Contesting Rural Space

Contesting Rural Space: Land Policy and Practices of Resettlement on Saltspring Island, 1859-1891

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Contesting Rural Space
    Book Description:

    In the late nineteenth century, residents claiming land on Saltspring Island walked a careful line between following mandatory homestead policies and manipulating these policies for their own purposes. The residents favoured security over risk and modest sufficiency over accumulation of wealth. Government land policies, however, were based on an idea of rural settlement as commercially successful family farms run by sober and respectable men. Settlers on Saltspring Island, deterred by the poor quality of farmland but encouraged by the variety of part-time, off-farm remunerative occupations, the temperate climate, First Nations cultural and economic practices, and the natural abundance of the Gulf Island environment, made their own choices about the appropriate uses of rural lands. R.W. Sandwell shows how the emerging culture differed from both urban society and ideals of rural society.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7263-8
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Figures and Maps
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. Preface
    (pp. xix-2)
  8. Introduction: Reading the Rural with a Microhistorical Eye
    (pp. 3-14)

    This book describes how a remarkably varied collection of people first created and then sustained a distinctive economy, society, and culture in one particular part of nineteenth-century Canada. The place is Saltspring Island during the homesteading years. This study begins in 1859 with the first non-Native settlers. I end it in 1891 with the second decennial census, when the homesteading phase had all but ended. Saltspring Island was the first area in the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, and indeed the first place west of present day Ontario, where cheap country lands were made widely available to prospective...

  9. 1 Land Policies and the Agricultural Vision in British Columbia
    (pp. 15-39)

    The historical record provides few details about the motives and experiences of the individual settlers taking up their first lands on Saltspring Island in 1859. Only two narrative accounts detailing early land resettlement on the island exist. One is a memoir written in old age by the freed slave Sylvia Stark. We know from her unpublished memoir that the Stark family - Howard Estes with his daughter Sylvia Stark, her husband Louis, and their infant son - were fleeing racial persecution in the American south, and had been invited by Vancouver Island governor James Douglas to take up farmland in...

  10. 2 Settling Up the Wild Lands
    (pp. 40-60)

    In a letter to his sister and brother-in-law early in 1860, just a few short months after taking up land at the north end of Saltpring Island, Jonathan Begg explained the advantages that the island held for a settler like himself, and the benefits that a settler like himself brought to the new colony. “I need not tell you that commencing in the wilderness without capital and a stranger to boot has been a hard task,” he wrote, “but I have perseverance and industry. I have so far surmounted all my difficulties in a very satisfactory way, and am now...

  11. 3 The Main Support of the Colony: How Pre-emptors Met Policy-Makers’ Goals
    (pp. 61-84)

    John Norton, born on the Azores Islands in 1824, came to Saltspring Island in 1861. Almost nothing is known of the first thirty-seven years his life. If he was like most of the early settlers, he arrived with little money and a desire to own rural land. Norton pre-empted 200 acres in north end of the island. His immediate neighbours were a family comprising an African-American husband, Henry Robinson (born in Bermuda), his Irish Catholic wife Margaret, and their two children. By 1867, when he was in his mid-forties, Norton had married one of those children, Annie. Unlike most of...

  12. 4 Commercial Farmers?
    (pp. 85-103)

    Charles Horel, born in England, arrived on Saltspring Island in about 1878 with his wife and five children under twelve. He was in his late forties. His wife Sarah was from the United States, where the first three their children had been born. The couple had nine children by the time Horel died in 1893. He had pre-empted about 160 acres in the centre of the island in 1878, and received a certificate of improvement his work on this land in 1884. In the same year, he purchased his original pre-emption, and then pre-empted more land, this time 152 acres...

  13. 5 Appropriating the Land System: Pre-emption Behaviour as Rural Culture
    (pp. 104-121)

    Joseph Akerman was born in England in 1837 and arrived in Canada as child. In the early 1860s he moved to Victoria, where he met his wife Martha Clay, who had come to British Columbia from Manchester on of the famous “bride ships,” theRobert Lowe.Joseph and Martha took up land on Saltspring Island in 1863, and were among the first settlers in the fertile Burgoyne Valley. Akerman abandoned their first preemption after four years because, according to the great-grandson Bob Akerman, he disliked the long shadows on that side of the valley. A second pre-emption, taken out in...

  14. 6 Political Economy and Household Structure on Saltspring Island
    (pp. 122-158)

    Robert Brown, a British horticulturist leading an expedition throughout British Columbia in 1862, was an early visitor to Saltspring Island. After visiting the island and other areas of coastal Vancouver Island, he noted in his diary the following evaluation of rural British Columbia in general, and Saltspring Island in particular:

    Though not a pleasant topic, I cannot help noticing the want of confidence in stability of the Colony manifested by most of the settlers, and a “Waiting something to turn up” Micawber sort of disposition. This is more or less way in all countries ... But though this is every...

  15. 7 The African-American Murders: Violence, Racism, and Community on Saltspring Island, 1859-1871
    (pp. 159-192)

    Between August 1867 and December 1868 the tiny community of Vesuvius Bay on Saltspring Island, populated by about twenty-five families, was the scene of three brutal murders. All the victims were members of the island’s African-American population, and coastal Natives were widely believed to be guilty of all three murders. A Native man, Tschuanahusset, was convicted in the only case that was brought to trial. Within the provincial historiography, these murders, and the outcry they gave rise to, have helped to define the racialized context of life on the coast during the colonial period. In the scattered published histories of...

  16. 8 Cohesion and Fracture in Saltspring Island Society
    (pp. 193-224)

    In 1866 thirteen-year-old Mary Anne McFadden was accused of trying to poison her father by putting strychnine in his breakfast coffee. She confessed to the attempt shortly after her arrest. James McFadden had become ill immediately after drinking a cup that she had prepared for him. Mary Anne Sampson, the fifteen-year-old wife of Constable Henry Sampson (McFadden’s closest neighbour), was charged with being an accessory in the case. McFadden seems to have been living apart from his daughter for at least some of the time, perhaps since his wife died some years previously. He had left her in the care...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 225-232)

    Reflecting late in his life on his vast studies of resettlement in the grasslands of the western United States, James Malin generalized that successful human occupation of any place depends on making use of available natural resources to the best advantage. Whatever environment people live in, we should expect both environment and culture to change in response to new settlement, for, as Malin put it, “each and every place and time is unique and change is continuous, irreversible and indeterminate.”¹ Arguing against both economic and environmental determinism, he maintained that very few places are unlivable for human beings, provided people...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 233-296)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-318)
  20. Index
    (pp. 319-324)