19891046021-016 | William Pearce (right) and L. Periera on the upper veranda of the Hotel Dunmore, AB, about 1885

William Pearce (right) and L. Periera on the upper veranda of the Hotel Dunmore, AB, about 1885
About 1885, 19th century
Silver salts on paper
12.7 x 17.8 cm
This artefact belongs to : © Sir Alexander Galt Museum and Archives
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Keys to History

There was one civil servant who saw things differently, however. William Pearce (1848-1930) was appointed a member of the new Dominion Lands Board in 1882. The Board was responsible for the development of land policy for the Canadian government, and Pearce took that task very seriously. He travelled extensively in western Canada and the United States, and became familiar with the Mormons' irrigation expertise as well as their settlement patterns. The Mormon Church encouraged the creation of hamlets, where residents were given sufficient land to farm, but were not spread out as in the grid system of the Canadian west. By 1883 Pearce was a supporter both of irrigation and the hamlet system of settlement, and from that time on lobbied his political superiors on the value of adopting both in western Canada. In fact, Pearce was so insistent that for a time he was barred from speaking publicly about irrigation. He didn't give up, however, and by the late 1890s his views were in favour with the federal government.

  • What

    William Pearce (right) and L. Periera can be seen on the upper veranda of the Hotel Dunmore, around 1885.

  • Where

    His work led him to be commissioned to write the Northwest Irrigation Act in 1894, legislation that governed the development of water resources in western Canada until they became a provincial responsibility in 1905.

  • When

    Pearce came west in 1874 as one of ten land surveyors charged with surveying the Northwest Territories. By 1891 he was fully involved in the assessment of irrigation practices and laws throughout North America.

  • Who

    Pearce was seen by some of his colleagues as an impractical dreamer, but his vision and belief in irrigation transformed much of the Canadian west.