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The Break with Barr

By Clive Tallant, The Saskatchewan History Magazine, 1957

The Barr Colonists, who were responsible for settling the Lloydminster area, emigrated from the British Isles in 1903.  The movement had been initiated by the Rev.  Isaac M. Barr, assisted by the Rev. George Exton Lloyd, both clergymen of the Church of England.  The former made an exploratory trip to Western Canada in the fall of 1902, {error: see side note below left} and secured from the Department of the Interior a land reservation comprising the even-numbered sections, exclusive of Hudson's Bay Company land, in sixty,-eight townships.  On his return to London, Barr started an extensive publicity programme for a non-denominational and self-supporting emigration scheme.  His pamphleteering and other means of advertising were so successful that he and Lloyd received far more applications for membership in the colony than had been contemplated.  On paper, Barr planned practically every detail and move which would face the emigrants from the time they left their homes until they reached the settlement.  One detail led to another, and soon Barr was in receipt of money sent to him for various purposes, including homestead entry fees, absentee entry fees, shares in stores and transportation syndicates, hospitalization, insurance, and the like.  Naturally, those who paid the money expected in return exactly what he promised them. He even sent three agents in advance to prepare the way, but neglected to give them financial support.  Some two thousand persons, being the main body of the emigrants, sailed from Liverpool on the S. S. Lake Manitoba on March 31, 1903, reaching Saint John, New Brunswick, on April 12.  The emigrants travelled via Canadian Pacific Railway to Regina, and Canadian Northern Railway from Regina to Saskatoon.  Detraining on April 17 at Saskatoon, the end of the steel, they were faced with an overland trek of approximately two hundred miles to the settlement.

On arriving in Saskatoon, the colonists, who had found accommodation none too comfortable on the over-crowded Lake Manitoba and on the trains provided, discovered that Barr's plans for their reception had not been carried out.  The Department of the Interior had, however, provided a city of tents for their occupancy, in which they lived while procuring the necessities for their trek.  Prices became inflated, and many colonists became discouraged by this situation and by the difficulties, which lay ahead.  Barr failed to cope with the confusion which existed, but the majority persisted in their plans and set out for Battleford at the end of April.  The Department of the Interior provided tents, fuel and fodder at stopping places all the way from Saskatoon to the settlement.  The trek to Battleford, which proved very trying to people entirely unaccustomed to overland travel under primitive conditions, took a week on the average.  Discontent with Barr's lack of leadership mounted, until in Battleford it became so acute that Barr was forced to resign.  The purpose of this article is to describe the details of the break between Barr and the settlers.  

      At Battleford, where the colonists rested for several days, the government had provided accommodation in tents and the immigration hall.  As it was uncertain what could be procured at the settlement, provisions to last several weeks were purchased.  The colonists were more impressed with Battleford than they had been with Saskatoon, possibly because they found the barracks of the North West Mounted Police there. Newspapers in Eastern and Western Canada had taken considerable interest in the migration, and sent their representatives to Battleford.  Their reports, in general, praised the pluck of the immigrants but criticized Barr's leadership.

      Barr arrived in Battleford on May 2, and after several stormy days with the disillusioned settlers, left for the settlement on May 7. The Battleford weekly, The Saskatchewan Herald, commented on Barr's arrival in the following tone: "Mr.  Barr has come.  The colonists are dissatisfied with his arrangements.  There is every chance now of a hot spell.  There is no more connection between these interesting items than the fancy of the reader may invest them with." The settlers were made uneasy by rumours that some of their people had given up after reaching Saskatoon and were returning home.  C. W. Speers, the general colonization agent of the Dominion government, had held a meeting on April 23 in Saskatoon, which resulted in his finding employment for those without sufficient means to proceed to the colony.  Confusion had arisen in the minds of the immigrants as to the allotment of homesteads.  Some members of the advance groups who had been in Battleford for two weeks were bitter against Barr over the delay in homesteading.  The first ugly rumors that Barr was exploiting them arose among the settlers while in Saskatoon.  There an indignation meeting had been held on April 30, at which Barr had aroused much antagonism.  At a second such meeting called by James Clinkskill (M.L.A. for Battleford, {error: see side note, right} and owner of stores in Saskatoon and Battleford) Barr had acted badly and the meeting had dispersed.  When Barr reached Battleford, the discontent erupted in earnest, led by several strong-willed, aggressive colonists who felt insecure and frustrated.

      Both Speers at Saskatoon and R. F. Chisholm, agent of Dominion lands at Battleford, found themselves in a quandary as to what they could do for the colonists.  Barr violently opposed any attempts by Chisholm to send settlers on ahead to locate for themselves, and warned James A. Smart, Deputy Minister of the Interior, "If there is bloodshed and destruction of the colony as a result I throw whole blame on you." Chisholm, a practical man, had realized how impracticable was Barr's scheme of allotting homesteads to settlers before they had seen the land.  He knew also that the people would wish to settle close together for the sake of church, school, and other advantages, rather than to be scattered throughout the reservation.  Unable to reason with Barr, Chisholm advised the colonists to proceed at once from Battleford to the reservation, and to contact Mr. George Langley, the sub-agent of the lands branch.  As a result, settlers began to move westwards.  When Barr protested, Chisholm told him that not only did the people distrust him but were beginning to be suspicious of the government officials as well.  Furthermore, he stated, he did not believe that Barr had any authority to dictate to the people as to where they should homestead.  Chisholm took this firm stand in order to end Barr's bullying tactics.  When Barr threatened to abandon the direction of the movement Chisholm felt that such an act would be all to the good, although he considered it to be a mere bluff, for Barr would have laid himself open to legal action by those from whom he had collected absentee fees.  The dispute was resolved by Smart's firm yet diplomatic telegrams to Barr, who left Battleford on May 7 full of promises of conciliation and consultation with the colonists regarding allotments.  But as a safeguard against Barr resuming his dictatorial tactics and quarrelling with some of the colonists who were "of a decidedly pugnacious disposition," Inspector McInnis of the N.W.M.P. left Battleford for the colony on May 10, taking with him a few policemen.

      The first general movement of the main party from Battleford to the settlement began on May 2. Outfits took from one to two weeks to cover the journey of approximately one hundred miles.  At Bresaylor, the only settlement on their route, they were able to purchase ponies, milk cows, seed grain and feed at moderate prices.  Rumours were prevalent that prices were high at Barr's store in the settlement.  The colonists trekked through swampy country and over stretches blackened by prairie fires.  A heavy snowstorm struck, delaying some for a week.  Fortunately the government tents were available for shelter.  Rev. G. E. Lloyd, chaplain of the party, who had gone on to the settlement with Barr, began working back down the trail to encourage the trekkers, and this greatly impressed those settlers who might otherwise have turned back.  Nevertheless some were met returning from the colony even as late as May 31.

      At the colony, where the Stores Syndicate had set up a store and the settlement headquarters had been established, the colonists met with further disappointment.  There was great confusion over making homestead entries.  Some colonists accepted their allotments from Barr, while others after looking over the allotments refused them and entered elsewhere in the reservation.  The head quarters camp was soon the scene of angry demonstrations by colonists who felt that Barr had not lived up to his bargain.  To pacify some of the more aggressive settlers, Barr issued cheques to reimburse them for money they had paid him for shares in the syndicates.  After a few days at the settlement, Barr returned to Battleford which he reached on May 15.  With him went the three nurses whom he bad brought to operate his hospital.

      By that time Mr. Lloyd had returned to Battleford.  On Barr's return, Lloyd and others interviewed him and found him willing to give up all claim to future leadership.  A meeting of the colonists still encamped at Battleford was called, at which a resolution was passed unanimously to appoint Mr. Lloyd, A.. Still, and N. Jones to interview Barr and to have an agreement drawn up authorizing Lloyd to assume the leadership with a provisional committee of twelve members elected by the colonists.  The desired agreement was formulated, and then to intercept and prevent more colonists from leaving the settlement, Lloyd, Still, and Jones left immediately for the headquarters camp.  The Battleford resolution was adopted unanimously at every gathering of colonists along the trail and by those at the headquarters camp.

        The record of Barr's movements and activities between May 21 and the middle of June is vague.  He evidently returned to the headquarters camp to settle business matters with Lloyd and the committee.  On May 21 a colonist on the trail noted significantly in his diary: "Mr. Barr and his horse transport arrive in great style.  No N.W.M.P. escort … witness a scene with Barr and big colonist re C.P.R. land money.  Colonist gets his money." In winding up his business arrangements with Lloyd and the committee, Barr signed papers to cover the following agreements: resigning all claim to his homestead and to any other homestead in the colony; turning over all stores on the ground to the committee to satisfy the claims of the people for several thousand dollars in shares; making over all the hospital equipment to satisfy the hospital staff and those who had paid for hospitalization tickets; and permitting the committee to apply all monies so realized to satisfy the people's claims for money invested.  In return the committee, who had "pried loose" Barr's account books from his keeping and had investigated them, gave Barr $800.00 in recognition of what they called "a moral obligation" in the matter of the homestead which he had intended to enter.  By June 5 Barr had returned to Battleford, where he settled up more of his affairs and refunded money paid to him for C.P.R. land.  Some colonists there distrusted him so much that they patrolled the Battle River bridge to prevent him leaving Battleford until his accounts were settled.

        Barr left Battleford for Saskatoon on June 12, drawing the comment from the Herald and Saskatoon Phoenix that Barr's people could sing with heart and voice "Britons never will be slaves." There is no record of Barr's activities in Saskatoon.  On July 8 he left for Winnipeg, via Regina, where he barely escaped being rotten-egged by some Englishmen.  In Winnipeg, when interviewed by the press, Barr defended his operations.  This drew rebuttals from "Britannia Colony," as the settlement had been renamed.  From Winnipeg Barr proceeded to Ottawa to press his claims to a bonus for bringing over the settlers.  In a press interview he stated that although he had received $13,000 in commissions on steamship tickets, he had spent $8,000 on his London office, while incidental and unforeseen expenses had more than exhausted the remaining $5,000.  He said, "I was not in this work out of feelings of pure philanthropy, and would think it would only be fair that I have my services appreciated." He felt satisfied with the migration as he claimed that over 1,800 of those who had come over had settled on the land, and the remainder were scattered around the country working for others as they had intended to do.  But he was not successful in his attempt to secure the bonus from the government.

        Instead of returning to England and gathering a group to emigrate in 1904, as he had repeatedly stated was his plan, Barr went to the United States.  He wrote to Smart from Chicago in December, 1903, suggesting that a full investigation into the affairs of the colony be made in a proper court.  He was willing to appear in a Canadian court, but he wrote, "As I am an American subject, I shall ask the protection of the American Government." Whether this statement was a bluff, or whether he had already taken out his first papers for American citizenship can only be conjectured.  He again referred to the bonuses to which he considered himself entitled "and which you promised me," asking that they be used to meet any just debts he had incurred in connection with the colony.  He claimed to possess copies of documents which had implied that he should receive the bonus, and threatened to have the copies produced in court.  Smart was unmoved by this threat and denied ever having promised to pay Barr bonuses, but stated that the matter had been left in abeyance.  He felt that the Department might have taken a very liberal view of the whole situation (i.e., might have paid Barr bonuses) if it had not been found necessary to spend so much money to provide against the chance of disaster in the colony; the Department had spent many times the amount that the bonuses would have totalled. In view of these facts, and because no responsibility could be attached to the Department for the failure of the movement to work out in Barr's interest, Smart refused either to make any payment to Barr or to undertake the investigation he had suggested.  Barr's correspondence with government officials apparently ceased accordingly.  Rumours and newspaper reports indicated that Barr had dropped the title of "Reverend" and had entered business in the United States.  It is believed that later on he took a group of Americans as colonists to Australia. {Error: Barr was not a leader, except of his wife and two small sons. They sailed from Vancouver in December 1910, and made their way via Hawaii to Australia, to join a settlement scheme there} A newspaper despatch from Melbourne in January, 1937, reported that he had died in that country on January 22, {Should be January 18} 1937.

          A restless individual, with a fertile mind and a facile pen, Barr was capable of planning but not of implementing.  At the age of fifty he emerged from an unspectacular career to become involved in an emigration project which became rather famous.  His movement began for the economic betterment of a group who were largely dependent upon others, but developed into a selfish scheme for his own advantage.  To some who worked with him he appeared fundamentally honest, but unable to resist the financial temptations which his plans created.  To others, especially those with whom he had disputes, he appeared completely selfish and dishonest.  These critics blamed all the suffering of the colonists upon Barr's greed.  Of his three advance agents, W. S. Bromhead and Rev. John Robbins remained loyal to him and optimistic regarding the settlement scheme, but both returned to England before Barr's collapse as leader.  Possibly neither Bromhead nor Robbins saw as much evidence of Barr's failure as did Mr. Charles May, who had been the first advance agent sent out, and who remained to home stead near Battleford.  Mr. May came to regard Barr as a "bester," chiefly interested in personal gain.  The majority of the colonists lost faith in Barr because, after building up their hopes and producing such grandiose plans, he disappointed them.  From their embarkation at Liverpool to their arrival at the settlement, they met with disillusionment.  As a result they suspected Barr not only of bungling but of dishonesty.  There was not too much complaint over their hardships, for Barr had warned them that they would have to face up to difficulties.  There is no doubt that Barr was autocratic, quick-tempered, and undiplomatic.  Being too self-centered to accept criticism, he turned many against him.  After his failure as a leader, he still believed himself capable of organizing a second project the following year, avoiding the perplexing details of his first attempt.  Perhaps the fairest statement of Barr's weaknesses would be that although he could plan details and organize enterprises in general outline, he lacked the ability to administer them.  He did not possess the tact and business qualifications necessary for the management of so extensive an undertaking.  To his credit must be placed the initiation of the plan for emigration and settlement; but credit for its fulfilment must be given to the Rev. G. E. Lloyd for his inspiration, to the Canadian government for its assistance, and principally to the settlers themselves for their tenacity.

A Letter of the Rev.  I. M. Barr; (From the Saloway Paper Archives of Saskatchewan)



     (Under the Sanction of the Canadian Government)

Founder and Director    Rev. I. M. Barr; Fleet Street, London, E. C.

Head Offices: 14, Serjeants' Inn

TO:  Mr. Ben. P. Saloway, 23, St. Mary's Street, Bridgnorth

  Dear Sir

   I have the pleasure in enclosing Homestead form you ask for, which kindly fill in carefully and return with homestead fee of £2.18. I hope that you may be able to join the settlement in the course of a year.  I notice that you lived in Boston Mass. for a time and therefore know something of life in the far West.' Hoping to hear from you again.

  In haste.

  Yours truly,

  “I. M. Barr “

Tallant makes a surprising error in light of Canadian geography.  Barr sailed to Canada, arriving in Montreal in October 1902.  He met with Canadian government officials in Ottawa, to secure land and assistance commitments; and then met with shipping line and railway representatives in Montreal re: transportation for the Colonists.  There would not have been any point in going to the West in the winter season and there was no time as Barr hastened back to England  to continue with his arrangements.  Barr was basing his familiarity with the West on his few weeks time there as a clergyman in 1875

While Clinkskill had been MLA for Battleford 1888 - 1898; in 1903 he was MLA for Saskatoon (1902 - 1905). He would later be Mayor of Saskatoon.