Clifford Sifton

"The Best Press Agent the West Ever Had"

by George Siamandas

Sifton was born of Irish Protestant parents on March 10 1861 at Middlesex County Ontario. He arrived in Winnipeg in 1875. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1882 at age 21 after a year of study and an apprenticeship with a firm. Sifton went west to Brandon to establish a law practise.

Sifton ran and was elected for the Liberals in the Manitoba Legislature and was Attorney General and Minister of Education between 1891 and 1896. Sifton became minister of the Interior in 1896 and began the worlds greatest publicity campaign for the attraction of immigrants. Aware that many of those settlers that had initially come to Canada, had left for the US, Sifton began a campaign to bring them back. A very aggressive campaign. As Canada's immigration minister, Clifford Sifton, the man from Brandon was described as the world's finest press agent of his day. Sifton offered bonuses to agents and others that could help bring immigrants. He sent out millions of brochures and took the press on promotional junkets through the prairies.

In 1903, 121,115 immigrants came to Canada: 47,541 from Great Britain, 39,046 from the US and 34,528 from Europe. The same year, his department had sent out 1.3 million pieces of literature. Sifton's efforts increased immigration from 17,000 a year in 1896 to 141,000 in 1905. His ads appeared in 6,000 American papers and offered free land for millions and offers of 160 acres per applicant. He is credited with taking the Canadian prairies from a "sea of despond to the Cinderella of the western world." He advertised in 8,000 farm newspapers and had agents in 18 cities. He paid the trips of people to return to their countries to tell stories of their success in Canada. He was so successful that by 1905 Canada out-drew the US for immigrants.


Sifton's aim was to fill the west with people and preferably British people. Sifton's open door policy was not open to everyone. He wanted only "good farmers" like Americans, British and some Europeans. Blacks, Orientals, Jews and Italians were not favoured because "they didn't farm well." In particular Sifton's agents "valued Doukhabors for their farm experience, their strong backs and their fecund wives." In 1899, 7,427 Doukhabors from Russia arrived to homestead around Prince Albert and Yorkton Saskatchewan. Between 1900 and 1905, 200,000 immigrants came to Manitoba. Nicknamed "Sifton's pets," western farm immigrants swelled Canada's population from 5M in 1900 to 7M in 1910.

The prairies were a place of opportunity for a farmer immigrant. There was good land and it was free. The prairies offered an opportunity to a bountiful wheat production. In 1904 wheat earned Canada $50 million in world wide sales. At the 1904 St Louis World's Fair No 1 Northern was synonymous for quality around the world. At this time Winnipeg had the world's largest rail-yards and 1800 rail cars went through Winnipeg each day.

But Sifton did not tell the truth about everything. Sifton banned the publication of Canada's severe winter temperatures in fear immigrants would be wary of coming. Instead the winters were described as "healthful and invigorating."

A man of independent views, Sifton resigned in 1905 after disagreements over language with the federal Liberals and over issues of provincial education rights in Alberta.

Sifton was active in opening up Saskatchewan after 1906. The man who had gone from being a modest lawyer from Brandon, became rich from land speculation. Sifton then embarked on a new career in the newspaper business. He purchased the Winnipeg Free Press, Regina's Leader Post and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. Sifton was knighted in 1915. He died on April 17, 1929, leaving an estate of $10 million. Sifton was described as a man who kept his views to himself. A kind of mystery man.


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