A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

A HISTORY OF ENGLISH IMMIGRATION TO CANADA

 

The first English credited with visiting Canada were two merchants from Bristol, Thorne and Eliot, who sailed to Newfoundland in 1494, three years prior to John Cabot officially claiming Newfoundland for the British Monarch in 1497. Thirty years later, in 1527, St John's, Newfoundland was an official rendezvous point for English fishing fleets.1

This long association between England and Canada was cemented by the founding of the Hudson Bay Company in 1670, which was fueled by the demand for Canadian furs in Europe. The English are credited with a number of firsts in terms of European exploration of Canada. In 1690, an Englishman, Henry Kelsey, reached and explored Canada's prairies. In 1754, Anthony Henday recorded the first European sighting of the Canadian Rockies. Between 1771-72, Samual Hearne made his journey up to Coppermine River to the Arctic Sea.2

The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, ended the North American war between the British and French, and granted the victorious British control of the former French colony of New France (Québec).3

The first substantial wave of English settlers arrived following the 1775-83 American revolution . The settlers known as "United Empire Loyalists" had remained loyal to the British Crown during the war, and as a result had to leave the thirteen colonies and flee north to British North America. They came by the thousands and were given land grants in recognition of their sacrifice. The vast majority settled in the maritime provinces.

In the 1800s, the industrial revolution in Britain created disparity in the quality of life, and towns like Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Crewe, turned into cities because of the job opportunities thought they could find there. Yet workers in these towns had to live and work in deplorable conditions; homes were built quickly and cheaply; often there would only be one privy to serve one hundred people; home sewage would flow down the streets. The back allies behind the houses were filled with garbage. Rats, disease and terrible smells of rotting garbage and human waste permeated the air. Alcohol became a serious drinking problem. In the city of Manchester, there were over one thousand taverns in 1830. There was no age limit with regards to drinking. Babies were given "quietners" during the day, to keep them still. This was a mixture of opium and rum. It was not unusual for children as young as twelve to be suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.4

One way to escape this destitution was to leave Britain for Canada. The numbers of people fleeing Britain for the colonies was so great during the 1800's that it became a national disgrace. Officials realized, however, that a way to ease their present unemployment crisis was to encourage this migration, so in 1819, the Parliament of Britain passed a law to encourage people to emigrate. In 1824, it became legal for skilled artisans to emigrate. In some cases, Britain helped pay for the passage of the settlers, and provided them with the equipment they required to homestead.5

John Talbot, a former aide to Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, was given a large land grant in the Guelph Galt area, that he was to sell to newly arrived immigrants. Talbot set up the Canada Company which heavily advertised in Britain, in a successful attempt to attract settlers to Canada. Entire parishes in England emptied. These people had little education and were totally unprepared for the rigours of pioneer life in Canada. The pictures painted by the Canada Company in its drive to attract settlers, did not depict the back-breaking reality.6

In 1851, there were 93,000 English immigrants living in Canada West (Ontario). This was roughly equal to the 90,000 Scottish immigrants. However, both of these groups were greatly outnumbered by the 227,000 Irish.7

After Confederation, there was a concerted effort to send poor children from Britain to Canada in the hopes that they would find a better life. These children were sent from private homes, schools and industries. From 1870 to 1920, 80,000 British children arrived in Canada.8

The English were attracted by the opening of Canada's West. In 1901, 10,000 settlers came to what was advertised as the "Last Best West." Canada established an immigration office in London in 1903. In 1906, 65,000 English immigrants made their way to Canada's West. In 1913, the year previous to the onset of World War I, the number of English settlers had risen to 113,004. During the 1920's, the British Government passed the "Empire Settlement Act," which offered financial assistance to potential citizens wanting to emigrate to Canada, but could not afford the passage. Over 130,000 English emigrated through the Settlement Act.9

The Canadian Government shut the door to immigration in the 1930's as the country struggled through "The Great Depression." It was not until after World War II that there was another influx of English settlers, although the numbers did not reach that of the turn-of-the-century. On average, following World War II, there were 7,000 English immigrants per year. In 1967, when the world's attention was on Canada as the country celebrating both its centennial and playing host to the World's Fair Expo, the number of English immigrants to Canada reached 43,000.

A number of factors reduced the volume of English immigrants throughout the 1970's and 1980's. By the 1996 census, 7% of Canadians listed England as their place of origin. However, when the question was broadened to include cultural origin, 17% of Canadians listed England as their cultural origin.10

Footnotes:

1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 10, 15 The Canadian Encyclopedia, Year 2000 Edition, Editor in Chief: James H. Marsh, McClelland & Stewart Inc., The Canadian Publishers, Toronto, Ont. cp. 1999.

3, 4, 5, 11, 13, 14 Our Cultural Heritage, by Sonia A. Riddoch. Pub. By Clarke, Irwin & Company Ltd., Toronto-Vancouver, cp. 1979.

8, 12 The Little Immigrants, by Kenneth Bagnell, Macmillan of Canada, Toronto, Canada, cp. 1980

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