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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 ($).
Other Notable Groups
Southern European settlers were evident in lesser numbers in earlier times—one would suspect in part due to their lack of experience with harsh winters. One exception to this was the Italians. While Italian immigration existed in the late 19th century, large numbers did not begin to arrive until after WWII. They tended to settle in areas where unskilled labour was required. This included locations such as Cape Breton, northern Ontario and British Columbia. In many cases, the early Italians who came tended to be sojourners rather than settlers.
Small numbers of Jewish settlers existed in Montreal and Halifax in the 18th century. Under early French rule, non-Catholics were not allowed to settle in New France. Some Jews who came got around this by pretending to convert to Catholicism while secretly continuing to practise their own religion. The British were more tolerant in their colonies and although Jews in Britain were not allowed citizenship, a 1740 act of Parliament allowed Jews in the colonies to be naturalized. Many of the early immigrants came up from the United States.
In 1831, the Jews of Canada presented a petition to the Legislative Assembly seeking equal civil rights.
“The Bill, removing the political disabilities of the Jews of Lower Canada and permitting them to omit from the oath “On the true faith of a Christian,” passed without difficulty and received Royal assent on June 5, 1832. By this action Canada became the first self-governing portion of the British Empire to grant full political emancipation to its Jewish inhabitants.” (Rosenberg 1955, 17)
By the time of Confederation there were just over 1,000 Jews living in Canada, the majority of whom were in Montreal and Toronto. Larger numbers began arriving at the time of the pogroms in Russia in the 1880s. Almost 15,000 Jewish immigrants came to Canada in the last half of the nineteenth century; another 120,000 arrived between 1900 and 1930. By 1951, there were over 200,000 Jews living in Canada.
For about 100 years (1760-1865), most of the blacks arriving in Canada were fleeing slavery in the United States. The United Empire Loyalists brought about 2,000 black slaves with them, most going to the Maritimes. In 1833, Britain passed a law abolishing slavery in her colonies. The Underground Railroad, a rescue effort for American blacks fleeing slavery began in the 1780s and resulted in as many as 30,000 slaves making their way to Canada by the end of the U.S. Civil War. Blacks tended to settle in segregated communities in the eastern townships in Quebec; Halifax, Shelburne, Digby and Guysborough in Nova Scotia; Saint John and Fredericton in New Brunswick and Windsor, Chatham, London, St. Catharines and Hamilton in Ontario. Saltspring Island and Victoria in British Columbia were also areas of 19th century black settlement. The black population in Canada did not increase much more until changes to the Immigration Act in the 1960s allowed immigration from the West Indies and Africa.
At the time of Confederation, Canadians of Irish origin were the second largest group in the country after the French Canadians. Most people identify the large scale immigration of Irish to Canada with the years of the potato famine. However, there were earlier waves, the most significant of which was during the years 1825-45 when Irish constituted about 60% of all arrivals. About 475,000 Irish had arrived in British North America before the time of the famine. The majority of these were from the northern parts of Ireland, particularly Ulster, north Connaught and north Leinster. They tended to immigrate in family groups. Studies also indicate that many followed and settled close to family and friends already established—a good example of chain migration.
“By the 1830s, Cumberland County in Nova Scotia, Kings, Queens, Carleton and Northumberland Counties in New Brunswick; Queens County in P.E.I.; and virtually the whole of Upper Canada east of Toronto and north of the older Loyalist settlements were distinctly Irish in character.” (Tracey 1999, 47)
The oldest Irish colony overseas was in Newfoundland. Records indicate that fishing ships from Waterford and Dublin were carrying cargoes of salt cod soon after Cabot’s discovery of the area. As time progressed, Irish fishermen were employed by French fisheries out of French ports such as St. Malo and were working in Newfoundland and Acadia. After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Irish began to settle in Newfoundland and continuous occupancy began about 1820 in places such as Carbonear, Harbour Grace, Harbour Main, St. John’s, Bay Bulls, Ferryland, Trepassey and Placentia. From there, the Irish migrated to Acadia, Louisbourg, Halifax, Cape Breton and PEI. Migration of Irish to Atlantic Canada was decreasing by the time of the famine and in addition, a large number of Irish or their descendants migrated on from their initial stop. Between 1767 and 1850 about 10,000 emigrants from 25 counties of Ireland settled in PEI. O’Grady (p. 203) discusses three phases of Irish settlement in PEI:
Colonial pioneers (1758-1810) South-eastern immigrants (1800-1840) Monaghan settlers (1830-1850)
According to O’Grady, Irish settlers in PEI were overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.
In New Brunswick, at the time of the 1871 census, the Irish numbered 100,000 of a total population of 285,000. Irish settlers attracted by the growing timber trade began arriving almost 100 years before the Loyalists and settled in the Mirimichi area. A large influx occurred during the famine years when ships put in to the harbour at Saint John. Many of these immigrants continued on to the U.S.
In Quebec, the timber trade also attracted Irish immigrants. Work was plentiful in the towns and land was available in surrounding areas. Settlements developed in the areas of Portneuf County, particularly Shannon, Valcartier and St. Catharines, as well as in the Gaspé where the fishing industry was flourishing. Most of the Irish who settled in Quebec were Catholic.
In general terms, particularly in Ontario, the pre-famine Irish emigrants tended to be Protestant, “reduced in circumstances, but well above the poverty line” (Akenson 1988, 23) and the majority settled in rural areas. In 1871 in Ontario, 66.3% of Irish descended Catholics and 83.2% of Irish descended Protestants were living in rural areas. Irish settlement also occurred in the west, but tended to be migration of those already settled in Canada or their descendants. Hereward Senior in his article Orangemen on the Frontier: The Prairies and British Columbia, traces the settlement of the west by the Irish through the establishment of Orange Lodges in various locations. He includes in his article a map showing the westward movement (p 416).
During the famine years (1846-1852), about 2 million of the poorest citizens left Ireland, and it is estimated that a million more died in the attempt to find a better life. While hundreds of thousands came to Canada, many moved on to settle in the United States.
Did you know… They are referred to as ‘coffin ships’. Immigrants were packed onto timber ships that would otherwise have returned empty to Canada. The ships often were filthy and overcrowded. Many of the passengers were already sick or weak from hunger before they left and disease traveled quickly in the close quarters and unsanitary conditions. Large numbers died on the voyage or shortly after arrival.
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.