Sir Clifford Sifton :” Only Farmers need apply”
(Reproduced from Maclean’s Magazine, April 1, 1922.)
It is a consoling thought, sanctified by long usage, that if everything is not satisfactory with regard to Immigration, it can always be blamed on the government or the tariff. The fact remains, however, that a country can only get the kind of immigrants which are suitable to it and can only hold and assimilate them if they have been wisely chosen…
People who do not know anything at all about the policy which was followed by the Department of the Interior under my direction quite commonly make the statement that my policy for Immigration was quantity and not quality. As a matter of fact, that statement is the direct opposite of the fact. In those days settlers were sought from three sources; one was the United States. The American settlers did not need sifting: they were of the finest quality and the most desirable settlers. In Great Britain we confined our efforts very largely to the North of England and Scotland, and for the purpose of sifting the settlers we doubled the bonuses to the agents in the North of England, and cut them down as much as possible in the South. The result was that we got a fairly steady stream of people from North of England and from Scotland and they were from the very best settlers in the world. I do not wish to suggest that we did not get many very excellent people from the more southerly portions of England, but they were people who came on their own initiative largely, which was the best possible guarantee of success.
Our work was largely done in the North. Then, came the continent – where the great emigrating center was Hamburg. Steamships go there to load up with people who are desirous of leaving Europe. The situation is a peculiar one. If one should examine twenty people who turn up at Hamburg to emigrate, he might find one escaped murderer, three or four wasters and ne’er-do-wells, some very poor shop-keepers, artisans or laborers and there might be one or two stout, hardy peasants in sheep-skin coats. Obviously, the peasants are the men that are wanted here. Now, with regard to those twenty men, no one knows anything about them except the shipping agents. These man are sent in from outlying local agencies all over Europe. They arrive at Hamburg and the booking agents have their names and full descriptions of who they are and where they came from. No one else has this information.
We made an arrangement with the booking agencies in Hamburg, under which they winnowed out this flood of people, picked out the agriculturists and peasants and sent them to Canada, sending nobody else. We paid, I think, $5 per head for the farmer and $2 per head for the other members of the family.
This arrangement was carried out through the agents of a Company known as the North Atlantic Trading Company which was merely a company incorporated by the agents and employees of the booking houses. The steamship companies did not like this arrangement. The Canadian steamship agents did not like it. The result of the arrangement was that they lost a lot of business because immigration which was not useful to us was sent to other countries in very large volume. Eventually a political agitation was begun against the North Atlantic Trading Company and the government finally cancelled the contract and abandoned my policy. The policy was completely and perfectly successful while it lasted. There was not one-half of one per cent of the people we got from Hamburg who were not actual agriculturists. Almost without exception they went on farms and practically without exception they are on farms yet, if they are alive. If not, their children are there.
About the same time that this contract was cancelled the government also altered my policy with respect to the distinction between the North of England and Scotland, on the one hand, and the South of England on the other. They equalized the bonus all over. The result of these two changes was to let loose the flood of emigration without any selection whatever. The number was much greater and the quality was infinitely worse. I made an investigation a few years afterwards in regard to the immigration into Alberta; and my conclusion was that not one in five of the people who went to Alberta was going on the land.
The Quality Standard
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. 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 judgment, quantity and very bad quality. 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.
For some years after the changes in policy which followed my retirement from office, Canada received wholesale arrivals of all kinds of immigrants. As above stated, there was no selection. Particularly from the continent it is quite clear that we received a considerable portion of the off-scourings and dregs of society. They formed colonies in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and other places and some of them and their children have been furnishing work for the police ever since.
The situation at Hamburg is practically the same now as it was then, except that there is a larger proportion of ne’er-do-wells and scalawags who desire to get away from Europe. The peasants can be brought there and they wish to emigrate, but it is imperative that an effective method be adopted for making a selection. We want the peasants and agriculturists; we do not want the wasters and criminals.
Men from the Clay Belt
I have a very emphatic opinion, based on my observation of something like thirty years, about the class of settlers that are not wanted in Canada. It is said there are millions of town dwellers, artisans, small shopkeepers, laborers and so forth on the continent of Europe who are anxious to come to Canada. Everyone will sympathize with their condition and desire that they should find a place where they will lead a happier life; but we do not want them in Canada under any conditions whatever. These people are essentially town dwellers. They have no idea in the world of going out in the country like Canada and fighting the battle of the pioneer. If they come here they will swell the ranks of the unemployed; they will create slums; they will never go upon the land; they will not add anything to the production of the country and we shall have an insoluble problem and festering sore upon our hands which, if the experience of the past is any guide, will remain as long as Canada endures.
There is talk, also, about getting a large number of people from the manufacturing towns of England and Scotland. We do not want mechanics from the Clyde – riotous, turbulent, and with an insatiable appetite for whiskey. We do not want artisans from the southern towns of England who know absolutely nothing about farming. There is nothing in these schemes suggested for educating them and making farmers of them, and then sending them out to fight the battle of the pioneer’s life. It is the next thing to a crime to put these men under such conditions. The pioneers have to be of the toughest fiber that can be found. Let no one imagine that you can get people in huge numbers from the towns and make farmers of them. If an attempt is made to do so there will be a worse problem created than that which exists now. I may be told that there are some cases in which mechanics and townspeople have been successful. The Barr colony, for instance. That is quite true. But they were not gathered up by immigration propaganda, spoonfed and coddled into coming to Canada. They were people who came themselves, paid their own way, stood on their own feet, and, imbued with the determination to make a home and the true spirit of pioneer, in many cases they succeeded admirably. Let it not be imagined from this fact that you can gather up tens of thousands of people who have neither any desire for, nor adaptability to, the life which is ahead of them and turn them into farmers. It takes two generations to convert a town-bread population into an agricultural one, and it is not likely to be done on any considerable scale except under the pressure of starvation. In any event it takes two generations to do it. Canada has no time for that operation. We have not two generations to spare. …
What We Can Assimilate
I am of the deliberate opinion that about 500,000 farmers could be actually put on land in the next ten years but a thorough, systematic and energetic organization, back with all needful legal authority and money. If four are allowed to a family, that would represent two million people actually added to the agricultural population in ten years. Twenty years from now it would represent, with natural increase, a population of six or seven million. If that is done, then the railway problem is solved, and the problem of the payment of the national debt is solved provided the government ceases to make fresh additions to the debt by extravagant expenditures.
There is the practical question of ways and means. Where and how shall we put these settlers? So far as the United States is concerned I am quite clear in my views as to the methods that should be adopted. The organization which I instituted in the United States has been carried on ever since in more or less the same shape. It has been most effective and has performed services of incalculable value, but it is getting out-of-date. Of late years there have grown up in the United States a considerable number of land and colonization companies. They undertake the movement of people from densely populated states, to places where the land is unoccupied or where the population is very sparse. These companies are managed by very clever men and they have very able and expert staffs. Their men are highly paid and thoroughly know the conditions of their several states. If I were working for the purpose of getting American settlers into our North West I should endeavor to work through these organizations. …
Other Sources of Immigration
As to the other places from which settlers can be procured, I could turn loose the organization upon the North of England and Scotland. There are some young mechanics in the North of England and Scottish towns who have been born on the land and brought up farmers. Very nearly all of them was willing to emigrate. I would search out individually every one of these men that can be got, as well as farm laborers and the sons of small farmers. I would make a most intensive search, because experience shows that these men are of the very best blood in the world and every one of them that can be procured is an asset to the country.
In Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Bohemia, Hungary and Galicia there are hundreds of thousands of hardy peasants, men of the type above described, farmers for ten or fifteen generations, who are anxious to leave Europe and start life under better conditions in a new country. These men are workers. They have been bred for generations to work from daylight to dark. They have never done anything else and they never expect to do anything else. We have some hundreds of thousands of them in Canada now and they are among our most useful and productive people.