Strangers At Our Gates

Strangers At Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-2015

Immigrants and immigration have always been central to Canadians’ perception of themselves as a country and as a society. This crisply written history describes the different kinds of immigrants who have settled in Canada and the immigration policies that have helped to define the character of Canadian immigrants over the centuries. Key policymakers and moulders of public opinion figure prominently in this colourful story, as does the role played by racism. The fourth edition covers the Conservative years (2006-2015) and introduces new material relating to multiculturalism.

News: The fourth edition of this history will be released March 5, 2016.

Ordering Information:

Strangers At Our Gates (ISBN 1-55002-269-5) is published by Dundurn Press, Toronto and can be ordered toll free in Canada and the U.S.

Telephone: (800) 565-9523
Fax: (800) 221-9985


Chapter Six: Forging a New Immigration Policy

Frank Oliver

Frank Oliver’s appointment as minister of the interior and superintendent of Indian affairs on 8 April 1905 presaged significant changes in Canadian immigration policy. For although Oliver and Clifford Sifton were both Liberals and newspaper publishers skilled at using the press to publicize their views, they differed markedly in their approach to immigration. Frank Oliver, in fact, had been one of the severest critics of Sifton’s policies, which he attacked both in the Liberal Party and in his fiery Edmonton newspaper, the Bulletin.

Like Sifton, Oliver was a transplanted easterner who had migrated west when a young man. Born of English and Irish origins in Peel County, Canada West, in 1853, he left high school to pursue a career in the printing trade. This took him first to Toronto, where he worked in the composing room of George Brown’s reformist newspaper, The Globe, and then to Winnipeg, where he had a stint at the Manitoba Free Press. From Winnipeg, he struck out by ox brigade in the spring of 1876 for Fort Edmonton, an isolated settlement on the upper reaches of the North Saskatchewan River.

Edmonton became his home and it was here that the nascent politician founded the Bulletin, the first newspaper to be published in what is now Alberta. With his election to the North West Council in 1883 Oliver embarked on a political career that saw him become a participant first in Territorial politics (1883-96) and then in federal politics (1896-1917). He was appointed to Sifton’s portfolio on the recommendation of Sifton himself, who, despite his personal dislike of Oliver, recommended him for this coveted cabinet post, citing his “long service and capacity.”

As soon as he became minister, Oliver moved quickly to make Canadian immigration policy more selective and to forge the machinery necessary to carry out this new policy. Clifford Sifton’s policy had been selective in the sense that it promoted the immigration of farmers and farm labourers above all other types of immigrants. It was not selective, however, as regards the origins of these agriculturalists. Since Sifton saw immigration through the most pragmatic of lenses, what mattered to him above all else was the ability of new immigrants to become good farmers and farm labourers, not their ethnic origin. Although ethnic and cultural factors could not be ignored, they took second place to the ability of newcomers to strengthen Canada’s agricultural base. In any event, Sifton believed that central and eastern Europeans would eventually be assimilated into English-Canadian society through their experience on the land.


This work by Valerie Knowles, an Ottawa scholar who wrote a useful biography of Senator Cairine Wilson, examines the evolution of immigration policies from the days of New France until very recent times. It is a sound and clear overview and the best general work available on this interesting subject.

– Gerald Tulchinsky, Labour/ Le Travail, Spring, 1995

As the author has intended, Strangers at Our Gates is a useful single volume introduction for general readers interested in the broad sweep of Canadian immigration history. It is concise, clearly-written, and mercifully jargon-free.

– John R. Graham, Canadian Review of Social Policy/ Revue canadienne de politique sociale, No. 31, 1993

This book should be in every legislature, university, high-school, and public library, as well as in every office and home where people are trying to understand Canada’s immigration legacy.

– Joseph Garcea, Canadian Book Review Annual, 1993