The Great Migration of Canada saw one of the biggest movements of people around the globe
Who were the people that made this journey?
Many of us around the world find we have a family history connection with Canada. In Britain we take it for granted that a branch of our family left their home country and set off for Canada. But what was happening at home to cause this migration? Where else were the migrants coming from and why and once they had arrived in Canada, what other factors then made them migrate internally?
So what caused the Great Migration of Canada?
There were a number of factors at work that just happened to peak at the same time.
Firstly, the American War of Independence. 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.
Britain was in the middle of an Industrial and Agricultural Revolution. People were being squeezed out of the countryside and a rural employment and moving to the towns. It wasn’t always easy to find work though in an increasingly mechanized workplace. Conditions and pay were poor and labourers felt a sense of exploitation.
But industrial revolution was not just confined to Britain, Europe, America and Canada were also in the throws of industrial change. Skilled workers were sought after and tempting offers were made to British workers to take their chances at earning a good living in a new land and they took it.
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.
In Britain the cursed 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.
The Great Migration of Canada took place when life offered few opportunities
Even now many of us have few opportunities to improve our prospects and change our lives in radical ways. In the 19th century, many families had little to lose because they had nothing to start with. The offer of a chance of work and fresh opportunities must have seemed like a Godsend for families and individuals facing destitution and starvation. The prospect of going to a new country must also have been exciting.
What happened after the period of the Great Migration of Canada?
- 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
- 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.