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

Reversing the Flow

Until the Great War of 1914-1918 huge gaps existed between the rights of men and women, between the privileges of capital and labour, and along the lines of language, race, ethnicity, creed, education, health and other civic features.

Strains of nativism in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario ran deep, and "aliens" whose lands of origin had been wartime enemies risked imprisonment or deportation.

Anti-Orientalism was virulent on the west coast, sometimes resulting in riots such as those that occurred in Vancouver in 1887 and 1907. Unions also resisted immigration for fear of low-wage competitors or job displacement. Most Canadians lived in rural or frontier settings but the urban population was fast rising, becoming the largest sector by the 1930s. Up to that time, agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining, trapping and other primary resource sectors dominated the labour markets. But during the 1920s, the manufacturing and service sectors grew at a much faster pace. Filling those positions meant reaching out for more immigrants, and this time, the emphasis was as much on industrial workers as on farmers.

By 1921, Canada's population had risen to 8,787,949. By 1931 the national population had grown to 10,377,000. At that time the Prairie provinces accounted for 23% of the national total. However no part of Canada was hit harder by the Great Depression. The Prairies experienced a decline as farmers fleeing collapsed markets, drought, crops ruined by insect infestations, and mass unemployment, migrated to British Columbia and Ontario, or left the country altogether.

The Dirty Thirties affected all western nations. Immigration to Canada from 1936 to 1940 fell to 72,200, one-tenth of the number of people who arrived in 1926-1930. The war years that followed slowed immigration even further; a mere 60,900 people entered and remained in this country between 1940 and 1945.

Despite the huge influx of Europeans in the early twentieth century, people of British (51%) and French (28%) origin still predominated in 1931. Those of German, Dutch and Scandinavian origin accounted for 8.2% of Canadians, and all other Europeans for only 9.4%. That left 2.3%, mainly Asians and Aboriginal people.

Canada was plainly dominated by the two "founding peoples". Hostility to Asians, in British Columbia in particular, had strangled immigration. In 1900 the Chinese tax on new entries was doubled to $100. In 1923, it was raised fivefold.

Because of these and other repressive steps taken throughout the next 24 years against one Asian contingent or other, Canada was almost exclusively Eurocentric by the end of the Second World War. But the excesses of that conflict changed attitudes about race, religion and individual worth.