When Europeans first got to the land it was only "empty" of built environment rather than an ecology based on spontaneous vegetation and inhabited by animals suited to that environment. But soon they had brought in domestic livestock and big plans.
These two photos were taken near Dauphin which is south and a bit to the east of Swan River. It's probably significant that one of the small communities nearby is called "Ukraina." The northern interior of the American (in the continental sense) prairies is not that different from Russia, Ukraine or Siberia.
Clearing trees meant using more force. The advantage of these steam tractors is that they could use the trees for fuel. Able-bodied men (and, it appears, one intrepid woman) found work with the Downie Land Co. When Sam Strachan was up against it, he joined the winter crew. Maybe it was better to clear trees with snow preventing fire and making skidding easier.
These photos were taken near Bowsman, just a jot east and north.
In looking for research sources, I brought up "Swan River, Manitoba" on YouTube where I found video of today's town that would have knocked the socks off these hard-working folk. The place is still flat and the buildings are mostly one-story, but it is everything my grandfather could have imagined -- and more.