Immigration History

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

Mennonite communal settlement in Canada’s Prairie West was made possible in part by an 1873 agreement with the Canadian government that guaranteed “an entire exemption from any military service” among other points. Two world wars, changes in education policy, and tensions between religious observance and civic duties dissolved federal accommodations for the Mennonites. The points of difference accepted in the agreement became grounds for policies excluding very conservative Mennonites in the 1950s and 1960s.

“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.

“The existing Immigration regulations will not offer any solution”: MS St. Louis in Canadian Context

In 1939, MS St. Louis carried Jewish German passengers fleeing the Nazi State to Cuba, where most were de-nied entry. The Canadian government under Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King chose not to admit the passengers in Canada, and they returned to Europe. The Canadian government’s exclusion of the pas-sengers of MS St. Louis was rationalized based on sharp immigration restrictions during the Great Depression, but was rooted in the persistent climate of anti-Semitic exclusion. The event has been marked as such a dire failure that it has spurred more compassionate approaches to humanitarian admission since.

"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

Between the 1870s and the 1960s, Canadian immigration authorities struggled with including or excluding immigrants belonging to conservative Christian religious groups based on perceptions of their desirability or undesirability. Canada’s effort to exclude these religious groups had two peaks: exclusionary efforts targeting Peace Churches during and after the First World War, and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration’s attempts to exclude “old order” and other conservative Christian denominations from Canada during the 1950s and 1960s.

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.