American immigration to Canada
Prior to the American Revolution (1775–1783), migration to Canada was small and usually associated with the imperial rivalry between Great Britain and France. New Englanders carried on a lively trade with maritime territories and on several occasions attacked French interests in Acadia. Between 1755 and 1760, 10,000 French Acadians were driven out of the region. Beginning in 1758, the government of Nova Scotia began advertising throughout its colonial territories in North America encouraging settlers to take up land claims in Acadia. With the promise of free land, transportation, and other forms of assistance, 7,000 New Englanders migrated to Nova Scotia between 1760 and 1766 and by the time of the American Revolution made up more than 50 percent of the population.
Britain’s loss of the thirteen colonies led to the first great American migration of 40,000 to 50,000 United Empire Loyalists, families who had refused to take up arms against the British Crown and were thus resettled at government expense, most with grants of land in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and western Quebec. In a separate influx, thousands of American farmers migrated to Upper Canada (Ontario) in search of cheap land after 1783. By the outbreak of the War of 1812 (1812–15), when borders were once again closed, they composed more than half the population there. After the war, the British government discouraged emigration from the United States, restricting the sale of Crown lands and more actively seeking British and European settlers. While Britain feared U.S. expansionist tendencies, Canada’s acceptance of up to 30,000 freed and escaped slaves prior to the Civil War (1861–65) further heightened tensions between the two countries. The discovery of gold along the Fraser River of British Columbia nevertheless attracted several thousand emigrants from California after 1857, though few of these remained there for long.
As tensions began to subside in the wake of Canadian confederation (1867), immigrants dissatisfied with conditions in the United States sometimes continued on to Canada, though for 30 years more people left Canada than arrived as immigrants, most lured away by economic prospects in the rapidly industrializing United States. Under Minister of the Interior Clifford Sifton, however, the Canadian government began to actively recruit agriculturalists, offering free prairie lands. In 1896, when Sifton took office, about 17,000 immigrants arrived annually; by his retirement in 1905, annual immigration was up to 146,000. American immigrants, because of their cultural affinity and capital, were highly sought and were second only to British immigrants in number. Few records were kept of migrations between the United States and Canada prior to the census of 1911, so exact numbers are uncertain. Between 1910 and 1914, however, almost 1 million Americans— most from German, Scandinavian, Icelandic, and Hungarian immigrant families—went north. Though some Canadians complained of the profits reaped by American land companies who speculated in western land settlement, the Canadian government continued to encourage emigration from the United States.
Throughout most of the 20th century, Americans continued to be welcomed into Canada, though overall numbers remained relatively small. After World War II, numbers gradually increased, averaging more than 12,000 annually between 1946 and 1970. After the immigration regulations of 1967 and final passage of Canada’s 1976 Immigration Act, which formally abandoned race as the determining factor in immigration, the percentage and number of U.S. immigrants declined significantly. Undocumented immigration nevertheless spiked during the late 1960s, as thousands of young Americans fled to Canada in order to avoid conscription and possible service in Vietnam. After some confusion, the Canadian government clarified its policy in 1969, determining that military status would have no bearing on admission to the country. It has been estimated that some 50,000 American “draft dodgers” took refuge in Canada, though only about 100 applied for landed immigrant status. Most eventually returned to the United States. Between 1967 and 1971, the United States rose from third to first source country for immigrants to Canada, with annual immigration of more than 22,000. Between 1994 and 2002, it fluctuated between sixth and ninth, averaging 5,500 immigrants annually.
See also Canada—immigration survey and policy overview.