The settlement of the rural municipality of Sifton, 1881-1920

Thumbnail Image
Loveridge, D. M.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
This thesis is a study in local history, dealing with the settlement and development of a nine-township rural municipality in southwestern Manitoba. It examines the period from l88l to 1920; from the arrival of the C.P.R. line and the opening of the area to settlement, to the end of the First World War. In 1881 Sifton was all but uninhabited. By 1920 it held a thriving farming conmunity. This singular transformation has been reconstructed in as much detail as possible, and an attempt made to identify and place in context the major elements involved. In short, the aim has been to explain how and why the area developed as it did. Sifton swiftly became, and remains today, an agricultural community. Its land has been, and remains, its reason for being. Much of the history of the municipality revolves around. the theme of land; encompassing the men, women, and institutions who owned it, and the ways in which they made use of it. This unifying theme provides a point of departure for the implementation of a comprehensive and analytic approach to the history of small rural areas on the Prairies. Rather surprisingly, historians have tended to overlook its possibilities and., so, the extensive records available for its development. An analysis of land ownership records for the R.M. of Sifton, focusing on those concerned with the disposition of lands by the Dominion and their initial disposal to settler's, constitutes the core of the study. The underlying premise of this thesis is that there is much more to "local history" than usually meets the eye. The existing literature on the history of small western communities hardly begins to indicate, let alone develop, the interpretive potential of the subject. Nor do these interpretive possibilities exclusively relate to the realms of local history. It goes without saying that national and regional history are something more than 'local history writ large'. At the same time, however, national and regional historians may tend to underplay the composite character of their subjects. If not simply the sum of all their parts, they are certainly the product of these parts. Conclusions drawn at these generalized levels of study must be measured against and tempered by those drawn from the examination of specific components. Intensive analyses of the development of small Prairie communities can offer an insight into the validity of wider interpretations of western settlement. Moreover, the key elements in settlement can best be understood by studying their actual and interrelated operation in a specific environment. Most of the local-historical studies presently available are chronicles rather than analyses. The reasons for this are too numerous (and, for the most part, obvious) to go into here. Suffice it to say that the problem lies with the spirit in which focal history is approached; not with any intrinsic limitation of the subject. The equation of "local" with "parochial", in this regard, is a spurious one. The following study is an attempt to demonstrate that the differences between national and regional history, on the one hand, and local history, on the other, are more apparent than real: that, on the contrary, these areas of historical study represent two sides of the same coin.