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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian:Immigration Records by Patricia McGregor, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Border Crossings and Immigration Policy
As both the U.S. and Canada expanded westward, movement across the border increased. Canadian settlers migrating west often selected the easier American route, crossing back into Canada at points west of the Great Lakes. The Canadian government in the late 1800s was actively recruiting American farmers to move north. Chinese immigrants heading to Canada during the gold rush and later to work on railway construction often came by land and sea from cities along the American west coast.
No records were kept of early cross border travel. Even in 1900 “most Americans and other people could and did cross the border without anybody paying the slightest attention.” (Bothwell et al. 1987, 59)
Remember that at this time there was no such thing as Canadian citizenship. The Statistical Year Book of Canada for 1890 states that it is impossible to report on numbers related to cross border travel:
- “While there is such a long line of open frontier there must always be a considerable movement of population on both sides, of which it is impossible to obtain any record... The greatest care is taken by the Department, and by the agents, that all the returns shall be as accurate as possible, but the only ones that can be thoroughly relied on ... are those of arrivals at the principal sea ports, as Quebec and Halifax, which are also a registration by names and callings, from the ships’ passenger lists. No distinction is made in British Columbia between passengers and immigrants and the figures for that province can only be arrived at by estimation.” (p. 87)
Cross border travel was becoming a concern in the early 1900s. When Clifford Sifton became Minister of the Interior in 1886 there were no controls over people who came to Canada by rail, land or inland waterways. Many immigrants who arrived at American ports made their way overland to Canada. Movement in the other direction occurred as well, for many who arrived at the port of Quebec were simply ‘in transit’ to the United States. Many Canadian-born individuals and families were also moving south of the border.
- “In those days before quotas, visas, ‘landed immigrant status’, and SIN numbers, no one knew just how many immigrants there were.” (Bothwell et al. 1987, 59)
Politicians were beginning to look at ‘net migration’—immigration minus migration. There were concerns expressed in the Maritime provinces that overall population was just holding its own, if not actually decreasing. New arrivals were not coming in sufficient numbers to offset those leaving. At the same time, British Columbia was facing a different issue. Leaders and residents there were vocalizing concerns about the number of Asians (mostly Chinese and Japanese) entering the province via CPR steamships or across the Canadian-American border. In 1901, 20,000 of the 22,000 Asian residents in Canada lived in B.C.; by 1911 over ¾ of the total Asian population of 40,000 had settled there.
Throughout the first decade of the 20th century, provincial legislators in B.C. attempted to enact legislation to control the influx of Asians. These attempts were always disallowed by the federal government. The fear of British Columbians was that without some type of control the province would soon have an Asian majority.
So with all of this movement back and forth, no one had a good understanding of the cross border migrations. A new Immigration Act in 1906 established some control along the American border. Immigrants were now required to come by direct continuous journey from their homeland. However, this requirement did not apply to Americans or those from the British Isles. The Act also included:
- “... new provision for the deportation of immigrants who might become criminals, public charges, or infirm; new rules for the exclusion of the same groups, as well as prostitutes and procurers; and means by which the government could fix a necessary minimum ‘landing money’ and make other regulations as well. In 1907, consequently, there were regulations to exclude certain subsidized immigrants and to require from $25 to $50 in landing money, except from agricultural workers, domestic servants, and immigrants who were coming to join close relatives.” (Bothwell et al. 1987, 56-57)
While the government was able to practically shutdown Chinese immigration with the regularly increasing head tax, it was not so simple to control Japanese entry. Because of the alliance between Britain and Japan, the Canadian government could not take independent action. Indeed the Anglo-Japanese Treaty allowed for free movement of nationals between the two countries. If Canada wanted a different approach it would have to be achieved through diplomatic negotiations. In 1907 an agreement was reached with the Japanese government. “... in an early form of ‘voluntary quotas’, the Japanese government would allow no more than 400 migrants to go from Japan to Canada each year’’. (Bothwell et al. 1987, 57) The ‘direct voyage’ regulation further closed the door for Asians as they could no longer use Honolulu as a transfer point.
Starting in 1908 and up to 1918 almost 200 border ports of entry were established in Canada with the purpose of inspecting and recording arriving immigrants. Do not be confused by the word ‘port’—these included “inland crossing points as well as ferry ports and ship landings on lake and coastal areas” (Merriman 1996, 143). The records (RG76, Series C5a) at Library and Archives Canada are arranged by port and then date of entry into Canada. Unfortunately this often means a long and tedious search. There are no nominal indexes and you will have to figure out where your ancestor entered Canada and in which year.
Brenda Merriman in her book, Genealogy in Ontario: Searching the Records, includes a list of border ports in Ontario between 1908 and 1918 as well as the associated Library and Archives Canada microfilm numbers.
Destination Canada: A guide to 20th century immigration records, by Dave Obee includes lists of border entry records by province. For each port in that province, he identifies the appropriate LAC microfilm number. Obee’s newest book Destination Canada: A Genealogical Guide to Immigration Records has recently been published.
Border entry film numbers are also available at the LAC page.
Border Entry Documents
Border Entries at Emerson, 11 July 1913. Page 5 of 6. Library and Archives Canada. Microfilm T-5478.
Individual forms, called ‘Form 30s’ recorded immigrants entering Canada from or via the United States. Some forms from later years are also included in the series. These forms replaced the large sheet border entry forms previously used. This form was discontinued after January 1, 1925 although some later dated forms do exist. The following information is usually contained in a Form 30:
- Port and date of entry
- Last permanent address
When consulting these forms, it is important to remember that they were filmed in reverse order—the backside of the form first and then the front side. Also they were microfilmed in quasi-alphabetical order. From the LAC website:
- “For each letter of the alphabet, surnames are arranged in groupings based on the initial letters of each name. For example, surnames starting with Ada, Adc and Add are grouped together starting with given names beginning with A. Such a grouping could include the following arrangement of forms: Anne Adair, Benjamin Adcock, Christopher Addison, David Adair, etc.”
If you plan on consulting these forms LAC suggests you print a copy of the instruction page .
LAC microfilm numbers for Form 30s run from T-15429 to T-15344. The finding aid for the films is online.
Examine the Form 30 for Elizabeth COLLIE. What genealogical connections can you make from the information provided?
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Immigration Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.