Watch my short video on free farms
Clifford Sifton, the Minister of the Interior from 1896 to 1905, was the driving force behind the greatest immigration scheme in Canadian history. Through his efforts, the Department of the Interior distributed tens of thousands of pamphlets similar to this 30-page atlas on western Canada. The atlas describes the opportunities and the free homesteads that were available for prospective immigrants in western Canada. The style is flamboyant and spectacular – not to mention overstated – and had some similarities to a travelling “medicine show.”
Through an aggressive propaganda campaign, Sifton hoped to saturate the United States and Europe with positive opinions about the Canadian West. Canadian immigration agents were sent to important European centres, and overseas journalists were given expense-free trips to see for themselves the “Last Best West” and its great promise.
Sifton’s sole objective was to populate the West and his policy was simple: “only farmers need apply.” For Sifton, agriculture was the backbone of the Canadian economy and everything else depended on its success. The best European agriculturalists, Sifton believed, came from northern areas – Britain, Scandinavia, western or eastern Europe – while the least desirable came from the south. Sifton disdained southern Europeans, especially Italians, because as migratory labourers, they preferred to settle in the urban centres rather than venture into the countryside. However, Sifton encouraged east-European immigration. He considered east-European immigrants to be hard-working, obedient, agricultural people. Stated Sifton, “I think a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers had been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife, and a half-dozen children, is good quality.”