Home PageSite MapSite IndexHow to Use This SiteGlossaryContact Us Acknowledgements Image
Canada in the Making
Canada in the MakingAboriginals: Treaties & Relations
Primary Sources
Teachers' Resources
Quick Reference
Specific Events & Topics
Maps & Images
Français
Image
Image
Themes:
Constitutional History
Image
Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
Image
Pionniers et Immigrants

1497 - 1760
1608 - 1763
1775 - 1812
1811 - 1870
1814 - 1830
1830 - 1867
1842 - 1903
1851 - 1885
1870 - 1896
1896 - 1914
Sources
Image
Image

Photograph: Settler's House (Grande Prairie, Alberta) / National Archives of Canada / PA-017369
Copyright/Source

The Last Best West (1896 - 1914)

Eighteen ninety-six marked a dramatic shift in Canadian immigration policy. The new minister of immigration, Sir Clifford Sifton, decided to spare no expense in opening up the Prairies for settlement. He increased advertising abroad and introduced a series of reforms to the Immigration Department in order to make Canada look more attractive and affordable. Thanks to these measures and an economy that was generally booming, more than three million people came to Canada between 1896 and 1914.

However, immigration would gradually become more selective and focused on either the types of skills immigrants brought to Canada or their ethnic backgrounds. French people in Québec would start to worry that these new arrivals to the country would marginalize their language and culture.

Topics in this section:

Sir Clifford Sifton and "The Last Best West," 1896 - 1905
Religious Settlement
The Klondike Gold Rush, 1897 - 1903
The Birth of Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1905
Racial Exclusion
Further Immigration Restrictions
Anti-Asian Vancouver Riots, 1907

"The Last Best West"

In 1896, Sir Clifford Sifton became Canada'a new minister responsible for immigration in Sir Wilfred Laurier's new Liberal government.

With the economic depression of the 1870s and 1880s starting to lift, Sifton decided it was time to increase immigration to the Prairies from Britain, other western European countries and the United States. It was felt that people from these areas were best suited to agricultural life on the Prairies.

Sifton increased immigration by:

  • embarking on an extensive promotional campaign, featuring the slogan "Canada: The Last Best West." (This was a reference to the fact that American land on the Plains was becoming less available and more expensive to settlers by this period.)

  • reorganizing the immigration department to give it more power in setting immigration policy;

  • increasing the number of immigration agents and support personnel aboard;

  • freeing up unused land owned by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR);

  • offering "free" land to settlers.


While Sifton advertised that settlers could claim up to 160 acres of free land in Canada, this claim wasn't entirely true. Settlers still had to pay a land registration fee of $10 - or roughly $150 in modern-day currency once inflation is factored in - under the Dominion Lands Act. This also didn't cover the cost of equipment and animals for the land, not to mention the cost of building shelter. Many settlers during their first year would build sod houses, as they simply couldn't afford to build their own homes out of lumber.

For more information on the cost of immigration, please visit Immigrant Voices online.

 

Did you know?

An innovation that helped increase the number of people settling in the Canadian West was the invention of a hardier strain of wheat called Marquis Wheat in 1903. This wheat was able to extend the growing season on Canada's Prairies, and made farming there a more prosperous occupation. This wheat was commercialized and sold starting in 1911.


Sifton's new immigration policy eventually eliminated any threat of American annexation in Canada's West. However, it would further marginalized French-speaking people in Québec, some of whom felt this policy was excluding them from settling on the Prairies.

Henri Bourassa, a Québec Member of Parliament, was particularly upset about this immigration policy and would speak out against it occasionally in the House of Commons.

Despite general attempts to get people to settle in rural areas in Canada's West, about 50 per cent of people actually settled in Canadian cities (including Winnipeg, Edmonton, Montréal and Toronto) where they took labour industry jobs. Another 30 per cent went to rural farms in the Prairies and the remaining 20 per cent or so took remote jobs in mines, lumber camps or on the railways.

Did you know?

Between 1910 and 1914, about a million Americans arrived in Canada. Many of them came as available frontier land for settlement became overtly expensive in the United States. It was so expensive because little unused settlement land was left.

 

For more information about immigration, please visit Immigrant Voices online.

 

Religious Settlement

 

Photograph: Doukhobor Ox Cart / National Archives of Canada / C-007815
Copyright/Source

During Clifford Sifton's tenure as Immigration Minister between 1896 and 1905, many religious groups that practiced agriculture were attracted to Canada. These included:


The federal government approved of the entry of these groups because they were adept at farming. However, there were sometimes clashes between these groups, the government and other settlers.

In 1902, a group of Doukhobors marched across the Prairies believing they would meet Christ during His Second Coming. When this group encountered the North West Mounted Police, male Doukhobors stripped naked and staged a sit-down protest. Such clashes with the government were a primary factor behind a mass exodus of Doukhobor people to the United States starting around 1908.

The Klondike Gold Rush, 1897 - 1903

Photograph: A Prospector in Dawson, Yukon / National Archives of Canada / PA-013443
Copyright/Source

In August 1896, prospectors found gold deposits in the Yukon River. When news of this filtered back into the United States the following summer, thousands of would-be prospectors headed for the Klondike hoping to strike it rich.

At the peak of the gold rush, at least 100,000 settlers arrived in the region, particularly from the United States. These settlers gave birth to new towns like Dawson, which swiftly became the biggest urban centers west of Winnipeg and north of Seattle, Washington.

These settlers brought new innovations, like electricity and telephone service, to Canada's North. However, these settlers brought a particularly rowdy edge to the region, too. Saloons, dance halls and gambling dens opened to provide entertainment to prospectors.

The North West Mounted Police would establish a presence in the region to maintain order, as would the Yukon Field Unit - a military force meant to maintain Canadian sovereignty among American settlers. The region also became the site of a contentious diplomatic dispute between Canada and the United States, known as the Alaska Boundary Dispute.

So many settlers were arriving in the Yukon en masse that, in 1899, the federal government negotiated a treaty with northern Aboriginals. It was meant to take land from these Aboriginals for the purposes of anticipated white settlement and industrial usage. This treaty is known as Numbered Treaty Eight.

The vast amount of white settlers in the region spelled trouble for Han Aboriginals. Because these Natives had had particularly limited contact with the white man prior to the late 1800s, these prospectors introduced diseases like smallpox into the region. These diseases moved so swiftly through the Han community, which had no natural immunities to these illnesses, that this tribe quickly became driven to the brink of extinction.

American settlement to the region slowed in 1898 with news of labor unrest through a workers' strike in Alaska, which painted a picture of the Klondike region in the mainland U.S. as one that was in turmoil. This is not to speak of the fact that 1898 marked the start of the Spanish-American War, which required young men from the U.S. for battle duty. By the early 1900s, the Klondike gold rush had waned and many prospectors returned to the United States.

Image
 

Numbered Treaty Eight

READ the summary
Image

 

For more information on the Alaska Boundary Dispute, please see the 1842 - 1903 portion of the Pioneers section.

 

The Birth of Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1905

Between 1897 and 1911, two million people came to Canada. By 1905, enough people were living in the Northwest Territories that the federal government decided to create two new provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan. These provinces were given authority over dominational schools, which caused the resignation of Sir Clifford Sifton as Minister of Immigration.

Image
 

The Alberta Act, 1905

READ the summary
Image

Image
 

The Saskatchewan Act, 1905

READ the summary
Image

 

Racial Exclusion

Photograph: Galician Family at Immigration Shed in Québec / National Archives of Canada / C-004745
Copyright/Source

While Canada was becoming a more multi-cultural society due to the new groups of settlers flooding the country, there was still some racism towards certain groups who were considered to be unable to adapt to Canada's harsh climate. The Immigration Department would, as time went on, become more cautious as to which ethnic groups would be allowed into Canada. This is particularly true after 1905, when Frank Oliver succeeded Sir Clifford Sifton as Immigration Minister.

Oliver favoured immigrants to Canada's West from certain regions believed to have the settlers best suited to life on the Prairies. He tended to support the immigration of those who came from the following regions in this exact order of preference:

  • nearby Canadian provinces

  • Britain

  • the United States

  • northwestern Europe
Did you know?

The English port of Liverpool was a major departure point for British emigrants. A third-class ticket from Liverpool to Québec City cost $24 in 1900. Demand became so great that the ticket price would increase to $37.50 by 1906. The trip usually took seven days, if the weather was good.

 

Oliver was particularly against those who came from Slavic or "Galician" regions like the Ukraine in Eastern Europe. He felt these people were not as intelligent, would be harder to assimilate into Canadian culture and were not as ideally suited to agriculture as other groups. (However, historians now feel that these immigrants were probably moderately wealthy, free of debt, successful at farming, and often carried a significant amount of cash upon entering Canada.)

The Canadian government did not take steps to stem the tide of these immigrants. The government tolerated these settlers since they also tended to go into poor-paying, menial jobs in labour industries like lumbering. This group of people was additionally more favourably looked upon in Canadian society than other ethnic or racial groups.

For more information on Ukrainian immigrants, please visit Immigrant Voices online.

 

Other racial or ethnic groups weren't as lucky as the Galicians:

  • African-American blacks were, unofficially, no longer encouraged to immigrate to Canada in large numbers during the early 1900s. This policy was never officially put into the Immigration Act likely for two reasons: 1) to avoid diplomatic problems with the U.S. government, and 2) to also avoid angering pockets of black voters in Nova Scotia and Ontario. However, immigration agents made it clear to black people south of the border that Canada would no longer support them. Only seven black people came to Canada from the United States between 1909 and 1910. That said, though, about 200 black immigrants from the Caribbean arrived in Canada between 1912 and 1915. Most of these blacks were hired by Nova Scotia mining firms to work in Cape Breton.

  • Sikhs were thought to not be well suited to living in Canada by the government. This was because Sikhs tended to take poorly paying menial jobs and lived in impoverished, disease-ridden Vancouver slums. Thus, the government placed a landing fee of $50 on all Sikh immigrants in 1905; the fee was increased to $200 in 1908. The federal government also placed another strict entry requirement on this group. Because Sikhs were considered members of the colonial British Empire, Canada couldn't easily ban these immigrants based on where they lived without banning white British immigration, too. Thus, the federal government made a law in which Sikh immigrants could only come to Canada from their country of ancestry, and only if they migrated by taking a non-stop "continuous journey" by ship. This rule forced Sikhs to buy tickets for their voyage to Canada in India. There was a slight problem, however: no passenger ships ran between India and Canada at the time. Understandably, the number of Sikhs entering Canada went from more than 2,500 people in 1908 to just six in 1909.

  • By 1903, the Chinese head tax was increased to $500 per person to eliminate Chinese immigration. This fee was roughly equivalent to two years worth of wages for a Chinese labourer living in Canada at the time. However, some employers in the railway industry needed cheap labour, and were willing to pay this fee for adult men. That meant that Chinese immigration wasn't eliminated altogether, but that Chinese women and children didn't get the opportunity to join their husbands and fathers. This created a Chinese bachelor society in Canada.

  • Starting in 1907, Canada entered into an unofficial "gentleman's agreement" with the United States to start limiting the number of Japanese people coming to the country. A similar agreement was also established with Japan that year, which wanted to stem emigration to other countries. A quota was placed on the immigration of the Japanese, and after 1907 no more than 450 people from Japan would enter the country each year. In practice, however, the number of Japanese immigrants allowed into Canada would be much less than this agreed-to quota number.
    Image
     

    Chinese Immigration Act, 1901

    READ the summary
    Image

    Image
     

    An Act Respecting Chinese and Japanese Labour in Mines, 1901

    READ the summary
    Image

     

    For more information about Chinese labourers, please visit Immigrant Voices online.

     

    Further Immigration Restrictions

    Measures were introduced in the 1906 Immigration Act to prevent other groups of people the government feared would place a strain on the federal government. On top of pre-existing rules meant to keep the insane or criminally minded out of Canada, this act was expanded to include former inmates of mental hospitals or jails, or anyone who had been charged but not convicted of serious crimes.

    Immigration laws were also strengthened in 1906 and 1910 to allow the government to deport unwanted immigrants, like those suffering from severe illness. A probation period of three years was additionally set in place for every immigrant coming to Canada in 1910. If immigrants committed crimes in Canada within that three-year period, they risked being sent back to their home countries.

    Around the same time, Canada experienced a mild economic recession. A measure was introduced in which all immigrants to Canada would have to possess at least $25 upon landing as a way of proving to government officials that they weren't destitute.

    Did you know?

    Between 1902 and 1913, the Canadian government deported almost 870 people on the grounds that they were insane. Another 6,900 were ordered out of the country for criminality and some 2,850 were forced to leave for fear that they were about to become criminals. Since detailed crime statistics weren't kept, historians think this could be anything from a would-be pickpocket to someone who was a political protester.

     

    Image
     

    Immigration Act, 1906

    Acte concernant l'immigration et les immigrants, 1906

    READ the summary
    Image

    Image
     

    Immigration Act, 1910

    Acte concernant l'immigration et les immigrants, 1910

    READ the summary
    Image

     

    Anti-Asian Vancouver Riot, 1907

    In September 1907, there was a serious riot against Asian businesses in downtown Vancouver that was started by members of the racist Asiatic Exclusion League.

    A mob of about 9,000 white people riled up by the Asiatic Exclusion League descended upon Oriental businesses in downtown Vancouver, smashing windows and destroying signs. Later that year, a federal government inquiry was held to look at providing compensation to the Oriental community.

    For detailed information on the Vancouver Riots and post-1914 immigration policy, please see Immigration Acts and Asian Immigration in the Special Events and Topics section.


    For more information on any of the topics covered here, please visit The Canadian Encyclopedia online.


    Previous page

    Image
    Image
      ImageTop of Page Image
    Image Image
    Image