Much Ado About Squat:
Squatters and Homesteaders Ravage Riding Mountain Forest
Author: Ron Stevens
On July 6, 1906, in a one-room settler’s home near the tiny village of Birnie, Manitoba, three drunken oafs savagely raped a fourteen-year-old girl in front of her ten-year-old sister and two younger brothers. This brutal crime stunned the district already caught in the midst of an eighteen-month wave of violence that included arson, theft, assault, cattle rustling and intimidation.
The context of this compelling story was the influx of immigrant settlers into the southeastern spur of Riding Mountain. Arriving from Britain and Ontario seeking free land, they come upon the newly established timber reserve that blocked their way. Their assault on this land ultimately resulted in the plundering and permanent loss of rich forest resources. Implicated in the surrender of the reserve land were bureaucrats and politicians who allowed poachers, squatters, homesteaders and ranchers to ravage with impunity. From a mine of archival material, author Ron Stevens uncovers memorable characters caught up in unexpected conflicts, defiance of authority, the pitting of neighbor against neighbor.
But there’s a gentler side – humour, compassion, loyalty and neighborliness. The protagonists, modeled on Stevens’s grandparents, overcome incredible odds to gain title to their homestead.
Winner: Margaret McWilliams Award for Local History, 2012 and Manitoba Archivists Award, 2012
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