Immigration to Western Canada was planned, purposely and methodically, by the federal government, both to create farms to feed the East, and to increase the market for Eastern-made goods. Immigrants were lured to Canada with the promise of freedom: free land, and freedom from the semi-feudal system that was still entrenched in Europe. The settlers came mostly from Eastern Europe, Sweden, Germany, and Britain.
They also came from the US - where land was extremely expensive and trade was controlled by monopolies - in droves. In the early part of the 20th Century there was "an American invasion" that helped shape Western Canada. Americans, with their money, their optimism and their industriousness, were very welcome in Western Canada (as long as they were white).
There was, of course, the usual fears of annexation, but not necessarily among Canadians.
The American invasion caused considerable soul searching on both sides of the Atlantic. What would be the result of all this influx? It was certainly changing the West; would it change Canada? Would the nation become "Americanized", or, worse still, would it become part of the United States? Many Americans thought so. Would the American presence mean a loosening of Imperial bonds? Many Britons believed it would. Or would the West become a separate nation, neither British nor American? The American frontier novelist James Oliver Curwood was convinced of that. "A new nation," he declared, "will be born in the West, formed of the very flesh and blood of the United States." As Curwood noted in Alberta, "every town is hustling with American spirit" and former Americans were entering politics, becoming reeves and councillors in Alberta communities.
The general attitude south of the border was that the [Canadian] West would soon be part of the United States. The Saturday Evening Post referred to Alberta as "the Yankee province." Such Eastern papers as the Brooklyn Eagle, the New York Post, and the Detroit Journal were convinced that annexation was inevitable. Western American politicians echoed these sentiments. Senator Moses E. Clapp of Minnesota thought the union would come as the result of assimilation. Marsh Murdock, the powerful Republican congressman from Kansas, was for outright capture. The Governor of North Carolina predicted a struggle that would result in "one great republic under the government of what is now the United States."
Such a possibility failed to raise the hackles of Canadians, giddy from the prosperity the Americans were bringing. [Influential newspaper editor] John Dafoe said he "saw no sign that Westerners viewed the invasion with any feeling
of dread". Frederick Haultain, the Premier of the North West Territories, agreed that there was no political danger in the influx. The Toronto Globe was worried at first: five out of eight Alberta newspapers were edited by former Americans. It sent a reporter out, west only to be told that the editorial ideas expressed were no different from those of other Canadian newspapers.
The Americans in the West, in fact, turned out to be among the most enthusiastic Canadians. "It is the Americans rather than the Canadians who show jealousy at the flocking in of people of other nationalities and raise the cry of 'Canada for the Canadians'," the national president of the British Brotherhood Movement discovered during a trip to Canada. Those Americans who were not European-born or ex-Canadians were, in the words of Dr. Peter Bryce, chief medical inspector for the Immigration Department, "accidental" rather than "essential" Americans. This type of American, Bryce explained, "came to the [American] West for bread, and not for liberty; he will come north into Canada for bread, regardless of national flag or tradition."
It was the British in Canada and the British press in the mother country who worried about the effects of the American invasion. British periodicals and newspapers were concerned about the dilution British blood in Western Canada, the "loosening of ties," as a writer in the Fortnightly Review called it. The Americans might make good Canadians, he wrote, but would they become loyal subjects of the Empire?