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York Colony Land Inspector’s Letter

A letter from RUFUS STEPHENSON, Dominion Lands Inspector for Colonization Companies to H. H. Smith, Commissioner of The Dominion Lands at Winnipeg, Man., dated December 20, 1885, provides us with a picture of the old York Colony when it was only three years old.

Pre-amble: Mr. Stephenson was inspector for many land companies, as he mentions the Shell River and the Crescent Lake Companies. His letter reveals how important the Grist Mill was to the colonists, the impact of the Riel Uprising, and his great impatience with the absentee Land Agent who obviously took the Land Registry Books with him. It is also an account of what winter travel was like—the 18 mile trip going north to York Colony from the Crescent Lake settlement.

Sir: I have the honor to report to you further information of the Honorable the Minister of the Interior that having completed my work in connection with the Saskatchewan Land and Homestead Company in the vicinity of Crescent Lake, I proceeded to Yorkton to make my enumeration of the settlers on the York Farmers’ Colony. The weather was unfortunate for travelling being extremely stormy and cold. The snow was not deep on the level but in many places was very badly drifted rendering progress slow and tedious; besides the team gave out several times along the trail and it was only by great care that the trip from Crescent Lake to Yorkton was accomplished.

Respecting the quality of the soil, etc. I do not know that I can report anything new, important or specially interesting, save that the Company’s fine stone mill for flouring and gristing purposes, of which I made mention in my last year’s report; is now fully completed and in perfect running order night and day. It is a great convenience to the settlers from a radius of many miles around, the next nearest grist mill being one in the Shell River Colony at Asessippi, about fifty miles in a south easterly direction. In one respect, however, the past year has been an eventful one for the York Colonists. The Indian Uprising very seriously retarded agricultural operations in the spring by tending to unsettle the people. But the evil was not wholly devoid of good in as much as quite a number of the settlers joined the Volunteers and thus put in their residence period as Homesteaders while others were enabled to tide along through having employment given them and their teams on the transport service for which they received fair remuneration in cash, of which not a few of them stood much in need. There were many settlers enabled to do fresh breaking and summer fallowing and thus be prepared for next spring’s seeding. In this section as elsewhere in the Northwest Territories, much damage has been sustained by the settlers from prairie fires in loss of buildings, stock and grain. In one case—that of Isaac Tomlison, who came into the Colony in May last from the County of York, Ontario, bringing with him a very valuable stallion and other animals of a superior breed—all was lost and in this loss, the settlement, as well as Mr. Tomlinson himself sustains very serious injury. In other cases, notably that of John Wrixon—losses were sustained through theft of horses and cattle by Indians for which claims have been rendered to the Rebellion Losses Commissioners, but as yet it remains unadjusted, as I have been informed.

Last year (1884) the settlers enumerated on this Colony numbered one hundred and fifty-six(156) as against one hundred and fifty-eight for 1883, and one hundred and sixty-four (164) for the present year, 1885. It will be observed that not a few of the settlers included in this year’s enumeration have been but recently placed on the lands and in consequence of the non-presence of the Local Agent and the Township Register, I am unable to give the date of many of these entries as well as many other particulars which otherwise I might be able to supply.

Again, as I did in my reports of 1883 and 1884, I have to call your attention to the absence of not only the Township Register and Cancellation Register as well as the Homestead and Pre-Emption Receipt books, all of which should be accessible at all times, and retained within the Colony for ready and convenient reference by myself or whoever may be called upon to perform the duties pertaining to the Inspector of Land Agencies. I am quite confident that the persistent retention of the Books above referred to is not only injurious to the prosperity of the Colony but the cause of much inconvenience to settlers as well as productive to them of unnecessary doubt, expense and dissatisfaction.

In 1886 large numbers of settlers on this Company’s Lands will be entitled to make applications for their Patent to their homesteads. Several were entitled to do so this year, but only a few availed themselves of the privilege, others deferring doing so until next summer as a delay of six months would give them the advantage of that period and whatever benefit might accrue from next year’s harvest in the purchase of their pre-emptions and in acquiring additional knowledge concerning the progress and direction of the extension Northwest of the Manitoba and Northwestern Railway which it is conjectured will pass through or contiguously to the York Farmers’ Company’s Lands.

Those who did make application for patents expressed their gratitude for the thoughtfulness of the Government in providing as was done, an inexpensive and easy method whereby such applications could be made without having recourse to the Local Land Agent for the District who in most cases resided a long distance away, and to visit whom would involve much loss of time and expense in the conveyance of witnesses to and fro. In the event of good crops prevailing in 1886, I am sure the pre-empted lands will be largely purchased. Should the reverse prove to be the case, I fear that the pre-emptions will be very generally forfeited. At present the settlers here are courageous and hopeful as I have found them to be elsewhere in the Northwest.

In conclusion, and in order, if possible to make the forgoing portion of my Report more clear, it will be seen by reference to Appendix Marked "A" the names of one hundred and thirty six (136) will appear as "Residents" included amongst whom are those who have recently made entries but not perfected the same, six months since the date of entry being made not having expired at the date of my visit. There are twenty-eight (28) put down as "Non residents"—that is persons whose names appear as being entered in the Company’s books, but who have, as far as I have been able to ascertain, not been residing on the Colony for the past twelve months at least. Again, there are seventeen (17) enumerated as "Residents" on the Colony but of whose entries I could by no means within my reach ascertain the exact dates of, in the absence of the Company’s Agent, the Books, and, temporarily of the settlers themselves. These three classes make the enumeration of entries on Even Sections, for the present year past up to one hundred and sixty four to which I have added three (3) more as being residents in and purchasers of land included in Appendix marked "B"—which will make a grand total of one hundred and sixty-seven (167) on the Company’s lands, of all classes, according to my classification.

I have the honour to be Sir, Your obedient servant, signed: Rufus Stephenson, Inspector, Colonization Companies.

Source: Dept. of the Interior, Dominion Lands Branch, Headquarters Correspondence. 1871-1946. File/ Dossier 41345 RG.15 D.11-1 Vol. 27. (Copied from a hand written letter signed by Inspector Stephenson.—Therese Lefebvre Prince, Researcher, City of Yorkton, Sask. April, 2001.)