Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Published in Great Plains Research, 18, (Spring 2008):53-66. © 2008 Capyright by the Center far Great Plains Studies, University af Nebraska-Lincoln


Most attempts to map the frontier of agricultural settlement in western Canada have used land alienation data or population density calculated from census returns. Both methods are fraught with difficulties. Population density data are only available at five-year intervals at the 36-square-mile township level. Land alienation does not always reflect settlement. In Manitoba, entire townships were alienated years before they were occupied. The organization and building of schools is a better indicator of actual settlement and the emergence of community-based institutions. To test this hypothesis, school formation and land alienation in 35 townships in southeastern Manitoba were plotted. This showed a close correlation between school formation and land alienation. All rural schools in Manitoba were then plotted by year from 1871 to 1959 using GIS software. Interpretation of this mapped data supports the contention that the formation of rural school districts is an effective and easily employed indicator of the limits of frontier settlement. These mapped data suggest that the idea of a well-defined frontier line of settlement is not the best analogy to describe the progress of agricultural settlement in Manitoba.