Tales on the Trails
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Pioneers Head West
Tales on the Trails
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Tales on the Trails
Following their dreams, pioneers travel a nightmare journey across the Praires.
For the first pioneers, the journey west was a hint of the harsh life that awaited them. Some wouldnt survive the long trek across the Canadian plains.
Muddy trails, extreme heat and swarms of mosquitoes plagued pioneers during the long journey to western Canada. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Muddy trails, extreme heat and swarms of mosquitoes plagued pioneers during the long journey to western Canada. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)

Many settlers, like Harriet Neville, entered the prairies through Winnipeg. She found an uninviting gateway to her new land:

"We got to Winnipeg and a mighty muddy city it was... If you stepped off the wooden sidewalks you sank deep into the prairies mire which stuck to you like glue. It was a rough looking place and not at all my idea of a city."

Beyond Winnipeg, the prairie roads were mainly crude cart paths

Jennie Plaxton and her husband left Ontario and headed for a new life in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

The summer was wet and the Plaxtons laboured through mud and were tortured by the swarms of mosquitoes. Along the way they met up with people also heading toward a new life.

"We traveled quite a distance when we met another couple - also a bride and bridegroom," Jennie wrote in her memoir. "The bride was in torment with mosquitoes just nearly crazed with them...one morning while he was hunting his horses, the young wife found his revolver and shot herself. The poor woman was buried on the top of a hill where a wooden cross marks her grave."

When they arrived at Prince Albert, the Plaxtons built a cabin that they finished on the day before Christmas, in -50 F temperatures.
Once settled in their homes, the pioneers faced hardships including grasshopper plagues, prairie fires and sudden frosts that killed the crops. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
Once settled in their homes, the pioneers faced hardships including grasshopper plagues, prairie fires and sudden frosts that killed the crops. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

Pioneer Mary Louisa Cummins first saw the home her husband had built after an exhausting journey from England.

"I was about all in when we arrived at the homestead and at the sight of the home I had come to I burst into tears. Am I to live in that, I cried, quite forgetting how hard Colin must have worked to build that little wooden box (...) So there we were."

Once settled in their homes, the pioneers faced hardships including grasshopper plagues, prairie fires and sudden frosts that killed the crops.

Winter was a time of loneliness and isolation for the homesteaders. Pioneer Hilda Kirklands remembered her first winter on the prairie as the hardest:

"I think the two words, silence and whiteness will ever be associated in my mind. In those dreary winter months when almost all life had deserted the prairie, often the horizon was indistinguishable and one could not see where snow ended and the sky began, it seemed as there could be nothing but silence and whiteness in all the world."

It was a difficult life for many early pioneers on the Canadian prairie. Lured by big dreams and faced with harsh realities, many pioneers because disappointed and frustrated. Their anger directed toward the federal government would reach a zenith in the 1880s and become a dark chapter in Canadian history.

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Marketing the Frontier

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Tales on the Trails

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Quebecers in New England

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A legendary police force is born on the western frontier.
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Marketing the Frontier
A misleading advertising campaign convinces thousands to head west
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Quebecers in New England
French Canadians flee to the U.S. for work and ignore pleas to settle Canada's West
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Winnipeg Boomtown
The little prairie town enter a golden age as it becomes the gateway to the West
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