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Accommadation - The West as Home
Accommadation - The West as Home

Prior to the 1930s, a multitude of different ethnic groups, assisted by the federal government, reshaped the West into their concept of a productive landscape  -  one that they could call home.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Prairie West was successfully drawn into the web of industrial capitalism. In just two decades, the way of life that had existed for centuries was supplanted completely by an agricultural economy based on private ownership and family-run farms. This new economy had some impressive growth records to its credit. In 1896, for example, 1.26 million acres were sown in wheat; on the eve of the First World War, the acreage had jumped to more than 10 million, and had placed wheat in the top four of Canada's export commodities.

Such unprecedented growth was assisted in part by government-sponsored programs, such as experimental farms and public works projects, which advanced the technology and infrastructure that made both urban and rural development possible in such an inhospitable environment.

Government assistance, however, did not stop there, but helped to convert the landscape in other productive ways. For example, government scientists began the long process of identifying nature preserves  -  a relatively new concept  -  which would not only help nurture and protect the resource base of a number of industries, but provide a welcoming environment for a budding tourist industry. Government scientists also identified the coal deposits and petroleum reserves that would fuel the industrialization and urbanization of the region, and later in the century, would challenge the supremacy of the agricultural economy.

The result had a profound effect on western cities. After 1906, most newcomers to the West were not interested in the family farm. They were "navvies," that is, unskilled workers and the majority headed straight for such places as Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, and Saskatoon which now ranked among the largest urban centres in Canada and could boast a cultural life that a few decades earlier was only a dream. This cultural life eventually became the lifeblood of western schools and was now supporting its own writers and artists who were not afraid to seek inspiration from their home landscape. Rather than create images that suited the tastes of outsiders, this home-grown community was much more willing to accept the West on its own terms.

Political and social activists from the West also drew strength from their communities and began to lead provincial rights movements to achieve an equal footing in Confederation. Thus began a long history of western protest that would see many political and social developments in the new West.



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