by Dorthea Calverley
Nominally the price of land in the homesteading days in the Peace was ten dollars a quarter section. That was the “filing fee”.
The cost of land was something quite different. The would-be owner must have cleared and broken thirty acres. He must have built a house. He must have “lived on the land” six months a year for three years – usually three years of non-production and little if any income from the land. After inspection by a government official to see that the homesteader had complied with the requirements he could “prove up”, and apply for a title which allowed him to sell the land if he wished.
The cost was the total amount of labour, time, and ingenuity he applied to clear the land, and keep himself from starving or freezing until he got that coveted piece of paper.
Sometimes a little deception helped, as in the case of the man who was so isolated that the Inspector hesitated to make a long trip.
“How much have you ploughed?” he asked the applicant.
“Around fifty acres,” he replied — with some truth — because he had borrowed a plough and made one furrow around the edge of a fifty-acre piece of land!
In most cases the homesteader did his time in the summer, and worked out in winter. As that was the best time to trap, an able-bodied man could easily add to his income. Freighting was another common wintertime employment.
If he did not like trapping, then some sort of enterprise was called for. The Tremblays, who had brought some machinery in while freighting, broke many a settler’s land for them and then got the crop for an agreed length of time. Others devised small sawmills, or horse-powered thrashing machines. The Tremblays built the first one in the BC area, and also devised a hay baler.
Nearly everyone had something he could do, to swap for something he needed. Very little money changed hands.
One part of the cost of land – the taxes, – was “worked out.” The homesteader could, if he had no money, donate his work, and/or his team, to build and maintain roads and bridges. The permit did not come in the mail like the pension cheque. No! The man must make the trip to Pouce Coupe, the government centre, to pick it up in person. It might involve a walk from Rose Prairie or Montney [50 or 60 miles] unless a group shared someone’s wagon. These men had no feeling that they were “on relief” – they were working for what they got! Meanwhile the women worked to keep the animals and the children fed while the man was away on the trip to town and afterwards while he worked on the road.
The cost often involved danger, suffering and near starvation, but as long as everybody was in the same boat it did not matter. Co-operation was the key to paying one’s own way.
The real cost of the land was the human cost. Turning 160 acres of raw bush into a prosperous farm was at least one lifetime’s work for a pioneer. Often it was the next generation that were able to make any real profit from the land.