Project Canterbury

Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan, N.W. Canada

By the Rev. William Newton
Hon. Canon of Saskatchewan

London: Elliot Stock, 1897.

Chapter XXI. Emigrants and Emigration

FROM my experience in Muskoka, and for many years in Edmonton, I must have had the matter of emigration constantly before my mind; and yet I find it difficult to say anything ex cathedra on such a subject; the longer I am behind the scenes, the less positive can I be concerning the classes who should emigrate to our colonies, or, indeed, to any particular part of Canada. Our towns and cities often have openings for enterprising young men who cannot find proper employment in England. When these openings occur through the help of friends, a young and steady man should not throw away his opportunities, for new countries are not so crowded as the old ones are; but let it be remembered that, in emigrating, a man needs all the qualities by which success is won anywhere. Here the temptations are not less--perhaps they are intensified. The young man must have ability, and know how to use it; he must have a character and value it; he must choose his companions with care, and follow in all things the way that conscience dictates. Canada is no home for the indolent, the faithless, or the vicious; such persons will soon reach the lowest depths of degradation, and wish that they had stayed in England. Again, our trades are filled with men who are accustomed to the ways and ideas of a new country, and who do not follow old methods of work. If an artizan would work as hard at home as he must do out here, he might find life easier and more pleasant. What we chiefly need are men who like a country life, and are accustomed to it, and who have fair means to settle on land, and turn our rich prairies to advantage. These are welcomed, and are likely to be successful wherever they may settle. This applies to our North-West especially. Here, also, occur opportunities for the use of money, in good investments in land, and in general business, and the opening up of industries that may be lucrative to the investor, and advantageous to the country as a whole; yet these matters require great experience and caution, if speculations are not to end in disaster. In thinking of emigration, a benevolent person is concerned chiefly with the innumerable poor who, in old lands, struggle for existence, and find it difficult to live, save in a state of semi-starvation. Many of these are attached to a country life, and do not mind work when they have a motive for it; they are men with brave hearts, but they are wanting opportunities to attain a noble independence. If such men once get on their feet in the North-West, they can make homes, feed themselves and their families, and live comparatively free from carking care, and the misery of town life and its uncertainties. I have known many persons who have, from the most unpromising conditions, by the possession of such moral qualities as perseverance, honesty, and good sense, attained to comfortable positions. Our settler's life is a very simple one, and he can learn by degrees how to turn his land to account.

His first wants are a simple log-house, with only necessary furniture. Often his gun will help his larder. He gets a few acres ploughed, and a small garden planted; a cow for milk is a luxury, and is soon obtained; if he should live by a lake, or river, he manages some fish, and if he have a trade, he would find it useful, either to bring in money, or as an exchange for work on his place. His necessities press him, and keep him up to the mark. He will have great difficulties, but they will lessen year by year until they disappear altogether. Such a settler, even from the towns of England, will awaken our interest, and for a time our pity, but his case would be the same in his struggles at home, and then it would be without the chances that his toils would end in success and comfort, as they may do here. Hence, when I have observed the trials and difficulties of the poor settlers who, it may be, have come from cities, and knew nothing previously of country life, I have tried to compare their present trials with those of their friends whom they have left behind, and I have hoped that the illusions by which they were led to cross the sea, and plant themselves and their children in a new land, and in new circumstances, would ultimately issue to their great advantage. Here are certainly pure air, pure water, some wild game, land to till, wood and coal to burn, and gold to mine on the Saskatchewan, all free to the most miserable of mankind. I am thinking now of the lowest class of emigrants, who are often discouraged, and for whom one would not care to be responsible. And yet it seems so important in the present age to discourage the rush to towns and cities, and to bring men into natural relations with the land, that almost any inconvenience might be endured, by any class of people in this generation, so that the great end of the natural life might be attained in the years which are to come in the evolution of mankind.

As for making money and growing rich by the cultivation of land in the North-West, or in any other country, this motive cannot truthfully be presented to intending emigrants. Agriculture is the natural life for man, and by it men may supply their necessities and build up healthy homes. Wealth is not necessary for man, and it can be done without. The greatest nations have been greatest when their lives were simplest, and agriculture was their chief occupation. Let men emigrate, and settle on land in order to make homes, and to live healthy and natural lives, without greed, or restlessness, or insane egotisms, and then human misery can be lessened, and the world's happiness and peace may be increasingly secured. The age is pessimistic because its life is so unreal, and its aims are so illusory, and altogether so out of harmony with nature and with religion. It asks, 'Is life worth living?' The answer is, for the most part, 'Your life is not worth living. Return to the simple natural life of labour, and ennoble that life by industry, virtue, and intelligence, and then the world may yet be a good place for God's human children.' To any men with this view of things the North-West will give a welcome, and bestow an inheritance that is not to be had in crowded Europe, an inheritance which shall be to them and to their children's children.

Still, the class of emigrants most desirable is the farming class, who have large or small means, and who will be prudent, industrious, and persevering. The Edmonton district is equal to any other for ranching, or mixed farming, and, with the moral qualities which have been indicated above, this class is sure to prosper in our North-West.

It remains for me to mention another class of great importance who come to our North-West, viz., the sons of gentlemen, and a great many of these are the sons of clergymen and ministers of religion. During twenty years I have met with a great many of this class, until I have ceased to wonder at the numbers of young men, of good education and position, who are unable to find lucrative occupations in England. I have observed how difficult their position often is, and how seldom they answer the hopes of the friends who send them out.

It is supposed that if a young man finds his way to Canada and our North-West, he will soon obtain occupation, and become independent in life. This is a great mistake; the trades are filled, the professions are crowded, and, as a rule, the farmers t-hemselves do all the work they can in order to save wages. At busy seasons handy men can get employment for a time; then, when work slackens and the winter is at hand, hired men generally are dismissed, and they have to find any accommodation that offers; their wages are soon used up, and if they board at hotels their surroundings are full of temptations which imperil their moral characters, and hinder their success in life. Thus the men may become restless; having tired the patience of their relatives, and used up their means, and having formed bad habits, they become useless wanderers, and lose their way in life almost beyond redemption. I do not say this of all gentlemen's sons, but it is true that very many of them become the victims of such circumstances. Suppose any of this class find employment on farms, the work is hard, the living is poor, little self-respect can be cultivated. Generally speaking, these men are in a false position, and, although they bear it bravely for a time, they become disgusted with their life and with Canada, and the best of them return home disappointed, and ready to blame the country which would gladly have adopted them permanently had their circumstances been more favourable.

When families emigrate together, the father and mother can look after their sons, and give them direction and society; when this cannot be done, friends and relatives may be engaged for these duties. Failing all these, it would be a boon worth any reasonable expense to place young men under responsible people, who will fairly teach the methods, of farming which the country requires, give the young men pleasant society, keep them in contact with their friends and relatives, and when the time comes, help them to choose land for themselves, and encourage them to settle down in the best neighbourhoods available. In this way young men might have fair chances of pleasant settlement, and hundreds guided and helped in such ways would become successful and prosperous, who otherwise must prove utter failures. How is it to be expected that youth and inexperience should make their way in new and most difficult circumstances, when even at home, surrounded by old customs and influences, these very men need such special and watchful care?

Objections are sometimes raised to this useful, and often necessary, protection for young men in our Colonies, on the ground of the abuse to which such a system for the protection of young men is liable. I venture to affirm that the misuse of any system is no valid reason against its right use. There must be many respectable men, well versed in colonial life, and well known to the clergy of our Church, who, for small compensation, would act as fathers and protectors to young men, and in that way all concerned would be benefited: the country in which such men would settle, the men who would look after them, the Church with which these young men are mostly connected, and the parents and guardians in England, who are often disappointed at the venture they have made in sending their inexperienced boys to difficulties, privations, and temptations, before which it would only be reasonable to expect them to fail.

In full view of all the drawbacks in the life of the emigrant, remembering the intense struggle for existence in the Old World, and in the cities of the civilized world everywhere, I should never discourage the immigration here of the right sort of men, especially those with families, who are naturally anxious for the settlement of their sons where costly professions are not required, and mere learning, except for personal cultivation, would be almost useless. A farmer's life can be very independent, healthy, and peaceful, and, where the family affections are strong, a noble human existence is possible; and as for refinement, there can soon be realized the amount of it the family bring with them in themselves; and with a little music and books, and a few well-known flowers, plain food, and sound rest at night, many a family would have no desire to return to the worry and care of city life, even if that were possible. It is true that one of the luxuries of the immigrant is the regretting of old scenes and times, when the discomfort of their former state has receded into a distant memory. The remembrance of former times at least reveals what the life might have become if the ideal of the past had been fully realized; but this is seldom the case with any of us. Our wishes are in extremes: when we might enjoy something that we have we yearn for the opposite, which perhaps before we were tired of and sought eagerly to change. Hence the murmuring of educated settlers amounts to little; it is a requiem of regret and affection to the old days, however sad and troubled they really were, which are now no more; and any expression of such regret should be appraised at its proper value.

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