Immigration History

Entrenching Refugee Rights in Canada: The 1985 Singh Decision

The Supreme Court of Canada’s 1985 Singh decision had far-reaching implications for refugee rights in Canada. The Court ruled that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applied to every person who is physically present in Canada and that this entitled them to fundamental justice under the law. Therefore, refugee claimants had the right to a full oral hearing of their claims during the refugee determination process.

Kinship, Inclusion, and Exclusion in Canadian Immigration History

From the filles du roi to assisting Syrian refugees in 2015, colonial and Canadian authorities used concepts of family as part of their effort to control and shape immigration. The resulting policies promoted “desirable” settlers and discouraged or blocked those imagined to be “undesirable,” often intersecting with other prejudices, including those based on “race,” age, and sexual and gender identity.

Locating Authorities: Public Expertise, Heritage Institutions and the Recent Past

Historian Steven Schwinghamer maintains that public expertise operates in historic sites, including Pier 21, in deep and important ways, whether it is engaged by the institution or not. Creating an open exchange between visitors and the institution will enable the institution to learn from their visitors’ organic knowledge of the past.

“Small Gold Mine of Talent”: Integrating Prague Spring Refugee Professionals in Canada, 1968-1969

Following the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, 11,200 Prague Spring refugees were resettled in Canada. This movement included many experienced professionals and skilled tradespeople. This article examines how these refugees navigated language training and barriers to employment, including professional accreditation, and examines how this experience shaped bureaucratic and public views of refugee integration. This article focuses on resettlement and integration efforts in Ontario, since roughly half of the refugees were permanently resettled in the province.

Early Political and Public Responses to Canada’s Official Multiculturalism Policy, 1971-1972

In the early 1970s, concerned Canadians, government officials, and the mainstream press responded to the Canadian government’s implementation of an official policy of multiculturalism with expressions of support, concern, suspicion, and opposition. Meanwhile, the issues connected to multiculturalism that were published in the press ranged from national unity, Indigenous and ethnocultural representation in politics, the values of multiculturalism versus the ‘melting pot,’ and the place of ethnocultural identity in Canada.

Language as a "Pull" Factor for Newcomers to Francophone Minority Communities

This article is the result of an exploration of the Museum’s oral history collection to answer the question: why do some French-speaking people decide to settle in a majority English-speaking area? The reasons can be complex, but language is one major “pull” factor. Video clips from interviews with Ben Maréga, Saïda Ouchaou-Ozarowski, and Quitterie Hervouet help us understand how language influenced their decisions to live in Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Toronto.

1999: Canada’s Resettlement and Repatriation of Kosovar Refugees

In February 1998, widespread ethnic tensions led to an outbreak of armed conflict between the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Some 350,000 Kosovars fled to neighbouring countries in search of safe haven. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed to the international community to provide these refugees with temporary protection until they could return home. In 1999, over 7,000 Kosovar refugees arrived in Canada.

1973: Canada’s Response to the Chilean Refugees

In September 1973, Chile’s military staged a coup d’état leading to the removal of Salvador Allende, the country’s first socialist to be democratically elected as president. The military regime’s subsequent campaign of repression forced some 200,000 Chileans to seek safe haven elsewhere. Heightened public awareness and lobbying pressured the Canadian federal government to loosen existing exclusionary immigration criteria. This permitted nearly 7,000 refugees from Chile to enter Canada.

Arriving at Halifax Before Pier 21

Halifax harbour is large, deep, and ice-free. It is a natural transportation hub, with river access to inland Nova Scotia, and proximity to efficient shipping routes from Europe to North America. However, before 1876, there was no inland rail link, and so the port was not particularly useful for passenger or cargo service to the rest of Canada.[1] Other ports, notably along the St. Lawrence and in the Great Lakes, had immigration facilities dating back to the 1820s, and were critical to ocean transportation to Canada before the Halifax rail line was complete.[2] However, in the fifty-year gap between the completion of the railway and the opening of Pier 21 in 1928, many people who arrived by sea in Halifax –with some exceptions—arrived by way of Pier 2 in Halifax’s North End. Over time, there were several quite different arrangements for immigrant reception at Pier 2, from simple adaptations at a cargo pier to spacious and purpose-built quarters.

Canada’s Refugee Determination System

In 1973, the Canadian government established its first formal administrative structure to process refugee claimants at Canada’s borders and in-land claims for refugee status. By the 1980s, the rising number of refugee claims ignited a national conversation about how Canada processed refugee claimants and whether the country’s refugee determination system was fair, balanced, and efficient. In 1989, the Canadian government established the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to modernize the refugee determination process.

Movement of War Brides and Their Children through Pier 21

After the Second World War, Canadian military authorities helped to permanently resettle a unique movement of ‘preferred’ immigration to Canada: nearly 44,000 war brides and their 22,000 children. They represent the single largest contiguous movement of migration to Canada, specifically through Pier 21. The war brides arrived in Canada at a time when the country’s doors remained largely closed to immigrants, due in part to the economic effects of the Great Depression .

1968: Pier 21 and the Prague Spring Refugees

In August 1968, Soviet-led forces invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress a period of reform known as the Prague Spring. Thousands of Czechs and Slovaks already travelling outside of their country were joined by compatriots fleeing the invasion. The Canadian government implemented a special program that relaxed immigration criteria and helped with travel to Canada. Within four months, close to 12,000 Czech and Slovak refugees arrived to various ports of entry in Canada, including Pier 21.

Mennonites and Canadian Accommodation

Some of the earliest European agricultural settlers in Canada’s Prairie West were Russian Mennonites. Two disparate political events provided a crucial framework for this movement. In 1870, Tsarist Russia overturned the guarantees and privileges originally granted to the Mennonite settlers, and in that same year, Canada purchased Rupert’s Land and began seeking group settlers to help colonize the territory.[1] The situation in Russia led many Mennonites to consider leaving Russia, and delegates visited both Canada and the United States to appraise the land available for settlement. As a result, about 7500 Mennonites arrived in Manitoba during the 1870s.[2] This movement to Manitoba is notable for scale and for its establishment of a formal and direct relationship with the federal government as a condition of settlement, an agreement called the Privilegium.

“We Wanted to Come to Canada”: Pier 21 and the Arrival of Polish Orphans

During the Second World War, Soviet authorities imprisoned and forcibly displaced thousands of Polish nationals to labour camps in Siberia. Upon their release, many civilian deportees included unaccompanied children who later found temporary security in Africa’s refugee camps. Upon hearing of their plight, the Archbishop of Montreal initiated a plan to sponsor the permanent resettlement of Polish orphans in Canada. In 1949, an initial group of 123 Polish orphans arrived in Canada through Pier 21.

Canada and MS St. Louis

The Canadian government’s exclusion of the passengers of MS St. Louis reveals the anti-Semitic public and official climate of Canada in the 1930s, and underscores the harsh restrictions of Canada’s Depression-era immigration policies.

"Why Do We Need a Museum of Immigration?"

Manager of Research Monica MacDonald suggests that current debates on immigration are best informed by the historical contexts of immigration as well as the contemporary experiences of newcomers.

“This is Ticklish Business”: Undesirable Religious Groups and Canadian Immigration after the Second World War

Through the 1950s and 1960s, Canadian immigration officials viewed conservative religious groups, and in particular the Amish, as undesirable immigrants. Historian Steven Schwinghamer examines how these immigrants were singled out for more rigorous screening, and likely refusal, based on religious prejudice.

Humanitarian Gesture: Canada and the Tibetan Resettlement Program, 1971–5

In 1966, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) lobbied Canadian officials to accept a small number of Tibetan refugees for permanent resettlement. Initially, Canadian immigration officials disagreed over the resettlement of “self-described nomads.” Ultimately, Canadian officials resettled an experimental group of 228 Tibetan refugees in an effort to meet their international humanitarian obligations and to find a permanent solution to the plight of Tibetan refugees in northern India.

The Forgotten Immigrants: The Journey of the New England Planters to Nova Scotia, 1759-1768

The migration of the New England Planters was the first significant migration to the Atlantic colonies in British North America. In the wake of the deportation of the Acadians in 1755, newly cultivated lands opened up in Nova Scotia, which needed to be populated. Roughly eight thousand men and women from New England came to settle in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, and in the Upper St. John River Valley of present-day New Brunswick, between 1759 and 1768. They left a legacy that can be found in the social, religious, and political life of Atlantic Canada.

To Canada and Back Again: Immigration from the United States on the Underground Railroad (1840-1860)

Prior to 1850, fugitive slaves who escaped from the southern United States to the northern states were considered to be free. However, after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, the northern states were no longer a safe haven. Escaped slaves could be captured by slavecatchers and returned to their owners.[1] This also meant that people who had escaped slavery by entering a free state years earlier could be returned to slavery.

The Gold Rush in British Columbia and the Yukon

It was a strange scene in Dawson City in the summer of 1897. Amidst the ramshackle wooden buildings, the muddy streets, and the grime covered prospectors, a large white circus tent covered the space of a city block. Inside were such luxuries as a portable bowling alley, a soda machine, two dozen pigeons, and fine silver and china. The owners of the tent were two wealthy American ladies, Mary Hitchcock and Edith Van Buren, who had come to Dawson City not to make their fortune, but to experience first-hand the excitement of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Recreating a homeland: Czechoslovak diplomats in Canada during the Second World War

In the 1920s, immigrants from Czechoslovakia came to Canada in search of industrial work and available land for agriculture. Czechoslovakia’s diplomats in Canada promoted loyalty to Prague’s policies in the hopes that Slovaks and Czechs would unite into a “Czechoslovak” national community, and defend their homeland in the event of a war. During the Second World War, Czechoslovak diplomats lobbied Canadian officials for political recognition to legitimize their efforts to re-establish a postwar Czechoslovak Republic.

Canadian Immigration Facilities at Victoria, BC

The history of immigration facilities at the port of Victoria, British Columbia, extends from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. However, Victoria’s role was marginalized by the emergence of Vancouver as a key port of entry in the 1920s. The development, operation, and diminution of the city’s immigration facilities reflected changing immigration policies and practices. First, Victoria’s economic and social role in British Columbia and in Canada changed substantially, which also changed the nature and scope of immigration to the city. Second, public health interests often overwhelmed - and sometimes completely displaced - the implementation of civil immigration policy. Finally, Victoria’s immigration facility history reflects periods of cooperation and conflict between the provincial and federal governments. In addition to shedding light on Victoria’s role in immigration history, an examination of these three factors provides some useful information on the development of Canada’s early national immigration structures.

Forgotten Experiment: Canada’s Resettlement of Palestinian Refugees, 1955-1956

In the summer of 1955, the Canadian government took the “bold step” of admitting displaced Palestinian refugees from the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. The government approved the resettlement of 100 skilled workers and their families. Canadian officials believed that alleviating the refugee problem in the Middle East would help in furthering regional stability. Although the resettlement scheme was politically sensitive, it served as an important “experiment” for the future selection and resettlement of non-European refugees.

Strategic Winter Port: A History of the Port of Saint John

In the 1880s, Saint John became a strategic port for shipping and transportation interests. In 1931, a fire destroyed the port’s outdated immigration facilities resulting in the rerouting of transatlantic passenger traffic to Halifax. By 1950, a new facility opened to process immigrants, but technological advances in aviation and the establishment of the Saint John Airport in 1952, soon diminished the port’s role as an important point of entry for immigrants into Canada.