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Canada Fever

On this date in 1908, readers of the Washburn Leader learned that John Kirshenman had been cured of Canada fever. He returned to McClusky after an absence of three weeks. He said he learned that the “promised land” of Canada was not so promised after all. After battling five feet of snow and frigid temperatures, North Dakota looked pretty good to him. He told anyone tempted to venture north that “there is no place on God’s green earth as good as this place right here.”

“Canada fever” was a real thing in the early part of the 20th Century. In 1909 the Washburn Leader warned of taking wild promises at face value. A number of people from the Washburn area had ventured north to seek their fortunes. They wrote glowing descriptions of their experience. The newspaper, however, was skeptical. A group of farmers returned to Washburn after only a week in Canada, “wiser and more contented.” They said the available land was worthless for farming. The soil was an inch deep in sand and volcanic ash.

Canada fever had been rampant in the Washburn area. It was fostered by speculators who, according to the newspaper, were in competition to see how many suckers they could attract from North Dakota. They charged a fee to help find suitable land. But returning farmers reported that ten dollars bought them nothing more than being pointed to useless property. The trip was often a worthless adventure.

The Leader was not the only newspaper that lamented Canada fever. Langdon’s Courier Democrat said Canada lured farmers with promises of vast fields of wheat, and land speculators played up those promises. The newspaper said farmers who wanted to move to Canada were “misguided,” citing the case of a farmer who returned to Langdon after deciding Canada was not all it was cracked up to be. A farmer from Oakes had also caught Canada fever and sold his land to head north. The newspaper predicted he, too, would return before long.

North Dakota was not the only state losing residents to the lure of Canada. Articles about Canada fever appeared in newspapers in Minnesota, South Dakota, Utah, Iowa, and even New Mexico. It sometimes worked out well. But as often as not people who moved north returned south, glad to be back in America.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Washburn Leader. “McClusky Gazette.” Washburn ND. 11/20/1908. Page 1.

Washburn Leader. “Not What It Seems To Be.” Washburn ND. 6/25/1909. Page 1.

Courier Democrat. “South Answering North.” Langdon ND. 11/10/1910. Page 4.

Courier Democrat. “A Local Real Estate Deal.” Langdon ND. 12/28/1905. Page 8.

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