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Observations on the general land policy of the Hudson's Bay Company Fleming, Sandford, 1827-1915 1882

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generalIland policy
LONDON: , |gg
At a Meeting of the Governor and Committee, on the
31st October, 1882, a communication dated 2nd October,
from the Company's Land Commissioner, Winnipeg,
■viras read. A discussion foHowed. At the request of
the Board, Mr. Sandford Fleming, recently from
Canada, submitted his views and the following
I wish at the outset to correct an error which the Land
Commissioner has fallen into, in stating in his report just
read that my views are, '' not to seU any lands within five
" miles of the railway, and only to seU any lands by
" auction once a month." This statement renders it necessary : First, that I should
explain to the Governor and Committee some of the
circumstances which led to the suspension of sales of land
lying within a limit of five miles of the railway Hue.
Second, that I should take this, the earHest opportunity
afforded me, of explaining to the Board what my views are.
First.—During the early part of last summer reports were
rife in Canada, not in all respects favourable to the management of the Land Department, and scarcely in complete
harmony with the straightforward and honorable character
which has distinguished the Hudson's Bay Company and its
Officers generaUy. I paid but Httle attention to these reports and detailed them to no one. Only in one letter to
the Deputy-Governor did I remotely aHude to them.
When in Manitoba last August, I heard frequent complaints that the general public had not the same opportunity
of buying lands as a favoured few, and it was stated that a
limited numb er of persons had aetuaHy secured aH the valuable
lands along the railway for a distance of about 150 miles,
indeed as far as the route of the railway was then surveyed
and definitely known; that these persons for a comparatively
smaH sum paid down, had been permitted to purchase
every lot likely to become immediately valuable by the
construction of the railway and the establishment of stations.
It was further stated that directly after these lands passed
out of the control of the Hudson's Bay Company, they were
valued at an enormous increase.
I thought it possible that these statements were circulated
by persons unfriendly to the Land Commissioner, and that
if they had any foundation in fact, they were in aU
probability greatly exaggerated. Be that as it may, I
deemed it a prudent course to suggest that there should be
no further sales of lands contiguous to the line of railway, 1
until the Committee had an opportunity of learning aU the
facts, and considering the whole question of land sales.
I felt that, if perchance any mistakes had been made, or if
under the system mistakes were possible, it would become
the duty of the Governor and Committee to profit by the
discovery, and lay down better rules to be foHowed in
the future. This suggestion was made to the Secretary,
then in Winnipeg, whom I found had learned from other
sources aU the statements I have aUuded to. The Secretary
cordiaHy concurred in the suggestion to suspend for a short
time the sale of lands along the line of railway. Accordingly on the 14th August a letter to that effect was
addressed by him to the Land Commissioner.
Soon after this I left Winnipeg to meet the Deputy-
Governor in Quebec, who concurred in the course taken, and
further suggested that as the matter was of very great importance, it would be considered by the Committee at an
early meeting. Until then any important offers to purchase
lands within the prescribed limits of five mUes should be
forwarded by cable to the Committee to deal with them.
The result of the interview with the Deputy-Governor on
this subject was duly telegraphed by me to Winnipeg.
Second.—My views on the Land Policy may briefly be
stated. I am of opinion that the Hudson's Bay Company
should seU its lands as speedily as they can be sold at fair
It is clearly in the interest of the Company to seU its
property on the best terms that can be secured, with as Httle
delay as possible.
It seems to me that the Governor and Committee, being
responsible to the proprietors for the proper management of
the Company's affairs, should take aU fair and honourable means to secure the best terms for the land, and should
adopt the course best calculated to give general satisfaction.
It cannot be said that the course heretofore foHowed in
selling the lands, has given general satisfaction in Canada,
and I have grave fears that it is not calculated to give
satisfaction ultimately in England.
The lands have heretofore been disposed of by private
sale. Fortunately they have brought good prices, and the
proprietors for the moment are satisfied. It does not
foUow, however, that the lands have brought the highest
prices obtainable, and I am very decidedly of opinion that
a course should be followed which would leave no doubt in
the minds of any one on this point. It is obviously in the
interest of the Officer in charge of the sales that he
should be directed to carry out a pohey which wiH not expose him to charges of favoritism, or unjust suspicions, or
baseless accusations of any sort. It is clearly in the interest
of the Company that the property should be sold on correct
business principles, and that a course should generaHy be
followed which is perfectly defensible, and which, if need
be, may easily be defended at any future time.
I do not propose to inquire into past transactions. I am
perfectly willing to assume that the best has been done
under the circumstances. I acknowledge very heartily
that the sales of land in Winnipeg have surprised me.
The prices obtained in that quarter have greatly exceeded
my expectation, and the expectation of the most sanguine.
I am quite prepared to accord full credit to the Land
Commissioner for aU that he has done there and elsewhere,
and, at the same time, to overlook mistakes which I may
think he has committed. While I admit aU this I must,
with equal frankness, say to my colleagues on the Board,
that if any mistakes have  been made by our  Officer in 5
charge of the Land Department both he and we are bound
to profit in the future by the experience gained.
The Company has a very large estate to dispose of, and
it is the duty of the Committee to see that it is parted with
on the most advantageous terms, and on principles which
cannot be gainsaid.
Considering the magnitude of the property a correct land
policy is a matter of very great importance, and no hasty
decision should be arrived at with regard to it. I would
advise full consideration. I would recommend due consultation with the Company's Land Commissioner. Fortunately,
there is ample time. The season for settlers taking up
lands is over for the present year, and four or five months
must elapse before the season wiH again return. During
the interval the Land Commissioner may be corresponded
with, or if thought avisable, he may be sent for, in order the
better to ascertain his views and obtain his assistance in a
matter of so much importance as the maturing of the
Company's land policy.
I have myself given the subject some consideration, and it
strikes me that in order to obtain the best price for the land,
it should, like other descriptions of property, be sold by public
competition; that certainly the price should be established
by pubHc competition.
It is not right in my judgment to leave everything to
the discretion of one man, the more especiaUy under the cir-
cumstances where the man is situated at such a distance from
the seat of control. Moreover, it does not seem fair to any
Officer of the Company to throw upon him the whole burden
of the responsibihty. I ask. is it reasonable or right to
direct him to sell by private sale, at any price.he chooses, a
vast property scattered over half a continent and valued at
many millions ? 6
The question is of more importance than at first sight
may appear. The property has obtained a value mainly
through the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
All or nearly all the good land directly along the railway
appears to be to the east of Eegina. This land has been
sold largely to speculators who expect to make enormous
profits out of it. The remainder of the land along the line
of railway, according to the Report of the Land Commissioner
(28th September) for a distance of some 300 miles is
comparatively valueless. According to the papers now
before the Committee " the cream of the business " is over,
and practically we are now left to deal with a large quantity
of | skim milk." This is not my own view, I am sanguine
enough to think that there is still a Httle cream left, but we
cannot flatter ourselves that the great extent of barren land
seen by the Land Commissioner in his recent journey to the
westward, and the great bulk of the Company's land
at a long distance from the railway, possesses the same
value as the choice lots which have been parted with.
The Land Commissioner in his last report says : " Prices
must fall, not rise."
It is the more important, therefore, that the large area
of good, bad, and indifferent land, which we stiH hold,
should be carefully administered. That the six or six-and-
a-half million of acres in our hands, should be sold on a
system which cannot fail to bring its full value. A few
shillings an acre, one way or the other, would make an
aggregate difference of a million or two to the Shareholders.
In view of these considerations, I submit the suggestions
which foHow, as an outline of the principles, which, in my opinion, should be embodied in the Company's regulations
for the sale of land—
1. That, except  as   hereinafter   definitely set forth,   no
lands shaU hereafter be sold by private sale by the
Land Commissioner, unless on the authority of a
resolution of the Governor and Committee speciaUy
2. That before any private sales are made by the Land
Commissioner, the land shaU first be offered to public
3. That for this purpose, periodical public sales be held
at the Land Office in Winnepeg, at times to be fixed
to suit the convenience of the public. Possibly once
a month in winter, and once a week, or more frequently during the season when lands are in greatest
4. That it shaU be the duty of the Land Commissioner
to place an upset price on the lands according to
their supposed value, precisely in the manner which
he now values them for private sale.
5. That at the public sales the lands shaU be   sold to
the highest bidder over the upset price, or at the
upset price if there be no higher bidder.
6. That  notice   of   pubHc   sales,   and   aU   information
respecting the lands to be sold shaU be duly published.
7. That between the  public   sales,   single lots may at
the discretion of the Land Commissioner be sold to
settlers by private sale at prices of lots of equal
character similarly situated, as established by public
competition. 8
8. That can be taken not to precipitate the sale of lands
along the lines of projected railways, or lands which
through any other cause are likely in a short period
to become of special value.
These, gentlemen, are my views; I respectfully submit
them to my coHeagues on the Board for consideration. I
feel assured that the Land Commissioner, when he comes to
understand them, wiH view the matter in a very different
Hght to that expressed in his communication of the 2nd
October. I cannot doubt that he will cordiaUy welcome the
adoption of a pohcy which is perfectly sound in principle,
and which wUl completely protect him from baseless
charges, such as those -which the Deputy Governor was
caHed upon to investigate when in Winnipeg, and which
under the present system he would be continuaJly exposed
to. I feel perfectly satisfied that Mr. Brydges wiH recognise
the advantages of the plan proposed. I am convinced,that
once adopted it wiH work weU; and few men have in a
higher degree than this Officer the business energy and administrative talent necessary to carry it out successfully.
Should the general land poHcy outlined be favorably
entertained, I shaU venture to ask you to reconsider a
resolution on the minute book respecting the purchase of
lands by Officers, Clerks, and others in the employment of
the Company. I shaU submit reasons which, I think, wiH
satisfy the Board that the prohibition is felt to be a grievance by many of the oldest and most worthy Officers in the
Service. I understand there are men a long distance from
the country now being opened up for settlement, who wish
to invest their savings in farm lands, possibly for their
children or for themselves to occupy when they retire from the
Service.    These men cannot obtain Government land which 9
js sold on stringent conditions of settlement, and they are
prevented by the minute referred to from securing land
from the Company in a legitimate way.
I am informed that the minute was intended to apply
mainly to those engaged in connection with the Land
Department. Under the present system such a rule may
be considered necessary if it could be put in force. The
Land Commissioner, I believe, thinks it wiH be evaded. I
am satisfied it will be practicaUy inoperative and wiH
completely fail in its objects. The rule wiH have a
demoraHzing effect, as those who want to buy land wiH be
tempted to acquire it in an underhand manner. Far better,
in my judgment, that aU should be aHowed to purchase
openly and above board. Under the new system recommended, I see no object in preventing any person from
purchasing a moderate quantity of land if he has the
means to pay for it. With fuU information published
to the world an Officer of the Company, even an Officer in
the Land Department, would be in no better position than
the general public, and I know of no reason why he should
be placed in a worse position than those outside the
Company's service. I am disposed to have faith in the
wise law laid down many years ago—"Thou shalt not
muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn."  


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