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

Filling in the East

Until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, very few people emigrated to the North American colonies from Britain. Moreover, other new lands - Australia, India, New Zealand, the Caribbean, and the United States - had their own calls on Britons wanting to migrate overseas.

Another factor that slowed outflows from England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales was wartime prosperity at home. But once peace came, employment and trade both sharply declined, and economic depression occurred. Since investment and jobs in Canada were still bound very tightly to the old mercantile economy, there was very little opportunity for newcomers. This dragged on into the 1830s, until European commerce recovered, and when Britain's economy transformed from merchant to industrial capitalism.

Over the next century, a newly emerging world economy would bring millions of immigrants to Canada, and help to fill its lands with farms, railways, towns and cities. Britain would be the primary source of new settlers.

Fundamental and major changes to agriculture in all its regions displaced hundreds of thousands of farm families. Efficiencies in crop and livestock raising reduced the need for farm hands. Huge areas were put into pasture for sheep and cattle, their wool or meat needed for textile factories and workers. This drove thousands more off the land. Those who could not be absorbed into coal mining, transportation, manufacturing or other jobs of the industrial revolution either became paupers or had to emigrate. Then there was occasional catastrophe, like the massive Irish potato crop failures of the mid-1840s, which forced tens of thousands out of Ireland and into other lands such as Canada.

Meanwhile, in Canada, an economy based chiefly upon staple trades - fish, furs, wheat, lumber - had emerged in the 1830s. Those who were already here devoured the prime farmlands of all the colonies, and in fact, colonial land policy had become a major cause for concern, along with political freedoms and the tensions between English and French blocs. Over the next generation, these and other issues were ironed out to the point where the main colonies joined together in a national federation, their regional economies were well integrated with those of Britain and the United States, and there were strong movements to increase the country's population, acquire the vast western territories still controlled by the Crown through a British fur trading company, and strengthen the new manufacturers in Montreal and Toronto.