Immigration and Immigrants: Canada

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Immigration and Immigrants: Canada

Before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, New France—subsequently Canada—was the neighbor of the United States not only to the north but also to the west. The colonial settlers in the vast and once contiguous area known as New France were over-whelmingly French as opposed to the inhabitants of the thirteen original states who were mainly of British extraction.

It is important to realize, however, that French colonization in North America, which was sparse except along the St. Lawrence River and in a few other areas—chiefly along the Mississippi River, notably New Orleans—came to an end with the British conquest in 1760. (Quebec assumed its modern boundaries by royal proclamation in 1763.) In Quebec, areas surrounding it, and a few enclaves in the rest of Canada, the early French settlers and their descendants have managed to preserve their ethnic identity into the twenty-first century, while those everywhere else in North America have largely been assimilated. Cajuns—descendants of Acadian colonists who were deported beginning in 1755 from what later became known as the Maritime Provinces and began arriving in Louisiana in 1760—constitute an exception, although two and a half centuries later the group's cohesion and numbers are disputed. (Cajuns are sometimes lumped with the offspring of the original French settlers, the French planters who later emigrated from Haiti, and the latter's French-speaking slaves.). Meanwhile, in 1765, Acadian deportees were allowed to return to their homeland. Many did although they did not always settle in the same areas of Canada.

Migration between Canada and the United States has been a continuous phenomenon since the earliest times. Until the 1830s, however, Canadian immigration to the United States was slack and stood in sharp contrast to movement in the opposite direction. Afterward, however, the pendulum swung the other way.

During the American Revolution and especially in 1783 and 1784, some one hundred thousand Loyalists, American colonists who supported the British cause, left the United States. About half of them relocated to Canada, their preferred destinations being Montreal; Quebec City; Sorel; and above all, the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada and Nova Scotia. The Maritime Provinces admitted more than thirty thousand Loyalists, notably in the St. John River valley, and, in 1784, largely due to this influx, Nova Scotia was divided and its northern and western section became a separate province called New Brunswick. In the next two decades, perhaps as many as fifteen thousand other Americans, discouraged by poor economic conditions in the United States and seeking work and cheap land to homestead, followed in their footsteps, settling in the same areas and also in Ontario.

However, in the late 1830s, Canada was beset by political turmoil and business stagnated while prosperity returned to the eastern states. At the same time, vast new lands became readily available in the Mississippi Valley. As a consequence, American immigration to Canada dropped off sharply and the tide of immigration turned southward.

See alsoAcadians; Canada; Louisiana; Louisiana Purchase; Loyalists .


Brault, Gerard J. The French Canadian Heritage in New England. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1986.

Hansen, Marcus Lee, and John Bartlet Brebner. The Mingling of the Canadian and American Peoples. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1940.

Gerard J. Brault

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Immigration and Immigrants: Canada

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Immigration and Immigrants: Canada