It is not surprising that REALTORS® have expressed an interest in immigration matters, especially after the federal government’s announcement that it was taking over the $35-million settlement services program, which is the lynchpin of the Manitoba government’s highly-successful Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). What concerns Manitoba Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Christine Melnick, as well as members of the Manitoba Real Estate Association (MREA) and WinnipegREALTORS®, is that Ottawa will be messing with success. Since it was formed in 1997, the PNP has attracted over 100,000 immigrants to Manitoba.
“As a group,” said REALTOR® Kourosh Doustshenas, himself an immigrant who has been in Canada for 23 years, “we’re going to be one of the first affected. It’s a huge issue for the real estate industry.
“If the federal government makes its changes, very soon it will affect every homeowner in Manitoba. People have to realize a slowdown in immigration will change the value of housing.”
Historically, the real estate industry has been among the prominent business groups advocating greater immigration to Manitoba and have been extremely vocal in rallying others in support of the cause. What they recognized, starting with the formation of the province in 1870, was that immigration was essential to their business success as well as the successful development of Manitoba into a thriving province within the Canadian Confederation. Essentially, they firmly believe that immigration is a win-win situation for everyone in the province.
One of the early real-estate-backed promotions for immigration to Manitoba and Western Canada was surprisingly formed in St. Paul, Minnesota. Delegates from the Winnipeg Real Estate Exchange (now WinnipegREALTORS®), the Winnipeg Board of Trade (now Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce) and city counillors journeyed to St. Paul in 1904 to meet with Americans who held land in Western Canada in order to counter U.S.-based propaganda discouraging immigration north of the border. A group of Americans had formed the American Immigration Association (AIA) of the Northwest in St. Paul “for the purposes of keeping moving Americans away from Canada.”
Since the Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier government in 1896 had opened up Canada to greater immigration, thousands of Americans had been attracted by the offer of homesteads in Western Canada. It was a trend that the AIA hoped to overturn.
In St. Paul, the Western Canadian Immigration Association (WCIA) was established on January 25, 1904, to promote immigration to the “Last Best West;” that is, Western Canada.
A pamphlet prepared by Theodore M. Knappen, the secretary of the WCIA, explained that it was “apparent that hereafter American immigration into Western Canada is to be got only by going after it ... By means of encouraging railway rates, attractive advertising, personal solicitation, cheap lands, and in other ways, the whole South, Southwestern, West and Northwest of the United States are putting forth unparalleled efforts to get population. It is apparent, therefore, that Western Canada must make extraordinary efforts if it wishes to continue to gets its share ...”
Among the prominent Winnipeg real estate brokers present at the meeting were Hugo Ross of Hugo Ross Realty Ltd. (he later lost his life aboard the Titanic in April 1912) and Alexander D. McRae of the Winnipeg-based Saskatchewan Valley Land Company.
Alan Artibise in his MHS Transactions 1970-71 season article, Advertising Winnipeg: The Campaign for Immigrants and Industry, 1874-1914, wrote that Winnipeg businessmen (especially real estate agents) and politicians dominated the WCIA, “serving in all capacities within the organization ... as well as acting as effective lobbyists in Winnipeg City Council and in Ottawa. The annual meetings of the WCIA for 1905, 1906, 1907 and 1908 (the year it disbanded) were held in Winnipeg and each year the mayor welcomed the delegates and expressed, on behalf of the city, his appreciation for what the organization “had done with the prosperity of the city.”
The most effective tool used by the WCIA was tours of Western Canada by American journalists. The WCIA’s report for 1906 described one such tour, which lasted from July 12 to August 8, “during which time twelve known newspaper writers, no one of whom had ever visited Canada before, travelled twice across the Dominion and up and down the wheat fields ...” The result was the publication of 182 columns (more than 270,000 words) about Canada in American newspapers, which the WCIA compiled into a pamphlet entitled, What Famous Correspondents Say About Western Canada. The pamphlet was subsequently distributed throughout the U.S. The WCIA also published its own magazine, The Canada-West. After writing to the association, over 1,468 farmers and investors received a free one-year subscription to the magazine.
“The work done by the WCIA since its formation two years ago has been of invaluable benefit to this country ... (Its work) has been carried out with results so far exceeding even the most sanguine anticipation that its continuance has been decided upon with enthusiastic unanimity,” claimed a February 16, 1906, Manitoba Free Press editorial.
H.W. Hutchinson, the president of the Winnipeg Board of Trade, in his annual report for 1905, said the WCIA, using the “vigorous and intelligent immigration policy” of the Laurier government, helped bring 130,329 new settlers to Western Canada, which included 43,000 Americans.
But there is no way to truly ascertain how many immigrants actually arrived in the West because of the WCIA propaganda. Undoubtedly, the group supplemented the efforts of the CPR and the Canadian government to attract immigrants. When the WCIA voluntarily disbanded in 1908, it declared its worked to have been completed.
Today, Manitoba REALTORS® are engaged in lobbying the federal government to retain funding of settlement services in the hands of the province and tone-down more stringent immigration requirements in order to ensure a steady influx of newcomers to the province. Historically, they have played a similar role throughout the 109-year history of organized real estate in Manitoba.