The second wave of settlementUp until 1891 Manitoba's population had grown at a slow but steady rate, reaching 150,000 in that year. While this was a considerable increase from the 12,000 of 1870, there was no disguising the fact the rate of settlement had not lived up to early expectations. Millions of people were leaving Europe, but they were going to the United States, South America and even Australia. Most of the immigrants were not tempted by the prospect of grain farming on the cold Canadian prairie when there was land to be had in the American mid-west. This was all to change in 1896. Discoveries of gold in South Africa and the Yukon in that year meant that there was more money to invest in the world economy and prices of grains such as wheat began to rise. The new steamships could carry more grain at far less cost than sailing vessels. And Canada was becoming the last best west, as much of the good land in the United States had now been claimed by homesteaders. Canada was about to get its share of one of the greatest population movements in world history.
By 1901 Manitoba would have 255,000 residents, in 1906 it had 365,000, and in 1911, three years before the First World War brought the age of immigration to an end, its population stood at 450,000. Across the Prairies, 30,000 new farms were created each year between 1896 and 1922, while wheat production tripled every five years during that period. It was the age of the wheat boom. New and hardier seed varieties, coupled with new farm practices and new implements laid the groundwork for the boom. The nature of Manitoba society was to change once again since a very large percentage of the immigrants to the West came from Eastern Europe. Peasant farmers in Poland, Russian and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were caught in the squeeze of a falling death rate and a rising birth rate. As a result, farms kept getting smaller and smaller. In Galicia, a largely Ukrainian province in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there were over one million farms that were less than eight acres in size. The prospect of a 160-acre farm must have seemed almost too good to be true. Between 1896 and the start of the First World War over 170,000 Ukrainians came to Canada. They often had to sneak out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and cross the ocean in ships originally intended to carry cattle.
The first years in Canada were often ones of tragedy. In 1899 there were so many immigrants that the government hastily moved 80 families to an abandoned logging camp south of Riding Mountain. In a two-week period nearly 50 people, almost all of them children, died of scarlet fever. Unable to afford cattle or horses, many were forced to break and clear the land themselves. For a part of the year husbands left the farm to take wage work on the railway construction and maintenance gangs. The European immigrants could not speak the language of the country, their religions were often viewed with suspicion, and they were often the butt of ethnic jokes and discrimination. They also organized to improve their lives, establishing their own churches and synagogues, schools, community centres, cultural organizations, newspapers, and even political parties. By developing and strengthening their own cultural institutions thousands of immigrants began to feel that there was a place for them in Canada. However, this cultural assertion was to generate a strong reaction. As early as 1899 the Winnipeg Telegram was editorializing about the dangers that these newcomers presented, describing them as "poor and filthy" people whose "moral character is disgraceful." Much of the politics of the early twentieth century in Manitoba would revolve around conflicts over the impact of this second wave of immigration.
Farmers, railways and politics From the day the Canadian Pacific Railway published its first freight rate schedule in 1883, many Western Canadian farmers concluded that the National Policy of government-funded railways, protective tariffs for manufacturers, and immigration to the Canadian west discriminated against the Prairies. Over the next 40 years western farmers would launch a series of political protests against what they saw as the power of Eastern Canadian politicians and corporations. In the end, they created a number of successful farmer-dominated political parties and farmer-owned grain companies. It was a sign of the importance of transportation and trade in Canadian politics.
For many farmers, their first problem with the CPR came when they tried to select a homestead. Homesteaders could get 160 acres of land for free: but 25 million acres of the best land in the west had already been granted to the CPR. While the CPR was willing to sell the land at relatively low prices, many settlers were frustrated to discover that there homestead options were more limited that they had anticipated.
But the Prairie farmers' biggest complaints against the CPR focused on the company's rate structure, its lack of branch lines and its protection from competition. In Eastern Canada, the CPR faced competition from other railways and from water transportation on the lakes and canals. As a result, it had to charge competitive rates. But in the West, the Canadian government prohibited any other railway from building lines south of the CPR mainline. This meant that the CPR had no competition in the west from railways in the northern United States. As a result the cost of shipping wheat in the West was three times higher than it was to ship it similar distances in Eastern Canada.
Not surprisingly western farmers began to campaign for an end to the CPR monopoly. The Manitoba government responded by chartering private companies to build rail lines south to the United States, linking up with US rail lines. Each time the Manitoba government chartered a line the federal government overturned the Manitoba law: effectively making it illegal for these lines to be built. As the federal minister of railways Sir Charles Tupper said, "Are the interests of Manitoba and the North-West to be sacrificed to the policy of Canada" I say, if it is necessary"yes." Farmers also criticized the CPR for not having enough elevators to store all the grain that they produced. They also believed that the protective tariff made them a captive market for Canadian industry, keeping the cost of farm machinery high at a time when international grain prices were low.
The farmers did more than grumble and complain. In the 1880s they created the Manitoba and North-West Farmers' Union, which called for an end to the tariff on farm equipment, an end to the CPR monopoly, more branch lines and government owned elevators. The union collapsed when some of its leaders proposed that Manitoba leave Canada to join the United States. Other farm organizations were to follow.
Farmers also believed that they were not getting a fair deal from the grain merchants at the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, which set the price for prairie grain. As a result, they formed the Territorial Grain Growers' Association in 1902 and the Manitoba Grain Growers Association in 1903. In 1906 the two merged to create the Grain Growers' Grain Company, a cooperative company. The Winnipeg Grain Exchange initially banned the GGGC from taking part in its daily grain market, yielding only under pressure from the Manitoba government. Over time farmers won a number of important victories. The federal government ended the CPR monopoly and forced a reduction in western freights. This reduction was granted in exchange for a subsidy to help the CPR build a line to the Crow's Nest Pass and these lower rates became know as the Crow Rate, which, with some exceptions, were in place until the 1980s. By end of the age settlement it was apparent that the farmers who had been brought to Western Canada as a part of the country's National Policy were capable of mounting effective challenges to that policy and were determined to play a role in charting the country's future.