CLIFFORD SIFTON:
IMMIGRATION AND
SETTLEMENT POLICY
1896-1905

D. J. Hall

Clifford Sifton was no doctrinaire laissez-faire Liberal. Government, he believed, had a vital and dynamic role to play in helping to move Canada from the doldrums of the mid-1890's and to set her on the road to economic expansion and progress. This could be done by careful manipulation of the tariff, by further development and expansion of a comprehensive all-Canadian transportation system, and by active promotion of immigration and settlement. 1

As Minister of the Interior from 1896 to 1905, immigration and settlement was to be his responsibility. The intense and successful pursuit of settlers for the prairie West created his reputation as a nation-builder, a reputation reaching mythical proportions. Just as Sir John A. Macdonald "built" the Canadian Pacific Railway, so did Sifton "populate" the West and help to realize the dream of Confederation.

As with most such myths, there is a certain amount of truth in the tales about Sifton. Yet it must be admitted at the outset that he had come to office at a most fortuitous time. Many factors in the Laurier years restored confidence in the world economy and stimulated a mass migration from Europe. There were gold discoveries in South Africa and the Canadian Yukon. Urbanization and industrialization expanded rapidly in both Europe and North America. The changes in Europe created new markets and higher prices for the products of western farms. Good cheap land was difficult to find in the American West, and attention now turned to the Canadian prairies. Whether fleeing from oppression, conscription, or economic disruption, or simply searching for the legendary free land and new opportunities, thousands of people began to look to Canada for their new homes, many of

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