Homesteading was a fairly simple and straight forward matter — at least on paper. A quarter section (160 acres) of likely looking but empty land was found and applied for at the nearest Land Office, located in Grande Prairie for the first few years of settlement here. For a fee of $10, the settler bought the right to occupy and improve the land, thereby making it his or her own. A simple matter indeed — if the weeks of bone-wearying travel getting there were forgotten. Or the need to spend days getting even the simplest supplies. Or the frustrating slowness of clearing and breaking the land. Or the isolation. Or the winters. Or …..
Over three years, the settler was expected to prove up his land by breaking and planting at least 10 new acres each year and to build a permanent house on the land unless he lived with his parents on nearby land. Some ingenious schemes were tried out to lessen the impact of the regulations. It was reported that lamps were occasionally lit in the windows of unoccupied cabins to give the impression that someone actually lived there. A classic story is told of one homesteader who, when asked by the Homestead Inspector (who did not want to go to the man’s isolated farm) how much land he had ploughed replied, “Oh, I’ve ploughed around 40 acres.” He did not explain that he had borrowed a neighbour’s plough and horse and cut a single furrow all the way around a forty-acre parcel of land!
A random sample of fifteen homesteaders on the Pouce Coupe Prairie between 1912 and 1914 shows that it took nearer to five years than to three for a settler to get clear title to his land. The shortest proving-up time for that group of settlers was 38 months, with the average being 55 months from the first date of application.
The peak year for homestead applications in Townships 77 and 78 around Pouce was 1913, with 88 new claims being registered. Most of those who applied for land that summer probably left Edmonton in late January or early February in order to complete the trek before the trails softened into impassable quagmires. By July of 1914 the rush was almost over except for some young men who passed through the area to stake a quarter section before leaving for the battlefields of Europe. At year’s end, only a few quarters of good land remained unclaimed.
Not all of the prospective settlers stayed to prove-up their homesteads. Sometimes four or five would try a parcel of land before one of them stuck it out. For some, the isolation was too great. For others, illness or injury proved too much. But those who stayed on prospered and established the farming communities in which we live today.