OUR FOOL LAND POLICY
FRED V. SEIBERT
DOMINION LAND SURVEYOR
MISS AGNES LAUT’S article in MacLean’s Magazine for January 15th, entitled “Our Lost Immigrants,” has attracted a lot of attention in the various departments at Ottawa, and in no place more than in the offices of the Dominion Land Surveyors. Miss Laut pleads strenuously for a co-ordination of all the various Government Departments and Commissions which are interested in the proper settlement of Canadian Agricultural lands. This is something in which she will find the Dominion Land Surveyors back of her to the hilt.
We must have an end to the policy by which good or bad areas of land are thrown open indiscriminately for settlement, and with the resultant failures which might be expected. Political expediency has determined this policy and kept it in force ever since. However, I believe that the present government will, among many of the reforms it has brought in, also remedy this traditional, weak policy and give us a strong, co-ordinated federal land .settlement scheme.
Why are thousands of settlers on land from which they cannot hope to obtain satisfactory returns? Why are these lands not retained for the purpose for which they are most suitable? Why is it that in many districts farmers experienced in fruit-growing are located hundreds of miles from the nearest fruit districts and are trying—too often unsuccessfully—to make a success of wheat-growing or stock-raising? Worse still, why do we find people with no agricultural experience attempting to cultivate successfully our free homesteads, making miserable failures of life when success awaits them in other lines of work?
Why tolerate the speculator, or any condition not conducive to development? Would it not be advisable to make the private ownership of our present public lands contingent on
Why should the wives of these men who, perhaps, are accustomed to the activities of town or city life, be forced to live where they find conditions distasteful and the work drudgery? Why have settlers been allowed to go miles beyond the railroads, where they have little or no marketing facilities; and why should their wives and children be’forced to suffer from insufficient educational and social intercourse?
IF YOU study a map of any outlying district of Western Canada you will note the dark portion indicating settlement. Note also the patchwork effect showing how many isolated areas there are in any certain section which you may sti^dy.
Each quarter section means a settler, perhaps a bachelor; perhaps a married man with family.
Where these are few in numbers
it means no church, no school, no telephone, poor roads, with insufficient communication with the outside world — and perhaps even poor roads within the settlement itself.
I could cite many thousands of instances which are available to show the disastrous results which have ensued from the haphazard land settlement policy which has been allowed to prevail'in Canada for several decades. For this incoherent land settlement policy we may try to place the blame upon the Dominion Land Surveyor who'surveyed the land and reported upon its suitability for agriculture; or we may lay the blame at the door of the land agent who issued the title and furnished the settler with the information. But, when finally traced to its source, the blame lies at the door of no individual or body of officials, but rather is due to the lack of a definite constructive, co-ordinated land settlement policy.
Our Land Settlement policy has been, up to the present, a shiftless'one with no definite plan or objective and no definite responsibility devolving upon anyone for the various activities necessary, for successful settlement.
Our policy in Canada, except for those coming within the jurisdiction of the Soldiers’Settlement Board, has been somewhat as follows: Wherever a man—no matter who he is—wants a piece of land for a homestead he shall hav.e it even if it be a bare sand hill or at the North Pole (unless
perhaps it should happen to be a particularly choice parcel of land and some political heeler had gotten his eyes upon it; or perhaps the parcel may have been large enough to warrant some land company using its political influence to acquire it.)
This was the false assumption: “It is his own funeral.” To-day, after considerable experience, we see differently. The day is largely past when a man can go into a bar-room and drink his head off and claim it is his own business. There is a deep, underlying sense of responsibility to each other and to the State. So, too, the Canadian public has reached the stage when it recognizes the welfare of the individual as a necessity to the success of the State; it is therefore ready to recognize direction and control of settlement as one phase of the solution of our present land problems.
Political Expediency dictated our present policy of indiscriminate settlement and has kept it in force; but in spite of this the Canadian public must bear the blame. We cannot blame our Government if it gives us what we want, and certainly, up to recent years, the general public would stand for no advice or restrictions in the settler’s choice of his homestead. “We want to help ourselves; the best is none too good for us”—such was the popular slogan, and often the best turned out to be the worst and the wilful chooser had his fingers burned.
We have an analogy in the present oil regulations, carefully designed to avoid speculation and foolish waste, and at the same time retain for the general good of Canada as much of the unearned increment of our oil resources
as possible without unnecessarily restricting development. There is no doubt that criticism is being made in many quarters by those who would like to retain for themselves a large portion of this unearned increment, as well as by those who see the elimination of their chances
of making a “clean up” in an orgy of “wild-cat” oil speculation.
In the settlement of the semi-arid portions of Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, many ranchers tried to retain within their holdings good agricultural land. This fact, no doubt, had a great deal to do in antagonising public opinion and prej u d i ci ng many people against all ranch lands. On the other hand, man y who were not ranchers, such neighboring farmers, residents of nearby towns and incoming settlers, strongly advocated the throwing open
of many ranches entirely unsuitable for farming. These people were always in the majority, and it is the majorities that decide elections. So, for good or bad, we have had large areas indiscriminately thrown open for settlement, with many consequent failures.
Why? Because the local man kicked. On account of his kick we have had political expediency deciding what is good agricultural land instead of the unbiased judgment of agricultural experts or competent land classification surveyors.
A former Minister of the Interior, in discussing the advisability of throwing open many of these ranches for farming purposes, agreed with the official with whom he was discussing the question that it was a mistake.
"But,” he said, “what----------are we going to do?
The public demand it, so how can we help ourselves?”
No Sane Person Would
WE HAVE in the Peace River district an excellent example of the local man, supported by public opinion, dictating policy. We need go only seventy-five miles north of the Peace River to the Notikewin (Battle) River district to find it. This soil is on the whole good, and will—I confidently predict—eventually prove itself well suited for agriculture; but what sane person would advocate its settlement by homestead entry after observing the present lack of marketing and transportation facilities and its temporary liability to frost, due in a large measure to the presence of surrounding bush and small areas of swamp and muskeg?
Nor is the open area in this district at present large enough to warrant the necessary transportation facilities. Here again, the only man to advocate its settlement is the local man. Why? How much is his judgment based upon his knowledge of conditions necessary to successful settlement, and how much upon his desire to get in new settlers, with ready money for his own personal gain—even if it be to the detriment of the settler?
What, you may ask, should be done with such an area? The settler cannot hope under present conditions to make use of it economically for farming purposes and thereby add to our production. On the other hand, the rancher can immediately make use of it and not only in this area will he be able to greatly increase our production, but for every acre leased he adds to our income 4c per acre per annum.
Two applications for leases of, roughly, 20,000 acres each have been turned down by Ottawa in this area within the last two years. This in spite of the fact that a little more than a year ago statements appeared in the press stating that it was the intention to grant leases on large areas more than fifty miles from the nearest railway; and also in spite of the fact that one outfit, on the strength of
these statements, had last Fall, when their application was turned down, roughly 1,000 head of cattle on the ground.
Because the local man kicked.
Miss Agnes Laufs article in MacLean's of January 15th supplies in a large measure the remedy for these.conditions. A recent memorandum of the Land Settlement Committee of the Association of Dominion Land Surveyors, dealing with a few of the phases of this problem is, I believe, a successful attempt to supply a constructive remedy. Dominion Land Surveyors have had a unique opportunity to study this question. They have directed the surveys of all the Western lands; they have watched every phase of development in innumerable localities both on the lands they have surveyed and in other parts of Canada, and in many cases have played an important part in such development. Such a body of professional men should therefore be in a position to furnish some constructive ideas, as follows:
I. Development of our natural resources is urgent in view of the financial situation of the country.
2. Land settlement is recommended as one of the best means of improving the situation by:
(a) Increasing the producing population and there-
by decreasing the per capita debt.
(b) Increasing production and stimulating trade.
(c) Improving the railway situation by increased
3. An active but discriminating immigration policy must be carried on.
4. Rapid development in new areas is essential to success.
5. Settlement needs directing force.
6. There is weakness in our present system and urgent need of control to correct that weakness.
7. The present homestead regulations are not suitable for available crown lands.
8. Development work is necessary before settlement.
9. All information available can best be co-ordinated by a Board.
10. A farm unit should not be fixed acreage; but an economic unit; land classification is necessary, therefore.
II. Provincial co-operation is essential to complete success.
12. Rural credits to settlers is an essential part of land settlement.
13. An engineer is essential on Settlement Board.
All Machinery at Hand
DRACTICALLY all the machinery necessary to handle T land settlement already exists in the various organizations shown in the chart which accompanies this article. These are: the Department of Agriculture; Provincial
Government offices; Western Canada Colonization Department; Soldiers’ Settlement Board; Department of Immigration and Colonization, and the Department of the Interior, I this last named including the Departments of Natural Resources, Reclamation, Topographical Surveys and Dominion Lands).
What is advocated is a Land Settlement Board which will link up the information available in each and every one of these Departments and make not only all this information available to the general public, but secure their expert service as well. The Land Settlement Board, which would co-ordinate all their activities, should be an independent organization which would receive its information and assistance from each of these organizations; if supplied with the necessary power this should put land settlement in Canada on a sound, scientific and satisfactory basis. The formation of such a Board opens up at once great possibilities. Its field of usefulness will be as broad as its areas. Only men of the broadest vision should be placed upon it, for land settlement is a business operation demanding expert administration and sound business methods. For Canada it should be her first and greatest undertaking.
We have at the present time nine major organizations dealing with the land and the settler, together with many minor ones—yet we have no co-ordinating machinery. Surely this is not good business. There is only one way to have successful land settlement. There must be a definite connecting link between the settler and the land. This connecting link should be made before he leaves his former home, and should be maintained until he is established as an economical producer.
While it is economical to restrict settlement for farming purposes to those areas now served by existing railways and, for the present, to discontinue the settlement of those areas where, from lack of transportation facilities, the settler has no chance of success, it is not good business to ignore these large, outside areas of agricultural land. It is desirable that definite plans for the development be carried out along sane and economical lines. Most of our provinces have many square miles of such areas, but I shall deal with only one, the one with which I am most familiar, namely, Alberta—and specifically with Northern Alberta. I will also show how lack of co-ordination affects these various areas.
Vast Resources North of Edmonton
T T HAS been stated by various authorities that there is A more agricultural land north of Edmonton than south of it. From my own experience, which includes ten years in this district, I am prepared to state that there is more agricultural land in this area than there is in the whole of the province of Ontario. This estimate does not ignore the large clay belt in northern Ontario.
With the space at my disposal I can give only a rough
outline of the possibilities of developing this area and how we should accomplish it.
Large areas of this land are covered with scrub, poplar, w’illow, brule and windfall, the clearing of which in most cases costs by ordinary hand methods more than the productive value of the land when cleared. But—and this is a new but proven policy—this clearing should be done by CONTROLLED
FIRES, a policy worked out satisfactorily by Dominion Land Surveyors and costing only so many cents per acre where other methods would require so many dollars per
At the same time, in clearing by this method, complete protection is afforded the areas it is desired to conserve for forest purposes. The present destruction of valuable forest growth by the individual efforts of many of our settlers in the clearing of our land is too well known to need further mention here. The cost of carrying out the clearing of these lands by controlled fires has been shown to be from 4c to 20c per acre per fire, and from one to three fires are required according to the nature of the area covered.
If the already open and partially open lands in this district are leased to ranchers for periods long enough for clearing an area sufficiently large to warrant furnishing the essential facilities for successful settlement, and if this money is set aside for clearing by controlled fires, those undertaking the work can guarantee to turn out into semiopen country millions of acres in this district and ask for not one cent of public funds other than this revenue.
In other words: the country itself is at present able, if properly handled, to finance what has always been considered the most difficult part of settlement, namely, the clearing of the useless timber over a very large part of the
Making Land Pay for Itself
TN THE Notikewin (Battle) river area, with one or two
fires, depending upon weather conditions at the time of operation, more than 100,000 acres can be made available for lease at a cost of less than $10,000.00. This area alone would bring in, if leased at 4c per acre, $4,000.00 per year. Capitalize this at 5 per cent, per annum and we have $80,000.00.
The benefit does not stop there. That is only a small portion of the result. For every thirty acres leased the owner must have on the ground one head of stock, which means at least 3,300 head. In this area this amount could no doubt be exceeded. The main benefit, however, is that such operations represent the greater part of the work necessary to turn this, at present, almost wholly unproductive district into a producing farming community. When the area cleared in this way is sufficiently large, the necessary facilities can be provided and settlement undertaken.
To understand what controlled fires will accomplish, one must be thoroughly acquainted with the usual weather conditions of Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Conditions there are somewhat reversed to what are generally expected in other parts of Canada. The spring months are marked by sunshine and warm winds unaccompanied by rain. This dries the surface material, such as wood,
leaves, grass, windfall and brule without absorbing the moisture and frost from the ground, thus making it possible to burn this material without injury to the soil.
Intelligently controlled fires can clear the country with but very little expense, and extraordinarily efficiently. But there will be a great deal of damage if these fires take place at the wrong seasons of the year and under improper conditions.
Like most new suggestions, the controlled fire policy had its opponents as well as its advocates; but, properly carried out, I say unhesitatingly that only good can result.
Efficient Fire Guards
BY STARTING a fire guard area as soon as the snow is off, one man with a torch, and three or four men with good fire beaters, consisting of wet blankets tied to axe handles, can first go around the area and burn off the ridges which dry out first; they then can make a second trip and burn off the hay sloughs and widen out the ridge if necessary, and finally, where necessary, on a third trip they can connect these areas already burned and so complete the fire guard. Too great care cannot be taken with the fire guard and it is always better to have it wider than necessary than a few feet too narrow.
An area of standing brule and windfall, with a good mat of grass, was chosen in one place and a line picketed through the centre in such a way as to divide equally the work of clearing. One side was cleared before it was burned and the other after, and a strict account of the time and men employed was kept. This showed that the clearing before the fire took, at the rate of one man, forty-four hours to clear an acre. After the fire one man accomplished this same work of clearing in eight hours. This means, of course, that it took five and a half times as much work to clear an acre before firing as it did afterwards—or, in other words, the cost of clearing was reduced, by firing, more than eighty per cent.
Some people may think that the soil may be injured by these controlled fires. Here is a concrete example which will show that this is not the case:
Six soil samples were taken before the fire—in an operation which we conducted May 18, 1919, and from the same places six were taken after the fire. Here, too, an effort was made to get as nearly representative conditions as possible. One sample, however, was given a very severe test—a much more severe test than would actually occur in burning operations. This sample was taken in the area previously mentioned (a paragraph or two above) which was cleared before firing. A pile of logs five feet, six fett, and ten feet wide was placed over the spot and when burned, the flames went fifty feet into the air, and it was impossible to remain closer than one hundred feet. All tests made of the soil taken after the fire from under
this pile showed that there was practically no damage to the soil, and in the case of the more extreme test there was an actual increase of organic matter. This soil analysis was made by C. J. Lynde, Professor of Physics, MacDonald College, Quebec.
Where can we find a better proposition and one that should receive more prompt attention from the Canadian people?
These things can be done. The land can be economically cleared in this way; but the clearing of land is only one phase of settlement activities. Of what use, for instance, would it be to clear an area for economic settlement if, at the same time, the necessary essentials to the success of that settlement are not provided? It is of little use to have one party clearing land in one district; another party from a different government branch ditching and draining the land in some other district; another branch or perhaps a provincial government putting a road somewhere else; and various other settlement operations in still other areas. It is only when we have all these operations concentrated on one area that we can hope to have the success which is desirable. This can be done only by a National Land Settlement Board carrying on a National Land Settlement policy, which includes not only the settlement of our Western Provinces but the economic settlement of all our vacant areas from Halifax to Vancouver.
Millions of Idle Acres
THERE are millions of acres of choice agricultural land lying idle, while the railways serving these lands are operating year after year with large deficits for the want of the very freight which these lands would create if cultivated. It is conservatively estimated that in the three Western Prairie Provinces alone there are 25,000,000 acres of unoccupied agricultural land within 20 miles of existing railroads. Is it not plainly evident that the success of our national railways depends very largely upon the development of these vacant lands?
In all which I have stated here I am not talking politics; all parties are equally to blame, and the sooner we apply the remedy the better. Miss Laufs article supplies in a large degree the remedy and I have endeavored to enlarge upon it and to make certain observations because of my definite, personal knowledge of the subject under discussion.
If the Federal Government wishes to obtain a remedy they have it already in the policy laid down at various times by the Dominion Land Surveyors, and specifically at the Convention of the Dominion Land Surveyors held in Ottawa during February, 1921.
If the facts are fully and definitely brought home to the public I am firmly of the opinion that there is not a politician or a civil servant in Ottawa, or in the whole of the Dominion, who would not back up to the hilt the policy outlined.
The following is an extract from an article in connection with the Western Canada Colonization Association, appearing in Canadian Finance, December 1st, 1920:
Continued on page 45
Continued from page 9
"The settlement of 20 million acres of lands in Western Canada during the next few years would have far-reaching effects. Divided into approximately 100,000 farms it would mean an influx of 100,000 farmers and their families—the average family numbers five: we should therefore have 500,000 persons added to our agricultural population. It is found that an agricultural population of a country means an equal population in industrial life, which means an addition of 500,000 to the population of the villages, towns and cities of Western Canada.
“The increase in national wealth, which would result from the accomplishment of the aim of the Western Canada Colonization Association, may be summarized as follows:
New wealth brought in by settlers............................. $ 150,000,000 Net worth of new farm production in perpetuity................. 1,875,000,000 New capital attracted from abroad for industrial undertakings. .. . 75,000,000 New wealth resulting from profits on handling new farm production . 500,000,000 Total.................................................. $2,600,000,000
“Besides, there would be the wealth created by the thousands of new agricultural immigrants who would accompany the influx of farm settlers.”
From the intimate knowledge of conditions in the West which Dominion Land Surveyors have, they consider these figures a very fair estimate of what would result from the settlement of these lands. Similar illustrations might be given of the benefit
from settlement in other parts of Canada.
All success to Miss Agnes Laut and MacLean’s Magazine in their campaign for a constructive, co-ordinated land settlement policy. The Dominion Land Surveyors wish you all success!