University of Manitoba

Archives & Special Collections

Immigration Policy

Homestead Policy

In order to attract farmers to Canada’s western prairie region, the government implemented homestead legislation in 1868 which provided free land to immigrant settlers. In 1872, this legislation was revised and called the Dominion Lands Act. This act gave a free quarter-section of land, or 160 acres, to immigrants to tempt them to settle in Canada. This policy met with some success as several hundred thousand immigrants took advantage of the government’s offer. Posters advertised large, attractive sections of free land available to those who wished to come to Canada. This proved to be an offer that many people in unfortunate circumstances in other countries could not refuse.

In 1882, the Canadian government granted large blocks of high-quality land to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to sell to possible immigrants. The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was also allowed this same right and was able to profit through the sale of land. These companies were slow to select the land intended for resale. In the 1890s, the government had to force them to do so. As a result, much of the premier land in western Canada remained undeveloped until this time.

Click here to view a document relating to the railways selecting land for development.

When immigrants arrived in Canada, they often chose to purchase land from the CPR and the HBC, rather than receive free land from the government. The purchase of this land proved to be better for immigrants in the long run. This was because the government homestead land was poor, difficult to develop, and often led to failure and financial ruin.

The mid-1890s was not only a time of change for Canada’s homestead policy, but it was also a time when the country’s entire immigration policy became much more restrictive and exclusionary.

Archives & Special Collections
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