The Immigrants Canada Wants

SIR CLIFFORD SIFTON April 1 1922

The Immigrants Canada Wants

SIR CLIFFORD SIFTON 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.

There has been a considerable amount of criticism in the last year or two over the statement alleged to be founded upon the census returns that we have lost 1,800,000 people in the last ten years. That is to say that our population is not so great by 1,800,000 as it would have been had we retained all our immigration and the natural increase of the population. A Conservative government has been roundly blamed; the tariff has been blamed, and where these excuses fail there are a great many others that are cited as to reasons for this alleged loss. As a matter of fact, nothing is to blame except, first, that this is a cold and severe country and, second, that the right kind of people were not brought. I do not think that the government or the tariff had anything whatever to do with it. I doubt if there were as many lost as 1,800,000, but no doubt there were a great many lost. I think they would have been lost just the same if the tariff had been twenty per cent, less or if there had been a Liberal government in power, or a Farmers’ government in power. There is always a drift to the south. The climate is warmer and the conditions are easier. Young men go there to better their condition in business, and for adventure and other reasons; old people go because they want a milder climate. Sick people go because they cannot stand the Canadian winter. French-Canadians go to work in the factories of New England. But, apart from all these, we have the case of the man who has not the grit to fight out the battle of life in Canada and goes South because the conditions are easier. When a thousand immigrants land in Canada, if they are not very carefully selected, a certain proportion of them will drift to the South. It is not worth while bemoaning this fact. They are no loss to us. We are better off without them. If they had been here it would have been necessary to feed them, as it has been necessary to feed a good many of the same sort who remained here.

Need to Understand Conditions

THE subject of Immigration is one which is most difficult to understand because it requires a wide range of experience that very few men have the opportunity of acquiring. Before one can know anything about the question of Immigration he must be able to correlate it with the conditions prevailing in Canada. He must know, for instance, the conditions of life in four or five different provinces. This of itself requires rather extensive experience. It is necessary to know the kind of people who are living in the rural districts of these provinces and who have been most successful in that environment. Then, it is necessary to understand the national characteristics of the people whom it is sought to attract, and more especially of the particular classes out of the particular nationalities that it is sought to attract It takes a number of years for one to acquire even a cursory knowledge of the subject. I spent the earlier years of my life in pretty close touch with western farmers. Later on I was called upon to take charge of the work of Immigration at Ottawa. While I had many other duties I regarded my most important mission as connected with Immigration.

What Past Experience Shows

IN ORDER to understand the problem, or even its general outline, it is necessary to have a view of what has been done in the past, because the result of the efforts that have been made in the past is the only safe criterion in judging the present and the future. Therefore, not with any desire of reviving dead issues or threshing over old straw, it becomes necessary to speak of the past.

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 the North of England and from Scotland and they were 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 these twenty men, no one knows anything about them except the shipping agents. These men 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 come 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 their 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 work is slack is, in my judgment, 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.

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.

The Unchanged Problem

In my judgment the problem is just the same. If I did not think so I would not have made these references to the past. There were some difficulties which existed in 1897 which do not exist now. Conversely, there are some difficulties now which did not exist then. The problems are the same; the conditions it is true are somewhat changed, but it is no more difficult to adapt the work to the existing conditions now than it was in 1897.

The main trouble encountered in those days was the fact that nobody knew anything about Canada. Reference, of course, is not made to educated and travelled people. They knew a little about Canada but they did not know anything about the life of the pioneer, and so far as actual conditions of pioneer life were concerned the class of people from whom it was necessary to draw immigrants knew nothing whatever about Canada.

Wheat had to be sent to South Dakota and Indiana to prove to people there that it could be grown in Manitoba. All this is changed. There is hardly any literate person in the world who has not heard of Canada and the name is favorably known everywhere. It is known that Canada is a good country to live in and inhabited by capable, self-respecting and liberty-loving people. As to land; It is not at all true that the free land is exhausted. There is a very great deal of free land yet. There is much fine land in British Columbia and there is the clay belt of Northern Ontario.

Men for The Clay Belt

I DO NOT understand what people mean by talking about the impossible conditions of settlement in the Clay Belt. The conditions are a good deal easier than they were when my grandfather went with his family on a bush farm in the county of Middlesex and started to clear it. Of course, it is necessary to find settlers who are adapted to forest land, but they can be got if proper efforts are made. I have a very emphatic opinion, based on the 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 sympathise 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 a 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 never 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 fibre 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, spoon-fed 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 the 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-bred 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.

Not Immigration by Wholesale

I SAW the other day a statement by Col. Dennis, a man for whom I have the highest respect. He is reported to have made the statement that an effort should be made to go out and bring in ten million people to Canada in the next ten years. With respect to this declaration of Col. Dennis I am forced most reluctantly to disagree. I disagree totally and entirely. I think the policy suggested is in the first place next to impossible of fulfilment, and if it were possible I think it would be madness to try it. If the government of Canada and the Canadian railways should combine on one huge system to bring ten million people to Canada in the next ten years, I venture to say now that nearly seven millions of them would be down south of the line at the end of that time.

The problem of Immigration cannot be solved that way. It is an individual problem. The task that confronts the immigration worker is to find the individual man who wishes to make a home and is determined to do so. If any attempt is made to handle this problem in any other way than as an individual problem, in which success is declared to depend upon hard work and self-denial, the result will be to induce something like a national catastrophe.

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 by a thorough, systematic and energetic organization, backed 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 millions. 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 get 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 in 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.

A Practical Suggestion

THERE are perhaps twenty-five or thirty million acres of land fairly available to markets. I think operations should be begun by getting these land companies interested in tracts of land in Canada and proceeding to colonize them. It will be obvious, however, that strong measures must be taken to prevent the success of the movement from destroying it. Under normal circumstances the resuit of one or two years of successful work on the part of these companies in inducing settlement would cause the owners of all the rest of the land to put it up to a prohibitive figure. Some means must be taken to list these available lands at reasonable prices and to prevent prices from being raised to the prejudice of the incoming settler

I am just as much opposed to interference with the rights of property as anybody alive. In fact, I have an almost fanatical opposition to any legislation which interferes with contractual rights. There is, however, a point beyond which no individual can be allowed to trifle with the interests of the State upon the highest ground of law and equity. I would maintain that the government of the Dominion and of the provinces concerned have a perfect right by legislation to take charge of the settlement of this twenty-five or thirty million acres and that there is no legal or moral obligation resting on the country to allow this land to lie idle for the benefit of any speculator. If they will not have the land occupied and put settlers on it, they should be forced to sell at a reasonable price and the land should be made available from time to time for a considerable number of years. To the present price during each year taxes and interest could be added. There would be nothing in the nature of confiscation, the owner would merely be compelled to sell his land at a reasonable price, or occupy it and see that it is properly utilized.

I do not see any other way in which this problem can be handled and I would not hesitate a moment, if I were in charge of the work, about recommending the necessary legislation.

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 are 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 most intensive search, because experience shows that these men are 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.

These are the three sources from which I would recommend that immigration be procured. Speaking generally, large schemes of assisted immigration should be discouraged.