Shortly after Confederation, the federal government devised a plan to make Canada a strong and united country. It felt that the best way to do this was by:
1. connecting all of Canada from east to west by railway;
2. populating the West thanks to this railway; and
3. protecting Canadian industries from foreign competition.
Canada built the railway and found a solution for protecting industries, but it failed to attract many immigrants or colonists from other provinces to settle in the Prairies. One man, however, helped to change that: Clifford Sifton.
Born in Ontario in 1861, Clifford Sifton had been living in Manitoba since 1875. In 1896, he was appointed minister in the Laurier government; his responsibilities included the immigration and colonization of the Prairies. He favoured having an agricultural population in this region and until 1905, he devoted considerable energy into attracting immigrants, particularly from the U.S., but also from Great Britain and the Eastern European countries. He wanted to attract farmers and people who would not settle in towns.
“The Last Best West” or the last best place in the West
What did Sifton do to attract colonists? He launched a huge advertising campaign extolling the virtues of farm land in the West and even offered free land (homesteads) to colonists who came to settle there. Brochures were distributed in various countries, advertisements were published in newspapers, conferences and promotional trips were organized and, finally, agents were hired to go abroad to promote the West. The cold and snow were never mentioned, however, for fear of scaring off potential colonists.
When Clifford Sifton resigned as minister in 1905, it could be said that he had succeeded in his task of populating the Prairies. Thanks to his energy and organizational skills, he helped shape the face of Canada.
Author: Service national du Récit de l’univers social
French if available (si disponible)