For a very long time, tens of millions of bison roamed the U.S. and Canadian Prairies. Some used to say that bison were the “general store” of Native people because almost every part of the animal was used for food, clothing or to make different items. As the United States was populated, and the colonization and construction of the railway extended into the Prairies, the bison had all but been eliminated.

Raising livestock such as beef had come to replace the bison in the late 19th century, particularly in Alberta, but also in Saskatchewan. Ranches first started to appear in 1880, while farmers had not yet colonized this semi-arid region where rain is scarce. This place was conducive to breeding and had good grazing for livestock. These growers often had ranches with herds of several hundred animals. Many were successful in exporting live cattle and frozen meat in refrigerated vessels to Britain or the United States.

In 1906-1907, a particularly harsh winter killed most of their livestock. That winter, the Chinook had not blown its warm wind that melts the snow and makes the grass appear, and the cows were unable to find food. Many growers abandoned livestock growing and started growing grain instead. And from that moment, the federal government started encouraging agriculture rather than livestock growing. 

Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social

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