Three of Brandon’s notable early citizens were from the East End. Last week, I looked at Joseph Woodworth and John Kirchhoffer. Today: Clifford Sifton. In the early 20th century he changed the face of Canada.
Clifford Sifton, born in 1861, was a member of an Ontario family who were among the first to arrive in Brandon in the early 1880s. The father, John, was a railway developer and had a large farm near the city. Clifford practised law with his brother Arthur. Their law office was at Fourth Street and Rosser Avenue; Clifford lived at 113 Princess Ave. E.
The Siftons were leaders. John was the reeve of Cornwallis and the first Brandon representative in the Manitoba legislature, from 1881-83. Arthur was elected to the first Brandon city council. (Arthur later moved west and ended up as the premier of Alberta.)
Clifford Sifton was elected to the Manitoba legislature in 1888. He served until 1896, becoming attorney general and minister of education. Sifton was then elected as a Liberal to represent Brandon federally. It was serving in the cabinet of Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier that Sifton had the greatest impact. Sifton aggressively promoted immigration to the prairies, going beyond the previous main source of immigrants, the United Kingdom. Sifton recognized that there were many people in places like Galicia, in Austria-Hungary, who were “anxious to leave Europe and start life under better conditions in a new country.” Sifton was looking for “a stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat, born on the soil … with a stout wife and a half-dozen children.”
Sifton eventually resigned from the Laurier cabinet over education and trade issues. He moved back to Ontario, but continued to be involved with Manitoba and its political life as the owner of the Free Press. He was later knighted. He died in 1929 at the age of 68 and was buried in Toronto. Sifton was the most influential person ever to hail from Brandon.
How do we remember these three East End pioneers — Woodworth, Kirchhoffer and Sifton — today?
What about Joseph Woodworth: early Brandon citizen, builder and leader? There is almost no trace of him now. He is remembered in the name of Woodworth municipality. And Douglas St. is apparently named for Woodworth’s brother. (There is uncertainty, however, about the origin of Brandon street names. There is no official list.)
What about John Nesbitt Kirchhoffer: a founder of Souris, Brandon MLA and senator? While some signs of him are gone, some remain. The Kirchhoffer residence at 247 Russell St. was destroyed by fire in 1912. There was a Kirchhoffer Avenue on the North Hill at one time, but it no longer exists. The Kirchhoffer Block, renamed Empress Court in 1937, still stands at 1102 Rosser Ave. Kirchhoffer’s second name is remembered in the name of the village.
Kirchhoffer is buried in the Brandon Cemetery: Section 1, Block X, Plot 2. If you are looking from Aberdeen Avenue, a few headstones appear to be almost outside the cemetery. The most prominent of these marks Kirchhoffer’s grave.
In May 1915, a tree was planted in memory of Kirchhoffer at the northeast entrance of Rideau Park. This was at the same ceremony as a tree planted in the park to honour Maj. Joseph McLaren. McLaren had been killed a few days earlier in the war: one of the first from Brandon. One thousand people attended the tree planting.
Finally, what about Clifford Sifton: most influential Brandonite ever? He is remembered today. His residence at 113 Princess Ave. E. is still there. The Sifton name is commemorated by Sifton Ave. in Brandon and by Sifton municipality. There is a Sifton plaque outside City Hall. There are also the Arma Sifton bells at the International Peace Garden, presented by Central United Church in 1972. The bells were donated to the church by the Sifton family 40 years earlier.
We could do better at remembering our heritage. How about resurrecting the idea of a street named for Kirchhoffer? A street named for Woodworth? What about planting trees to honour those from the past — but with markers this time so they are not forgotten?
If you are interested in our heritage, don’t forget “Doors Open Brandon” on July 19 and 20. (Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee: 204-761-6745; heritagebrandon.ca.) I’ll host a walking tour of the historic North End: “Brandon’s Ghetto.”
» David McConkey is an active citizen. Contact him and read previous columns at davidmcconkey.com.