The Canadian Immigration Policy - 1908

Scottish Immigrants To Canada

Scottish Immigrants To Canada. nd. ca. 1910. Library and Archives Canada. GGA Image ID # 14a5fc99a4

Canada's present policy on immigration dates from the year 1897, when Mr. Clifford Sifton took office in Ottawa as Minister of the Interior. During the past decade, the Dominion Government has not merely encouraged immigration but has fostered it by every means within its power.

This broad policy was carried out by the Department of the Interior, which sought to divert to Canada a proportion of the tide of immigrants that annually flowed into the United States.

For this purpose, it established agencies in the British Isles and in all the larger European countries. The Canadian High Commissioner in Great Britain[1] was relieved of the work of looking after Canadian immigrants, and, that duty entrusted to an official who administered this service with business-like dispatch.

He, first of all, interested the people of Great Britain in the natural advantages of Canada. Mr. Smith placed maps and atlases of the Dominion in all the schools of the United Kingdom. He mailed literature advertising the resources of Our Lady of the Snows to 1,200,000 agricultural laborers. He probably reached 10,000,000 people by his elaborate system of newspaper advertising.

In the United States, agencies were established for the same purpose in Omaha, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Paul, and many other critical Western cities. Agents on commission numbered between 200 and 300.

American newspaper advertisements reached 5,700,000 families, but emigration from the United States to Canada was discouragingly slow at first.

One agent, who only succeeded in inducing one family to move to Canada in the first year of his service, in the last five years has been instrumental in sending 5000 Americans to Western Canada. In 1897 only 712 emigrated from the United States to Canada; in 1897, 57.919- In 1897, immigrants from Great Britain numbered 20,000; in the last seven years, 900,000.

Writing on this subject in the Canadian Magazine for February, Mr. W. S. Wallace, says: " Has this policy been on the whole in the best interests of the Canadian people?

What object or objects had the Department of the Interior in view in inaugurating the present policy in 1897?"

Declaring the question of immigration to be a complex and challenging one, he passes his first query, and in a generalization answers the second by asseverating: "The object of the immigration policy was to build up Canada, to enable Canada to do business on a larger scale, to enable her to better herself in a financial and material sense, and so to keep at home those of her sons who were flocking over the border." These ends it has attained, and in so much has proved successful.

Canada's prosperity in the past seven years is, at least, partially due to its immigrant influx, for each arrival, no matter how poor at the start, has added his quota to the Dominion's wealth annually.

From 1898 to 1903, 123,000 arrived in Canada from the United States, bringing with them $19,000,000 in settlers' effects and $25,000,000 in cash, at a total cost to the department of $701,000.

In six years, $50,000,000 annually will be added to the wealth of Canada by the 25,000 heads of families in this aggregate based on $2000 for each.

"Is this increased wealth and prosperity likely to have a good effect on the character of the Canadian people? " Quoting Herbert Spencer's detestation of that conception of social progress based on an increase in population, wealth and commerce,—quantity only, and not quality,—the writer seems to incline to the Spencerian belief that prosperity dependent upon "board-of-trade " tables is not prosperity, but adversity.

As to the effect of this immigration on the native stock, the writer thinks the experience of the United States may shed some light thereon. Deducing from contributed articles on American immigration, Mr. Wallace states that a decreasing birth-rate, a shrinking from the industrial competition, and a rising social position among men and women of American native-born stock are apparently the result of American immigration.

He further adds that the population of the United States has not been reinforced by immigration but replaced by it.

These experiences, however, may not be duplicated in Canada's case. However, the tendency for a native-born population "to keep up appearances" in the face of increasing competition is toward race suicide.

At the same time, it must be borne in mind that the falling-off in the birth-rate of the native-born population as a result of immigration may be partially compensated for by the fact that the Canadian immigration policy has preserved to Canada numbers of young men who would in earlier days have gone to the United States.

These young men now, instead of going to the United States to better themselves, go to the Canadian West.

Turning to the advisability of encouraging foreign immigration to Canada, he says much depends on the character of the electorate, on the soundness of the public conscience, on the integrity of the public vote.

Education cannot do much in Western Canada for the foreign illiterate therein, for its educational system is, as yet, wholly inadequate; and, says he, few foreigners could be transformed into good Canadians in five years by the best educational system.

These are matters on which statistics will be forever unobtainable. Still, it is perhaps not false to say that there is a widespread impression that the foreign vote does not always stand for intelligence and integrity. It is a conceivable hypothesis that traces many of the ills from which the body politic of the United States is suffering to-day (such as the sluggishness of public opinion) to the great masses of unassimilated foreigners who are within her gates.

By the "block system" of settlement, this situation, or aspect, has been intensified. Stable colonies of Dukhobors, Galicians, Mormons, Mennonites, etc., here and there in the West, are not highly reassuring, or open to much Canadian influence.

These multiply the difficulty of the French-Canadian system in many places. As to a literary test, the writer admits the possibility of dispensing with the same in case of an emergency.

But, summing up the policy of the government as a policy of forcing immigration rather than merely a policy of welcoming it judiciously, he says: "Is it not possible that by forcing immigration into Canada, and thus filling Canada with aliens and illiterates as well as with immigrants of a higher type, the Immigration Department is fulfilling its duties not wisely but too well? "

Note 1: Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona, and Mount Royal, GCMG, GCVO, PC, DL, FRS (6 August 1820 – 21 January 1914), was a Scottish-born Canadian businessman who became one of the British Empire's foremost builders and philanthropists. He became commissioner, governor, and principal shareholder of the Hudson's Bay Company. He was president of the Bank of Montreal and, with his first cousin, Lord Mount Stephen, co-founded the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba and afterward represented Montreal in the House of Commons of Canada. He was the Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1896 to 1914.

"The Canadian Immigration Policy," in The American Review of Reviews: An International Magazine, New York: The Review of Reviews Company, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, March 1908, pp. 350-351

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