Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Quarterly 6:3 (Summer 1986). Copyright © 1986 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


For centuries the nutritious grasses of the southwestern fringe of the Canadian prairies supported an abundance of game, providing ample food for its nomadic peoples. Not until the middle of the nineteenth century did anyone look to this area as a farming frontier. By the 1850s, however, the curiosity of Canadians about it was increased by a need for new territories for investment, scientific estimates that the land was more favorable for agriculture than had previously been believed, and the fiery rhetoric of expansionist journalists. The need for more accurate knowledge prompted the Canadian and British governments to send scientific expeditions to Rupert's Land, the vast area that drained into Hudson's Bay. The Canadian party, led by geologist H. Y. Hind, and the British group, under the command of Captain John Palliser, identified a fertile belt along the Saskatchewan River and a large arid region to the south (fig. 1). The prairies, an environment to be adapted to perceived needs, had taken on new economic value, a utility that could be realized only through exploitation.