Home and Family

In the late 19th and early 20th century there was much pressure on pioneer and missionary men in Western Canada to get married. This was no easy task since up until WWI, men greatly outnumbered women. A campaign, therefore, was begun to encourage the emigration of "strong-willed" and "able-bodied" women. It was believed that women were essential to the pioneering of the West since not only would they share in the work of breaking the land and developing agriculture, but also they would create families and homes - the basis of society.

Of course, homes and families already existed in Western Canada prior to the arrival of "white" settlers and missionaries. Aboriginal families and homes had existed for centuries and, with the arrival of the fur traders, many Aboriginals and Europeans had formed families of mixed descent. However, by the late 19th century a new idea of family and home was emerging in the Canadian West - one based largely on British Victorian ideals. The ideal woman was white, married and had a family. She dominated the home or private sphere; it was where she conducted her primary work of raising the children and creating a clean and comfortable living environment. The ideal man, it followed, dominated the public sphere where he conducted the work of business and politics.

At the same time these conventions of the private and public sphere grew in the West, contradictions were growing along side them. In fact, Western Canada was seen by many as a place where these conventions would not apply - a place where men and women had to work together both in and outside the home to overcome the numerous obstacles. Also, not all women fit into the ideal image - some, like single women, seemed to live outside the boundaries of family and the home and, of course, non-white women did not fit the definition. In this section, we will explore the model of family and home that developed in central Alberta and how women both fit into and lived outside the boundaries of this model.