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The letters in this volume, found in the original Dutch in the archives of the Netherlands Emigration Service in Holland, form a unique chronicle of one European homesteader in Saskatchewan from 1910 to 1913. They were written by Willem dr Gelder whose experience as a homesteader was typical of that of hundreds of thousands of newcomers to the prairies in the greatest years of western expansion just before the First World War. As a European immigrant he was able to write from a special perspective often ignored in Anglo-Saxon accounts of western development.
Minute and perceptive observations of daily life are contained in his letters; together with the recollections of friends and neighbours who spoke well of him, this volume forms the portrait of a singular man who personified the toughness and persistence of the western pioneer.
De Gelder was born in the 1880s in Doorn, the son of a well-to-do banker, and received all the benefits of birth in an upper-class home, including a university education. He came to Canada in 1910 and by the 1920s he had become a successful homesteader owning a half-section of land, meeting his bills, and joining in the community life. But in 1922 he rented out his land, went to the Netherlands to see his family, and returning to Canada he disposed of his homestead – and vanished.
This book traces the compass of his life in Canada, revealing the doubts and fears which culminated in his disappearance; it highlights the anguish that all immigrants, new and old, suffered when they took the crucial step of beginning a new life.