Dominion Lands Act (Canada) (1872)


The Dominion Lands Act was designed to entice settlers to the western prairies of Canada by granting 160 acres of free land to anyone 21 years of age or older who paid a $10 registration fee, built a permanent residence, planted at least 30 acres of land, and lived on the land six consecutive months for three years. Women were allowed to claim lands only if they were the sole heads of families. Although not very successful in attracting foreign immigrants, the offer of free land did entice thousands of Canadians to leave Ontario and Quebec for the opportunities of the west.
After acquiring Rupert’s Land and the Northwest Territories from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1869, the Canadian government was eager to attract settlers to the region. A transcontinental railway had been promised in hopes of persuading British Columbia to join the Canadian confederation in 1871, yet it was unlikely to be a successful commercial venture without customers along the way. Also, there was concern about U.S. aggression in some border regions, particularly in the Red River region of Manitoba. As a result, Sir John Alexander Macdonald’s government fashioned the Dominion Lands Act and based it on the United States’s successful Homestead Act (1862). Despite the generous provisions, most European immigrant farmers chose to settle in the United States. Although homestead entries averaged about 3,000 annually between 1874 and 1896, there were in many years almost as many cancellations. In 1874, the government of Alexander Mackenzie amended the act to provide for sale of land at reduced prices to colonization companies that would develop lands at no cost to the government. Although many schemes were put forward, only one of 26 major efforts was successful. Ultimately, significant group settlements of Mennonites, Hungarians, Jews, and Icelanders were attracted to the Canadian west, but most came under specially negotiated group settlement programs.

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