History of immigration to Canada

Canadian citizenship
This article is part of a series
Immigration to Canada
History of immigration to Canada
Economic impact of immigration
Canadian immigration and refugee law
Immigration Act, 1976
Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
Permanent residency
Temporary residency
Permanent Resident Card
Canadian nationality law
History of nationality law
Citizenship Act 1946
Citizenship Test
Oath of Citizenship
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Passport Canada
Citizenship classes
Honorary citizenship
Commonwealth citizen
Lost Canadians
"Canadians of convenience"
Demographics of Canada
Population by year
Ethnic origins

The historical immigration from China and India extends back thousands of years. Anthropologists continue to argue over various possible models of migration to modern-day Canada, as well as their pre-contact populations. The Inuit are believed to have arrived entirely separately from other indigenous peoples around 1200 CE. Indigenous peoples contributed significantly to the culture and economy of the early European colonies and as such have played an important role in fostering a unique Canadian cultural identity.

Statistics Canada has tabulated the effect of immigration on population growth in Canada from 1851 to 2001.[1] On average, censuses are taken every 10 years, which is how Canadian censuses were first incremented between 1871 and 1901. Beginning in 1901, the Dominion Government changed its policy so that census-taking occurred every 5 years subsequently. This was to document the effects of the advertising campaign initiated by Clifford Sifton.

In 2006, Canada received 236,756 immigrants. The top ten sending countries, by state of origin, were People's Republic of China (28,896); India (28,520); Philippines (19,718); Pakistan (9,808); United States (8,750); United Kingdom (7,324); Iran (7,195); South Korea (5,909); Colombia 5,382; and Sri Lanka (4,068).[2] The top ten source countries were followed closely by France (4,026), and Morocco (4,025), with Romania, Russia, and Algeria each contributing over 3,500 immigrants.[3]

History of immigration law

Come to Stay, printed in 1880 in the Canadian Illustrated News, refers to immigration to the "Dominion". Today, there is a debate about immigrants who do not stay, but instead leave soon after securing citizenship. They are becoming known as Canadians of convenience.

In 1828, during the Great Migration of Canada, Britain passed the first legislative recognition that it was responsible for the safety and well-being of immigrants leaving the British Isles. It was called An Act to Regulate the Carrying of Passengers in Merchant Vessels. The Act limited the number of passengers who could be carried on a ship, regulated the amount of space allocated to them, and required that passengers be supplied with adequate sustenance on the voyage. The 1828 Act is now recognized as the foundation of British colonial emigration legislation.[4]

Canadian citizenship was originally created under the Immigration Act, 1910, to designate those British subjects who were domiciled in Canada. All other British subjects required permission to land. A separate status of "Canadian national" was created under the Canadian Nationals Act, 1921, which was defined as being a Canadian citizen as defined above, their wives, and any children (fathered by such citizens) who had not yet landed in Canada. After the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the monarchy thus ceased to be an exclusively British institution. Because of this, Canadians—and others living in countries that became known as Commonwealth realms—were known as subjects of the Crown. However, in legal documents, the term "British subject" continued to be used.

Canada was the second nation in the then British Commonwealth to establish its own nationality law in 1946, with the enactment of the Canadian Citizenship Act 1946. This took effect on January 1, 1947. To acquire Canadian citizenship on 1 January 1947, one generally had to be a British subject on that date, an Indian or Eskimo, or had to have been admitted to Canada as landed immigrants before that date. A British subject at that time was anyone from the UK or its colonies, or a Commonwealth country. Acquisition and loss of British subject status before 1947 was determined by United Kingdom law (see History of British nationality law).

On February 15, 1977, Canada removed restrictions on dual citizenship. Many of the provisions to acquire or lose Canadian citizenship that existed under the 1946 legislation were repealed. Canadian citizens are in general no longer subject to involuntary loss of citizenship, barring revocation on the grounds of immigration fraud.

Regional history

The Atlantic area of Canada

L'Anse aux Meadows on the island of Newfoundland, site of a Norsemen colony.

There are a number of reports of contact made before Columbus between the first peoples and those from other continents. The case of Viking contact is supported by the remains of a Viking settlement in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, although there is no direct proof this was the place Icelandic Norseman Leifur Eiríksson referred to as Vinland around the year 1000.

The presence of Basque cod fishermen and whalers, just a few years after Columbus, has also been cited, with at least nine fishing outposts having been established on Labrador and Newfoundland. The largest of these settlements was the Red Bay station, with an estimated 900 people. Basque whalers may have begun fishing the Grand Banks as early as the 15th century.

The next European explorer acknowledged as landing in what is now Canada was John Cabot, who landed somewhere on the coast of North America (probably Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island) in 1497 and claimed it for King Henry VII of England. Portuguese and Spanish explorers also visited Canada, but it was the French who first began to explore further inland and set up colonies, beginning with Jacques Cartier in 1534. Under Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, the first French settlement was made in 1604 in the region of New France known as Acadie on Isle Ste-Croix (which now belongs to Maine) in the Bay of Fundy. That winter was particularly long and harsh and about half of the settlers that had accompanied Sieur de Mons died of scurvy. The following year they decided to move to a better sheltered area, establishing a new settlement at Port-Royal. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain, established a settlement at Donnacona; it would later grow to become Quebec City. The French claimed Canada as their own and 6,000 settlers arrived, settling along the St. Lawrence and in the Maritimes. Britain also had a presence in Newfoundland and, with the advent of settlements, claimed the south of Nova Scotia as well as the areas around the Hudson Bay.

The first contact with the Europeans was disastrous for the first peoples. Explorers and traders brought European diseases, such as smallpox, which killed off entire villages. Relations varied between the settlers and the Natives. The French befriended the Huron peoples and entered into a mutually beneficial trading relationship with them. The Iroquois, however, became dedicated opponents of the French and warfare between the two was unrelenting, especially as the British armed the Iroquois in an effort to weaken the French.


Map of New France made by Samuel de Champlain on 1612

After Champlain's founding of Quebec City in 1608, it became the capital of New France. While the coastal communities were based upon the cod fishery, the economy of the interior revolved around beaver fur, which was popular in Europe. French voyageurs would travel into the hinterlands and trade with the natives. The voyageurs ranged throughout what is today Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba trading guns, gunpowder, textiles and other European manufacturing goods with the natives for furs. The fur trade encouraged only a small population, however, as minimal labour was required. Encouraging settlement was always difficult, and while some immigration did occur, by 1760 New France had a population of only some 70,000.

New France had other problems besides low immigration. The French government had little interest or ability in supporting its colony and it was mostly left to its own devices. The economy was primitive and much of the population was involved in little more than subsistence agriculture. The colonists also engaged in a long-running series of wars with the Iroquois.


Étienne Brûlé explored Ontario from 1610 to 1612. In 1615, Samuel de Champlain visited Lake Huron, after which French missionaries established outposts in the region.

Immigration to the Prairie Provinces

Rupert's Land, showing location of York Factory

In the 18th to 19th century, the only immigration western Canada or Rupert's Land saw was early French Canadian North West Company fur traders from eastern Canada, and the Scots, English Adventurers and Explorers representing the Hudson's Bay Company who arrived via Hudson Bay. Canada became a nation in 1867, Rupert's Land became absorbed into the North-West Territories. To encourage British Columbia to join the confederation, a transcontinental railway was proposed. The railway companies felt it was not feasible to lay track over land where there was no settlement. The fur trading era was declining; as the buffalo population disappeared, so too did the nomadic buffalo hunters, which presented a possibility to increase agricultural settlement. Agricultural possibilities were first expounded by Henry Youle Hind. The Dominion government with the guidance of Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior in charge of immigration, (18961905)[5] enacted Canada's homesteading act, the Dominion Lands Act, in 1872. An extensive advertising campaign throughout western Europe and Scandinavia brought in a huge wave of immigrants to "The Last, Best West". (In 1763 Catherine the Great issues Manifesto inviting foreigners to settle in Russia,[6] and in 1862 the United States enacted a Homestead Act inviting immigration to America.[7]) Ethnic or religious groups seeking asylum or independence no longer traveled to Russia or the United States where lands were taken or homestead acts were canceled. The Red River Colony population of Manitoba allowed it to become a province in 1870. In the 1880s less than 1000 non-Aboriginal people resided out west. The government's immigration policy was a huge success, the North-West Territories grew to a population of 56,446 in 1881 and almost doubled to 98,967 in 1891, and exponentially jumped to 211,649 by 1901.[8] Ethnic Bloc Settlements[9] dotted the prairies, as language groupings settled together on soil types of the Canadian western prairie similar to agricultural land of their homeland. In this way immigration was successful; new settlements could grow because of common communication and learned agricultural methods. Canada's CPR transcontinental railway was finished in 1885. Immigration briefly ceased to the West during the North West Rebellion of 1885. Various investors and companies were involved in the sale of railway (and some non railway) lands. Sifton himself may have been involved as an investor in some of these ventures.[10] Populations of Saskatchewan and Alberta were eligible for provincial status in 1905. Immigration continued to increase through to the roaring twenties. A mass exodus affected the prairies during the dirty thirties depression years and the prairies have never again regained the impetus of the immigration wave seen in the early 20th century.

Immigration to British Columbia

Until the railway, immigration to British Columbia was either via sea, or – once the gold rushes were under way – via overland travel from California and other parts of the US, as there was no usable route westward beyond the Rockies, and travel on the Prairies and across the Canadian Shield was still water-borne. BC's very small early non-native population was dominantly French-Canadian and Metis fur-company employees, their British (largely Scottish) administrators and bosses, and a population of Kanakas (Hawaiians) in the company's employ, as well as members of various Iroquoian peoples, also in the service of the fur company. The non-local native population of the British Pacific was in the 150–300 range until the advent of the Fraser Gold Rush in 1857, when Victoria's population swelled to 30,000 in four weeks and towns of 10,000 and more appeared at hitherto-remote locations on the Mainland, at Yale, Port Douglas, and Lillooet (then called Cayoosh Flat). This wave of settlement was near-entirely from California, and was approximately one-third each American, Chinese and various Europeans and others; nearly all had been in California for many years, including the early Canadians and Maritimers who made the journey north to the new Gold Colony, as British Columbia was often called.

One group of about 60, called the Overlanders of '62, did make the journey from Canada via Rupert's Land during the Cariboo Gold Rush, though they were the exception to the rule. An earlier attempt to move some of the settlers of the Selkirk Colony ended in disaster at Dalles des Morts, near present-day Revelstoke. Early immigration to British Columbia was from all nations, largely via California, and included Germans, Scandinavians, Maritimers, Australians, Poles, Italians, French, Belgians and others, as well as Chinese and Americans who were the largest groups to arrive in the years around the time of the founding of the Mainland Colony in 1858. Most of the early Americans left in the early 1860s because of the US Civil War as well as in pursuit of other gold rushes in Idaho, Colorado and Nevada, though Americans remained a major component in the settler population ever since. During the 1860s, in conjunction with the Cariboo Gold Rush and agitation to join Canada, more and more Canadians (including the Overlanders, who became influential) arrived and became a force in the local polity, which hitherto had been dominated by Britons favouring separate rule, and helped contribute towards the agenda for annexation with Canada. After the opening of the CPR, a new wave of immigration led not just to the creation of Vancouver and other newer urban settlements, but also to the settlement of numerous regions in the Interior, especially the Okanagan, Boundary, Shuswap, and Kootenays. A similar wave of settlement and development accompanied the opening of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (today the CNR) through the Central Interior, which was also the impetus for the creation of the city of Prince George and the port of Prince Rupert.

Head Tax and Chinese Immigration Act of 1923

The first immigrants from China to Canada came from California to the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in British Columbia, beginning in 1858; immigrants directly from China did not arrive until 1859. The Chinese were a significant part of nearly all the British Columbia gold rushes and most towns in BC had large Chinese populations, often a third of the total or more. Chinese labourers were hired to help with the construction of the Cariboo Wagon Road and Alexandra Bridge as well as the Douglas Road and other routes. Chinese miners, merchants and ranchers enjoyed full rights to mineral tenure and land alienation and in some areas became the mainstay of the local economy for decades. Chinese, for instance, owned 60% of the land in the Lillooet Land District in the 1870s and 1880s and held the majority of working claims on the Fraser River and in other areas. The next wave of immigrants from China were labourers brought in to help build the C.P.R. transcontinental railway but many defected to the goldfields of the Cariboo and other mining districts. In the year the railway was completed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 was enacted, and a head tax was levied to control the ongoing influx of labour, although immigration continued as corporate interests in BC preferred to hire the cheaper labour made available to them by Chinese labour contractors; Chinese labour was brought in by the Dunsmuir coal interests used to break the back of strikers at Cumberland in the Comox Valley, which then became one of BC's largest Chinatowns as white workers formerly resident there had been displaced by armed force.

Sikhs aboard the Komagata Maru in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet, 1914

Indian Immigration and Continuous Journey Regulation of 1908

The Canadian government’s first attempt to restrict immigration from India was to pass an order-in-council on January 8, 1908, that prohibited immigration of persons who "in the opinion of the Minister of the Interior" did not "come from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey and or through tickets purchased before leaving their country of their birth or nationality." In practice this applied only to ships that began their voyage in India, as the great distance usually necessitated a stopover in Japan or Hawaii. These regulations came at a time when Canada was accepting massive numbers of immigrants (over 400,000 in 1913 alone a figure that remains unsurpassed to this day), almost all of whom came from Europe. Though Gurdit Singh, was apparently aware of regulations when he chartered the Komagata Maru in January 1914,[11] he continued with his purported goal of challenging these exclusion laws in order to have a better life. The Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship that sailed from Hong Kong to Shanghai, China; Yokohama, Japan; and then to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1914, carried 376 passengers from Punjab, India. The passengers were not allowed to land in Canada and the ship was forced to return to India. The passengers consisted of 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus, all British subjects. This was one of several incidents in the early 20th century involving exclusion laws in Canada and the United States designed to keep out immigrants of Asian origin.

Scandinavian colonists and settlement

Scandinavians were a strong contingent of the original arrivals from California and distinguished themselves in the establishment of the early timber industry and especially in the foundations of the commercial fishery. Later on, semi-utopian and religious colonies arrived at certain places – Cape Scott and Holberg, British Columbia and nearby areas for the Danes, Sointula and Websters Corners for the Finns, and Bella Coola and locations nearby, such as Tallheo. All originally socialist or Christian attempts at new societies, these wound up breaking up though the populations such as the Norwegians at Bella Coola continued on in the fishery, building and running canneries (of which Tallheo was one).

German colonists and settlement

German colonists, like the Scandinavians, were among the earliest to arrive from California and established themselves beyond mining in areas such as ranching and construction and specialized trades. Until World War I, Vancouver was a major centre of German investment and social life and German was commonly heard on the city's streets and bars. They remained the largest non-British group in the province until eclipsed in that capacity by the Chinese in the 1980s.

Doukhobor settlement and communities

The Doukhobor people were assisted in their immigration by Count Leo Tolstoy who admired them for their collectarian lifestyle and beliefs and ardent pacifism and freedom from materialism. Originally settled in Saskatchewan, and restive of the government's desire to send their children to public school and other matters, they migrated en masse to British Columbia to settle in the West Kootenay and Boundary regions.

The Great Migration of Canada

The Great Migration of Canada (also known as the Great Migration from Britain) was a period of high immigration to Canada from 1815 to 1850, involving over 800,000 immigrants.[12] Though Europe was becoming richer through the Industrial Revolution, population growth made the relative number of jobs low, forcing many to look to North America for economic success.[13]

Immigration to the West

Attempts to form permanent settlement colonies west of the Great Lakes were beset by difficulty and isolation until the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the second of the two Riel Rebellions. Despite the railway making the region more accessible there were fear that a tide of settlers from the United States might overrun British territory. In 1896, Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton launched a program of settlement with offices and advertising in the United Kingdom and continental Europe. This began a major wave of railway-based immigration which created the farms, towns and cities of the Prairie provinces.

See also


  1. Statistics Canada – immigration from 1851 to 2001
  2. Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada: 2005 and 2006
  3. "Canada's population". Statistics Canada. 2006. Retrieved 2010-04-19.
  4. Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience - "Right of Passage" at Library and Archives Canada
  5. Impressions: 250 Years of Printing in the Lives of Canadians, URL accessed 26 November 2006
  6. Impressions: The NDSU Libraries: Germans From Russia, URL accessed 26 November 2006
  7. Imp Homestead Act of 1862, URL accessed 26 November 2006
  8. Home Page – Town of Davidson, URL accessed 26 November 2006
  9. Saskatchewan Gen Web Project – SGW – Saskatchewan Genealogy Roots, URL accessed 26 November 2006
  10. First Nation Land Surrenders on the Prairies 1896–1911 Peggy Martin-McGuire, Ch 2, Land and Colonization Companies, Indian Claims Commission, URL accessed January 11, 2007.
  11. Johnston, H., op. cit., p. 26.
  12. "The History of Canada and Canadians – Colonies Grow Up". Linksnorth.com. 2006-10-12. Retrieved 2010-07-29.
  13. Archived December 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading

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