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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 ($).
IMMIGRATION POLICY IN THE 20TH CENTURY – AN OVERVIEW
In 1905 Frank Oliver replaced Clifford Sifton as Minister of the Interior. While both men were Liberals they had very different views on immigration. Mr. Oliver wasted little time in making changes. Sifton had been selective regarding the type of immigrant the country should be attracting (farmers and farm labourers), but he was not selective regarding their origin. On the other hand Oliver felt that ethnic and cultural origin should take precedence over occupation. He established a hierarchy of desirable settlers for the west:
- Newcomers to eastern Canada
- British immigrants
- American settlers
The Immigration Act of 1906 was the first legal mechanism for enforcing a policy of selective categories of prohibited immigrants and it put into law the right of the government to deport undesirables. In 1906 Oliver also cancelled the North Atlantic Trading Company contract, which had given bonuses to selected agricultural immigrants from designated European countries, (note the absence of Europe in the list above). In the same year Oliver took steps to increase British immigration. He increased the bonus paid to British booking agents who sold tickets to British farmers, farm labourers and domestics and he opened new immigration offices in Exeter, York and Aberdeen. In 1907 he appointed 100 agents and paid each one two dollars for every British agricultural labourer recruited and placed in Ontario or Quebec. American farmers were also solicited, but only white ones. Although some Blacks settled in the prairies in the early 1900s, they were few: 98 in 1901 and 1,524 by 1911.
Immigration Act of 1910
This act gave cabinet a wide range of discretionary powers which allowed it to regulate the volume, ethnic origin or occupational composition of immigration. While the Act did not bar specific groups it did give the Immigration branch the mechanism to encourage some and restrict others. Through this act it was possible for example to prohibit the entry of those deemed unsuited to the Canadian climate. Also excluded were all charity cases who had not received written authority to emigrate, either from the superintendent of immigration at Ottawa or the assistant superintendent of emigration for Canada in London. According to Knowles (1992, 80-81), this was inspired by a wave of poor British immigrants who arrived in 1907. In 1908, 70% of the deportations from Canada were British immigrants.
In addition, the 1910 Act allowed for deportation on the basis of political or moral instability. This legal framework for deportation remained relatively unchanged until after WWII.
In spite of all of these controls, strong immigration continued as shown by the following numbers:
- 1906 - over 200,000
- 1911 - over 300,000
- 1912 - over 400,000
“The Liberal and Conservative governments did succeed in dramatically reducing immigration from Asia, but they failed to staunch the flow from central and eastern Europe. For, although both governments’ stated goal was to attract agriculturalists to Western Canada, the fact remains that Canadian railway companies, manufacturers and resource extraction industries needed and clamoured for a large pool of labour to supply the goods and services required by the new settlers. Responding to the demands of the ever vociferous and powerful business lobby, the government of the day opened the floodgates still wider, admitting in the process increasing numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled labourers in the period 1911 to 1913.” (Knowles 1992, 90-91)
Did you know... The Japanese steamer, Komagata Maru, tried to challenge the continuous journey regulation when it arrived in Vancouver on May 23, 1914 with over 350 East Indians on board. Canadian authorities had hoped that if deprived of food and water, the ship would decide to leave. On June 20, with the passengers facing starvation, it was agreed that the case could go before an Immigration Board of Enquiry. The case and a subsequent appeal were lost and all the passengers (except about 20 returning Canadian residents) were deported 2 months after the ship had first arrived.
Immigration Policy 1915-1945
In 1915, immigration dropped to just over 36,000 and three quarters of those came from the United States. The thirty years between 1915 and 1945 saw several events which negatively affected immigration: a war, recession, depression and then another war. Not only did immigration drop off, but the Canadian government’s War Measures Act of 1914 allowed the government to round up and intern anyone they considered an “enemy alien”. This included recent Eastern European immigrants, naturalized British subjects and Canadians categorized as being of foreign born origins. Many of these men, women and children had done nothing wrong, and when interned had no ground for legal recourse. Other so labelled “enemy aliens” were subject to restrictions on freedom of speech, association and movement and were prohibited from leaving the country and many lost their jobs. For the duration of the war, they were prohibited from acquiring land from Dominion lands in western Canada. In 1917 the Office of Immigration and Colonization was created thus transforming a branch of the Department of the Interior into a separate department.
With the widespread unemployment which followed WWI came anti-foreign sentiment, a fear of communism as a result of the Russian Revolution and no interest in large scale immigration.
The Immigration Act of 1919 showed a significant change in policy. Now it was not economic considerations that were important but rather culture and ideology. The result was a shift in focus to immigrants from white Commonwealth nations, the U.S. and north-western Europe. The 1920s saw no repetition of the massive pre-war numbers.
As a result of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 almost all Chinese were barred entry with the following exceptions:
- members of the diplomatic corps
- children born in Canada to Chinese parents
- merchants who had a minimum of $2,500 invested in a business for at least 3 years and were prepared to invest $2,500 in a business in Canada.
This act also prohibited the landing of Chinese anywhere in Canada except at the ports of Vancouver and Victoria.
There was still an interest in attracting immigrants from Britain. The Empire Settlement Act passed by the British parliament in 1922 facilitated emigration through a cooperative effort of the British and Canadian governments, public authorities and private organizations in the establishment of a number of settlement schemes. Immigrants were offered reduced transportation rates and some of those intending to settle on farms were given agricultural training. Only about 130,000 took advantage of these offers between 1925 and 1931. Perhaps the following comments by Young explain why the program was not overly successful:
- “As a farm settler, the British immigrant is not always a success. He brings with him, in the first place a well developed Imperial complex—the “I know” attitude so strangely at variance with his actual ignorance of the methods and outlook of the West. ... In the second place, born in a country which has perhaps the most advanced social legislation in the world, and educated to the idea that the state owes him a living, the British immigrant often comes severely handicapped for participation in the most individualistic enterprise on which man can embark.” (Young 1931, 292)
Throughout the 1920s the government’s preference continued to be for would-be farmers, agricultural workers and domestic servants. Although Canadian immigration policies and regulations had been sometimes blatant, but certainly always subtly anti-Asian, anti-African and pro agriculturalist, they had not been explicitly anti-Semitic until 1938. Many politicians and officials preferred immigrants who would become agriculturalists, and their feeling was that Jews were more inclined to seek livelihoods in trade and commerce, and given a choice, would likely settle in urban areas. Between 1920 and 1930, 48,000 Jews were admitted to Canada. As many Canadians were moving on to the U.S. in the early to mid 1920s, barriers against large scale European immigration began to come down. As an example, in 1923 a regulation restricting immigrants from Germany and her wartime allies was repealed.
In 1925 the federal government signed an agreement with the Canadian Pacific Railway giving it control over recruitment of European agriculturalists. This agreement allowed railways to recruit immigrants from those countries which had previously been designated “non-preferred”. These non-preferred countries included Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, Austria and Germany. There were however still classes that were prohibited. By 1927 the list included:
- “... the tubercular, feeble-minded, imbecilic, epileptic, insane, alcoholic, female prostitute or male pimp, beggar, vagrant, dumb, blind or physically defective, anarchist, spy, treasonous, most of the adult illiterate, and the ‘charity-aided immigrants and persons who are likely to become public charges’.” (Bothwell et al. 1987, 213)
By 1930, with Canada facing high unemployment, the agreement was cancelled. In fact all immigration from Europe was cancelled except for those with capital.
Leading up to WWII the plight of European refugees fleeing the Nazis was a growing problem. At this time refugees were not welcomed by the federal government or by large numbers of Canadians.
Did you know... In 1939 the S.S. St. Louis, carrying 936 passengers, 930 of them Jews fleeing the Nazis in Europe, was denied permission to dock by the Canadian government. The ship had been denied entry at Cuba, then made its way up the Atlantic coast shadowed by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter to make sure no one tried to swim for shore. When its request for sanctuary was turned down by Canada, the ship returned to Europe.
The Canadian National Committee on Refugees, established in 1938 lobbied for a more liberal immigration policy. While they were not successful in effecting significant policy changes, they did help settle individuals and families in Canada; they raised public awareness of the refugee issue; they prodded the government to accept some refugees from the Iberian peninsula in 1944; and they assisted anti-Nazi Germans, Italians and Austrians who had been transported from Britain to Canada in the 1940s and then placed in prison camps. (Knowles 1992, 112-113)
One refugee to Canada who became very successful was Thomas Bata who was allowed into Canada with 82 of his employees. Some skilled industrial workers from Sudeten had fled to Britain prior to the outbreak of war. With the promise of financial assistance from Britain for their transportation, Canada agreed to accept 1200 families. Those who came settled in two areas: St. Wallburg in north-east Saskatchewan and Tomslake in north-east B.C.
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 email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.