Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Summer 1982


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 3, Summer 1982, pp. 157-67.


Copyright 1982 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


In psychology and psychoanalysis, nostalgic reaction refers to the behavior of people separated from familiar places and familiar pasts. Used professionally, the expression encompasses the entire range of behavior exhibited by the uprooted. It is used here in a limited sense to describe the efforts, both physical and imaginative, made by migrants from Europe and eastern North America to adjust t~ a difficult and unfamiliar landscape. Cut off from their homelands, migrants to the Canadian prairies and to the northern plains in general were forced to make a home of a new and, as one of them put it, "naked land." For most, arrival on the plains was the equivalend of a moon landing. (The analogy is not fanciful; to enrich their understanding of the problems of adjustment to an alien environment, American astronauts were required to read Walter Prescott Webb's classic study of the Great Plains.) Even settlers accustomed to continental conditions were overwhelmed by the enormities of the region. German Catholics from the Ukraine and Ukrainians from Poland were dumbfounded by the emptiness of the plains and by the length and severity of the winters. For the Ukrainians, wrote Myrna Kostash, the first nostalgia was longing for the early spring and the blossoming plum and cherry trees of their homeland while the prairie offered only poplar saplings, willow brush, and grasses, still under the snow.

The dimensions of the problem posed by the loss of home and the need to make a new one were the subject of a poignant memoir by Welshman Evan Davies, who homesteaded with his friend David James on the southern edge of the Saskatchewan parkland:

I felt very low, and I believe David James did too. This was so unlike what we had imagined back in Wales. We had visualised a green country with hills around, and happy people as neighbours-no doubt a naive outlook on so drastic a venture, but one common to many people emigrating at the time. There was something so impersonal about this prairie, something that shattered any hope of feeling attached to it or even building a home on it. Any moment now, I thought as we trotted along, we'll come to our piece of land. Any moment! What is there to make it different from the rest of the land we've come through since yesterday morning? Nothing. Nothing at all.