God’s Refuge for Poor People

In view of the attempts to “monkey with the thermometer” of the labour market by the transportation (for life as it is hoped) of a selected few of the unemployed and their dependents to the 160 acres of man-less land which a benevolent Canadian Government (of capitalists in need of a larger surplus of labour themselves) have set apart for each landless man who can. conform to the conditions of the 10 dollar gift, the following extracts from a letter received by a comrade from a friend “in our great self-governing colony” will prove of considerable interest. Their publication may do something to counteract the work of the emigration touts (religious and secular) and the great-hearted philanthropists who are ready and even anxious to sink their hard-earned savings in a fund designed to provide for some of the deserving poor a way out of their unfortunate condition, (and out of the country) to a home beyond the sea pending translation to “the home beyond-the sky” also arranged, we understand, mainly for the reception of the deserving poor. On the evidence we incline to the belief that the latter is very little, if any, more intangible than the former.

Jan. 30Th, ’06.
Dear Comrade,—I feel that I must give you my views of Canada as this country is just now receiving so much attention in England. . . . The conditions of labour are cruel. The workman is exploited if anything even worse than in England. At the present time there are hundreds of unemployed in this town. Every morning great numbers of men unable to purchase a paper, can be seen making for the “Free Press” office (outside which particulars of situations vacant are displayed) in the hope that something may be going. The cold is very intense and plenty of people are without the clothes necessary to keep them warm, while, although there are large tracts of forest, fires for them are out of the question owing to the high price of wood. Six dollars (£1 4s. 0d.) is the cost of a single case of wood, which is accounted for by the fact that there is only one way of getting it here, viz., by the Canadian Pacific Railway, who have, therefore, a complete hold of the place and charge very high rates of carriage.

The price of most other things is proportionally high—five cents for a 1½ loaf (12 ozs. to the 1b.) ; housing accommodation that would cost 6 or 7 shillings in England costs 4½ dollars (18s.); the lowest tram fare is 5 cents (2½d.); clothing is very much dearer and altogether I estimate that I have to pay a dollar for what could be bought at home for a shilling.

The winter here begins in September and has often not broken up until April, and as the majority of men are thrown out of work during that time, they have to face poverty pretty bare. Just for the few summer months there is plenty of work, but as I say it does not last long. I have met men who have been in the Colony for 20 years and are as far from that big fortune the emigration monger is always talking about as they ever were. Even men with money find the struggle against the large companies too hard and only recently four fairly large business bouses went smash in less than a fortnight.

To-day I was at the station when a large number of immigrants arrived from England and it was enough to make one’s heart bleed. What chance do these poor wretches stand in a strange land when so many knowing all the ins and outs of the place cannot get anything to do? The Home Missions have been fined for over-crowding their doss-houses. They charge the out-of-works 10 cents for a bed—such as it is.

All “pubs” and hotel bars close at 8 o’clock and on Saturdays at 6 o’clock remaining shut until 10 a.m. Monday, so that the opportunities for the workers to spend their money (when they have any) in drink are not very extensive.

As a further instance of the state of the labor market, I may say that I was in conversation to-night with a contractor who is putting up a large building by the City Hall and he told me he had 75 men, some of them with the very best references, call to-day looking for work. He could give them nothing being full up. Of course the employers encourage immigration schemes. They want plenty of men in the labour market during the busy summer months so that they may not have to pay the comparatively high prices for labour which were necessary in the past when labour was scarce.

Immigration is good business for Shipping and Railway Companies and the Employers, but the poor propertyless immigrant finds himself between the devil and the deep sea. Those 160 acres may be all right for the man with capital, but when one has no money to buy implements and seed and the oxen for ploughing and the other things necessary, and when one remembers that the land (for which the Government charge 10 dollars) may be, and frequently is, located 40 or 50 miles back from a railway or even a small town where crops can be marketed, it is no great capture.

It is not surprising, therefore, that according to the figures published by the “Free Press” the other night, only 27 in every hundred homesteads taken are held long enough, to secure the patent. This patent is the title deed which the Government gives after the individual has been living on and cultivating his laud for 3 years. But in order to get it he has to cultivate 10 acres at least every year or the plot is taken away from him and sold to the next comer at 20 dollars—the price advancing 10 dollars for every new-comer.

The foolishness of some of the immigrants is surprising. They expect to find a house and . everything necessary awaiting them. But they soon discover their mistake and many of them beat a hasty retreat very quickly. Numbers of the men who are walking about Winnipeg without a cent in the world have returned from Homesteads up West. Many of them would gladly go back to England if they could, for however hard their lot was there it was not so hard as it is here. But as they can’t raise the money they have to stop and make the best of it. You should read some of the complimentary remarks about General Booth and his organisation which these miserable folk have written on the walls of the Salvation Army Immigration Hall. You would be amused but you would also be able to see that the writers were far from content.

I hope to be back again in England soon myself. This “Heaven for the poor” is more like Hell with the fire out !
Yours truly,

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