This past February, an enterprising and cheeky Cape Breton radio announcer set up a website entitled “Cape Breton If Donald Trump Wins.” By this means Rob Calabrese sought to poke fun at the narcissistic buffoon and presumptive Republican nominee for president and, more importantly, interest disaffected Americans in immigrating to beautiful Cape Breton.
Calabrese was stunned by the reaction to his site. Hundreds of inquiries poured in, many of them from Yankees expressing a serious interest in moving to Nova Scotia. And the avalanche of inquiries continued. In fact, by July, Nova Scotia tourism officials were so overwhelmed by inquiries that they could refer to a “Trump bump.”
Each year, thousands of Americans pack up and move to Canada, but not after being aggressively courted by Canadian government officials and radio announcers. As my book Strangers At Our Gates notes, when it comes to assiduously courting American immigrants we have to look back to the early years of the twentieth century.
These were the years when dynamic Clifford Sifton, who was minister of the Interior and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs in Wilfrid Laurier’s“Sunny Days” Liberal government (1896-1905) sought to attract agricultural settlers from the United States, Great Britain and continental Europe to the almost empty Canadian prairies. Pamphlets in several languages flooded the U.S., Britain and Europe; foreign journalists were wined and dined on guided tours across the West; and Canadian exhibits were mounted at fairs and public displays in targeted countries.
When it came to recruiting immigrants from the United States, Sifton pulled out all the stops to attract experienced farmers with capital. Thanks to his effective advertising campaign, the expansion of his department’s network of offices and agents, and the widespread perception in rural America that the frontier had closed more Americans than ever before headed north. In fact, Americans constituted the largest immigrant group in the newly formed provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Could a similar surge in American immigration take place in Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada in the months to come? Or will the “Trump bump” be short-lived, another example of progressive thinking Americans joking about moving north when American politics threaten to take a “conservative” turn?