Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling Western Canada Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

To develop Canada’s national economy and foster political unification, the government began a campaign to encourage immigrant farmers to settle in western Canada. The campaign led to the first mass migration of Europeans to Canada and the expansion of agriculture and other industries benefiting both the prairie region and the nation as a whole.

Summary of Event

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Canada encountered a demographic crisis, as emigration began surpassing immigration. Canadian leaders had sought immigrants to populate the country’s vast western territory but were initially unsuccessful. Canada’s western prairies challenged farmers, who often abandoned these lands because of their severe climates and harsh living conditions. During the 1880’s, approximately one million people moved from Canada to the United States, where they received free land offered by the Homestead Act of 1862. Homestead Act of 1862 Canada;immigration Immigration;to Canada[Canada] Agriculture;in Canada[Canada] Sifton, Clifford Canada;agriculture [kw]Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling Western Canada (1896) [kw]Farmers Begin Settling Western Canada, Immigrant (1896) [kw]Begin Settling Western Canada, Immigrant Farmers (1896) [kw]Settling Western Canada, Immigrant Farmers Begin (1896) [kw]Western Canada, Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling (1896) [kw]Canada, Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling Western (1896) Canada;immigration Immigration;to Canada[Canada] Agriculture;in Canada[Canada] Sifton, Clifford Canada;agriculture [g]Canada;1896: Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling Western Canada[6100] [c]Immigration;1896: Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling Western Canada[6100] [c]Agriculture;1896: Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling Western Canada[6100] [c]Business and labor;1896: Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling Western Canada[6100] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;1896: Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling Western Canada[6100] [c]Government and politics;1896: Immigrant Farmers Begin Settling Western Canada[6100] Sifton, Clifford Pedley, Frank McCreary, William Forsythe

Sir Wilfrid Laurier Laurier, Sir Wilfrid [p]Laurier, Sir Wilfrid[Laurier, Wilfrid];and immigration[Immigration] , a liberal politician who won the 1896 election for Canadian prime minister, named Clifford Sifton, a farmer’s son, minister of the interior with the assignment to direct western settlement. Sifton, a former Manitoba legislator, capably formulated plans to achieve settlement goals, emphasizing agriculture as essential for Canadian prosperity and focusing on inviting skilled farmers to immigrate. Sifton rejected urban immigrants, however, whom he feared would abandon farmland for cities. Because administrative requirements had impeded some settlers, Sifton closed the Dominion Lands Board, which he blamed for complicating procedures. He clarified the immigration branch’s mission to recruit and assist immigrants, and he selected Frank Pedley Pedley, Frank as his superintendent of immigration in Ottawa and William Forsythe McCreary McCreary, William Forsythe as commissioner of immigration in Winnipeg.

Sifton believed competent farmers could create an economically appealing situation that would attract businesses and industries to western Canada. He sought to achieve the immigration of many people quickly, and he offered commissions to immigration agents and employees as an incentive for immigration staff to secure as many acceptable immigrants as possible.

During the mid-1890’s, Canada had became attractive to immigrants for several reasons. While available farmland in the United States decreased because of settlement and land-law changes, Canada offered ample agricultural resources, especially for growing wheat. International markets demanded Canadian agricultural products because many industrialized nations had limited foodstuff on hand. Crops sold at high prices, assuring farmers some financial security after economic crises had depressed global markets in previous years. People considered immigrating to Canada because European populations significantly increased, overcrowding communities. Canada offered freedom from the oppressive political systems and religious controls of some countries.

Sifton identified incentives to lure agricultural immigrants to Canada. He streamlined the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 Dominion Lands Act of 1872 to provide adults twenty-one years or older with 160 acres of land if those settlers would reside on that land three years, erect a homestead shelter, grow crops on thirty acres, and give the government ten Canadian dollars to register a claim. To ensure there were enough lands to distribute, Sifton persuaded the Canadian Canadian Pacific Railway;and land policy[Land policy] Pacific Railway and other railroads to release lands the government had given them to back railroad bonds and pay for constructing and maintaining lines. Sifton ceased all federal land grants for railroads. He promised immigrants reduced or sponsored transatlantic passage from their homelands and affordable transportation costs, particularly low rail rates to ship goods, within Canada. He encouraged the idea that free land in the United States was scarce and that Canada was the only place to find such opportunities.

Canada at the End of the Nineteenth Century, Pt. 1





Canada at the End of the Nineteenth Century, Pt. 2





Applying business methods to immigration recruitment, Sifton organized an effective campaign. Promotional materials distributed in Europe and Great Britain focused on free farms for immigrants. Sifton established immigration offices in other countries and arranged for translators to prepare brochures that portrayed western Canada as a paradise. Forbidding references to cold temperatures, snow, and isolation, Sifton insisted agents show appealing images, which were contrary to common perceptions of the Canadian prairie.

Sifton hired writers to prepare praiseworthy letters and essays in European newspapers and placed advertisements. He invited to Canada reporters representing United States and European periodicals. The reporters in turn would view the western Canadian sites and then recommended them to readers. Sifton’s representatives touted immigration at public events, especially agricultural fairs and meetings. By 1903, promoters showed audiences a film Motion pictures;and Canadian immigration[Canadian immigration] featuring western Canada. Successful immigrants urged their families and friends to join them.

In addition to recruiting northern Europeans, Sifton considered settlers from the United States, an option previous officials had dismissed. U.S. farmers were familiar with prairie climate and soils, and would have an easier time adjusting to the Canadian climate. Also, Sifton believed that U.S. agriculturists possessed funds, equipment, and skills they could invest in Canadian farming. He directed agents to discuss immigration with white U.S. farmers and to urge the farmers to move their operations and livestock to the Canadian prairie by stressing its similarities with lands they cultivated in the Midwest and western United States. Immigration officials excluded minority farmers, especially African Americans, often rejecting their petitions for homestead lands. Sifton also discouraged immigration by Italians, Jews Jews;immigrants , and Asians because he believed they would not pursue work in agriculture. Recruitment materials omitted references to people of color and other ethnic minorities.

Sifton believed that central, southern, and eastern Europeans, particularly Ukrainians Ukrainian immigrants , Germans, Galicians, Russian Doukhobors, Austro-Hungarians, Poles, and Slavs, would be valuable immigrants. He noted that the attributes of peasants included a strong work ethic and an affinity for agriculture, envisioning that such immigrants could perform seasonal work as needed, migrating across the land to harvest crops. Sifton wanted farmers who would persevere no matter how harsh their environment. Many immigrants were overwhelmed by the large acreage given to them. Some immigrants were uninterested in acquiring homesteads and instead worked for the railroad or other industries.

Sifton circumvented some European laws and policies overseeing emigration. France, for example, discouraged emigration in order to maintain a sufficient military force. Establishing a contract with the North Atlantic Trading Company, an Antwerp group of steamship agents, Sifton secretly offered financial rewards per immigrant to middlemen who persuaded and transported people to Canada. Sifton paid priests to encourage French Canadians living in the United States to return to Canada. Critics accused Sifton of profiting from his immigration duties, but proof of this was lacking.

Sifton urged immigrants to settle lands adjacent to people from their native country so they could form communities. Such ties strengthened settlements and often led to more immigration. Immigrants would arrive already knowing some settlers. Canadian settlement requirements for immigrants split some ethnic groups. Most Russian Doukhobors, for example, resisted swearing oaths of allegiance, and were thus prevented from participating in any government activities, including education and registering vital records.

Many Canadians resisted Sifton’s plans to recruit immigrants but were unable to prevent his efforts. Public reaction targeted some immigrant groups as inferior. Canadians protested that their country risked losing its British culture because immigrants insisted on using their native languages and were uninterested in assimilating. Violent anti-immigration groups often destroyed immigrants’ property, and xenophobic attitudes and taxes hindered some immigration. The “alien” labor act (1897) provided measures to restrict foreigners, and by 1898, Sifton was demanding the deportation of Italians who were not settling farmland.


Clifford Sifton’s immigration policies transformed Canada’s western lands into a productive agricultural region. Two million immigrants, mostly skilled farmers, from the United States, European continent, and Great Britain emigrated to Canada between 1896, when Sifton initiated his campaign, and 1911. Immigrants diversified Canada demographically. They applied their expertise to cultivating the Canadian prairies, yielding income from previously fallow land. While Clifton and politicians promoted immigration, scientists and engineers improved agriculture. Farmers benefited from growing wheat and grains suitable for prairie conditions, and they adopted better agricultural tools and methods. Canadian leaders improved transportation systems, mainly railroads, to ease the shipping of goods to numerous markets and make shipping more affordable.

Sifton’s settlement plan succeeded so well that available lands soon dwindled. Ambitious agriculturists requested lands the government had protected for First Nations peoples, arguing they had more land than their population needed. Sifton agreed. Government leaders seized some indigenous peoples’ lands for settlers.

By 1905, the year Sifton resigned his post as minister of the interior, western expansion resulted in officials designating Alberta Alberta;provincial status Saskatchewan;provincial status and Saskatchewan as provinces. Sifton’s successor, Frank Oliver, pursued more restrictive immigration policies, seeking only U.S., British, and Canadian settlers for prairie lands. The Immigration Acts of 1906 and 1910 reinforced entry restrictions. Sifton’s immigration program had initiated changes that molded western Canada into a thriving agricultural and industrial region for white settlers compatible with eastern provinces and integral in international trade.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bumsted, J. M. Canada’s Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. Includes a chapter discussing immigration from 1867 to 1914, supplemented with a time line and a bibliography. A volume in the Ethnic Diversity Within Nations series.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Draper, Paula, Franca Iacovetta, and Robert Ventresca, eds. A Nation of Immigrants: Women, Workers, and Communities in Canadian History, 1840’s-1960’s. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. Analyzes female immigrants in western Canada and their experiences as domestics and laborers and efforts to retain ethnic and cultural customs while assimilating into communities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hall, David J. Clifford Sifton. 2 vols. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1981, 1985. A comprehensive biography that devotes one chapter to Sifton’s immigration policies and discusses them in relation to his other political interests. Illustrations, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kaye, Vladimir J. Early Ukrainian Settlement in Canada, 1895-1900: Dr. Josef Oleskow’s Role in the Settlement of the Canadian Northwest. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964. This volume in the Canadian Centennial series explores the experiences of an immigration agent and of European immigrants during the first years of Sifton’s efforts to populate western Canada. Foreword by George W. Simpson.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Troper, Harold M. Only Farmers Need Apply: Official Canadian Government Encouragement of Immigration from the United States, 1896-1911. Toronto: Griffin House, 1972. Expanded version of a thesis written at the University of Toronto, examining the agriculturists Sifton identified as suitable for immigration and how agents recruited those farmers.

Irish Immigration to Canada

Great Irish Famine

Lincoln Signs the Homestead Act

Dominion Lands Act Fosters Canadian Settlement

Ukrainian Mennonites Begin Settling in Canada

Ellis Island Immigration Depot Opens

Laurier Becomes the First French Canadian Prime Minister

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Categories: History