Memorable Manitobans: John Wright Sifton (1833-1912)
Railway contractor, MLA (1878-1879), Speaker (1879), MLA (1881-1883).
Born in London township, Upper Canada (now Ontario), on 10 August 1833. He received his education at common and grammar schools in London. He farmed until 1860, when he became interested in railway construction. In 1872 he was engaged in private banking under the firm name of Taylor and Sifton. In 1875 he moved to Manitoba and took up residence at Selkirk where he became Justice of the Peace.
He obtained contracts in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and his firm, Sifton, Ward & Co. built the sections from Port Arthur to Shebandowan and from Selkirk to Cross Lake. He built the government telegraph line from Winnipeg to Fort Pelly and from Selkirk to Rat Portage (Kenora). In 1878 he was nominated by the Liberals to oppose John Christian Schultz as candidate for the federal constituency of Selkirk, and continued the contest to the day of nomination then withdrew, as the Conservative party had a large majority in the rest of Canada. Instead, he was elected to the provincial legislature as a representative of the St. Clements constituency in the 1878 general election and he was chosen Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1879. He was roundly defeated by Edward H. G. G. Hay in the December 1879 provincial general election.
In 1881 he took up residence near Brandon where he operated a large farm. He served in the Legislature as the first representative of the new Brandon constituency, formed after the extension of the Manitoba boundary, being elected at a by-election in October 1881. Defeated in the 1883 and 1886 provincial general elections, he served two terms as Reeve of the Rural Municipality of Cornwallis. He then moved to California for two years. Later returning to Brandon, he became superintendent of the Boys’ Home. After one year he became Deputy Minister of Public Works in the government of Thomas Greenway. He held the position of inspector of public institutions, until the change of government took place.
In 1902 he became Vice-President of the Manitoba Free Press Company and President on the death of John Mather, holding this office until his death. He was an enthusiastic advocate of temperance and prohibition, and for four years was president of the Manitoba branch of the Dominion Alliance and strongly favoured the passing of the Canada Temperance Act.
In 1853, he married Kate Watkins (c1834-1909). They had five children, among whom were Clifford Sifton and Arthur Lewis Sifton.
Sifton died at Winnipeg on 19 September 1912 and was buried in the St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery. He is commemorated by the Rural Municipality of Sifton.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Municipal Memories: Municipality of Cornwallis, 1884-1984. Cornwallis Centennial Committee, 1984. Manitoba Legislative Library, F5648.C67.
Obituaries and burial transcriptions, Manitoba Genealogical Society.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 8 June 2019