Chapter 4

Wests, 1860–1930: The Parallel Development of the North American West


20 May 1862 US President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law. The legislation provided 160-acre plots of land for any homesteader living on the land and cultivating it for at least five years. Ten years later, the Canadian Parliament passed nearly identical legislation: the Dominion Lands Act, which gave 160-acre parcels of land to homesteaders for a nominal fee.
24 August 1870 Fearing that Canadian troops would lynch him, Louis Riel left the Red River settlement, settling across the border in the United States. Riel had led the Metis resistance to the Canadian annexation of the Northwest. After crossing the border, he worked as an organizer for the Republican Party, became an American citizen, and briefly served as a deputy US marshal. Riel returned to Canada in 1885, when the Metis again took up arms against the Canadian government. Despite being a US citizen, Riel was found guilty of treason and was hanged.
14 June 1872 Parliament passed the Canadian Pacific Railway Act to provide land grants and cash subsidies for a private company to build a railway to the Pacific. The measure was modelled on the Pacific Railroad Act in the US, first introduced to Congress in 1856 and passed in 1862.
30 August 1873 The federal government created the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), the predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Originally outfitted with British uniforms and equipment, the NWMP quickly switched to American saddles, hats, and guns, all more appropriate for the North American environment.
7 May 1877 Chief Sitting Bull and his Hunkpapa Sioux followers crossed the border into Canada. In 1876, the Sioux had won the Battle of the Little Big Horn against General George Custer’s Seventh Cavalry. Pursued by the US Army, Sitting Bull and about 5,000 of his people fled to Canada. The Canadian government did not welcome them, instead starving the Sioux until they were forced to return to the US.
17 November 1896 Clifford Sifton became Minister of the Interior. He set out to encourage Americans to settle the Canadian West, because they understood North American conditions. The policy of promoting American immigration continued after Sifton left office in 1905, and even after the Conservatives replaced the Liberal government in 1911.