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Photograph: Settler's House (near Edmonton) / National Archives of Canada / PA-050813
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Prairie Settlement: The First Major Wave (1870 - 1896)

The development of more luxurious steamships now allowed more people to travel by sea faster than ever before. While this didn't translate into an influx of settlers to Canada right away, there were steps being taken by the federal government to ensure that there was enough land for settlement when immigration opened up onto the Prairies. The Numbered Treaties took land away from the Aboriginals in the region, and the Dominion Lands Act began to subdivide this newly acquired land in anticipation of settlement. The North West Mounted Police would also come into being to help keep law and order as this area made the transition from wilderness into new communities.

Canada began to see new settlers come into the country from agriculturally based religious groups like the Mennonites, among others. Other ethnic groups from central and eastern Europe would begin to immigrate to Canada in earnest, as well as new classes of hired domestic help: female servants and home children.

Topics covered in section:

Immigration Act, 1869
Manitoba, 1870
The Numbered Treaties, 1871 - 1921
The Dominion Lands Act, 1872
North West Mounted Police, 1873
New Immigrants
Female Domestic Servants
Home Children, 1870 - 1939
Other Important or Interesting Documents

Immigration Act, 1869

Canada's first Immigration Act dealt primarily with preventing diseases from entering Canada and ensuring the safety of passengers on immigrant ships. Provisions included placing limits on the number of passengers on non-cargo ships, and forcing passenger lists to be made available to quarantine officers before they embarked from their port.

Rules involving quarantine of passengers were introduced in a separate Quarantine Act in 1872. It forced all vessels transporting physically ill passengers or passengers who had died on board to report at Grosse Île, Québec. (Grosse Île was a quarantine point prior to this, however.)

Did you know?

Immigration was handled by the Department of Agriculture from Confederation in 1867 until March 1892, when the Department of the Interior was formed. That department lasted until October 1917, when it merged with the Ministry of Labour.

 

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An act concerning emigrants and quarantine, 1866 / Un acte concernant les émigrants et la quarantaine, 1866 (bilingual on opposite pages)

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Extracts from the Immigration Act, circa 1893

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Extracts from the Quarantine Act, circa 1893

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Statutes passed by the colonies to restrict Pauper Immigration, 1886

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An expanded version of this section about immigration can be found in Immigration Acts in the Special Events and Topics section.

Manitoba, 1870

The province of Manitoba was created in 1870 after negotiation with the predominantly French-speaking Métis. They had caused a rebellion over the sale of land from the Hudson's Bay Company to the federal government. This province was created so that the Métis would have some means of control in governmental affairs. A significant amount of land was provided for the Métis as well.

For more information on the creation of Manitoba, please visit the Constitutional History section.

 

The Numbered Treaties, 1871 - 1921

The Numbered Treaties - also called the Land Cession or Post-Confederation Treaties - were signed between 1871 and 1921, and granted the federal government large tracts of land throughout the Prairies, Canadian North and northwestern Ontario for white settlement and industrial use. In exchange for the land, Canada promised to give the Aboriginal peoples various items like cash, blankets, tools, farming supplies, and so on.

For more information on the Numbered Treaties, please visit the Special Events and Topics section.

The Dominion Lands Act, 1872

The federal government passed the Dominion Lands Act to describe how all of the lands purchased from the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) were to be used. This had a particular significance in Canada's West, where most of the settlement on these former HBC lands was to take place.

The act divided up parcels of land into townships, and further partitioned each township into 36 sections, which were numbered. The following rules applied to the sections:

  • Sections 11 and 29 had to be set aside for schools.

  • Another one-and-three-quarter sections had to remain with the HBC.

  • Remaining odd numbered sections were for sale or for railway usage, particularly after 1881.

  • Remaining even-numbered sections were to be used for homestead grants.

The government set land prices as low as $1 an acre. However, some settlers could qualify for a "free" quarter-section homestead grant (160 acres or 65 hectares) upon payment of a $10 registration fee. They also had to be 21 years of age or older and be the sole head of a family. The latter limitation profoundly affected women, and often prevented them from acquiring land.

The deed to the land would freely pass from the government to this settler if he followed certain conditions, like:

  • turning a certain percentage of land into farmland within three years;

  • living on the land for at least six months of each of the first three years.

If the settler didn't follow such conditions, the federal government could take back the land. Changes would be made to these conditions as needed in revisions to this act.

From 1874 on, settlers were also encouraged to buy adjacent lands for as little as $1 an acre from the government. This would allow settlers to expand their farms before others bought up the adjoining land.

However, this practice led to land speculation. Some farmers mortgaged their homes and farms in order to acquire this extra land, hoping this land's value would go up. If it did, these farmers could later sell their land at a huge profit.

More often than not, though, the land value didn't increase dramatically, and many settlers lost their homesteads as they failed to make mortgage payments. The federal government eventually discontinued this practice.

This act also set aside land for Indian reservations and land for the Métis under the scrip system.

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Dominion Lands Act, 1872

Acte concernant les terres publiques de la Puissance, 1872

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Dominion Lands Act (revisions), 1879

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Dominion Lands Act legislation affecting Manitoba and the North West Territories, 1889

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North West Mounted Police, 1873

 

Photograph: Personnel of the North West Mounted Police (Dawson, Yukon) / National Archives of Canada / C-042755
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The North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was a parliamentary police force created in 1873. It was meant to:

  • keep law and order among incoming settlers to the region west of Ontario;

  • help Aboriginals make the transition to Indian reserves;

  • act as a symbol of Canadian sovereignty against American annexation.

The police force was partially created in response to Fenian invaders who nearly made it to Manitoba in 1871. The NWMP had a particularly important role in helping to quash the North West Rebellion of 1885.

 

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The North West Mounted Police Act, 1873

Acte concernant l’administration de la justice et l’établissement d’un corps de police dans le Territories du Nord-Ouest

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An act to further amend the North West Mounted Police Act, 1875

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An act to amend the North West Mounted Police Pension Act, 1900

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New Immigrants

Immigration to Canada during the period from Confederation up to 1896 was actually fairly poor in number. There were a number of reasons for this:

  • unorganized and misleading advertising campaigns;

  • limits placed on emigration promotion by foreign countries like France and Germany;

  • competition for immigrants with the United States and other countries;

  • an economic depression in Canada that lasted throughout the 1870s and 1880s.

Did you know?

American booking agents frequently placed European immigrants on ships based for Canada, but sent them on a roundabout route through ports in the United States to promote America as a better choice for settlement.

 

The government would have preferred to receive more immigrants from places like Britain, France, Germany and the United States. However, the Canadian government was fairly successful in bringing in religious groups who tended to settle in agricultural communities. These included:


Other immigrants to Canada during this time also included groups from:


At the same time, the Canadian government also made moves to exclude Asian immigrants from entering the country, by placing restrictive head taxes on them in 1885. It was felt such immigrants wouldn't adapt well and would take away jobs from white Canadians.

Many immigrants during this period were transient in nature, and tended to stay only for short periods. Some came to Canada to find temporary work, while others left Canada for better opportunities in the United States.

Female Domestic Servants

 

Photograph: Immigrants for Domestic Service (Québec) / National Archives of Canada / C-009652
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During the 1870s, there suddenly became a high demand for female domestic servants that lasted well into the early 20th century. The reason for this was that women already in Canada preferred higher-paying factory work to the poor pay, long hours and low status that being a servant brought.

To fill the demand for domestic servants, private Canadian recruitment agencies were started to work with the federal government and British groups to bring women to Canada.

Interestingly enough, steps had to be taken in the Immigration Act to prevent women from being sexually assaulted on their passage to Canada. "Seduction" and sexual intercourse between the captain or crew of a passenger ship and women were outlawed in the Immigration Act so long as the vessel was in Canadian waters and the female passenger remained aboard ship.

For more information on the transportation of women by ship in the Immigration Act, please see Immigration Act, 1906. Of particular interest are Sections 43 and 59 to 62 of the 1906 Act.

Women also required matrons to be with them at all times during their transportation to ensure their safety. Government officials often met immigrating domestic servants and ensured that they were being placed into respectable employment.

In 1887, the federal government even established a Superintendent of Female Immigration to oversee the settlement of single women in Canada. New organizations like the Women's National Immigration Society set up offices in Québec and Montréal to help these women.

 

Did you know?

In 1882, the Toronto Globe newspaper reported that single women emigrating from Britain to Montréal were being lured into prostitution rings. This prompted a special investigation by the Canadian government, which heard testimony from high-profile sources like the general manager of the Grand Trunk Railway. Ultimately, the investigation concluded that this story was false.

 

For more information on single women immigrants, please visit Immigrant Voices online.

 

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Reception and Protection of Female Immigrants in Canada (Department of Agriculture, 1879)

 
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Domestic Servants (In "Women of Canada," published in 1900 by the National Council of Women in Canada)

 
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Domestic Service (From "Woman, her character, her culture, her calling," 1890)

 
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Domestic Servants (From "The Conditions of Female Labour in Ontario," 1892)

 
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Catherine Parr Traill's The Female Emigrant's Guide (1854)

 
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Home Children, 1870 - 1939

A Boy Ploughing at Dr. Barnardo's Industrial Farm / National Archives of Canada / PA-117285
Copyright/Source

Around 1870, private agencies began sponsoring British children, usually aged six to 15, to work and live in Canada. These children were known as the home children. The largest supplier of these children was Dr. Barnardo's Homes.

Orphaned child paupers were sent to work as farm workers or domestic servants in Canada or Australia. They were shipped from Britain to receiving homes in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, until a sponsor was ready to take them. The children were then sent by train to live with farm families, usually on the Prairies.

This served at least three purposes:

  • It rid the British government of the responsibility of paying for the care of thousands of pauper children.

  • It took delinquent children thought to be a threat to public safety off the streets of London.

  • The relocation would provide spiritual guidance and a good upbringing to these children in a comparatively cleaner environment.

Unfortunately, the home children system had a number of problems:

  • Children were treated like indentured servants in Canada and worked long hours.

  • They were often physically and emotionally abused. (Particularly boys.)

  • There were reports of non-orphaned children being kidnapped right off the streets of impoverished regions in British cities by overzealous boarding agents.

  • Some of these children came to Canada with serious "hidden" diseases like syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease).

  • Some of these children had behaviourial problems that put a strain on the Canadian social welfare and justice systems.

By 1897, Ontario would pass laws to ensure that boarding houses and agents were properly licensed, and that regular inspections of these children took place. This was meant to stop some of the abuses these children had to endure. Similar laws would be passed in Manitoba, Québec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Unfortunately, some historians believe that nobody was ever hired by these provincial legislatures to enforce these laws. Ontario even struck this legislation from its books by the late 1920s, which perhaps shows that this provincial government didn't take its own law very seriously.

The home children movement didn't end until the Great Depression of the 1930s, when up to a third of the country's adult workforce was looking for work and farms on the Prairies started to fail. However, federal immigration law was slightly changed in 1925 so that immigrant children had to be at least 14 years old for the purposes of employment unless accompanied by a parent.

Did you know?

Between 1870 and 1897, roughly 40,000 British children immigrated to Canada for work or employment purposes. The sheer number of children coming to Canada probably inspired Prince Edward Island author Lucy Maude Montgomery to make the plight of orphaned children a plot element in her 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, which remains the all-time best-selling work of fiction in Canadian history.

 

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Further acts affecting the emigration of children (under British Law.)

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Reports of Canadian immigration officers on pauper children immigration (Contains statistics.) (From "Emigration Statutes and General Handbook," Britain, 1892)

 
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British children in Canadian homes (A small book about British children placed in Canadian orphan asylums and foster homes circa 1879.)

 
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For more information about home children, please visit the National Library and Archives online.


For more information about any of these topics, please visit the Canadian Encyclopedia online.

 

Other Important or Interesting Documents

 

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