Canada – A Nation of Immigrants

Welsh-Patagonians leaving England for Canada on S.S. “Numidian” of the Allan Line. 1902

In terms of Canada and Immigration, especially with some of the outrage I’ve heard about taxpayers supporting Syrian Refugees, I think it’s important to remember that, in most respects, we are all descended from Immigrants and Refugees. We also have a less than stellar history as a nation when it comes to how we have treated new arrivals who were “different” from the British and French who dominated Canadian politics since before Confederation.

This doesn’t even touch on our horrific history with the real First Canadians, the First Nations, who were often all that stood between totally ill-prepared early settlers and death from starvation and exposure in a very challenging climate.

I’ve borrowed from the Canadian Encyclopedia to share just a narrow sampling of our Immigration History.

First Nations Canadians

Today Canada is the most multi-cultural country in the world, and the home of immigrants of every ethnic and religious group from every country in the world.

But less than 500 years ago, the only people living in Canada  were the Aboriginal people of Canada. “Aboriginal” means the original inhabitants, the people who were here first. The words “Native” or “Indigenous” are also used, and mean the same thing.

Today they all collectively refer to themselves as the First Nations or First Peoples of Canada. However, there are many different cultural groups.

Canada’s first people used at least 53 different languages. Each group referred to themselves by a specific name in their own language.

For instance, the Inuit – colloquially known for years as Eskimos – have always referred to themselves as Inuit – the People. Or in the singular as an Inuk – a person.

Scientists do not agree on where First Nations people came from, or how they got to North America, but they do know that First Nations people are genetically related to people in parts of Asia.

Scientists know that First Nations people have lived in what is now Canada for at least 12,000 years, because they have found bones and artifacts that go back that far. Many scientists now believe that some of the First Peoples may have been here for much longer than that.

For a long time, scientists believed that the ancestors of all North American First Nations people crossed over on foot to North America from Asia at the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago.

At that time Asia and North America were joined, and what is now the bottom of the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska was dry land, (a “land bridge) because sea  levels were much lower than they are now. The earliest man-made artifacts – tools or ornaments that archaeologists have found – date from that time.

The theory is that nomadic hunting people followed the big animals (moose, deer, elk, buffalo) for food, and eventually moved south and spread out as the ice sheets melted back. Then they evolved different cultures to suit different environments.

Scientists now think that the ancestors of First Nations people may have come to North America from several different parts of Asia and Polynesia, following several different routes.

Some may have come on woven reed rafts, or boats, across the Pacific from Asia and various islands.

Still others may have crossed the ice fields that once connected Europe and North America. The Inuit, who live in the high Arctic, were probably the last to arrive.

Irish Canadians

The Great Famine of the late 1840s drove 1.5 to 2 million destitute Irish out of Ireland, and hundreds of thousands came to British North America. This wave was so dramatic that most Canadians erroneously think of 1847 as the time “when the Irish came.” The famine immigrants tended to remain in the towns and cities, and by 1871 the Irish were the largest ethnic group in every large town and city of Canada, with the exceptions of Montréal and Québec City.

Scots Canadians

The Kingdom of Scotland established one of the earliest colonies in Canada in 1621, when Sir William Alexander was granted a charter for Nova Scotia. Alexander established small settlements on Cape Breton Island and at the Bay of Fundy, but they did not flourish, and Scottish claims were surrendered to France in 1632. A few Scots immigrated to New France, but the major early movement of Scots to Canada was a small flow of men from Orkney — beginning about 1720 — recruited by the Hudson’s Bay Company for service in the West. Soldiers from the Highlands of Scotland comprised the crack regiments of the British army that defeated the French in the Seven Years’ War. Many soldiers remained in North America, and Scots merchants moved to Québec after 1759 where they dominated commercial life and the fur trade.

Between 1770 and 1815, some 15,000 Highland Scots came to Canada, settling mainly in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia (see Hector), and Upper Canada. Most of these immigrants came from the western Highlands or the islands of Scotland. They were almost exclusively Gaelic speaking (see Celtic Languages) and many were Roman Catholic. They congregated in agrarian communities in the new land and, in the early years of the 19th century, Gaelic was the third most common European language spoken in Canada. A few Highlanders were brought to the Red River Colony by the Earl of Selkirk. Other Scots from the fur trade moved with their Aboriginal families to Red River after 1821 (see Métis). In all of these communities, Highland traditions were preserved and for many years they remained distinctive ethnic enclaves.

After 1815, Scottish immigration increased and its pattern altered. Scots from the Lowlands area, encouraged by the British government, joined Highlanders in coming to Canada. Some 170,000 Scots crossed the Atlantic between 1815 and 1870, roughly 14 per cent of the total British migration of this period. By the 1850s, most of the newcomers were settling in the Province of Canada rather than in Maritime colonies (see Atlantic Provinces). According to the 1871 census, 157 of every 1,000 Canadians were of Scottish origin, ranging from 4.1 per cent of the population in Québec to 33.7 per cent in Nova Scotia.

These immigrants represented a cross-section of the Scottish population. Most were farmers and artisans, although large numbers of business and professional people were included, especially teachers and clergymen. Most of the newcomers were Presbyterian and most spoke English. They tended to live and fraternize together and were particularly active in establishing schools (e.g., the St. John’s College in Red River, Manitoba) that emphasized training for the talented (see School Systems).

Ukrainian Canadians

Ukrainians first came to Canada in the 19th century. The initial influx came as Canada promoted the immigration of farmers.

In the 19th century, the Russian Empire ruled 80 per cent of Ukraine; the rest lay in the Austro-Hungarian provinces of Galicia, Bukovina and Transcarpathia. As serfs in Austria-Hungary until 1848 and in the Russian Empire until 1861, Ukrainians suffered from economic and national oppression. When attempts to establish an independent Ukrainian state from 1917 to 1921 collapsed, the greater portion of Ukraine became a republic in the USSR, while Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia divided the remainder. Following the Second World War the western Ukrainian territories were annexed by the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. During the First World War, thousands of Ukrainian Canadians were imprisoned as enemy aliens due to their origins in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. According to 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), Ukrainian Canadians number 1,251,170 or 3.7 per cent of the country’s population and are mainly Canadian-born citizens. Ukrainian Canadians are Canada’s ninth largest ethnic group; Canada has the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine itself and Russia. Slightly more than 110,000 Ukrainian Canadians speak Ukrainian, and more than half live in the Prairie Provinces.

Ukrainian immigrants and their descendants have left a profound mark on the development of Ontario and Western Canada. They have made and continue to make remarkable contributions to Canada in the fields of culture, the economy, politics and sports.

Chinese Canadians

Chinese Canadians are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. Despite their importance to the Canadian economy, including the historic construction of the CPR, many European Canadians were hostile to Chinese immigration, and a prohibitive head tax restricted immigration from 1885 to 1923. From 1923 to 1947, the Chinese were excluded altogether from immigrating to Canada. While 1 July is celebrated as Canada Day, some Chinese Canadians refer to that date as “National Humiliation Day.” This is because the Chinese were the only ethnic group ever to be excluded from emigrating to Canada.

Since 1900, Chinese Canadians have settled primarily in urban areas, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto, and have contributed to every aspect of Canadian society, from literature to sports, politics to civil rights, film to music, business to philanthropy, and education to religion.

Japanese Canadians

The first known immigrant from Japan, Manzo Nagano, arrived in British Columbia in 1877. By 1914, 10,000 people of Japanese ancestry had settled permanently in Canada. The 2006 census estimated that there were 98,900 Canadians of Japanese ancestry, 0.3 per cent of the Canadian population (56,470 of single ancestry and 42,430 of multiple ancestry). More than 90 per cent of the people of Japanese descent live in three provinces: British Columbia (42 per cent), Ontario (35 per cent) and Alberta (14 per cent).

The first wave of Japanese immigrants, called Issei (first generation), arrived between 1877 and 1928. Until 1907, almost all immigrants were young men. In 1907, Canada insisted that Japan limit the migration of males to Canada to 400 per year. As a result, most immigrants thereafter were women joining their husbands or unmarried women betrothed to men in Canada. In 1928, Canada further restricted Japanese immigration to 150 persons annually, a quota seldom met. In 1940, immigration ceased after Japan allied itself with Canada’s Second World War enemies, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Japanese immigration did not resume until the mid-1960s, except for family reunifications.

The Issei were usually young and literate. Most were from fishing and farming villages on the southern islands of Kyushu and Honshu; a minority migrated from other parts of Japan. Many settled in the “Japantowns” or suburbs of Vancouver and Victoria, on farms in the Fraser Valley and in fishing villages, and pulp-mill and mining towns along the Pacific coast. A few hundred settled on farms and in the coal-mining towns of Alberta, near Lethbridge and Edmonton.

Japanese Canadians, both Issei immigrants and their Canadian-born children, called Nisei (second generation), have faced prejudice and discrimination. Beginning in 1874, BC politicians pandered to white supremacists and passed a series of laws intended to force all Asians to leave Canada. All Asians were denied the right to vote: the Chinese in 1874; Japanese in 1895; and “Hindoos” (South Asians) in 1907. Laws excluded Asians from underground mining, the civil service and professions such as the practice of law, which required the practitioner to be listed on the provincial voting lists. Labour and minimum-wage laws ensured that employers hired Asian Canadians only for menial jobs or farm labour, and paid them at lower pay-rates than Caucasians. When Asians worked harder and longer to earn a living wage, white labour unions accused Asian Canadians of unfair competition, stealing jobs and undermining union efforts to raise the living standards of white workers. On 7 September 1907, five days ahead of the arrival of the SS Monteagle from Punjab — a steamer carrying 901 Sikhs to the CPR pier in Vancouver — hostility toward Asian immigrants erupted. Whipped up by agitators from the Asiatic Exclusion League, a mob of 9,000 smashed windows and destroyed the homes and shops of Asian-Canadians in Chinatown and “Japantown.” When the mob reached the Japantown section of Vancouver, they were driven away by Japanese immigrants who were veterans of the recent Russo-Japanese war. That success fuelled the “yellow peril” warnings of white supremacists and gave birth to their “big lie” that Japan was smuggling an army into Canada.

In the First World War, with a few rare exceptions, recruitment offices in BC would not accept Asians for military service. To circumvent this practice, over 200 Issei men travelled from British Columbia to Alberta to enlist. Of the 222 who served, 54 were killed and 13 men received the Military Metal of Bravery.

After the First World War, discrimination continued. Just before the start of the 1922 salmon season, the federal fisheries department reduced by one third the number of troll licenses issued to Japanese Canadian fishermen. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the BC government denied logging licences to Asians and paid Asians only a fraction of the social assistance paid to whites.

During the Second World War, the federal Cabinet destroyed the Japanese Canadian community in BC. On 25 February 1942, a mere 12 weeks after the 7 December 1941 attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong, the federal Cabinet, at the instigation of racist BC politicians, used the War Measures Act to order the removal of all Japanese Canadians residing within 160 km of the Pacific coast. At the time the government claimed that Japanese Canadians were being removed for reasons of “national security,” despite the fact that the removal order was opposed by Canada’s senior military and RCMP officers, who stated that Japanese Canadians posed no threat to Canada’s security.

In 1942, 20,881 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry, 75 per cent of whom were Canadian citizens, were removed from their homes, farms and businesses. More than 8,000 were moved through a temporary detention centre at Hastings Park (now the Pacific National Exhibition Grounds) in Vancouver, where the women and children were accommodated in the Livestock Building. The detainees were shipped to camps near Hope, BC and in the Kootenay Mountains, to sugar beet farms in Southern Alberta and Manitoba, and to road camps along the Hope-Princeton and Yellowhead highways in BC, and at Schreiber, ON. Those who resisted the removal of Japanese Canadians were shipped to prisoner-of-war (POW) camps at Petawawa and Angler in Ontario.

Jewish Canadians

Jews in western Europe participated in the opening up of the Americas to European settlement, but were legally barred from residence in New France, where immigration was restricted to Catholics. Jews settled in the British colonies to the south and after the incorporation of New France into the British Empire began also to settle in Lower Canada. By 1768, the number of Jews in Montréal had grown to the point where they decided to establish Canada’s first synagogue, Shearith Israel. By the late 18th century Jews had also settled in Québec City and other parts of Lower Canada. The Hart family were prominent in the area of Trois-Rivières; Ezekiel Hart was elected to the legislature of Lower Canada in 1807 but was denied his seat on the basis of his religion. Jews participated in the settlement of Upper Canada, establishing the first synagogue in Toronto (later Holy Blossom Temple) in 1856.

The 1871 census, the first after Confederation, counted 1115 Jews in Canada – 409 in Montréal, 157 in Toronto, 131 in Hamilton and smaller numbers in Québec City, Saint John, London, Kingston and Brantford. A community of over a hundred was also settled in British Columbia when it joined Confederation. British Columbia’s first delegation to the House of Commons included Henry Nathan, the first Jewish Canadian MP.

At the end of the 19th century, 80% of the world’s 10 million Jews lived in the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German empires. The possibility of better conditions elsewhere, prejudice, legal discrimination, and violence encouraged emigration. Pogroms – violent mob attacks on Jewish neighbourhoods involving rape, injury, murder, looting and destruction – began in the Russian Empire in 1881. Jews fled eastern Europe to many places, including Canada, in the period from the 1880s to the beginning of WWI. Jews also moved north from the United States, part of the cross-border migration common in much of Canadian history.

By the time the outbreak of WWI curbed immigration, there were over 100 000 Jewish Canadians. Montréal and Toronto together accounted for about three-quarters of the Canadian Jewish population, but Jews could be found in every major city and in dozens of smaller places. Jews worked as retailers and wholesalers, many beginning as pedlars and working their way up to established businesses. Jews also provided much of the labour for the urban sweatshops of the new ready-to-wear clothing industry. Jewish merchants spread out to small towns, adding synagogues to the places of worship found in rural Canada. Eleven Jewish farm colonies were founded in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, assisted by the Jewish Colonization Society.

Turn of the century Jewish immigrants came almost entirely from the multinational empires of eastern Europe. Nationalist movements (see Nationalism) within these empires were organizing in pursuit of greater autonomy and eventual national independence. Modern nationalism encouraged the revival of Jewish national identity, which took two forms. Each had mass support in eastern Europe. The first was the movement for the reconstruction of modern Jewish life around guaranteed minority rights within modern nation-states, with separate social institutions controlled by the Jewish minority, and the recognition that the primary language of modern Jewish cultural life would be the everyday language of eastern European Jews – Yiddish. The second form of modern Jewish nationalism, Zionism, aimed at the re-establishment of an independent national state in the ancient Jewish homeland.

Jewish immigrants to Canada from eastern Europe were sympathetic to both of these movements. The Montreal Jewish Public Library – one of the major institutions of that community – Yiddish theatres, and Yiddish literary creativity had their social base in the attachment to Yiddish culture. The generation of Jews who were being transformed into urban factory workers were particularly strong supporters of secular Yiddish culture. The language of their unions and fraternal organizations was Yiddish; through it they shared and interpreted their experiences in the new land.

The mounting enthusiasm for Zionism in eastern Europe was paralleled in Canada. The Federation of Canadian Zionist Societies, founded in 1899 – two years after the first World Zionist Congress – became the first nation-wide Canadian Jewish organization. Zionism attracted wide support, including many affluent Jews, who followed the example of Clarence de Sola, the leader of the Federation of Canadian Zionist Societies, by joining the movement. The Zionist movement was an important setting where women’s talents were encouraged; women’s Zionist organizations took on distinct projects and produced their own cadre of leaders. By the first decades of the 20th century the Canadian Zionist movement, like Zionism world-wide, also contained organizations with competing philosophies. Mizrachi blended Zionism with religious Orthodoxy. Poalei Zion (“the Workers of Zion”) had a strong following among the Jewish working class.

Jewish immigrants also brought a tradition of establishing a communal body, called a “kehillah,” to look after their social welfare needs. The first Jewish social welfare body in Canada was the Young Men’s Hebrew Benevolent Society, founded in Montréal in 1863 to assist Jewish immigrants (in recognition of financial support, the name was changed to the Baron de Hirsch Institute in 1900). Montréal and Toronto, with large populations, developed a wide range of communal organizations – hospitals, social work agencies, homes for the aged, libraries and more. There was a gradual movement towards the formation of organizations to co-ordinate fundraising in local communities. Immigrant Jews also founded landsmenschaften – literally, organizations of people from the same place. Landsmenschaften would sometimes sponsor synagogues, but they were primarily organizations in which immigrants helped each other and which could reply, as a group, to appeals for help from those left behind.

In 1930 the Canadian government responded to the unemployment caused by the beginning of the Depression by imposing severe restrictions on immigration. Although the cabinet could, and did, approve certain kinds of immigrants, permission for Jews to enter was almost never given. Religious intolerance was still a common feature of Canadian society. Anti-Semitism, which compounded religious intolerance with the new “science” of racism, was found among cultural and political leaders (see Prejudice and Discrimination).

In the face of strong opposition within the Cabinet and the upper levels of the civil service to admitting Jews, the Canadian Jewish Congress was reorganized under the leadership of Samuel Bronfman to work for a safe haven in Canada for some of the increasingly desperate Jews of Europe. Despite mass protests and continuous lobbying by political and communal leaders throughout the Depression and war years, pleas on behalf of the trapped Jews of Europe went unheeded. Canada took in proportionately fewer Jews than any western country. At the same time, 17 000 Jewish Canadians responded to the call to arms in WWII and served in the armed forces.

The hard economic times of the Depression led to a greater awareness of the need to co-ordinate the fundraising for communal organizations. The level of co-ordination increased in Toronto with the organization of the United Jewish Welfare Fund in 1937 and in Montréal with the formation of the Combined Jewish Appeal Campaign in 1941.

South Asian Canadians

The first South Asian migrants to Canada arrived in Vancouver in 1903. The great majority of them were Sikhs who had heard of Canada from British Indian troops in Hong Kong, who had travelled through Canada the previous year on their way to the coronation celebrations of Edward VII. Attracted by high Canadian wages, they soon found work. Immigration thereafter increased quickly and totalled 5,209 by the end of 1908; all of these immigrants were men who had temporarily left their families to find employment in Canada. Perhaps 90 per cent were Sikhs, primarily from Punjab farming backgrounds. Virtually all of them remained in British Columbia.

Seeing in them the same racial threat as it saw in Japanese Canadians and Chinese immigrants before them, the BC government quickly limited South Asian rights and privileges. In 1907 South Asians were provincially disenfranchised, which denied them the federal vote and access to political office, jury duty, the professions, public-service jobs and labour on public works. In the following year, the federal government enacted an immigration regulation that specified that immigrants had to travel to Canada with continuous-ticketing arrangements from their country of origin. There were no such arrangements between India and Canada and, as was its intent, the continuous-journey provision consequently precluded further South Asian immigration. This ban separated men from their families and made further growth of the community impossible.

Vigorous court challenges of the regulations proved ineffective, and in 1913 frustration with government treatment culminated in the evolution of the Ghadar Party, an organization that aimed to overthrow British rule in India. The immigration ban was directly challenged in 1914, when the freighter Komagata Maru sailed from Hong Kong to Canada with 376 prospective South Asian immigrants. The continuous-ticketing requirement that was enacted to prevent immigration from ships such as the Komagata Maru had the desired effect and prevented immigration of its passengers: the ship had not arrived directly from India but had come to Canada via Hong Kong, where it had picked up passengers of Indian descent from Shanghai, Moji and Yokohama. Immigration officials isolated the ship in Vancouver harbour for two months, and it was forced to return to Asia. Revolutionary sentiment thereafter reached a high pitch, and many men returned to India to work for Ghadar.

The federal government’s continuous-journey provision remained law until 1947, as did most British Columbia anti-South Asian legislation. Because of community pressure and representations by the government of India, Canada allowed the wives and dependent children of South Asian Canadian residents to immigrate in 1919, and by the mid-1920s a small flow of wives and children had been established. This did not counter the effect of migration by South Asian Canadians to India and the US, which by the mid-1920s had reduced the South Asian population in Canada to about 1,300.

During the 1920s, South Asian economic security increased, primarily through work in the lumber industry and the sale of wood and sawdust as home heating fuel. In addition, a number of lumber mills were acquired by South Asians, two of which employed over 300 people. The effects of the Great Depression on the community were severe but were mitigated by extensive mutual aid. By the Second World War, South Asians in British Columbia had gained much local support in their drive to secure the vote, especially from the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. In 1947, the British Columbia ban against voting, as well as other restrictions, were removed.

Faced with the coming independence of India, the federal government removed the continuous-passage regulation in the same year, replacing it in 1951 by an annual immigration quota for India (150 a year), Pakistan (100) and Ceylon (50). At that time there were only 2,148 South Asians in Canada. Moderate expansion of immigration increased the Canadian total to 6,774 by 1961, then grew it to 67,925 by 1971. By 2011 the South Asian population in Canada was 1,567,400.

As racial and national restrictions were removed from the immigration regulations in the 1960s, South Asian immigration mushroomed. It also became much more culturally diverse; a large proportion of immigrants in the 1950s were the Sikh relatives of pioneer South Asian settlers, while the 1960s also saw sharp increases in immigration from other parts of India and from Pakistan. By the early 1960s, two-thirds of South Asian immigrant men were professionals — teachers, doctors, university professors and scientists. Canadian preferences for highly skilled immigrants during the 1960s broadened the ethnic range of South Asians and hence decreased the proportion of Sikhs. Non-discriminatory immigration regulations enacted in 1967 resulted in a further dramatic increase in South Asian immigration.

In 1972, all South Asians were expelled from Uganda. Canada accepted 7,000 of them (many of whom were Ismailis) as political refugees. Thereafter a steady flow of South Asians have come to Canada from Kenya, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire), either directly or via Britain. The 1970s also marked the beginning of migration from Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Mauritius. During 1977–85 a weaker Canadian economy significantly reduced South Asian immigration to about 15,000 a year.