Harvest Excursions

Before the introduction of the combine, prairie harvests required large numbers of workers for short periods of time. Between 1890 and 1930, harvest excursion trains brought workers from Europe and Great Britain to western Canada; the peak year was 1908, when about 14,000 arrived. The railways offered harvest tickets for $15 one way or $20 return from anywhere in Canada. Excursion trains were crowded and offered crude accommodation. Delays, crowding and drunkenness on occasion led to riots. In the 1920s, the railways demanded and got RCMP personnel on the trains to keep order.

Regular harvesters were paid about $1.75– $2.25 for a 10–12 hour day, while a threshing crew made $2–$3.25 a day with board. There were no other benefits, and the work only lasted about 15 days. Despite this, many were attracted by the prairies and decided to return permanently to homestead. The collapse of the wheat economy, and new technology such as the introduction of the combine in 1930, ended the era of the harvest excursion.

Clare Powell