February, Black History Month, brings to mind the attempts authorities once made to keep Blacks out of Canada. One of the more notorious of these was made in the early years of the 20th century.

It occurred in 1910, when federal officials wanted to seal the Canadian border to Black immigration. At the time, Canada was aggressively promoting agricultural immigration, but the Immigration Branch, under William Scott, sought only White farmers. American Blacks, it was thought, were cursed with the burden of their African ancestry and were therefore decidedly not welcome. 

Up to that time, Black immigration to the Canadian West had aroused little concern on the part of White Canadians. In 1910, however, when rising anti-Black sentiment in the newly created state of Oklahoma threatened to prompt a large immigration of Blacks north to Canada, Canadians took alarm. Fearing that a sizeable number of Blacks were headed for Edmonton, citizens of Alberta’s capital mounted a strong protest against their arrival.

The issue of the Oklahoma Blacks and the resulting backlash in Western Canada played directly into the hands of Immigration Branch officials who wanted to see legislative action to exclude the entry of Black settlers. In 1911, therefore, steps were taken to have Canada acquire the first racial exclusion ordinance in the Western Hemisphere.

In March 1911, the assistant superintendent of immigration, Edward Robinson, wrote to the federal minister in charge of immigration, Frank Oliver, suggesting the government pass an order-in- council prohibiting the admission of Blacks. The minister agreed to the recommendation, but it was never implemented because in September a general election threw the Liberals out of office. In the future, immigration authorities would resort to other methods to keep Blacks out of this country.

For further information about this issue, please see my book Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540 to 2015. Fourth edition.