An Ethnohistorical Approach to Pioneer Farmers of Saskatchewan
Gray, Ian David
This thesis is concerned with pioneer farmers in the "Parkland" region of Saskatchewan, Canada, during the years 1905 to 1940. Since this topic has received very little attention from ethnologists, the first objective is to describe pioneer life. With a basic orientation to cultural ecology, and using the farm as the unit of study, the description focuses on the methods of setting up and operating a pioneer farm, and providing a living for the pioneer family. This description takes the form of Julian Steward's (1955) "culture core": those aspects of a culture most closely related to subsistence activities and economic arrangements. There were three major environmental and technological limitations within which the pioneer had to operate: the climate, the vegetation, and the sources of power. The climate imposed limitations in the form of occasional over-abundant rainfall, and more commonly, through early fall frosts. These frosts severely limited the growing season, and thus the varieties of crops that could be grown. The native vegetation slowed the process of setting up a viable farm operation because of the heavy aspen forest that had to be cleared, usually by hand. The sources of power for traction were oxen (at first) and later, horses. Both of these restricted the range of choices a pioneer farmer had, with respect to crops sown, acreages farmed, hours worked, and so on. A major theoretical concern of this thesis is an investigation of the peasant concept, and the extent to which it applies to pioneer farmers. Considering the range of concepts found in the literature on peasants, it is concluded that pioneers indeed can be labelled "peasants", but the application of that label means little more than that they were agriculturalists who produced for subsistence as well as for the market and who were part of a larger society. To consider one aspect of the peasant concept, the theory of the peasant economy suggested by Chayanov (1966) and Franklin (1965), is more useful. They believed that the peasant type of production differs from capitalist and socialist production because of the differences in the use of labour. This theory can be used to analyze the changes in Saskatchewan farming from the earliest pioneer days to the present. Many Saskatchewan farmers (both pioneers and some "modern" farmers) tend to think in the same terms as peasants, and the increasing size of Saskatchewan farms and the increasing use of large machines are logical results of peasant thinking.