University of Saskatchewan


“A stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, and a stout wife and a half dozen children is good quality.”

- Sir Clifford Sifton (1861-1929), Canadian Minister of the Interior.

Manitoba: the Prairie Province: the Finest Agriicultural Country in the WorldAn unprecedented flood of immigration, encouraged by a massive advertising campaign offering free farms, set the stage for the development of prairie Canada in the 20th century.

The western territories owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company were purchased by Canada in 1869-1870. Shortly thereafter the white residents of British Columbia agreed to join the new Dominion of Canada if the federal government promised to build a transcontinental railroad to the Pacific.  The subsequent settlement of the Northwest, and support for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), were key planks in the National Policy of Sir John A. Macdonald’s Conservative government. The National Policy protected manufacturers in central Canada with high tariffs and promised to expand their markets by the agricultural settlement of the western territories. The promised railway would be financed through the sale of farm lands granted to the CPR and the income it would generate transporting goods west and agricultural products east.

Once the CPR was completed in 1885, the company joined the federal Department of Agriculture and private land companies in seeking out potential settlers particularly from Ontario, Britain and the United States. Many pamphlets proclaimed the West an ‘El Dorado’, a land of golden opportunity. Success in recruiting settlers was initially modest due to the high cost of transportation and a low wheat price associated with a prolonged economic depression.

Free Homes in Canada: the Land of PlentyIn 1896 Clifford Sifton was appointed Minister of the Interior in Wilfred Laurier’s Liberal government  and served in that capacity to 1905. Sifton took advantage of improved economic conditions to revitalize efforts to fill up the west. Notable was the welcome newly extended to immigrant farmers from Central and Eastern Europe. The Department of the Interior established immigration offices in many American and European cities to distribute tremendous quantities of pamphlets, posters and handbills, and to oversee the placement of advertisements and feature stories in newspapers and magazines. The recruitment campaign was a great success, attracting over 1,500,000 immigrants to Canada in the period 1901 to 1911. During the same decade the population of present day Saskatchewan increased from 91,000 to 492,000.

The settlement literature was effectively targeted. Excepting some appeals for female domestics, almost all immigration literature was addressed to potential farmers, who in their home countries were hard-pressed to purchase land for themselves and their sons. The cornerstone of Canada’s appeal was a homestead policy which offered most adult males the opportunity to seek 160 free acres. Promotional literature contained many testimonials from successful farmers who extolled the rapid development of transportation, schools, and social amenities in the West.  Freedom from religious domination and from military conscription was often emphasized.Canadiska Vastern: den Sista Basta Vastern

Visually, the pamphlets represented the West in the most favorable light. Their brightly coloured covers often depicted sunny harvests. Interior photos and drawings reinforced a message that hard work would practically guarantee prosperity. Promotional literature seldom pictured winter or presented information that might forewarn settlers of the harsh weather and isolation that they would encounter on their farmsteads.

Settlement pamphlets were exemplary in speaking in the language and to the experience of the intended audiences. Literature in English was produced in editions adapted for Canadian, American and British audiences. To attract European settlers the Department of the Interior adapted and translated its chief publications into over a dozen languages. Particular attention was taken to keeping the promotional literature and up to date with revised statistics and news of current developments.King St. West, North Battleford

The need to service the agricultural settlers led to the rise of many boomtowns along railway routes. Ambitious to pursue every opportunity for continued growth, the councils and boards of trade of many communities sponsored illustrated view books and manuals which extolled their particular advantages. Dozens of prairie communities envisioned and presented themselves as commercial hubs, with the potential to soon join the ranks of such Western cities as Winnipeg and Chicago. These municipal promotions typically emphasized the community’s transportation links, proximity to natural resources, education and health facilities, and the beauty and grandeur of its parks, city hall, churches, hotels and retail establishments.

It [advertising] sets up before man the goal of a better home, better clothing, better food for himself and his family. It spurs individual exertion and greater production.
- Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965). British Prime Minister and historian.
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