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The Land of Opportunity

In 1869 the Dominion of Canada negotiated with the Hudson's Bay Company for the transfer of what had then been known as the "Northwest" to the new country for a sum of $1.5 million. Not long after, the federal government began to survey the region to prepare for the large-scale settlement they had envisioned for their newly acquired "North West Territories".

Cartoon, "The Only Drawback", 1903. In "Canada, the Granary of the World", pamphlet. Published by Canada Department of the Interior. Over the next decade (1870-1880) the old Northwest was to experience staggering changes as the Macdonald government's "National Policy" began to take shape - a series of treaties were concluded with the first peoples of the region, construction of the national Canadian Pacific Railway was begun, and a series of protectionist tariffs were enacted, all in an effort not only to attract people to the Dominion, and the Northwest specifically, but also to keep them there. Although many people were arriving, it seemed that just as many were leaving for the United States. By 1890 the western regions were still greatly under-populated, with only 2% of the total population. In 1895 however, Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior, began a relentless campaign abroad for settlement in western Canada. By 1900, the Department of the Interior was producing over a million pamphlets a year in over a dozen languages that promoted settlement in the west with over-glorified depictions of conditions and catchy slogans such as: Prosperity Follows Settlement, The Wondrous West, The Last Best West and Canada: Land of Opportunity.As a result, between 1896 and 1914 more than one million people from all over Europe, Asia and North America came to settle in western Canada, all with different reasons for leaving their homelands and for choosing Canada. For some, such as the British, the transition to a new land was relatively easy, but for many it was much more difficult - especially for those who lacked farming experience or who did not speak English.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.