by Bruce Cherney (part 1)
According to historian W.L. Morton, “1912 was the climax of the great boom in Manitoba.” The economic, real estate and immigration boom that had lasted for over 40 years had actually begun slowing down in 1911, but few seemed, or were willing, to take notice.
Optimism still prevailed and was reinforced by comments from such journalists as William E. Curtis, who in 1911 wrote in the Chicago Record-Herald: “All roads lead to Winnipeg. It is the focal point of three transcontinental lines of Canada (Canadian Pacific, Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern), and nobody ... can pass from one part of Canada to another without going through Winnipeg. It is a gateway through which all the commerce of the east and west, and the north and south must flow ... It is destined to become one of the greatest distributing centres of the continent as well as a manufacturing community of great importance.”
But it was becoming increasingly evident that people were simply using Winnipeg as a transit point to Saskatchewan and Alberta. In 1911-12, 145,000 immigrants flowed into Western Canada, but only 43,477 stayed in Manitoba. The census of 1911 showed that the population growth of Manitoba was lagging far behind that of the two provinces west of it.
Between 1901 and 1911, Manitoba’s population had grown by 80.8 per cent and by the latter year could boast 455,614 people living within its borders (255,211 in 1901). But Manitoba’s percentage of growth paled in comparison to that of Saskatchewan and Alberta. In fact, between 1901 and 1911, Saskatchewan’s population had grown by 439 per cent. By 1911, Saskatchewan had 492,532 people residing in the province (91,279 in 1901), surpassing the population of Manitoba. Alberta joined Saskatchewan in recording an equally spectacular population increase. During the same 10-year period, Alberta’s population had risen by 413 per cent to 374,663 people (73,022 in 1901).
“In Manitoba in 1910-11, only 3,082 homesteads were ‘entered’ or claimed by settlers who then had to make improvements, such as building a house and breaking the land, to actually receive title,” wrote Jim Blanchard in his book, Winnipeg 1912 (University of Manitoba Press, 2005). “This small number compared unfavourably with 25,227 in Saskatchewan and 15,954 in Alberta, where enormous amounts of rangeland had been brought under the plough in the previous two years.”
With so many people flocking to the two neighbouring Prairie Provinces, real estate agents were finding it more difficult to sell Manitoba farmland or lots in Winnipeg.
“Holders of urban lands were left holding the property and scores of subdivisions and dozens of attractively named suburbs died on agent’s prospectuses and on drafting boards,” wrote Alan F.J. Artibise in the MHS Transactions, season 1970-71, article, Advertising Winnipeg: The Campaign for Immigrants and Industry, 1874-1914.
“Many people, Winnipeggers and outside investors, believed in this dream city in 1912 and gambled their savings on suburban house lots,” wrote Blanchard. “The garden suburbs were eventually built, but not soon enough to save most of the speculators from financial ruin ...
“Warnings about an inevitable crash were given by reputable people, such as the presidents of both the Bank of Commerce and the Bank of Toronto, who warned against speculation in subdivision lots in January 1912.”
It was to avert financial ruin that the idea of creating an organization to promote immigration to Winnipeg and Manitoba arose.
The germ of the idea first arose in rural Manitoba — the Selkirk Board of Trade claimed credit for the idea (Stonewall Argus, February 28, 1912: “Mr. Coleman spoke of the Million for Manitoba League and how it had grown from the gathering in Stonewall the previous year.”) — and then spread to Winnipeg where it was enthusiastically adopted.
A rallying cry arose in Winnipeg for the population of Manitoba to reach one-million people by the next Canadian Census in 1922. Starting in 1911, the formation of a “Million for Manitoba” movement had been discussed, but not formerly organized to cover the entire province.
The Free Press on March 27, 1911, reported that a canvassing campaign had been formed in Winnipeg with 100 groups of five persons each taking to the streets to solicit $1 memberships from Winnipeggers. The announcement of the campaign was made at a March 25, 1911, meeting at the Industrial Hall.
“Winnipeg should take the lead in this movement,” said William Sanford Evans, who was appointed president of the Winnipeg branch of the movement, “as she has done in a good many other movements in the past.”
“That the farmers are interested in the undertaking was indicated by the address of William Miller of Starbuck,” reported the newspaper, adding that Miller was a former Iowan and “proof of the possibilities in Manitoba,” since he became a successful farmer.
On May 5, 1911, a meeting was held in Crystal City, where residents of the town, as well as Pilot Mound, Clearwater and the Rural Municipality (RM) of Louise, discussed “advancing some scheme for advertising and bringing settlers into the district” (Manitoba Free Press, May 6). It was the Crystal City resolution that provided the impetus to form a province-wide movement.
According to the resolution passed at Crystal City, settlers were coming daily into Western Canada from Ontario, Great Britain and the United States, “practically all of whom are passing through the province of Manitoba and taking up land and homes for themselves in the provinces west of Manitoba ...”
The resolution stated that land was available in Manitoba equal to that of the homesteads of any other Canadian province and for as cheap a price as any other province in Western Canada.
The resolution called upon Premier Rodmond Roblin’s Manitoba government to adopt a strong immigration policy in order that Manitoba obtain its “fair share” of settlers.
Copies of the resolutions were sent to the boards of trade and councils of other municipal governments, including the city of Winnipeg, and it was further asked that each body pass its own resolution and forward copies to the Rodmond government and Members of the Legislative Assembly.
On January 12, 1912, delegates from communities and municipalities from across the province — Winnipeg Mayor Richard Deans Waugh, as well as Premier Roblin and William Whyte of the CPR (the railways held land they were anxious to sell to settlers) — met at the Royal Alexandra Hotel in response to the call for a scheme to obtain Manitoba’s “fair share” of settlers.
“There was a general belief that much could be done and a determination to leave no stone unturned to secure a considerable addition to the population of Manitoba” (Free Press, January 13).
Accordingly, the delegates decided to formerly organize a province-wide Million for Manitoba League.
Publisher, former mayor of Winnipeg and chairman of the meeting who subsequently became the first president of the league, William Sanford Evans, said a Winnipeg committee had made a preliminary draft of the scope of the new organization.
The draft in part read: “Manitoba wants more people ... At present, Manitoba has over 20,000,000 acres of available land, capable of being put under the plough. If in every one of the 194,737 vacant quarter sections of the province an average family of four persons were placed there would be an additional rural population of 778,948, to say nothing of the accompanying increase in the towns and cities. The present population per square mile in Manitoba is 7.1, compared to 39.4 in Iowa and 23.5 in Minnesota.”
The impending extension of the boundary of Manitoba to the 60th Parallel — which occurred on May 15, 1912 — was also mentioned as a strong reason to develop an organized settlement plan for the province. To accomplish this goal, the Million for Manitoba League proposed the division of the province into five districts, with Winnipeg as one district.
“In each district a separate organization will take charge of the work.
“One means of raising funds would be by the sale of attractive buttons. A nominal fee for league membership will be fixed, and a definite campaign will be undertaken to secure larger contributions from business men, hotel men and public-spirited residents of the province generally. Board or trade, real estate exchanges, the lodges of various orders and even school children will be drawn into their work.
“When the movement is safely on its feet it is assumed that the Manitoba government will co-operate, especially in the matter of placing and looking after new-comers.”
Shortly after the Winnipeg meeting, branches of the Million for Manitoba League were established in communities such as Killarney, Gladstone, Holland, Carman, Emerson, Stonewall, Souris, Morden and Selkirk. Municipalities, including St. Andrews and Kildonan, also designated officers to service in their branches of the league. The Million for Manitoba League was greeted with “enthusiasm” across the province, according to newspapers.
“Advice from the Office of the Central Committee of the Million for Manitoba League has been received to the effect that organizational meetings have been held in a large majority of the Electoral Divisions throughout the province and strong working committees appointed,” reported the February 29, 1912, Baldur Gazette.
“In order that the best possible results can be obtained for the whole province it is necessary that every district, Municipality, Town, Village and Hamlet take a direct interest in the movement and show that interest by forwarding a membership list which will be a credit to them.”
In Brandon, the local branch was reported to have 400 members near the end of May, and rural membership had increased by 600 for the same month, according to the Free Press on May 28, 1912. One hundred teams of five persons apiece canvassed Winnipeg to solicit memberships in the league during March.
C.J. Whellams, the business secretary for the Million for Manitoba League, wrote an extensive article in the Free Press on June 29, 1912, about a scheme to create farming settlements to attract immigrants. It involved public companies acquiring land in blocks not to exceed 10,000 acres “in every electoral district of the province” and subdividing the land into 80-acre or 160-acre farms.
Whellams called these land blocks a “regular ‘old country’ village.” Each village would have its own schools and churches, as well as agricultural businesses such as creameries, pork packing plants or canning factories. He planned that each village would be connected by good roads and then in the future by an electric railway system.
Suitable homes and buildings would be built and livestock would be provided to the farmers, who would then pay for the animals under an installment plan.
While the emphasis of the league was on rural settlement, the Winnipeg business community supported the organization as more newcomers to the province meant more customers for their shops and their manufactured goods being produced in the largest city in the province. The Winnipeg real estate industry saw the league as a vehicle to re-establish the boom and provide clients for the sale of properties then laying idle, whether farmland held by speculators or suburban lots.
In addition, it was felt that the villages would have the ability to provide agricultural produce that was then being imported at high cost from the U.S. and Ontario.
Premier Roblin outlined the problem at the January 12 meeting when he said he received a letter from a local transportation company that had imported in the past year 1,844 rail cars of dairy produce, poultry, dressed meats, vegetables, etc., principally from the U.S. The premier claimed that at least 3,000 cars of such goods had entered the province in 1911, representing $3 million paid to outside sources for what Manitobans “ate and drank.”
Roblin wanted the league to emphasize the need for more mixed farming in the province to supply towns and cities with locally grown meat and produce.
The Canadian Annual Review, 1912, in a “special supplement,” reported that the “raising of stock (cattle, sheep, hogs) was not a popular pursuit of the farmers, however, owing to the rich soil and the ease with which grain and other crops could be grown.”
The league formed a committee to promote a produce market in Winnipeg during the summer. Evans said a public market would benefit Winnipeg citizens and “producing” farmers and market gardeners. He urged that the city guarantee the financing of the market for six months in the Winnipeg Skating Rink. He said fees paid by farmers and gardeners would cover the costs of the market, and the chance of a financial loss would be very remote.
Elaborating on his “village” scheme, Whellams wrote that each farm would be stocked with six cows, six sheep, two sows, a team of mares and some poultry. Furthermore, each farm would be provided with the newest machinery, and for each block of 10,000-acres, an agricultural instructor would be hired.
“These created farms should be sold for cash or part cash, the balance payable by annual installments secured by mortgage.”
It was a grandiose scheme for a “community of agricultural settlements, the settlers tilling the land scientifically and expeditiously and producing miscellaneous crops and best livestock to the fullest capacity of the soil. In other words it would be a huge agricultural factory of intensified and practical farming with every settler being a co-partner: a combination of capital and labour.”
Under the headline, Million for Manitoba League Not Regarded with Favor in the United States, the April 3, 1912, Free Press reported the league was creating “considerable anxiety in certain portions” south of the international border.
The information was provided to the newspaper by C.S. Mellon of Kansas City, Missouri, who was visiting Winnipeg.
Mellon said the formation of the league would have consequences for the Mid-West states.
“Already the provinces west of Manitoba are attracting hundreds of American farmers,” said Mellon, “and when the active interest is aroused in Manitoba as a place for emigration, it is feared that the tide will grow.”
But what Mellon was telling the newspaper had more to do with a fear of what was happening in Saskatchewan and Alberta than Manitoba.
He mentioned that farmers in his district were selling their land for $100 to $200 and moving to Saskatchewan, “where they could purchase more land for the same money, and where it will increase in value more rapidly.”
(Next week: part 2)