Crossroads of Culture 200 Years of Canadian Immigration (1800-2000)
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Historical Overview of Immigration to Canada

Colonial Era Immigrants

Historians recognize two distinct colonial periods in Canada's past:

  • New France, from 1604 to 1763
  • and British North America from 1670 to 1873.

Within New France there were two main population groups, one in the Maritimes, then known as Acadia, and the other in Quebec, whose members lived almost exclusively along the St. Lawrence, Richelieu and Saguenay rivers. Both peoples of French origin relied on the crops, livestock and fisheries they established themselves.

New France fell to British arms in the 1760s, cutting off immigration from the homeland. As a result, the birth rate had to account for population increases among French Canadians.

Immediately after the Conquest, the surge into Quebec of merchants and farmers from New England was large enough only to fill gaps left by those who had returned to France; the economy had no real slack or potential to absorb many more settlers. Consequently, the population of Canada remained static for a generation. The main action was to the south, where the American colonists, freed from the need for Britain's protection from France began resisting the restrictive mercantile system Britain imposed upon all its colonies. Eventually, these grievances and others led to a war for independence. When peace was concluded in 1783, the immediate effect on Canada was a wave of migrants north into the remaining British colonies. Known as United Empire Loyalists, they settled in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. They numbered 42,000 in all, and had a dramatic effect on Canada's linguistic, religious and commercial balances.

* The names of today's provinces are used throughout.