A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History
Immigration History

Like many of their Swiss contemporaries, the Richard family members were living lives of quiet desperation, lives essentially composed of labouring hours and dire poverty. During this time period, Canadian agents were actively campaigning to attract immigrants to Canada's West, often depicting the country as a promised land. Immigrants were often led to believe that the soil was so rich in Canada that fruit trees would basically plant themselves. Richard's father had no farming background and when he arrived in Cold Lake, the land he had been promised was covered with ice. By springtime, the Richards were burdened with homesteading work and realized that they had substituted one life of hardships for another. Richard's family stayed but many Swiss immigrants left Canada and returned to their native country broken by the experience.

Although there has been a Swiss presence in Canada since the early 1600's, most of the first Swiss immigrants to Canada were either soldiers or Government representatives. A number of the early Governor Generals in Québec were Swiss, as was the founder of the North West Company. Important movements of population from Switzerland to Canada, however, did not occur until the early 1800's. Among those who chose Canada as their new homeland were a fair number of Pennsylvania Mennonites who moved north to Canada following the American Revolution. Many of them settled near Waterloo, Ontario. And as Canada became known as the ‘Last Best West' towards the end of the Nineteenth Century, many others elected to settle down in the Prairies.

In 1923, while Switzerland was suffering from an economic depression, an official program, called the ‘Canada Movement' was jointly developed by the Zurich-based Swiss Association for Colonization, the Canadian Government, the Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway. The purpose was to try and encourage Swiss nationals to emigrate to Canada and farm the West. The cost of moving was to be covered by the Swiss Association for Colonization. During the first year of operation, 1400 Swiss immigrants were attracted to Canada, many without any farming experience. When confronted to the harsh reality of the Canadian West, many of the businesspeople, shop-keepers and hotel keepers who had bought into the program returned, bitter, to Switzerland. Two years after its inception, and partly because newspapers in Zurich began to spread the word about the true nature of the ‘Canada Movement,' the program came to an end.

Canada was not spared the massive unemployment caused by the 1929 Depression. The Canadian West suffered through droughts, fallen wheat prices and plagues of locusts and, as a result, the Canadian Government closed its doors to immigration. When World War II ceased, those doors opened again and Swiss nationals, like other Europeans, took advantage of the new "open policy" and emigrated to Canada in record numbers. Swiss clubs sprang up and the influence of the Swiss began to be felt, most notably within the hospitality and recreational fields. The first Nordic Ski School in Canada, located in Collingwood, Ontario, was founded by Swiss immigrants.

The 1996 census reported that, the majority of the 19,310 Swiss immigrants to Canada had settled down in Ontario, particularly around Waterloo where Mennonite communities were established.

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