On November 7, 1885, the last spike was driven in British Columbia and the Canadian Pacific Railway stretched all across this great nation. Soon after, Canada's Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, had thousands of pamphlets printed and sent to the US, England and European countries urging people to leave their homes and settle on Canada's prairie provinces where thousands of acres of fertile land available. Representatives were sent to tell people in Europe of the golden Canadian west, where there were thousands of acres of fertile land to be had for free. This wasn't entirely true because the land cost $10 and certain stipulations had to be adhered to according to the Dominion Lands policy. One was that a home had to be established at the minimum of 18 x 24 feet. Each parcel of land was 160 acres and all stipulations had to be met within 3 years. The offer of free land was a dream come true for many European families and they left their homes and came to the land of milk and honey - namely the Canadian prairies. They endured traveling across the rough Atlantic on filthy steamships only to arrive in Canada to board steam trains and travel for days. When they disembarked, they found that they had arrived in land that was dry, empty and flat and had no mery and stole the lives of their loved ones. Yes, conditions were harsh. The first thing these immigrants had to do, and it had to be done quickly, was to build shelter. There were no towns nearby and few neighbors. The families were isolated and lonely. Because there were few trees on the prairie, soddies were the only shelter that could be built.
Women toiled beside men to plough the rough prairie grasses and collect sod to make their homes. These women slugged heavy pieces of sod into carts and wagons from dawn until dusk. These pieces of sod then had to be stacked grass side down in double rows to make the walls of the soddies. Often the only wood available for roof supports were the very wagons that hauled the sod.
Soddies took weeks to complete and even though they were small, dark and had leaky roofs, the women turned them into cozy homes. Many prairie women covered the walls of their soddies with paper or cloth, while others plastered them with clay and straw. Once the walls were covered the women whitewashed them to brighten them up a little.
Some soddies had windows, but many didn't. Curtains, in the form of blankets, were hung from twine or poles for a bit of privacy. These inspiring women made quilts for the beds to bring a bit of cheer into the room. They stitched samplers to be hung on the walls while having no modern conveniences to make their work load easier. They fell into bed at night, exhausted, only to get up before dawn and do it all again. They mopped up water day after day when rains pummeled the prairies and leaked through the sod roofs. The old saying goes that if it rained for three days outside, it rained for six indoors.
Besides all of this, many times these women peformed this hard manual labor while pregnant and still nursing the last baby that had arrived months earlier. There were no doctors, so the women learned to use the prairie plants to nurse ill children and husbands. Still, these women forged on, kept homes, raised their children and worked side by side their with their husbands in the fields.
The women who helped settle the Canadian prairies to make Canada what it is today were strong, brave women who met obstacles head-on without complaint. They were women who fit into the 2008 Women's History Month theme - Women in the Lead.
If you would like to see what these women endured, click HERE to watch the video.
Enjoy your Sunday and remember to take time for yourself this weekend. Read a book or take time to enjoy a favorite hobby. ~Blessings, Mary~