On today’s date in 1905, Canadian lawyer and nearly 20-year Liberal politician Sir Clifford Sifton resigned from the cabinet of prime minister Wilfrid Laurier.
Serving as Minister of the Interior, whose ministry was responsible for federal land management, immigration, Indian affairs and natural resources extraction before being superseded in 1936, Sifton encouraged high levels of immigration into Canada. While beginning an attractive policy that brought people towards western Canada, he also established colonial offices in Europe and the U.S., where many of the newcomers emigrated from.
It’s estimated more than three million people immigrated to Canada between 1891 and 1914.
While his immigration policies were less restrictive than the contemporary society they served, Sifton strongly believed “town dwellers,” artists, shopkeepers and labourers were undesirable immigrants, who would increase the population of major cities, add to unemployment and create slums, according to his 1922 article in Maclean’s magazine.
“When I speak of quality I have in mind, I think, something that is quite different from what is in the mind of the average writer or speaker upon the question of Immigration. I think a stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half-dozen children, is good quality,” wrote Sifton.
“A Trades Union artisan who will not work more than eight hours a day and will not work that long if he can help it, will not work on a farm at all and has to be fed by the public when his work is slack is, in my judgement, quantity and very bad quantity. I am indifferent as to whether or not he is British-born. It matters not what his nationality is; such men are not wanted in Canada, and the more of them we get the more trouble we shall have.”
Sifton was unable to live out his policy, however, and on Feb. 27, 1905 – during a dispute with the prime minister about publicly funded religious education – he broke from Laurier’s cabinet.
He later died while visiting a heart doctor in New York City on April 17, 1929.
1896 SIFTON MEDAL
The Franklin Mint featured Sifton on a sterling silver medal struck for the Canadian Historical Association, commemorating his time as minister of the interior under Laurier.
Founded in 1922, the Canadian Historical Association promotes historical research and scholarship through its Journal of the Canadian Historical Association, CHA Bulletin and a book series highlighting Canadian history.