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Off for Alberta


Frontiersmen on the Great Plains mingled with settlers across the northern border long before North Dakota became a state. Both American and British fur traders congregated along the Missouri River and established posts prior to 1800. The Hudson Bay and North West Companies established operations in the Red River Valley. Canadians ventured down to Pembina in the early 1800s. Pembina became a bustling center of the fur trade. The role of the town expanded as metis ox cart trains hauled furs east to St. Paul in the autumn and returned with supplies for the winter. Several prominent St. Paul businessmen – James J. Hill, Norman Kittson, Donald Smith, and George Stephen – were born in Canada. Together they opened up steamboat and railroad transportation.

Between 1861 and 1931, over two million Canadians relocated to the United States with the majority coming in the 1880s. Most of these Canadians were drawn to cities, but the Great Plains were also popular. The Dakota Territory in particular proved attractive because of the land boom. It was said that in the 1880s more Canadian money than American was being circulated in the northern Red River Valley.

But the traffic did not go in only one direction. On this date in 1901, the Oakes Republican sadly reported that a number of North Dakotans were leaving the area for Canada. The newspaper reported that a special train had departed for Alberta. About a dozen passenger cars carried emigrants leaving the United States. Several entire families were on their way. Many of the families were from Silver Leaf, North Dakota. Others were from South Dakota, having traveled to Oakes to board the Soo Line for Alberta.

Many factors spurred this migration. Falling crop prices were accompanied by rising railroad shipping rates, higher land prices and increasing mortgage costs. The Oakes Republican was sad to see so many families leave, especially when the economy seemed to be looking brighter. But there were good wishes to those who set off on this new adventure, with hopes they would find success in their new homes.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Oakes Republican. “Off for Alberta.” 19 April, 1901.

Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. "http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.ea.002" http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.ea.002 Accessed 12 March, 2017