grain to elevators to sell and would pick up other supplies for their farms in town.