- Sir John A. Macdonald
- The Private Man
- The Making of a Pragmatic Conservative
- The British Connection
- The American Civil War and Lessons Learned
- Macdonald and Confederation
- Western Expansion, Religion, and Politics
- The National Policy
- Macdonald and Indigenous Peoples
- The Conservative Hold on Power
- Macdonald in History
Immigration and Settlement
The National Policy’s contribution to the opening of western Canada made increased immigration a political imperative. The Canadian Pacific Railway made the new territories more easily accessible and their settlement became a priority if Canada was to develop a more self-sufficient economy.
Initially, settlers from Ontario and Quebec made the western trek. But the industrial development of the 1880s increased the need for labourers. There was only one other source – immigrants. Sir John A. MACDONALD, an immigrant himself, knew what he wanted:
“[Macdonald] envisaged a Canada with one government and, as nearly as possible, one homogenous population sharing common institutions and characteristics.”
David Lewis MACPHERSON, who became Macdonald’s minister of the interior, believed that colonization could be handled by private enterprise:
“With Macdonald, Macpherson implemented a series of land policies between 1881 and 1883 that were intended to complement the government’s overall aim of developing a transcontinental Canadian economy. Attempts were made to encourage settlement by liberalizing various regulations for homesteading and by making the attractive land near the proposed route of the Canadian Pacific Railway available for settlement. Macpherson hoped to delegate part of the responsibility for the promotion of settlement to private enterprise. The formation of private colonization companies was supported by the government’s offer to them of tracts of land at $2 per acre, with a promise of a rebate of $160 for every bona fide settler placed. The companies were expected to pay one-fifth of the total cost as a down payment, and to place two settlers in each section on their tracts within five years.”
Patrick Gammie LAURIE, the owner and editor of the Saskatchewan Herald, criticized the colonization scheme:
“Although Laurie wanted speedy development, he disagreed with the colonization scheme instituted by the Conservative government in 1881 [see Sir David Lewis
Great Britain supplied the majority of immigrants during Macdonald’s tenure, but later Russians, Chinese, and Scandinavians also settled the west. Homesteading offered an opportunity for eastern and central Europeans to escape the restrictive structures of their countries. A group of Russian Jews, including Abraham KLENMAN, settled first in Quebec before pursuing the agrarian lifestyle they were denied in Russia:
“Barred from owning land in Russia because he was a Jew, and believing that a return to the land was necessary for the Jews to become regenerated as a people, Klenman aspired to move to western Canada and settle on one of the quarter-section homesteads being offered by the Canadian government for a registration fee of ten dollars.
“In Montreal, Klenman investigated and promoted the idea of an agricultural colony in western Canada to consist of a number of immigrant Jewish families, and he selected some of the settlers… In the fall of 1888 Klenman and another Jewish immigrant, Jacob Silver, were chosen to seek suitable land. Assisted by Lauchlan Alexander Hamilton, land commissioner of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in Winnipeg, Klenman and Silver travelled to various localities. Eventually they decided to settle in the aspen parkland belt, in order to utilize the trees for buildings and fuel, and to take advantage of a water-table that was near the surface, not at considerable depth as on the plains. They learned that the John and Rachel Heppner family and some other Russian Jews, supported by Anglo-Jewish philanthropist Hermann Landau, in 1886 had located in the fast-growing area a few miles northeast of Wapella, a village on the CPR main line. The first Jewish farming colony in western Canada, New Jerusalem, which had been founded in 1884, was some 30 miles southeast.”
Macpherson’s efforts to settle the North-West Territories were undone by his own poor planning as well as by economic forces beyond the Canadian government’s control:
“By 1885 Macpherson’s plans for the development of the northwest were in shambles. In part, he simply had the misfortune of being minister during a slump in world grain prices and at a time when advances in farming methods had made land in the western United States far more attractive.”
During the 1880s the population of western Canada doubled. But it would be Macdonald’s opponent in the 1891 election, Wilfrid LAURIER, who would oversee the development of much of Canada’s new land [see Settlement of the West].
For more information on immigration and settlement while Macdonald was prime minister, please consult the following biographies.