After the whistle stop tour of Winnipeg and Saskatoon, we thankfully were going to be spending a bit longer in our 9th province of the trip, and the place I was born, Alberta.
Yes, I was raised in British Columbia, one of the most left leaning provinces, but born in Calgary, Alberta, one of the most conservative provinces. There is a reason people refer to Alberta as being the Texas of the North – there’s wide open prairie, cowboy hats, cattle, guns, low taxes and most importantly, oil.
The rest of our journey to Vancouver will be made by car, so we left Saskatoon on the road and within about 5 minutes we were on the prairie, just a straight road and farmland as far and you can see. We were on our way to one of the most anticipated stops of our trip – my aunt and uncle’s cattle farm in Eastern Alberta.
Having been a city dweller all my life, I was really looking forward to seeing a working cattle ranch. When we started to get close to my aunt and uncle’s farm, the realization started to dawn on how remote farm life is. Cattle need a lot of land to graze, so each farm will have thousands of acres for the animals to roam. You can drive for miles and not see another car or house. The nearest town will often be a good hour’s drive away, and I use the word ‘town’ loosely. A town in the UK is a metropolis compared to what constitutes a town in rural Alberta. To do a big grocery shop, people will often drive a couple hours each way and stock up on goods for the freezer and pantry, especially in winter time.
I was instantly struck by the beauty of the landscape at my aunt and uncle’s farm – this was real prairie with flat land and big skies. It was so quiet, unless you count the mooing of the cows near by and the howling of the coyotes in the night.
My aunt works at a cattle auction, so we were fortunate enough to go and see what happens during one of the sales. It all moves at a great pace, and the auctioneer is straight out of what you see in the movies – he was wearing a cowboy hat, and taking bids in a yodelling fashion. God knows what he was actually saying, but there seemed to be a lot of cattle buying going on.
We also were able to go on a tour of a Hutterite colony. I had some vague knowledge about The Hutterites, but this was a real education on traditional communal farming. Hutterites are a group that immigrated to the prairies in the late 1800’s, originally from Austria and Eastern Europe. The colony we visited is a self sufficient farm, and while they embrace modern farming techniques using automated machines, and have conveniences such as automobiles, a modern kitchen, washing machines etc, daily life is traditional, communal and what I would call socialist.
The members of the colony dress in traditional clothing which is all made within the colony. Women wear long skirts, with head coverings; men wear trousers with braces and collared shirts. The members of the colony are assigned roles, and these are often gender based. Men will be mechanics or work in butchery, women will work in the communal kitchen, or harvest vegetables. Each member of the colony will have a role assigned once they become working age, which is considered to be only about 14 or 15.
The colony has its own school and church. Children will only speak German until about the age of 6, and then will be introduced to English. The German dialect is used on a daily basis, but everyone we spoke to was fluent in English as well. Meal times are communal and regimented, women will sit on one side of the dining hall and men on the other. There is no regular use of television, internet, or modern music in the home, but many members now have cell phones. Each family is provided with their own living quarters, which is made up of small row housing units containing the basics – bedrooms, bathrooms, and small living area.
The members of the colony were so welcoming to us, and eager to show us their way of life. The two girls that took us on the tour were extremely knowledgable about all areas of the farm and were quite interested to hear about our travels across Canada, but also our life in England. We spent nearly 3 hours touring around and having a chat with the members, and I can honestly say that it was a fascinating experience to see a such a completely different way of living. At first glance, the colony appears to demonstrate socialism at it’s best – everyone has a home, is provided with food, education and has a meaningful role in the society. It’s a very safe feeling to know that your basic needs will be met.
On the other hand, as one might expect, there is lack of individualism in the colony. Personal property is kept to a minimum, everyone dresses in the same clothes, and the regimentation dictates when members, eat, sleep and work. I do wonder if human nature creeps in sometimes and there is a desire to be one’s own person, rather than one in a collective.
We had only been in Alberta for a couple of days, but had already been exposed to ways of life that are completely different to what we were used to. The wide open spaces, farming life, and the Hutterite colony were all extraordinary, making it a memorable arrival into Alberta.