The Soldier Settlement Act (August 29, 1917) provided World War I veterans with free quarter-sections of land and $2,500 interest-free loans. R.L. Borden’s Conservatives envisioned soldiers homesteading on Crown lands in four areas: Manitoba’s Interlake region, Saskatchewan’s Palliser Triangle, Alberta’s Peace River, and in the forest fringe north of the prairie region. Opponents noted, however, that lands provided by the Act had already deterred homesteaders due to poor productivity or distance from rail shipping. Why should soldiers scratch a living on land far from civilization, when corporations such as the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Hudson’s Bay Company held an estimated 300,000 acres idle for speculative purposes? “Conscript wealth as well as labour!” cried prairie populists.
William Morris Graham drafted a face-saving plan for the Borden government. A former Indian Commissioner at Regina who spent World War I appropriating Indian lands in the name of unrealized “greater production,” Graham advised Borden’s new Unity Government to open reserve lands for soldier settlement. The 1919 revision of the Act diverted attention from idle corporate lands and created, in Graham’s words, “open season for Indian reserves.” By 1922, the Board had loaned $16,363,585 to 4,095 veterans in Saskatchewan; it had also approved another 6,000 loans, but only 3,251 men had settled on land: 500 had occupied parts of the Porcupine Forest Reserve; 10,000 acres in the Kamsack area had been made available by migrating Doukobours; 27,000 acres were purchased by the Board from the HBC; and eight reserves surrendered 163,000 acres. The bulk of this land was purchased by the Soldier Settlement Board at set prices. The 1992 Treaty Land Entitlement Framework Agreement was designed in part to address this expropriation.