Ethnicity, Institutions and the Cultural Landscapes of the Canadian Prairie West

Y. Katz, J. Lehr

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Settlers who occupied the agricultural lands of the Canadian prairies seldom were able to transplant more than ephemeral elements of their cultural landscapes into the new land. For the most part settlers were obliged to operate within a settlement framework created by the federal government and the railway companies which served their interests rather than those of the settlers. The basis of the prairie cultural landscape was set by major governmental and corporate institutions; the ethnic signatures of the peoples who settled the land were generally found only in the more transient features of their domestic landscapes. The extent to which groups were successful in transferring their cultural landscapes to the West reflected the strength of their own institutions and their ability to resist the pressures of assimilation from Canadian governmental agencies, corporations and churches. Today the cultural landscapes of the prairies share a superficial uniformity which conceals the diverse origins of the pioneers. Few hints of the underlying rich cultural diversity of prairie society are to be found. It is axiomatic that every landscape reflects the culture which created it. The values of society, its view of itself and its conception of its past are all embodied in the very structure of the cultural landscape through religious and secular buildings (Meinig 1979) and in the segmentation and organization of space (Cosgrove 1984, 13-68). Each carries the stamp of culture. In churches and monumental public buildings symbolism is usually overt, carrying the message of the institution in its architectural form, placement and decor, as well as in the emblems signifying loyalty to a particular creed or political philosophy. But ordinary buildings, the functional, plain structures which some only reluctantly classify as architecture, are equally a part of the cultural landscape. In their own way, more subtly perhaps, they reflect...
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)70-87
JournalCanadian Ethnic Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1994


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