Dominion-Provincial Immigration Conference
A Dominion-Provincial Conference on Immigration was largely responsible for renewing New Brunswick's interest in colonization. Held in September 1871, this conference was one in a series of such meetings, the first called in 1868, which focused on developing a national immigration policy. New Brunswick sent three representatives to Ottawa - the Hon. George L. Hatheway, provincial secretary; the Hon. William M. Kelly, chief commissioner of public works; and the Hon. John Pickard, the member of Parliament for York County. They were joined by representatives from Nova Scotia, Ontario, Québec, and the Dominion government.
The conference delegates decided that each province would develop its own settlement programme to compete with the Homestead Act. Enacted by the United States government in 1862, this act offered bona fide setters over 21 years of age 160 acres of free land, if they agreed to live on it for five years. The delegates hoped that a new settlement programme that also included a promise of free land would lure settlers to Canada who might otherwise migrate to the American West. The New Brunswick conference representatives also lobbied for financial aid to facilitate emigration to the Maritimes.
Ultimately, the Dominion government agreed to contribute $10,000 a year to encourage immigration and settlement of agricultural lands in New Brunswick. In addition, the government undertook to maintain quarantine establishments and immigration offices in several locations across Canada. Each province was to distribute pamphlets, handbooks, and other literature overseas to promote emigration and could appoint an immigration agent in Europe.
Encouraged by the Dominion government's incentives, in April 1872, the New Brunswick legislature passed The Free Grants Act, which offered adult male immigrants a minimum of 100 acres of free land on the condition that they reside on the land for no less than three years and fulfill certain conditions. A provincial Department of Immigration was also created, and Robert Shives was named Dominion immigration agent at Saint John. Although the Dominion government discontinued its monetary contribution after two installments, this infusion of cash into provincial coffers had a positive effect on New Brunswick's ability to attract immigrants to settle on wilderness lands.