SCOTT, WILLIAM DUNCAN, land agent and civil servant; b. November 1861, likely on the 7th, in Dundas, Upper Canada, son of James Scott, a builder and manufacturer, and Margaret McEwan; d. unmarried 27 Jan. 1925 in Ottawa.
William D. Scott was descended from Scottish Presbyterian pioneers in Dundas. In 1925 the Ottawa Evening Citizen would note that “the old Scott homestead, ‘Craigleith,’ is one of the beauty spots of the district, comprising 15 acres of undulating garden and orchard.” Educated at Dundas High School, Scott began studies to become a lawyer. In 1881 he abandoned this career and went to Manitoba, where he was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a land agent, thus commencing a career of over 40 years in the area of immigration and settlement.
Scott joined the Manitoba immigration office in Toronto as a clerk in January 1889. In October 1890 he was put in charge of Manitoba’s immigration program in central and eastern Canada. A slogan used on the letterhead of his office reads, “Help to keep Canadians in Canada.” He aggressively promoted the western province in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes, as well as in Michigan, attending dozens of meetings of Farmers’ Institutes and farmers’ picnics. He had to persuade potential settlers that it was worth their while to purchase land in Manitoba, where free land was largely already taken, rather than seek free homesteads farther west, and also “that in settling in Manitoba they are not leaving civilization, but going into a country with all the advantages of churches, schools, roads, etc.” When he met steamers in Halifax and Montreal, he had to counter propaganda amongst prospective immigrants to the effect that there was no work in Manitoba and that they “would freeze in winter.”
Clifford Sifton, minister of the interior in Sir Wilfrid Laurier*’s government, recommended Scott to the minister of agriculture, Sydney Arthur Fisher, for a place on the commission charged with preparing the Canadian exhibit at the universal exposition in Paris in 1900, an appointment made officially from 1 Jan. 1899. Scott was delighted to accept the post, believing, as he told Sifton, “I can do credit to our Western Country and to your Government.” The exhibit was a great success, and Scott subsequently promoted Canada at exhibitions in Glasgow, London, Wolverhampton, and Cork. He also supervised the erection of the great arch of Canadian grain in Whitehall for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. The following year, on 5 January, Sifton appointed him superintendent of immigration in the Department of the Interior. Scott retained this position until 20 Feb. 1919 when he was made assistant deputy minister of the recently created Department of Immigration and Colonization.
The most extensive exposition of Scott’s thinking is in his 1913 essay for Canada and its provinces, “Immigration and population.” Between 1905 and 1911 he was interviewed periodically by the House of Commons standing committee on agriculture and colonization, and here too his ideas sometimes emerge. His statements faithfully reflected the views of the government. Its purpose was to encourage “farmers, farm labourers and domestic servants” from the United States, Great Britain, and northern Europe. In advertising, a major issue was “how Canada may be prominently brought before the countries whose climatic conditions promise a suitable class of settlers for the Dominion.” Scott denied an opposition charge in 1905 that Canada was receiving the “offscourings of civilization,” insisting that “we are getting a fine class of people.” He later pointed out that between 1900 and 1907 Canada received 7,000 more settlers from the British Isles than did the United States. As for “foreigners,” the government’s policy, Scott assured its critics, was to “try to scatter them as much as possible.” Moreover, “we put these foreigners on land that you could not put English-speaking settlers on,” on “the poorest land.”
In his day Scott was recognized for presiding over the years of record immigration to Canada before World War I, and in particular for the growth of population in the west. Yet more recent writers have associated him with policies of restriction and deportation, especially with strict implementation of the changes to the Immigration Act passed with near-parliamentary unanimity between 1906 and 1910. Indeed, the opposition charged the government with being insufficiently restrictive, and with inadequate inspection of intending immigrants resulting in unnecessarily high levels of deportation. Scott pointed out that policy changes in 1910 were intended to exclude “undesirables,” which included the “physically, mentally or morally unfit,” those “unlikely to assimilate,” and those likely to add to urban congestion. Regulations deliberately impeded immigration from Asia and from southern and eastern Europe. Scott developed the curious argument that the open-door policy of previous years actually had discouraged desirable immigrants who saw that “all and sundry might enter,” whereas the new restrictions made Canada attractive to them because they now had confidence “that due care is being exercised in the admission of new settlers.” In Scott’s opinion, readiness “to assimilate and adopt Canadian customs . . . should be the final test as to the desirability of any class of immigrants.” It was essential to sift “‘the wheat from the chaff’ in the multitudes who seek [Canada’s] shores.”
In 1911 responsibility for Chinese immigration was moved from the Department of Trade and Commerce to the Department of the Interior, and on 2 October Scott was given the additional task of chief controller of Chinese immigration. As his title implied, the government’s purpose was to restrict such immigration, with greater limits on the movement of Chinese immigrants and fewer exemptions from the $500 head tax for those registered in educational institutions, as well as enforcement of the “continuous journey” requirement for intending immigrants [see Harnam Kaur*]. Still, the Chinese continued to come in record numbers, so in 1915 the Conservative government of Sir Robert Laird Borden* prohibited arrival at British Columbia ports of artisans and labourers, skilled or unskilled, a measure that dramatically reduced the numbers; only merchants and their families and those attending institutions of higher learning were admitted. This exclusionary policy was formalized by the Liberal administration of William Lyon Mackenzie King* in the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923.
In failing health, Scott retired from the public service on 30 June 1924. The following winter a cold led to pneumonia and other complications which resulted in his death on 27 Jan. 1925. He had been an able and respected civil servant who contributed strongly to the implementation of the immigration policy of the governments of the day, much of it discriminatory on racial grounds, while avoiding controversy. He also was, as obituaries put it, “a man of the most kindly disposition and beloved by all who knew him,” who had provided “earnest, anonymous, yet distinguished service.”
William Duncan Scott is the author of “Immigration and population,” in Canada and its provinces: a history of the Canadian people and their institutions . . . , ed. Adam Shortt and A. G. Doughty (23v., Toronto, 1913–17), 7: 517–90.
LAC, MG 27, II, D15; MG 30, C62. Globe, 27 Jan. 1925. Manitoba Free Press, 28 Jan. 1925. Ottawa Citizen, 27–29 Jan. 1925. Ottawa Evening Journal, 27–29 Jan. 1925. Ruth Cameron, “The wheat from the chaff: Canadian restrictive immigration policy, 1905–1911” (ma thesis, Concordia Univ., Montreal, 1976). Can., Dept. of the Secretary of State, The civil service list of Canada . . . (Ottawa), 1918; House of Commons, Journals, 1905–10/11; Parl., Sessional papers, 1904–25. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth), vol.3. Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The making of the mosaic: a history of Canadian immigration policy (Toronto, 1998). Valerie Knowles, Strangers at our gates: Canadian immigration and immigration policy, 1540–1997 (rev. ed., Toronto, 1997). P. S. Li, The Chinese in Canada (Toronto, 1988). Man., Legislative Assembly, Sessional papers, 1889–99. Barbara Roberts, Whence they came: deportation from Canada, 1900–1935 (Ottawa, 1988).
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Cite This Article
David J. Hall, “SCOTT, WILLIAM DUNCAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 23, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/scott_william_duncan_15E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||David J. Hall|
|Title of Article:||SCOTT, WILLIAM DUNCAN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||2005|
|Year of revision:||2005|
|Access Date:||March 23, 2023|