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The Settlement of Canada: An Overview

By Ève Préfontaine

North America was inhabited when Europeans first officially arrived in the 16th century. About 300,000 Aboriginal peoples were living in different areas of this vast territory at that time.

The first inhabitants

Aboriginal peoples have lived in Eastern Canada for 10,000 to 11,000 years. Scientists have hypothesized that they arrived on this continent from Asia, travelling over the Bering Strait.

The Aboriginal peoples of Canada may be divided into 12 linguistic groups: the Inuit living in the Far North; the Beothuks in Newfoundland; the Algonquians, in the central region (Prairies, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes); the Iroquoians in the St. Lawrence lowlands and Great Lakes region; and the Huron and Sioux in Manitoba near Lake Winnipeg. On the West Coast, several different groups live along the Pacific.

The impact of Europeans on the Aboriginals

The Aboriginal world was radically transformed when Europeans began settling in Canada - the French in the St. Lawrence lowlands and the English along the coasts of James Bay and Hudson Bay. Aboriginal groups, for example, became embroiled in conflicts over the right to trade furs with the Europeans and to control the fur trade routes into the interior of the continent.

Another legacy: the Europeans introduced to these peoples diseases they had never before encountered such as measles and smallpox, as well as typhus, tuberculosis and syphilis. Over half of the residents of some Aboriginal communities died during the various epidemics, such as the one that struck Huronia in 1639.

French settlement

From the founding of the city of Quebec in 1608, to the handing over of Canada to Great Britain in 1763, France controlled three-quarters of the total land mass of North America.

The first inhabitants in New France were mostly single men. They arrived as indentured labourers, that is, they did not pay their fare to cross the Atlantic but after arriving in New France had to work for 36 months to reimburse their masters for the cost of their passage. Fed and housed for the duration of their contract of service, they could if they wished return to France when it ended.

In the early 1660s almost half of the inhabitants of New France were recent immigrants. The population grew as more colonists arrived; by1666 it numbered 3,215 persons.

British settlement

When the British took political control in 1763, New France had 70,000 inhabitants. The number of English-speaking settlers in Canada rose rapidly after the American Revolution and the arrival here of the Loyalists from the American colonies to the south, as well as the expansion of immigration from Europe (largely from Great Britain).

Waves of immigrants to Canada

According to the 1870-1871 census of Canada, the population of the nation was composed mainly of people of British origin (2.1 million) and French origin (1 million). In addition to the German-speaking immigrants (203,000) and to the Aboriginals (136,000 in 1851), there were small groups of people who had arrived from several other countries.

Historically, right up until the 1970s, Canada encouraged immigrants from Western Europe, while all but closing its doors to those from Asia and Africa. Between 1840 and 1945 several waves of immigrants arrived here in succession. Canada welcomed, among others, Germans (1830-1880 [in Ontario]; 1874-1914 [in Western Canada]; 1918-1939; after 1945), Irish (1847-1848), Italians (1850-1900), immigrants of Russian origin (late 19th century), Dutch (1890-1914; 1923-1930; 1947), Jews from Eastern Europe (1880-1914) and Japanese (1877-1928;1967). Immigration slowed to a trickle during the First World War, the Depression of the 1930s and the Second World War.

The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1880s increased the pace of immigration, in part by attracting a large number of skilled labourers as well as British, American and European engineers to the Canadian West. From 1880 to 1885, about 15,000 Chinese worked on the CPR, living and working in deplorable conditions. Acting on a request by the government of British Columbia, in 1885 Canada imposed a head tax in order to restrict immigration from China. Measures intended to curtail Chinese immigration were in place in Canada until the late 1940s.

People on the move

One of the defining features of North American society is its high degree of geographic mobility. For all the people who arrived in Canada in about 1850, almost as many left for the United States. Between 1850 and 1930, almost 1 million French Canadians left Eastern Canada because of shortages of productive agricultural land and moved to the northeast United States, where they found jobs as factory workers.

In the period 1860-1900, emigration exceeded immigration. Canada's population, however, remained stable because of the high birth rate. At the end of the 19th century, the Canadian government began promoting immigration to the West by offering low-cost land to homesteaders, and the populations of the western provinces gradually increased as more immigrants arrived.

Although not a mechanism for controlled demographic growth, immigration has served, and still does, as a catalyst for the Canadian economy. Throughout its early years Canada favoured British, Anglo-American and western European immigrants. Those from eastern and southern Europe as well as from Asia and Africa were often victims of discrimination and endured great hardship. In the post-WWII period, the advances in human rights and increasing general prosperity helped improve the situation of Canada's non-British immigrants.

REFERENCES

Printed sources

Linteau, Paul-André (ed). Histoire générale du Canada. Montreal: Boréal Express, 1990 (1987).

Linteau Paul-André et al. Histoire du Québec contemporain. Vol 1. De la Confédération à la crise (1867-1929). Montreal: Boréal Express, 1989.

Online sources

Avery, Donald H. "Immigrant Labour." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0003959] (page consulted 18 May 2006).

Bassler, Gerhard P. "Germans." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online][http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0003238 ] (page consulted 19 May 2006).

Dirks, Gerald E. "Immigration Policy." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.canadianencyclopedia.ca/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0003961] (page consulted 18 May 2006).

Ganzevoort, Herman. "Dutch." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0002476] (page consulted 18 May 2006).

Kalbach, Warren E. "Population." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006396] (page consulted 16 May 2006).

Linteau, Paul-André. "Québec Since Confederation." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006604] (page consulted 16 May 2006).

Mathieu, Jacques. "New France." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0005701] (page consulted 16 May 2006).

Mccracken, Jane. "Homesteading." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0003824] (page consulted 16 May 2006).

Naidoo, Josephine C. "Africans." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0000055] (page consulted 18 May 2006).

Pierce, Richard A. "Russians." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0007020] (page consulted 18 May 2006).

Pitre, Marie-Claire. "La déportation des Acadiens." SAANB [online] [http://www.saanb.org/references/historiques/historique03.htm (page consulted 17 May 2006).

Schoenfeld, Stuart. "Jews." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0004134] (page consulted 18 May 2006).

Sturino, Franc. "Italians." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0004079] (page consulted 18 May 2006).

Sunahara, Ann. "Japanese Canadians." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0004108] (page consulted 18 May 2006).

Troper, Harold. "Immigration." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0003960] (page consulted 16 May 2006).

Wickberg, E. B. "Chinese." The Canadian Encyclopedia [online] [http://thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0001588] (page consulted 18 May 2006).

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