The act of migration is an adventure, whether journeying over an ocean, travelling from one continent to another, or, in the case of American immigrants to Canada, simply crossing the 49th parallel. It was Martha Black's spirit of adventure that lured her away from Chicago's high-society life and onto the trail of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. Most of the stampeders left Canada as abruptly as they came, never to return. But for Martha Black, the Gold Rush was only the beginning of a greater adventure: the creation of a new life in a new country. It was a remarkable life which would see Martha become a legend of the Yukon and one of Canada's most celebrated female pioneers.
Exactly how many Americans have made similar journeys to Canada has always been difficult to determine. Migration between the American-Canadian border has usually been treated as a natural event. The similarities of the two nations contribute to this easy back-and-forth. To make analysis even blurrier, Americans were never singled out in the Canadian census until 1991 when respondents had the opportunity to write in their place of origin if it wasn't among the options listed.1
Nonetheless, the United States of America has been one of the oldest and most enduring sources of immigrants to Canada. Over the years an estimated three million Americans immigrated here. The first were Yankee Planters to Nova Scotia in the mid-1700s followed by the Loyalists, fleeing the American Revolution in the later 18th century. 2
The largest wave of Americans to Canada was between 1895 to 1915. The frontier in rural America was just coming to a close, ending an era in which good cheap land was available in seemingly unlimited quantities. At the same time, the railways were just opening up the Canadian West. American farmers poured into Canada, making up nearly as many of the western settlers as those from the British Isles. The effects of this migration can still be seen in the relatively high American-born presence in Alberta and Saskatchewan and in the ratio of farmers among the American-born. Some argue that it is also evident in political attitudes in these provinces which differ dramatically from the rest of Canada. 3
The newly elected Liberal government reflected these changing economic conditions with its immigration law of 1896. Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior under Laurier, speaking to the Commons in 1902, explained that all government immigration work was directed exclusively toward encouraging settlement of rural areas: "The test we have to apply is this," he said. "Does the person intending to come to Canada intend to become an agriculturalist? If he does, we encourage him to come and give him every assistance we can. But we give no encouragement whatever to persons who come to work for wages." 4
Despite various immigration restrictions over the years, the proximity of Canada with the United States has made for easy immigration and remigration. Between WWI and the 1970s, U. S. citizens were less likely that other foreign nationals to become Canadian citizens. But from 1902 to 1914, over 74,000 Americans became Canadians, making up over one-third of the total immigrants naturalized over this period. One-tenth of all American immigrants over the entire 20th century have become Canadian citizens, making up 7% of all aliens to do so. So even though many Americans have come and then returned home, many others still have chosen to stay and make Canada their permanent home. 5