Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
April 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Clifford Sifton


Sifton, Sir Clifford (1861-1929), minister of the interior for Canada (1896-1905) [was nicknamed "The Little Napoleon from the West], was born in Middlesex county, Ontario, on March 10, 1861, the son of John W. Sifton, later speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. He was educated at Victoria University, Cobourg (B.A., 1880), and was called to the Manitoba bar in 1882 (Q.C., 1895). He began the practice of law in Brandon, Manitoba; and from 1888 to 1896 he represented North Brandon in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. From 1891 to 1896 he was attorney-general and minister of education in the Greenway administration, and it fell to him to deal with the Dominion government in regard to the thorny question of separate schools in Manitoba. He represented Brandon in the Canadian House of Commons from 1896 to 1911 [being one of the members of the "Cabinet of All Talents" formed by Wilfrid Laurier]; and from 1896 to 1905 he was minister of the interior in the Laurier administration. During these years he prosecuted a vigorous immigration policy, which resulted in filling the vacant spaces in the Canadian West. [Sifton is well-known for commenting on the immigration policy he pursued, between 1896 and 1905, and which had resulted in the entrance into Canada of thousands of East-European immigrants: "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". It should be noted that he made this statement in 1922, long after he had left office. During his term as Minister of the Interior, at least two-thirds of Canada's immigrants continued to come from the British Isles and from the United States, and the vast majority of Canada's propaganda money spent on immigration was spent in England and in the United States.] He resigned from office in 1905 because of disagreement with Sir Wilfrid Laurier over the educational clauses of the Acts which created the new provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. In 1909 he was appointed chairman of the Canadian Conservation Commission; and he retained this position until 1918. But in 1911 he opposed the proposals of Sir Wilfrid Laurier for reciprocity with the United States, and withdrew from parliament and from the Liberal party. For the rest of his life he pursued an independent, but influential course in politics, mostly behind the scenes. He gave a general support to the war government of Sir Robert Borden, but he never again held public office or sat in parliament. He died at New York on April 17, 1929. In 1884 he married Elizabeth Arma (d. 1925), daughter of H. T. Burrows, Ottawa ; and by her he had four sons. In 1915 he was created a K.C.M.G. See J. W. Dafoe, Clifford Sifton in relation to his times (Toronto, 1931).

Source: W. Stewart Wallace, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. V, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 401p., p. 399.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College