Great Migration of Canada 1815-1850

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Canadian Migration

The Great Migration of Canada saw one of the biggest movements of people around the globe ever but who were the people that made this journey? 

Many of us around the world find we have a family history connection with Canada. We take it for granted that a branch of our family left their home country and set off for Canada. But why would they have undertaken such an expedition, what were the motives of the people undertaking the trek?

great canadian migration

So what caused the ‘Great Migration?

There were a number of factors at work that just happened to peak at the same time.

Not all Americans during the War for Independence, wanted independence and many loyalists left America during and after the American Revolution. The British offered freedom to any slave who would join the British troops and 3500 of them came and settled in Nova Scotia. Native Indian loyalists who were worried about the loss of land if the British lost, moved to Canada and of course there were many Americans who did not favour independence from Britain, whose position in America became untenable.

The end of the Napoleonic Wars

In Britain, the end of the Napoleonic Wars released an enormous number of men onto the streets looking for work, just at the time when employment opportunities were stretched very thinly. Enclosure and mechanization of cottage industries such as weaving, meant more people were out of work and struggling to feed their families.

The mines in the south west of England were becoming depleted and families were moving en mass to other areas to find work. Some moved to the north of England others took their chance overseas.

People were finding it hard to feed their families

The Corn Laws forced the price of bread ever upwards and in Ireland, the horror of the potato famine gave people no choice but to leave and start over again somewhere else.

Great Canadian Migration
The Irish Potato Famine

What happened next?

    • Over 400,000 British people settled in Canada
    • Many were enticed with the offer of cheap or free land, this upset those settled already
    • The British population outnumbered the French and spilled over into French territories causing problems
    • The problems between the French and English became ever more convoluted and political
    • There was an exodus to America called the Red River Exodus caused in part by problems with the Hudson Bay Fur Company
    • Some emigrated to Canada in 1837, exiled after political rebellion in their homeland
    • Some left for Australia during the 1850’s and 1860’s to follow the gold rush in Australia
The following You Tube link will give a real flavour of the politics in Canada during the 1830’s and puts into context the society that migrants were moving to

Intriguing Connections:
  1. Some migrating families were used to moving around and with cheap carriage on logging ships to be had, some travelled back home quite often, perhaps to escape the cold Canadian winters! Keeping track of their movements can be difficult, artefacts in the form of letters home or by way of introduction, military objects such as cap badges, can all pinpoint movements between census years. So they may have emigrated to Canada in the first instance but could turn up in Australia further down the line………..
For more background and useful information on Canadian family history and family trees, follow the links.
To explore further Canadian posts, artefacts and useful resources and sources then go to Intriguing Family History


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