Order-in-Council PC 1911-1324


At the beginning of the twentieth century, Canadian immigration agents carried on a concerted campaign to block Black settlement in Canada. Canadian officials claimed no colour bar existed in their policies, but they created numerous obstacles for Black immigrants. This discriminatory practice was driven by pervasive domestic racism, and reached its fullest expression in 1910-1911. In response to persecuted Black farmers attempting to leave the United States in the hope of a more just life in Canada, Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier’s government used the pretext of their supposed climatic unsuitability to pass an Order-in-Council banning all “negro” immigration.

In early twentieth-century Canada, there was widespread domestic pressure to ban Black immigration, although the number of Black immigrants seeking entry to Canada was quite small.[1] Immigration agents participated in the alarmist exclusion by creating many obstacles for immigrants of African descent. For instance, Canadian immigration authorities would often ignore Black inquiries for information or assistance. If pressed to respond, the immigration branch used a form letter that stated in part that Black settlers were not considered “a class of colonists who will be likely to do well in our country.”[2] Canadian authorities also paid for agents to lecture and write in the United States, to warn African-Americans of the pernicious nature of Canada and to instruct them that it was not a suitable destination for them.[3] Along with these forms of exclusion, immigration authorities also created other barriers. Railway representatives ensured that African-Americans bound for Canada were charged a full fare for train travel, rather than the reduced settler rate.[4] The Commissioner of Immigration for Western Canada bribed a medical examiner to refuse black immigrants.[5] In one case, officials invoked the continuous journey regulation, a rule crafted to exclude Asian immigrants, to refuse a Black man born in British Guiana who was living in the United States and wished to come to Canada.[6] Racist attitudes about Black settlement in the Canadian West led to a sweeping and excessive response from the immigration branch.

This response culminated on 12 August 1911 with the passage of an Order-in-Council banning “any immigrants belonging to the Negro race, which is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.”[7] The regulation does not appear to have been invoked officially and the ban was not written into the Immigration Act – but the ordinance remains an important indication of the government’s desire to prevent Black settlement in Canada.

(See a more complete discussion of the context here: The Colour Bar at the Canadian Border: Black American Farmers)

Order-in-Council PC 1911-1324

Library and Archives Canada. “Orders in Council – Décrets-du-Conseil.” RG2-A-1-a, volume 1021, PC 1911-1324, 12 August 1911

  1. This correspondence extends throughout Department of Immigration, “Immigration of Negroes from the United States to Western Canada”, Library and Archives Canada, RG 76 Volumes 192-193 File 72552 (hereafter File 72552), Pt 3
  2. Form letter repeatedly prepared by Laval Fortier and others for use above the signature of W.D. Scott. Many examples from 1910-1911 exist in File 72552. The referenced example was W.D. Scott to P.H. York, Ottawa, 17 October 1910, in File 72552, Pt 2
  3. R. Bruce Shepard, “Diplomatic Racism: Canadian Government and black Migration from Oklahoma, 1905-1912”, Great Plains Quarterly, 3:1 (1983), 5-6. Accessed via http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/greatplainsquarterly/1738/ Shepard, “Diplomatic Racism”, 10-12.
  4. J.L. Doupe to W. Bannatyne, 30 December 1910, File 72552 Pt 2.
  5. Robin Winks, The Blacks In Canada: A History (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997), 310.
  6. F.C. Blair to E.F. Chubb, Ottawa, 3 March 1911, File 72552 Pt 2.
  7. Barrington Walker, ed., The African-Canadian Legal Odyssey: Historical Essays (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 30, 45.