Calgary & Southern Alberta
In his 1863 report, John Palliser maintained that the extension of the Great American Desert into British North America constituted a barrier to continuous western settlement. Known later as Palliser's Triangle, this area extended at an angle south of today's Red Deer into southwestern Saskatchewan. It was characterised by a dry climate, sandy soil, and extensive grass cover. These characteristics, which appeared so disadvantageous to growing crops, well supported the grazing of cattle, making the area the preserve of ranchers for decades.
Ranching aside, Palliser's Triangle became a symbol of the barren nature of much of the southwestern Canadian prairies. However, John Macoun, the Dominion government botanist, claimed that the absence of wood did not reflect soil deficiency. He argued that the area was indeed well-suited for agriculture. Department of Agriculture pamphlets advised prospective immigrants that the absence of trees was really a farmer's blessing since it made clearing the land unnecessary. Southern Alberta seemed ready-made for farming.
Official releases from the Department of Agriculture, however, often contained contradictions, even within the same publication. In sections directed to prospective farmers, the homesteader's guides announced that no better place to grow crops existed than southern Alberta. In the sections geared toward attracting investment, they stated that because the land was so ideal for raising livestock, start-up capital was minimal.
After their arrival in Alberta in 1874, the first mounted police contingents reported that cattle thrived in Chinook country and were well-nourished on native grasses. These reports came to the attention of British and eastern Canadian investors, who appealed to the federal government for policies favourable to the establishment of large-scale cattle businesses. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was only too happy to promote investment in land held to be ill-suited for agriculture.
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