Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900-1977

Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900-1977

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Canadian Citizenship Act (1947), Citizenship and Immigration Canada, in conjunction with private-sector parties, commissioned this book. A survey history, it traces the evolution of Canadian citizenship and the role played by immigration in the development of Canada from the end of the nineteenth century until 1977, when the last major amendment to the Citizenship Act was made.

Forging Our Legacy (ISBN 0-662-28983-8) was published by Public Works and Government Services Canada in 2000. It is currently out of print.


Chapter Two: The Arrival of the Europeans

British Immigration: Although there were relatively few good agriculturalists left to court in the “mother country,” the Canadian government continued to promote immigration from the United Kingdom – often called Great Britain or simply Britain – during the Sifton years, principally because English Canadians took it for granted that their federal government would do everything possible to retain the British character of the country. Prior to 1903, Canada’s immigration service in Britain had been under the control of the Canadian High Commission, but in January of that year immigration was removed from its jurisdiction. To handle immigration, Sifton established an emigration office in London that would be effectively independent of the high commissioner’s office.

The new office was housed in Trafalgar House, an imposing building that commanded a central location overlooking the historic open space of Trafalgar Square. As one enthusiastic observer remarked:

No one passing to and from the Houses of Parliament and official Westminster can fail to notice “Trafalgar House.” The eye is caught at once by the familiar Canadian “Arch” of Coronation days, a representation of which is emblazoned on one of the windows, whilst elsewhere the intending emigrant is invited to enter by the mottoes, “Improved Farms at Reasonable Prices,” “Healthy Climate, Light Taxes, Free Schools,” “160-acre Free Farms.”

The establishment of an independent emigration office in a central location in London paved the way for a dramatic increase in British immigration. In the first six months of 1900, just over 5,000 Britons came to Canada. Five years later the annual number soared to above 65,000, exceeding the numbers of new settlers arriving from the United States.

Most British newcomers in this prewar period emigrated to Canada in hopes of finding a higher standard of living and freedom from the rigidities of the hallowed British class system. Included in the ranks of these unsponsored immigrants were not only people of modest means but also individuals with substantial funds who would often invest in large-scale ranching or farming ventures in Western Canada.

Many of these well-heeled middle and upper-class Britons had set off for Canada because it was difficult to find suitable employment in Britain’s amply supplied and highly competitive professions. Others had left large estates burdened by heavy debts and tithes. For these prosperous Britons, emigration seemed to offer the only way that they could maintain their own and their children’s lifestyle in a rapidly changing world. They chose Canada largely because of the efforts of the emigration and booking agents, the aggressive campaigns mounted by Canadian colonization companies, and the seductive promotional material that extolled the attractions of the various provinces for “gentlemen emigrants.”