In 1871, the Canadian government entered into Treaties 1 and 2 to
obtain the consent of the indigenous nations from the territories set
out respectively in each Treaty. The Treaties provided for the taking
up of lands "for immigration and settlement". The Dominion Lands Act
(short title for An Act Respecting the Public Lands of the Dominion)
was an 1872 Canadian law that aimed to encourage the settlement of the
Canadian Prairies, and to help prevent the area being claimed by the
United States. The Act was closely based on the United States
Homestead Act, setting conditions in which the western lands could be
settled and their natural resources developed. In order to settle the
Canada invited mass emigration by European and American
pioneers, and by settlers from eastern Canada. It echoed the American
homestead system by offering ownership of 160 acres of land free
(except for a small registration fee) to any man over 18 or any woman
heading a household. They did not need to be British subjects, but had
to live on the plot and improve it.
The Act is controversial because the Canadian Government—established
by Confederation only five years earlier—was extremely short on
funds and never provided compensation to the indigenous
nations[dubious – discuss] for the use of the lands which the
Government had decided to give away for free.
4 Repeal of the Act
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Unlike in eastern Canada, the federal government had assumed control
over public lands and natural resources in most of western Canada. Its
jurisdiction to do so is controversial with First Nations, who assert
they were not only not compensated for their lands, but that only the
lands taken up for immigration and settlement were covered in the
Numbered Treaties, and that other lands and natural resources were not
The Act was applied to the province of
Manitoba and to the Northwest
Territories. Upon the creation of the provinces of
Alberta from the Northwest Territories, the Act continued to apply to
them. It was also extended to the
Peace River Block of British
Columbia. In 1930, the federal government agreed to transfer control
over the public lands and natural resource to the prairie provinces by
means of the Natural Resources Acts. From that point
Dominion Lands Act
Dominion Lands Act only applied in the North-West
The act gave a claimant (160 acres, or 65 hectares) for free, the only
cost to the farmer being a $10 administration fee. Any male farmer who
was at least 21 years of age and agreed to cultivate at least 40 acres
(16 ha) of the land and build a permanent dwelling on it (within
three years) qualified. This condition of "proving up the homestead"
was instituted to prevent speculators from gaining control of the
The act also launched the Dominion Lands Survey, which laid the
framework for the layout of the Prairie provinces that continues to
An important difference between the Canadian and U.S. systems was that
farmers under the Canadian system could buy a neighboring lot for an
additional $10 registration fee, once they had made certain
improvements to their original quarter-section. This allowed most
farmsteads to quickly double in size, and was especially important in
Palliser's Triangle area of the prairies, which was very
arid. There it was all but impossible to have a functional farm on
only 160 acres (0.65 km2), but it could be managed with 320.
Canadian agriculture was consequently more successful than U.S.
agriculture in this arid region.
Bloc settlements were encouraged by section 37 which allowed
associations of 10 or more settlers to group their houses together to
form a settlement to fulfil their cultivation obligations on their own
homestead while residing in a hamlet.
CPR land sales advertisement
The success of the
Dominion Lands Act
Dominion Lands Act overall is
questionable. Large-scale immigration to the prairies
did not get underway until 1896 (immigrants prior to then generally
preferring to live in the U.S. due to a protracted recession in Canada
that followed confederation)[dubious – discuss]. Also, the first
version of the act set up extensive exclusion zones. Claimants were
limited to areas further than 20 miles (32 km) from any
railway[dubious – discuss] (much of the land closer having been
granted to the railways at the time of construction). Since it was
extremely difficult to farm wheat profitably if you had to transport
it over 20 miles (32 km) by wagon, this was a major
discouragement. Farmers could buy land within the 20 mi
(32 km) zone, but at a much higher price of $2.50 per acre
($6.20/ha). In 1879 the exclusion zone was shrunk to only 10 miles
(16 km) from the tracks; and in 1882 it was finally eliminated.
Less than half the arable land in the West was ever to open to farmers
for homesteading under the Dominion Lands Act. The Canadian Pacific
Railway owned most of the rest[dubious – discuss], as part of its
charter for building the transcontinental railway. The Hudson's Bay
Company, which had once owned the entire prairies, had kept 5 per cent
of the land as part of the terms of its surrender of its charter.
These two companies sold land to land companies and to farmers on the
open market. Additional areas were set aside for schools and
Overall, about 478,000 square kilometres (118,000,000 acres) of land
were given away by the government under the Dominion Lands Act.
Some historians argue that the
Dominion Lands Act
Dominion Lands Act encouraged premature
settlement of the West since many of the farms settled under the act
later failed.
Repeal of the Act
From 1930 onwards, the Act only applied to the public lands in the
Northwest Territories. The homestead provisions of the Act, designed
to encourage agricultural settlement on the prairies, had little
application to the conditions in the Northwest Territories. Parliament
repealed the Act in 1950, replacing it with the Territorial Lands
Act, which was better adapted to the conditions in the Territories.
The new Act did not contain any homesteading provisions.
"Last Best West"
^ An Act respecting the transfer of the Natural Resources of Alberta,
S.C. 1930, c. 3.
^ An Act respecting the transfer of the Railway Belt and the Peace
River Block, S.C, 1930, c. 37.
^ An Act respecting the transfer of the Natural Resources of Manitoba,
S.C. 1930, c. 29.
^ An Act respecting the transfer of the Natural Resources of
Saskatchewan, S.C. 1930, c. 41.
^ Dominion Lands Act, R.S.C. 1927, c. 113, s. 3.
^ David J. Wishart, ed., Encyclopedia of the Great Plains (2004) p 864
^ Territorial Lands Act, S.C. 1950, c. 22, s. 26.
Kirk N. Lambrecht. The Administration of Dominion Lands, 1870-1930
Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience at