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Contact - Making the West Canadian


With the First Nations and Métis marginalised, a publicly-supported railway in place, and individual homestead plots surveyed, the western landscape was now "open" to commercial agriculture. To this end, the last decade of the nineteenth century saw the launch of a federal immigration program that would see the Canadian West eventually filled with white settlers on an unprecedented scale.

As envisioned by the Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, the primary thrust behind the federal program was a massive advertising campaign which relied very heavily on posters and pamphlets. Although these items primarily targeted prospective immigrants in English-speaking countries  -  in particular Great Britain and the United States  -  they were also, at times, distributed in French, German, Flemish, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Dutch. The campaign was often monitored by overseas offices of the Immigration Branch and used special artwork and photographs in combination with the latest technologies (steam movies and lantern slides, for example). Everything was orchestrated in an effort to impress audiences with eye-catching images of a modern and vibrant country with a vast landscape that promised rich rewards. There was hardly a country lane in Britain or a trade show in the United States that did not receive the message.

The immigration campaign was not left entirely in federal hands. Many local communities looked to reap benefits from a fast-paced economy that high immigration figures promised. The railways were also active players. They had their own land grants, and the longer these sat empty, the longer it would take for shareholders to receive their dividends from the government's huge land subsidy.

The results were impressive. In 1896, on the eve of the federal government's full-scale advertising bombardment, a respectable 17,000 newcomers arrived in Canada. Just three years later, when the program was in full swing, the figure almost tripled to 45,000, and by 1905, it tripled again. In all, two million people arrived in Canada in the period from 1896 to the First World War. By 1911, the Canadian West had been transformed; there was a growing Euro-Canadian population, great expanses of wheat and other grains, prosperous farming towns, and a burgeoning regional identity.

Further Readings

See also

Projecting Images of the Nation: The Immigration Program and Its Use of Lantern Slides

> Next Theme: Homesteads



Front cover of Canada West, 1923
Front cover of
Canada West, 1923

The Canadian immigration office in London, England, 1911
The Canadian immigration
office in London,
England, 1911

Canadian government exhibit, Oklahoma State Fair, 1913
Canadian government exhibit, Oklahoma State Fair, 1913


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