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Come Live on the Prairies!

Title and Theme:

Immigration and Settlement of the West

Division/Grade Level:

Division II
Grades 4-6

Time Frame:

three or four 30-minute lessons

Lesson Overview:

This lesson will examine the manner in which the early European settlers of Canada were encouraged to come to the prairie provinces to claim homesteads and settle in the towns. Students will examine primary source materials used to attract immigrants and settlers to the West. Students are asked to compare the government-generated materials to a song written about the same time period.
Students prepare their own “advertisements” to attract immigrants and settlers to their own community today.

It is assumed that the students will have previously completed a unit on the physical regions of their province, and would have some basic knowledge of the community in which they live.

This lesson may be adapted for older students by requiring the students to conduct a search of the Peel Prairie database and find other materials that were written to lure the immigrants to the West.


Students will understand the influence of print media and propaganda in the settlement of the West.


Students will:

  1. learn about primary resource materials available online;
  2. know that various agencies had active campaigns designed to lure immigrants to the west;
  3. recognize bias and/or embellishment in these primary source materials.


Students will:

  1. interpret information looking for bias;
  2. differentiate fact from opinion;
  3. work collaboratively with others;
  4. learn critical reading skills.


Students will:

  1. be encouraged to develop an appreciation of the hardships faced by the early settlers of the West;
  2. be encouraged to develop an interest in local history;
  3. be encouraged to develop an appreciation for the importance of objectivism.

Curricular Connections:

Language Learning
Social Studies

New Vocabulary:

face value

Peel Prairie Portal Resource Materials:

Other Resource Materials:

Venn diagram worksheet
Graphic organizer worksheet

Juvenile Fiction: A Prairie as Wide as the Sea. The Immigrant Diary of Ivy Weatherall (Milorie, Saskatchewan, 1926) (written by Sarah Ellis)

Our Future Our Past. (The Alberta Heritage Digitization Project)
In the Local and Alberta Histories section, search for the following document titles:

Alberta Homesteader: Lyrics
Life in a Prairie Shack: Lyrics

Developing the Lesson:

Introduction or Opening Activity

Begin this lesson with a discussion of the city/town in which your school is located. Ask the students the following questions:

  • Why do you live here?
  • Why did your parents/grandparents/great-grandparents move here, and when?
  • Where are your family's roots?
  • Why do you think early European settlers would have chosen to come to this community?
  • What would draw people to settle down in a country that can be so cold in the winter?

Ask the students if they ever see a television commercial or an advertisement for a product, go to purchase it and then find out that the product is not exactly what it seemed to be.

  • What is the purpose of these advertisements?
  • Is there an attempt to embellish the product?
  • Should we take everything we see and read at face value?
  • How do we differentiate fact from opinion?
  • What do you think the early settlers of the prairie provinces expected when they came to live here?
  • Did they really know what it would be like living here?
  • How could they find out about Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba BEFORE they actually left their old home?
  • How could they find out if this would be a good place to live?

Purpose of the Lesson

Over the next few periods students will examine some actual materials that were written about 100 years ago. These are materials that were designed to influence the early European settlers to come to Alberta. Students will see that, although some claims were true, what appears to be “fact” may actually be somewhat biased. Students will consider those attributes which may "sell" their city or town to new immigrants. Students will learn of the appeal of the Prairies as presented by various government groups.

Presentation of New Material

The teacher should present this lesson. A stronger group of students or an older group would likely be able to examine the materials without teacher direction. The teacher should PREVIEW the URL’s listed and choose those sections which he/she finds most interesting or valuable for his/her students. Some suggestions are indicated in the lesson plan.

Using an LCD projector, show the students some of the sources from the Peel Prairie Portal. Click on some of the URL’s for the primary sources listed in the resource materials section of the lesson. Read through some of the pages together. Rephrase into simple language.

Questions for discussion:

  • How can we tell that these materials are old?
  • What seems to be the purpose of these materials?
  • Do they seem to be truthful?
  • Do you believe that someone would purposely lie about what they have experienced or seen?

Examine the page entitled Grain, Grass, and Gold Fields of South-Western Canada … . Discuss contrasts between Calgary and London, UK, with regards to crowding/poverty/lack of opportunity.

  • If you were living in London at this time, would Calgary sound like a good place to you? Why?

Examine more of the materials and discuss the common elements.

  • What things are being stressed about Edmonton and Calgary and surrounding areas?
  • How would you feel if you arrived here and it was NOT as expected?
  • What do you think you would want to do?
  • Would it be easy to turn around and go back home? Why/why not?

Play the midi file entitled Alberta Homesteader Song. (If you do not have music capabilities just display the PDF file).

Check for Understanding

Print off a copy of the Venn diagram worksheet.

Put students into groups and distribute one or two pages of Peel primary source material (we suggest Grain, Grass, and Gold Fields of South-Western Canada … as one of the pages) AND a copy of the Alberta Homesteader Song or Life in a Prairie Shack. OR, if desired, pair students up in the computer room and have them examine the materials online. Direct them to the URL’s that you would prefer them to use.
Explain that the homesteader has a different attitude about the West. The students will now look for the similarities and differences between the attitudes of those who wrote the books and the song.

When the students have finished the Venn diagram, bring the group back together. Reintroduce the terms embellish/face value/bias.

Questions for discussion:

  • Ask what differences were found in the materials.
  • What important information about the region was left OUT of the government/Trade Board documents?
  • Why do you think this was the case?
  • Did anyone actually lie?
  • Can you think of other things that you would want to “warn” the settlers about?
  • Do you think it was fair to present such a one-sided view to those people who were crossing the ocean to go west”? Why or why not?
  • Should we accept everything we hear from the government, or anyone, at “face value?"

Independent Practice

Put students into groups of 3 or 4. Their task is to CREATE something to promote or advertise their own community today. This should be a positive advertisement – something that would make their community sound attractive to new immigrants or refugees. Bias and embellishment are okay, but lies are not permitted.


  • Prepare a television commercial which is about 2 minutes long.
  • Compose a song or write a poem.
  • Create a newspaper advertisement, with pictures.
  • Write a brief article (3-4 paragraphs) for a newspaper or magazine.

Distribute a Graphic Organizer to groups and have them fill it out before they begin their compositions. The presentations will be done orally, and should contain at least FOUR factual pieces of information: two discussing the physical characteristics, and two others (recreation, education, shopping, etc.).

Closing Activity:

Have students present their advertisements, songs, poems or newspaper articles orally to the class.


While the presentation could be evaluated, it is suggested that perhaps a simple classroom applause meter be used. The teacher may wish to have the students decide which group has the most “enticing” sales pitch, and which is most honestly representative.

If a formal evaluation is desired, the evaluation should focus on the FOUR factual pieces of information: 2 discussing the physical characteristics and 2 others (recreation, education, shopping, etc.).

Follow-Up Activities:

Read selected passages from the book A Prairie as Wide as the Sea, by Sarah Ellis. Suggested pages include pages 13–18; 20-22; 24-25.

By E.A. Keith and S.J. Whyte