Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Born at Dorset, England, on April 25, 1871, Georgina Binnie-Clark was a journalist who migrated to Canada in 1905 to become an independent farmer. She "caused quite a sensation" in the Qu'Appelle Valley of southern Saskatchewan when she purchased a quartersection of land. Single, independent women farmers were rare in Prairie Canada. Under the Dominion Lands Act (1872), single women were not eligible for a quarter-section, or 160 acres, of free land from the Canadian government.

Binnie-Clark was determined to make her farm a successful revenue-producing investment so that she could secure independence. Without the free quarter-section of land, she was under a greater financial burden than her male counterparts. She had access to some funds enabling her to buy necessary supplies, farm equipment, and livestock, and to hire labor. But purchasing land forced her to deplete limited capital and make added interest payments. The harvests were also disappointing, making it increasingly difficult for her to cover mortgage costs or meet growing debt payments.

As a result of her experiences selling grain in the open market, Binnie-Clark became a sharp critic of the privately controlled grain-marketing system. In her view the Prairie farmer was not su.ciently aided by either financial institutions or governments. She advocated government regulation of grain marketing and the establishment of governmentrun experimental farms to serve as models for Prairie women farmers. After the 1908 harvest, Binnie-Clark traveled to Ottawa to discuss with government officials the "claim of women to her fair share" in the homestead lands of Canada. She helped to spearhead the movement calling for application of the freeland provisions of the Dominion Lands Act to women, which converged with other Prairie women's crusades for equal rights before the law, such as the campaigns for dower rights and the voting franchise. The homestead land provision was not open to single women until the lands of the Canadian Prairie were transferred from the federal government to provincial jurisdiction in 1930.

Binnie-Clark wrote many articles in British and American publications. Their purpose was to outline the difficulties and provide guidance through her experiences to other women contemplating owning and operating a farm on the prairie. She was a keen observer of Saskatchewan rural life. Her autobiographical books contain rich detail about the social life and customs, material culture, local politics, and the rhythm of daily farm life. She died in England on April 22, 1947.

David B. Marshall University of Calgary

Binnie-Clark, Georgina. A Summer on the Canadian Prairie. London: Edward Arnold, 1910.

Binnie-Clark, Georgina. Wheat and Women. Toronto: Bell and Cockburn, 1914.

Jackel, Susan. A Flannel Shirt and Liberty: British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian North West, 1880–1914. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1982.

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