York Farmers’ Colonization Company

The York Farmers’ Colonization Company was incorporated on May 12, 1882, with a capital of $300,000. Its purpose was to promote western settlement and make a profit with the sale of lands. Emissaries came to view an area near the Manitoba border in the North-West Territories in 1882 and were impressed by the richness of the soil and the wooded land. They purchased portions of six townships in the east-central part of the Provisional District of Assiniboia, naming the settlement “York Colony.” Invitations went out to people in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, British Columbia, England, Scotland, Ireland, and the United States. Several settlers came during 1882 and began planning for the next year; only four remained to spend the winter caring for a small herd of oxen. Surviving on rations and with the help of First Nations people, they welcomed the spring by journeying to Fort Ellice in Manitoba for supplies. Settlers began arriving and the company erected a hamlet, “York City,” on the banks of the Little White Sand River. It opened for business, acting as a government agency for assigning free homesteads, and selling land at $2 an acre.

By 1883, the Canadian Pacific Railway main line had reached Whitewood, which became the stopping point from which settlers travelled to York Colony. The Company acquired more land, built a flour mill, constructed roads and bridges, and provided loans; it also arranged for stage coach service and ferry transportation across the Qu’Appelle River, a vital crossing on the settlers’ trail north from the CPR mainline. On January 1, 1884, the post office was officially opened as “Yorkton” to prevent confusion with York, Ontario. During the North-West Resistance, the Company lobbied Ottawa to protect its 164 settlers; a short-lived Fort Watson was erected, and a volunteer militia was organized. By 1888, the Company had complied with the terms of its agreement with the government. All along it had used political clout to have the Manitoba and North Western Railway extend its line westward, and finally in 1890 Yorkton moved 4 km south to its present site near the rail line. As large numbers of settlers arrived from many lands, the company continued to deal in real estate around Yorkton and southeastern Saskatchewan. In 1947 the last of its holdings was sold: the area known today as the Ravine Ecological Preserve. That same year the Company surrendered its Charter to the Secretary of State of Canada, and dissolution was granted on December 17.

Therese Lefebvre-Prince