Lecture explores women who went against the grain to homestead on the prairies

By Costa Maragos Posted: February 28, 2017 11:00 a.m.

Women on the prairies as depicted in the London News in 1908.  Dr. Sarah Carter, a historian from the University of Alberta, will speak on “The Gender of Homesteading: Women and the Contest for Land on the Canadian Prairies,” as part of the 2017 Stapleford Lecture at the U of R.
Women on the prairies as depicted in the London News in 1908. Dr. Sarah Carter, a historian from the University of Alberta, will speak on “The Gender of Homesteading: Women and the Contest for Land on the Canadian Prairies,” as part of the 2017 Stapleford Lecture at the U of R. Photo from the London News, January 1908

The opening of the prairie west to non-indigenous people meant great new opportunities to homestead – if you were a man.   
It was a different story for non-indigenous women.

This year’s Stapleford Lecture brings to life the struggles of those women who were denied the right to homestead following the treaties with First Nations.

“The Gender of Homesteading: Women and the Contest for Land on the Canadian Prairies,” is presented by Dr. Sarah Carter from the University of Alberta.

Carter is a leading historian of western Canada relating to the late nineteenth century. She’s Professor and Henry Marshall Tory Chair in the Department of History and Classics and the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.

Sarah Carter
Dr. Sarah Carter is a leading historian of western Canada.

Carter’s work stresses the interconnected lives of Aboriginal people and the early non-Aboriginal settlers. She’s written award-winning books. Her latest book, “Imperial Plots: Women, Land, and the Spadework of British Colonialism on the Canadian Prairies,” focuses on how and why women were excluded from homesteading.

In her lecture, Carter will recount the gutsy display of defiance of the select few women who managed to sneak past the strict homesteading law and establish farms on the prairies, to varying degrees of success.

“Dr. Sarah Carter is an excellent speaker and scholar,” says Dr. Donica Belisle, Assistant Professor in the Department of History and one of the organizers of the lecture.

Imperial Plots by Sarah Carter
Sarah Carter’s latest book is “Imperial Plots: Women, Land, and the Spadework of British Colonialism on the Canadian Prairies.” The book is available for purchase at the lecture March 2. Photo courtesy of University of Manitoba Press


“Prairie Canada was an unequal place during the early homestead years, with gender, race, and ethnicity determining people’s life chances. Sarah’s talk will place the settlement of the Canadian prairies in the broader context of the British Empire, where white agricultural regions were also being established in Australia and South Africa.”

Carter will compare Canadian homestead policy with that of the United States, where women were allowed to homestead.

“Ideas about race and gender continue to structure prairie life,” says Belisle. “When Ottawa ‘opened up’ the West, it did so on the understanding that white women were to be wives and mothers, not farmers or landowners. In this idea of things, a ‘good’ woman did not manage the farm. Instead, she was obedient to her husband, and she raised the generations of farm children that, in turn, created Canadian prosperity.”

The women who defied the authorities were tenacious and inventive in their quest to obtain land. Carter’s talk will bring to light these forgotten women.

“When Ottawa made homesteads available, starting in the 1870s, it did not allow women to acquire title to land. I think if we want to understand the racial and gender relations that continue to pervade prairie culture, even today, we have to pay attention to this history,” says Belisle.

The Stapleford Lecture is presented by the Faculty of Arts. The free lecture is funded through the generosity of the Ernest William Stapleford and Maude Bunting Stapleford Lecture Fund. Reverend Ernest Stapleford served as the first president of Regina College and later as principal from 1915 to 1934.

The endowment allows the Arts Faculty to feature a guest lecturer to speak in the area of human justice, the status of women, the education and care of children, the rights of disadvantaged groups and/or the history and art of Saskatchewan.

Event: 2017 Stapleford Lecture
Date:   Thursday March 2, 2017
Time:   7:00 p.m.
Venue: Education Building (ED 193) – Main Campus.
This event is free and open to the public. Please note we are providing free parking in lots 6 & 7.