Saturday, February 4, 2012

Proving Up Frauds: Speculators vs. Bonafide Homesteaders

The land speculator was the scourge of Canadian administrators who hoped to rapidly settle the west with bonafide agrarians.  Free 160 acre homesteads under the Dominion Lands Act were far too lucrative a prize for those wishing to profit off future land sales.  In 1884, in hopes to increase the pace of settlement, the six month residency requirement for title to a homestead was reduced to a mere three months.  The homestead entry could be "proved up" variously by cultivation, building a residence, or putting a certain number of livestock on the land.  It was hoped that by necessitating settlers to "prove up", lands would be patented by actual settlers, who would cultivate the land and ship their produce via the CPR.

Title: Que [sic] for land at Dominion Lands Office, Lethbridge, Alberta.Date: May 1 1912 File number: NA-3092-3
As Chester Martin noted in his "Dominion Lands" Policy (1938), the system of "proving up" the land was meant to prevent land speculators grasping deeds to lands and leaving them unproductive.  He notes that in the early days this bureaucracy was not without its loopholes.  Martin noted, "'Land for the actual settler' may have been the most plausible of policies, but no system of land policy has ever been proof against fraudulent manipulation; and for many years whole districts in the vicinity of every frontier town and village were devastated rather than populated by the free-homestead system." (Martin, 406).

William Pearce LandSurveyingHistory
William Pearce, inspector of Dominion Lands agencies from 1882, is enlisted to testify on the methods which speculators avoided the gruelling and time-consuming toil of actually proving up a homestead.  Pearce noted:

"The 'habitable house' was a shack that could be put on a wagon and drawn any place, one shack would do duty for a dozen different applications for patent [...] for cultivation [,] stock to the value of a few hundred dollars was substituted.  A homesteader would purchase a small band of stock up to the requisite amount, and give his note for it.  After he obtained his recommendation for patent, his note becoming due, the holder of the note took the stock back.  The same stock would do to prove title by homestead right to any number of quarter sections." (Martin, 406)

Land companies and individual speculators thus proved Martin right in his assessment of the difficulty in enforcing land policies.  It seems that for the land speculator, such rules were made to be broken.

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