Sifton moved to Manitoba in 1875, graduated from Victoria College (Cobourg, Ont) in 1880, and was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1882. He was first elected as a Liberal MLA for Brandon North in 1888, and on 14 May 1891 became attorney general in the government of Thomas GREENWAY. His brilliant defence of the "national school system" (est 1890) brought him to prominence. After the Laurier-Greenway compromise on the MANITOBA SCHOOLS QUESTION in 1896, Sifton became federal minister of the interior and superintendent general of Indian affairs in LAURIER's government Nov 17.
Sifton's energy, mastery of political organization and incisive analytical capacity, his dynamic view of the role of government in stimulating development, and his broad grasp of Canada's material and economic problems all set him apart. He was the principal negotiator of the CROW'S NEST PASS AGREEMENT with the CPR. He was responsible for the administration of the Yukon during the gold rush; controversial among his policies was the endeavour to shift from individual placer-mining operations to large-scale mechanized mining for gold. He was agent in charge of presenting Canada's case to the Alaska Boundary Tribunal in 1903.
His promotion of immigration was an immense success. Taking advantage of a strong economic recovery that made farming in the West more attractive, he established a vigorous organization to seek out settlers in the US, Britain and - most controversially - east-central Europe. Against attacks by nativists, he defended the "stalwart peasants in sheep-skin coats" who were turning some of the most difficult areas of the West into productive farms.
Sifton resigned on 27 Feb 1905 following a dispute with Laurier over school policy for Alberta and Saskatchewan. He never acquired a broad view of the compromises necessary to protect minority rights in Canada. In 1911 he broke with the Liberal Party on RECIPROCITY with the US, supporting the Conservatives, though he did not run for Parliament again. He was chairman of the Canadian COMMISSION OF CONSERVATION 1909-18, promoting a wide spectrum of conservation measures. He was knighted 1 Jan 1915. Instrumental in the formation of Union Government in 1917, he subsequently preferred the PROGRESSIVES, and then the Liberals under Mackenzie KING. Sifton left an estate valued at nearly $10 million but was highly secretive about his private and business affairs. His most important acquistion was the Manitoba Free Press; its editor, J.W. DAFOE, became his closest confidant and eventual biographer. Sifton was a man of unusual achievement despite the deafness that afflicted him most of his life. He considered the settlement of the West a sufficient monument to his endeavours.
Author DAVID J. HALL
Links to Other Sites
The History of Canadian Broadcasting
This site is dedicated to the visionary pioneers who created Canada’s broadcasting industry. Features profiles of members of the CAB Hall of Fame and much more. From the Canadian Communications Foundation.
Sir Clifford Sifton and other members of this illustrious Canadian family are profiled at this National Archives of Canada website.
Premiers of Alberta
See biographies of the Premiers of Alberta throughout the province's history. From the website for the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.
Sir Clifford Sifton
This biography of Sir Clifford Sifton is part of the “Canadian Confederation” website. Includes photographs and other archival resources. From Library and Archives Canada.