Sell, Sell, Sell
by Jeffrey S. Murray, Library and Archives Canada
With Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier's full approval, the federal Cabinet progressively increased Sifton's budget for advertising western immigration by some 400 percent until it had reached a staggering four million dollars in 1905. This increase gave Sifton the added flexibility he desired. It allowed him to boost not only the production of immigration posters and pamphlets (the mainstay of immigration advertising) but to expand the government's advertising repertoire to include every available media that the early 20th century offered. Some of the methods selected by Sifton had never been tested by advertisers until Canada employed them.
In Britain, Canada took the unusual approach of sending exhibition wagons loaded with prairie produce to rural districts that were not connected to the network of railways and newspapers. The wagons attracted large crowds and enabled Canada's agents to distribute immigration literature. The people targeted by this campaign were thought to make ideal settlers because of their familiarity with the physical labour and isolation that prairie life required.
Communities that were connected to the railways, on the other hand, were treated to illustrated public lectures. Accompanied by the latest technology for projecting hand-coloured glass slides and silent films onto a screen, the free lectures were guaranteed to attract the curious and ensure a good audience. With ample free literature on hand, the lecturers trumpeted the Prairie West as a land of opportunity.
In the United States, Canada spared no expense to set up grand displays at local state fairs. With one in 10 attending these events, they were an ideal venue for targeting farm families and offering them "suitable" literature on relocating to the Prairie West. Canada's exhibitions proved so popular that, in 1910, American land interests had them banned from several state fairs. However, because of community protests, they were soon reinstated.
Among the more popular pieces of literature distributed by the Canadian government at its special recruiting events was a small atlas. Using a combination of good writing, attractive photographs, useful maps and colourful scenes of prairie life, the 40- to 60-page atlas became a powerful tool for enticing farmers to make Canada their new home.
Like much of the immigration literature produced by Sifton's department, the atlases ignored the least attractive aspects of prairie life. Using such superlative terms as "unexcelled," "prosperity" and "inexhaustible" throughout every edition, they touted the qualities of the West. The photographs were taken by some of the best professionals in the business and were carefully selected to back up many of the claims made by the writers: the season is always summer, and the fields are always in crop or in the process of being harvested. Farm homes are typically two-story buildings, often made of brick, and frequently with an automobile or a new piece of modern farm machinery close at hand. Sometimes an artist carefully added these embellishments to the photograph by hand.