DOMINION LAND AGENCY, A.E. COX LAND OFFICE
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
The Dominion Land Agency replica is likely the first building you will enter at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village. During your visit, you will likely see or hear several references to A.E. Cox, including a visit to his family home in the village. This recreated building also relates to Mr. Cox, and it is significant that the building sits close to the CP Rail Caboose–for if you were to arrive to Pincher Creek off the train, intending to check out the area for your future, Mr. Cox is very likely one of the first people you will meet.
The work of frontier measurement by the Dominion Land Survey in the 1870s and 1880s was instrumental in attracting settlers to western Canada–and was a large factor in the agricultural development of Pincher Creek and area. A vital figure in that process can be attributed to the land agency of Arthur Edgar Cox.
Arthur Edgar Cox (born, 1856 – died, 1946) was the premier Dominion Land Agent for this unique southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies. Cox is best remembered as Pincher Creek’s first educator, establishing the first public school, teaching from 1884 to 1891–while also acting as a lay minister for Sunday services in the school. Mr. Cox was also the owner/operator of the Mountview Ranch established in the mid 1880’s, a spread that was located eight kilometers west of town. The two-storey home that Arthur designed built and raised his large family in, has been a popular fixture in Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village since it’s installation in 1985.
Yet, Arthur’s work as a Land Agent prior to the First World War era was most monumental, and instrumental in bringing in establishing homesteaders and other agricultural settlers in the region.
Under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 encouraged pioneers from central Canada, the United States and Europe to settle on the Canadian Prairies. For a ten-dollar application fee, a homestead entitled the holder to apply for a quarter-section of land. A quarter-section means 160 acres – or a half-mile by half-mile square of land. To ensure the land was used for agricultural purposes, the holder was to establish residency upon the quarter and make specified improvements to the property.
Enhancements were to include establishment of a cattle or horse herd suitable for ranching, or to “break” or cultivate a specified acreage of land each year. A house was to be built–often of sod at first, and improving to a more permanent frame or log dwelling at a later time. A well had to be dug, and outbuildings such as barns, sheds and corrals were to be built. After a five-year period, and having satisfied these requirements, the homesteader “proved up”–meaning legal title to the property was granted.
After the election of Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier in 1896, federal authorities and railways led a invigorated program of designed to fill the prairies with new settlers and improve Canada’s national agricultural potential. With the construction of the Crowsnest Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1897-98, A. E. Cox saw an opportunity to earn an income while fostering immigration and boosting business for the south-western Alberta.
With such transportation improvements, potential homesteaders flocked into the Pincher Creek area, where the A.E. Cox Land Agency, as an official agent of the Dominion of Canada, helped many potential farmers perform the filing process and the legal work required, then helped them find and inspect their potential new home using the complicated legal land survey addresses, from among the Sections, Townships, Ranges and Meridians. Our pioneer realtor also served as the agent to market lands held by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Calgary and Edmonton Railway lands and the Hudson Bay Company lands, and performed property sales and transfers.
This tedious but important work settled countless new migrants and set them to the hard tasks of building their farms and communities, that quickly established over three dozen school districts in south-western Alberta. Worth noting is that well over a century later, many farm families that are still on the land in this area are descendants of those who Mr. Cox assisted to get settled.
Cox’s auspicious yet functional office was a frame building on the north side of Main Street, just west of the old Rocky Mountain Echo newspaper plant, and in front of the flowing Creek. Though long gone, this Land office replica, repurposed from a local granary, is adorned with an array of survey intruments and agency artifacts, including copies of Cox’s agency documents (the originals are in the KBPV Archives – thanks to a donation by A. E. Cox descendant Gary Roberts). Thanks to these family donors, we have also received a distinctive office desk that Mr. Cox used in the original agency quarters–the donation occurred at the grand opening of the exhibit–when Cox family descendants each carried a furniture component into the building.
The walls distinctively feature an array of Dominion Land Survey maps, reproduced from originals that date from 1896-1914, where potential land customers might choose their future homes. The DLS maps visually depict both topographical features (“rolling hills” and meandering creeks) and human history elements such as country trails and rustic ranch buildings.
By the way–if you see a map that has an ancestor’s legal land location–laminated scans of these eye-catching maps can be purchased through pre-ordering at The Country Store. Have fun learning how to read a legal land location and see how farmers legally identify their property to this day–from a system devised in the 1870s.
The Land Office also displays a series of 1924 fire insurance plans in colour, portraying Pincher Creek’s business district and portions of its residential composition.