Three Thousand Families by Ellen Maki, Ph.D.

Four Mile Creek, Cross Roads, Lawrenceville, Virgil. These were the names given to the small community on the Niagara peninsula, first settled about 1783, that my paternal grandparents came to call home in the mid-1920s. Today it’s part of the very chic little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Hugh James Clarke, Sr, and his wife, Mary Rowe, were 52 and 46 years of age, respectively, when they arrived in Niagara from Palgrave, Suffolk to begin farming. Hugh had been a market gardener in Palgrave, and intended to do the same in Virgil. Not much of their new property had been cleared prior to their arrival, though, and getting their farm up and running involved hard, physical labour.

CLARKE Hugh Mary and children Virgil c1925
Hugh and Mary Clarke with their 7 youngest children. Virgil. c1925. © Ellen Maki

 

What intrigued me was that Hugh and Mary were not a young couple when they made the move to Canada, and I wondered why they had left their home in Palgrave to settle in a new country. The answer, it seems, is the 3,000 British Family Settlers scheme.

After the First World War, Canada strove to look after its many returning soldiers by helping them to settle on farms. Under the Soldier Settlement Act, veterans were provided with farm land and interest-free loans of up to $2,500. While many succeeded in farming their lands, others were less fortunate, and by the early 1920s, a number of soldier settlers had either deserted their farms or failed to repay their loans. In order to repopulate these farms, the Canadian and British governments negotiated an agreement that would have 3,000 British families settle on the abandoned farms over a three-year period, starting in 1924.

CLARKE Hugh Senior Vineyard Virgil with frame
Hugh Clarke, Sr. Working in Vineyard at Virgil, Ontario. c1925. © Ellen Maki

Although Hugh had farmed in Palgrave, I don’t believe that he owned any land. With 11 children to support, buying a farm would have been beyond his means. However, under the 3,000 British Families scheme, the British government advanced $1,500 to each family, to be spent in Canada on farming equipment or livestock. Farmland already owned by the Canadian government was made available, and the costs of the farmland and equipment were to be repaid by the settler families over a 25-year period at an interest rate of 5% per annum. This must have been appealing to a British farmer with no land, who was looking for opportunities not just for himself, but for his children as well.

In fact, Hugh obtained his farm in Virgil under this settlement scheme. On March 15, 1926, my grandfather entered into an agreement of sale with the Soldier Settlement Board to purchase 25 acres of land in Virgil, for the sum of $3,200.

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6 Comments


  1. I’m just over from Facebook to let you know how much I enjoyed your post.

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  2. That’s a big move to make at that age indeed. Any idea how many of his 11 children came with him? Some of them must have been old enough to have their own families at that time as well.

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    1. None of the children had families at this point in time. All 11 children immigrated to Canada, although not all together. They came in this order: two oldest sons, Apr 1924; Hugh Clarke, Sr, Jul 1924; Mary Clarke and 7 youngest children, 1925; oldest daughter, 1926; 2nd oldest daughter, 1928.

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