In 1869 the Dominion Government of Canada acquired the region
then known as the "Northwest" from the Hudson's Bay
Company. Not long after that time, the federal government began to fear that the largely unpopulated region would be difficult to manage from afar. One of their
biggest concerns was that if the development of this new western
region was not closely monitored from Ottawa, it would fall into lawlessness and be infiltrated by Americans. Promoting
settlement in the west
therefore became an integral part of the Dominion’s
newly unleashed National
Policy, the hallmarks of which additionally included the
growth of central Canadian industry and the construction of a transcontinental railway.
The west was coveted by the government as a
vast agricultural land with abundant natural resources. It was hoped that the raw materials of the
region would fuel the development of eastern Canadian industry and, in turn, become a consumer of eastern manufactured goods.
However, in order to achieve this vision the government knew that
a western workforce would be required and this could be achieved
only through an aggressive immigration policy.
In order to prepare the Northwest for settlement, in 1871 the government sent surveying
west to divide the land into townships and sections for farming.
The Dominion Lands Act
was, subsequently, passed in 1872, and males over the age of 21
were offered homesteads of 160 acres in the west upon the payment of a $10 registration fee. However, it was not until after the completion of the railway line to Alberta in 1885 and the suppressing of the Northwest Rebellion that any aggressive settlement began to occur in the west. Even so, the period between 1870-1896 remained one of slow growth, as most of those who came were settlers from Ontario and other regions in the east. Those who ventured
west tended to settle around trading or police posts, and it was not until the completion of the Calgary and Edmonton railway in 1892 that this pattern began to change.
The biggest change came after 1896 with the introduction of Clifford Sifton’s aggressive immigration policy aimed at attracting farmers of any background
or nationality. Not only did the Department of the Interior begin an advertisement blitz abroad,
but Sifton also altered the land-grant system, making it even easier to acquire additional land.
Under Sifton, the federal government also began to provide bonuses to steamship companies and agents who helped to bring people
west from abroad.
While the National Policy provided the opportunity for people to travel to western Canada to start a new life, in many
cases, it would be social conditions around the world that
provided the impetus. Between 1896 and 1914 more than one million people came to the west—a region that promised them
inexpensive land and a better life.
While some, like many Eastern Europeans, came to escape political and religious discrimination in their
like the Chinese and Japanese came to find work. Still others,
like the Dutch and Germans, arrived in search of available farmland.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.