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

Building a Country

One dramatic difference between this influx and earlier immigration was the number of western, central and eastern Europeans, very few of whom spoke either English or French in 1931.

People of British origin still predominated (52%), but now there were many others besides them and the French Canadians. There were 1,021,133 rural residents whose mother tongue was neither French nor English nor an Aboriginal language. German, Ukrainian and Dutch settlers accounted for 54.4% of this total. The contours of urban immigration took a radically different shape, one based much more on race and class.

Class conflict resulting from mass immigration occurred even more in British Columbia. It also had an overtone of racism due to the large numbers of Asians attracted to that province. Many turned to coal mining on Vancouver Island, including hundreds of Chinese who were willing to work for half the wages of whites. Chinese labourers also helped build the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia, having been imported to do so.

By the end of the century, there was a sizable contingent of Japanese in the salmon fishery, and during the Great War, Sikhs from northern India were in demand as sawmill workers. These imports reflected Canada's chronic labour shortage. Businessmen, especially those operating collieries, mills or factories, continually sought greater levels of immigration to increase production

In the early twentieth century, buoyed by growing overseas and continental markets for its ores and lumber, British Columbia's economy needed skilled workers and engineers, as well as labourers. Britain, and particularly the United States, became the main sources for such men. And with them came wives and children who wanted homes, schools, hospitals, civic services and other amenities typical of modern communities.