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The performance video shows the arduous labour of digging into colonial legacies in contemporary sites. Unmapping the Last Best West inhabits the gap between the beautiful fictions of colonial imaginaries and historical and contemporary reality to offer alternate fictions of land.

As a professional intermedia artist, my current projects focus on cartographic representation and embodied relationships to land. Typically seen as scientific, objective, and absolute, in reality cartographic representation is anything but. A cartographer is tasked with communicating visual information, synthesizing a variety of source material to visually support the communication of a specific idea. Someone decides how some place should be represented and the cartographer makes it so. I know something about this — cartography was my profession for twenty years, and every map I drew was fiction.

A central fiction to every map is that the truth of a place—the undulating terrain, dust caught in a twist of wind, the growth of a tree, or the sound of an animal—all embodied experience, must necessarily be translated to static and two dimensional representation. My current projects investigate the tensions in conventional cartographic representation and explore the potential for wider expression in representing place.

As an exhibiting artist July 15 to August 27 at Comox Valley Art Gallery, my show Unmapping the Last Best West shapes a series of experimental embodied cartographies: two dimensional works on canvas, performance video, and video animation.

My plans involve developing a series of works including but not limited to, sketch, video, and projected works, as well as temporary site responsive installations. As a Make Art Project workshop facilitator with North Island College and Comox Valley Art Gallery, I propose to collaborate with other artist facilitators and workshop participants to explore and express the potential for expanded and embodied cartographic representation. Barbara Meneley is a prairie-based Canadian visual artist whose interdisciplinary site responsive work engages with the landscapes and foundations of contemporary society and culture.

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Her work evolves through theoretical inquiry and contemporary intermedia art installation, media, performance and engaged practice. Canada West contained everything the Canadian government thought the prospective farm owner needed to know. Issues repackaged the same message, often running the same kinds of articles every year: statistics on farm yields; information on railways, telephones, immigration, homesteading, schools, building materials, climate, cattle, and hog prices; river and lake access; land and customs regulations; different church denominations; freight rates; and much more.

Issues always included a string of success stories and testimonials, such as one provided by an American newcomer who enthused, "I make five times per acre what I made in Iowa. Eastern Canada boasted some large urban centres, but the future of the country depended on attracting farmers to settle the West.

Not only did Ottawa want agriculture to flourish, it also wanted to populate the West to bolster a political stronghold. Concerned about the population imbalance, the government began a fervent campaign to promote western settlement. They had a great product to sell: more than million acres of fertile land lay unbroken and ready for habitation. In the federal Immigration Branch of the Department of the Interior published a document entitled Western Canada , which became the template for Canada West.

Private shipping and railway companies such as the White Star Line and Canadian Pacific had their own immigration campaigns, as there was money to be made transporting eager young men and women and their belongings to their new homes in the West. The CPR was also in the business of selling land. British and American immigration agents favoured it in their efforts to persuade settlers to come.

And come they did. Between and , more than two million settlers from Europe and the United States poured into the prairies in the greatest wave of immigration in Canadian history. By , of the more than five million in Canada, almost , 12 percent were immigrants not born in Canada.

About one-quarter of the immigrant population had arrived in the previous five years. Immigrants from the British Isles made up 57 percent; from America, 19 percent; Germany, 4 percent; and China, 2. However, in terms of "origin," 96 percent of the population was of European descent. But the outbreak of World War I in put an abrupt end to the rush. Immigration halted during World War I, in large part because the demand for young men at the front reduced the stream of emigration from Europe.

Conscription was another factor. This "stay-put" tendency prompted a bold, eye-catching headline front and centre on the first page of the issue: "Canada Practically a Self-Governing Country: Military Service is Voluntary—No Compulsion or Conscription.

Here we go again.

A letter from the Honorable William James Roche, minister of the interior, which had been directed to American papers, was reprinted on the first page of Canada West. It blamed the pro-German press for publishing fictitious and defamatory news items to cause friction between the United States and Canada. Roche maintained, "I, therefore, beg to advise you that all troops from Canada for the war have gone voluntarily Later in the war, a U. But after the Armistice, a renewed call was aimed at returning servicemen.

Pitched at soldiers who had returned home to find original jobs were gone or no longer attractive, the article went on to pronounce, "farm life will doubtless appeal to them By following the pursuit of agriculture the returned soldier will continue the cause he so greatly advanced when fighting on the field of battle," referring to the war-shattered nations of Europe that now needed sustenance. Many soldiers coming home from the horrors of war would have been drawn to the idea of rural tranquility.


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Canada West oriented itself entirely and wholeheartedly to the rural life—although clearly immigration opportunities would have existed in growing urban centres such as Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Calgary. But what Canada needed for its plains was farmers, not more business or industrial workers. Of city life, the issue wryly observed, "It is the same old grind and the same old routine, with nearly every part of the monthly salary going to present-day maintenance.

With an equal loyalty to his daily pursuits, and but a part of the energy displayed in the city, he could reap all the advantages of life with its personal and financial independence by becoming a producer—a farm owner. In order to discourage settlers from heading to urban centres, the rural life had to be convincingly portrayed as more desirable, even idealized.

Covers varied more than the articles, and allowed more room for subjectivity. This was visually reinforced through cover illustrations. She explains why.

Prairie immigration and the "Last Best West"

There was certainly more detail inside the publication, and I doubt that anyone decided to immigrate based on one of these covers, but they make a strong first impression. Detre notes that the earlier covers up to around were aimed at men who would be establishing homesteads, but it soon became clear to immigration officials that incoming males were vastly outnumbering females, threatening population growth and the farm family ideal. While the inside material continued to speak to the needs and concerns of men, the cover was clearly designed to appeal to both genders. It shows a fashionably dressed housewife outside her new farmhouse beckoning to her husband harvesting in the fields.

Such an image supported the impression that men could concentrate on fieldwork while women took care of the domestic chores.

Last Best West by Marcus Peralta on Prezi

For women, Detre says, this image has a similar, but subtly different message, as they would identify with the woman in the illustration and feel assured that there was a place for them in farming society. Indeed, women were specifically targeted in the recruitment campaigns— brochures and documents were created and distributed to sell the appeal of farm life solely to women. The hope was, of course, that they would quickly marry. Detre maintains that, "if all the promises came true, women who immigrated to the Canadian West couldlook forward to lives of leisure, spending a small portion of their day on housework and the majority of their time socializing and relaxing.

Subsequent covers emphasized happy children at play, often in the fields. In reality, most children toiled with farm chores, but the cover images assured newcomers that farms were so prosperous that farmhands could be employed to do the fieldwork. Canada West was published annually from , as terms for prairie provincehood namely, Alberta and Saskatchewan were heating up, to ; it was distributed in the United States and Great Britain.

LAST BEST WEST