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Settlers were lured to the prairies through Government and railway propaganda campaigns to populate the west and build the economy.

29 western canada eldorado [1890]  - LACThe New El Dorado,  Canadian government pamphlet, [1890], Library and Archives Canada

The utopia that was falsely advertised became a hard reality for the settlers upon arrival. In many cases, the men came first and did their best to build a “home” before sending for their wives, who left behind what was often a comfortable, civilized life to find a new home that presented roughness, hardship and loneliness.

This is what many settlers left behind:

Gladys H (Keddell) Corry's home in England [1914]Gladys H. (Keddell) Corry’s house in England [1914], Collection of the Eastend Historical Museum, Saskatchewan.

And these are examples of what they built and came to:

family outside homestead cabin - Saskatchewan - R-A7226Family outside their homestead shack, Saskatchewan, 1903. Saskatchewan Archives #R-A7226

Wm Evans home, Bracken SK, [1912] Sk archives R-B1410William Evans’ homestead shack near Bracken, Saskatchewan, [1912].  Saskatchewan Archives #R-B1410. (No, it’s not the pig barn!)

Peel's Praire Postcards 3826Prairie Postcards series #3826, Peel’s Prairie Provinces website, Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, University of Alberta 

The popular “chicken coop” style of shack pictured in the photo above formed the inspiration for my watercolour painting along with Esther G. (Vann) Cooper’s quote:

Esther Cooper`s New HomeEsther G. (Vann) Cooper’s “New Home”

Esther came to Pangman, Saskatchewan, from Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire, England in 1912. The quote in the painting is from her memoirs in the collection of the  Saskatchewan Archives #R-E539:

After a while my husband….appeared at the station with a horse-drawn home-made ‘jumper’…After some further travel, I ventured to ask ‘Is it much further?’… ‘When you get up to the top of this hill, you’ll be able to see your new Canadian home.’ When on the summit of the hill I stood up to gaze upon my new home, and no one can ever imagine how I felt when I looked upon a small building, which more or less resembled a chicken coop, and when I entered that little sad shack, which was to prove home to me for some years, I felt a sense of great loneliness…

Esther’s sentiments were echoed time and again in other diaries and memoirs that I have researched. Here are some examples:

She strained her eyes for a glimpse of her new home around the hills and saw what she felt certain must be the site and ‘There’s the stable’, she said. When she really got there it was not a stable but the house instead, her first Saskatchewan home. Mrs. Pauline Denny, Early History of Swift Current 

…how hopelessly unattractive and different it all seemed…in such striking contrast to the pleasant and congenial surroundings I had always enjoyed in my home in England. Quote from Kathleen Strange’s book With the West in her Eyes, published 1937. Kathleen came to Fenn Alberta in 1920 from London, England

I stared silently at the small house, sitting so alone, so unprotected in the middle of thousands of acres of snow… From Edna Banks’ memoirs, Saskatchewan Archives #S-F137.1 R-E2912. Edna came to Morse, Saskatchewan in 1911 from Ontario.

The pathos of Esme Tuck’s prairie home brought out her nurturing personality. Upon her arrival from England in 1919 to her homestead house in the Peace River Country of Alberta, she says, The very bareness of the little home made a strange appeal to me and I loved it at once as one does an underprivileged child or a hurt animal. Quote from Esme Tuck’s memoirs in the collection of the Glenbow Archives #M1254

Most pioneer prairie women, of necessity and legal dependency, set to work; they had no choice. Although many never thought of the prairies as their true home, and they longed to return from where they came, others grew to love their prairie homes and did what they could to make them homey.

My time at the Wallace Stegner House is nearing its close, and I will be giving a talk at the Eastend Public Library April 11, 2013. I will continue to gather and paint memories over the next few days.

artist talk Wallace Stegner House

Posted by Marlena Wyman 

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