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Romantic Canada
Chapter XXIV The Prairie

THE Canadian Prairie may be compared to a vast stage set through the length of three entire provinces for the enactment of one great epic entitled "WHEAT". Wheat is the greatest piece of realism staged in Canada. And its companion-piece, in point of size and importance, is "Fish"—The Maritime. Taken together they seem to point to Canada as the living parable of "the loaves and the fishes." The ovens of Quebec as well as the ovens of all the other Provinces look to the Prairies for fulfilment.

But the wheat of the Prairie Provinces does not confine itself to, nor is it used up by these home ovens! rather it overflows to other ovens overseas, converting Canada by a sweet yet subtle power into a symbolic character—the bread-mother of the world. The thousand-mile wave of tawny grain from Thunder Bay to the foothills of the Rockies is a rippling voice; the voice of a most pleasing personality; a voice that carries across the stage in accents at once assured and winning, speaking to the world at large, so that it penetrates to remotest nooks and corners of the earth, speaking as the finest voices do, to the heart and the individual. One has only to follow the long Prairie trail to see how many and varied are the ears that have heard the magic call of Canadian wheat.

On the Prairie, Englishman, Scotchman, Irishman, American, have one and all hit the trail in the train of wheat. On the Prairie, too, are to be found other followers in that train, men from the wheat-lands of Old Europe and men who never saw a field of wheat until coming here—Icelanders, Poles, Ukrainians, Austrians, Finlanders, Swedes, Bukowinians; and how many others? Talking with the old-timers, the pioneers, the prairie schooner, the ox-cart, the buffalo herd, are still vividly within the memory of men now living beside the main highway of railway tracks with fast fliers from Halifax to Vancouver passing and re-passing several times a day.

Nowhere is the quick development of Canada so evident as here on the plains. Yet the steady voice of wheat is still calling; and to her voice are now added other important voices, and still others. Men and women with families are still coming and will come. The Prairie is big and generous and it gives. At the same time it admits that what it needs is more people; on the principle that the bigger the stage the more people are on demand in the chorus. The individuals who have listened to the call of the Prairie and followed its pipe have one and all brought with them their own individuality as well as some of the fundamental things which were theirs by reason of the old life back in the rural parts of Europe.

They are now giving these, the best of themselves and of the old lands, to the Prairie Provinces. As a class the foreigners are now known as "New Canadians". The tiny homes which these built when they first came to Canada out of saplings and such wood as the country roundabout afforded, are in many instances little gems of architecture. The sides of these houses outside the framework of wood are plastered—usually by the women of the household—a yard or two at a time, each yard of plaster being scrupulously whitewashed as it goes along. Sometimes the roofs are sodded and masses of wild-flowers not infrequently bloom thereon. But more frequently the steep little roof is built of split-by-hand shingles, rough and artistic.

Inside these little houses, so strongly resembling their quaint cousins of Quebec, are all the handmade things and furnishings which mark the century-old French homes of Eastern Canada. There are, first of all, the same little windows flung open to the breeze, the same manifestations of art-reds and blues in paint over doors and windows. Inside, in the living room are hand- made wooden benches, many with lines distinctly Russian; on the floor, hand-loom carpets and about the walls, a bit of the same home-weaving in tapestry effect, lined, perhaps by a frieze of empty egg-shells with bizarre patterns in red and black, almost Egyptian. So fragile are some of these simple things, so passing their reign in the rapid prosperity overtaking the children of the older generation that it seems to be a question as to whether these abilities to create a house and artistic furnishings out of almost nothing will survive to enrich the national life as in Quebec.

In the dooryard of these houses there are strange contraptions of wood for holding a log in place while it is being sawn. So easily manipulated are these things, that stepped into Canada as an idea from somewhere in the Carpathians, that even a small boy operates them successfully.

In these yards, too, are wells with big wheels and artistic roofs of hand-split shingles of a foreign steepness—wells, whence women with plotoks on their heads, call as sisters, to the women at the wells in Nova Scotia, in Cape Breton, in the Madeleines.

Here in many instances are to be seen the same rodded fences as occur in Newfoundland, each of course, with its touch of individuality, some fairly straight and others serpentining about the little garden of flowers which the old-timers love. In many cases too there is the same little patch of tobacco, as that met with in the jardins along the Saint Lawrence. In the kitchens of these houses are homemade wooden spoons, stirring-sticks and wooden forks. Some of these are given a coat of red or blue paint. Lemon yellow is a favourite colour for the wooden benches that stand against the walls.

It speaks well for the sturdy character of many of these old time places that some of them have been able to hold their own within thirty miles of Winnipeg—not being obliterated b" the wave of modernism of which the great capital city is the crest.

The New Canadians, representing many lands and widely separated sections of Old Europe, have contributed to the Prairie Provinces a variety in the way of Church architecture. Cupolas and domes distinctly Eastern, almost Turkish, startle one above the tops of Manitoba maples or the bush of the river-banks. These architectural figures of the landscape, apart altogether from their religious significance, are centres where, crossing the threshold on Sundays, one has an opportunity of hearing Swedish music or the rich, deep chanting of the Russian responses; and of viewing at close hand the artistry that goes to make up the interior appointments of these churches transplanted from the East to the West. Here, too, silhouetted against the sky, is the little separate bell-tower and perhaps the three-barred Cross of the Eastern Christian Church. Here and there in the corner of a wheat-field, at the cross-section of a Prairie highway, one sees, as in Quebec, the tall, uplifted Crucifix set up. It is indeed a mosaic of vast dimensions and great breadth, essayed of the Prairie.

Genre of wheat is no less distinct than genre of the 'longshore road. Here is the Sower, here the Reaper, here the Stacker-of-the- big-Sheaves—the Stooker as the Prairie calls him. He may be a man from the East, a Sioux, or a townsman out to lend a hand. With his brown water-jug and his bronzed face, he is almost a symbolic figure, building the golden sheaves in stacks of five for the playing breeze and warm sun to give the ripening touches to the grain that makes Canada—the bread-giver of the world.

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