ARCHIVED – Backgrounder — Facts in Canada’s Immigration History

Canada is often referred to as a land of immigrants because millions of newcomers have settled here and helped to build and defend our way of life, starting with settlers from France and England.

In 1937, John Buchan, the 1st Baron Tweedsmuir and Governor General of Canada (1935-40) said immigrant groups “should retain their individuality and each make its contribution to the national character,” a philosophy that is carried forward in Canada’s Multiculturalism policy.

Did you know…

  • In 1604, the first European settlement north of what is now Florida was established by French explorers Pierre de Monts and Samuel de Champlain, first on St. Croix Island (in present-day Maine), then at Port-Royal, in Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia).
  • The Acadians are the descendants of French colonists who began settling in what are now the Maritime provinces in 1604.
  • Most French speaking Quebecers are descendants of 8,500 French settlers who arrived in the 1600s and 1700s.
  • The Loyalists came to Canada from the United States in 1776, to escape the American Revolution.  They were of Dutch, German, British, Scandinavian, Aboriginal and other origins and from Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Quaker, and Catholic religious backgrounds.
  • When Canada became a country in 1867 our first Prime Minister was, of course, an immigrant.  Sir John Alexander Macdonald, was born in Scotland on January 11, 1815, and he came to Upper Canada as a child. 
  • Dominion Lands Act was the 1872 piece of legislation that granted a quarter section of free land (160 acres or 64.7 hectares) to any settler 21 years of age or older who paid a ten–dollar registration fee, lived on his quarter section for three years, cultivated 30 acres (12.1 hectares), and built a permanent dwelling.
  • Between 1901 and 1914, over 750,000 immigrants entered Canada from the United States. While many were returning Canadians, about one–third were newcomers of European extraction—Germans, Hungarians, Norwegians, Swedes, and Icelanders—who had originally settled in the American West.
  • Before 1914, some 170,000 Ukrainians, 115,000 Poles, and tens of thousands from Germany, France, Norway, and Sweden settled in the West and developed a thriving agricultural sector.
  • Between 1928 and 1971, one million immigrants came to Canada through Pier 21 alone.
  • By the 1960s, one-third of Canadians had origins that were neither British nor French, and took pride in preserving their distinct culture in the Canadian fabric.
  • Today, most immigrants come from China, Philippines and India.
  • The proportion of foreign-born Canadians was 19.8% in 2006.
  • 24% of Canada’s population speaks languages other than English and French.
  • Since the fertility rate in Canada is only 1.68 children per female, the majority of Canada’s population growth is due to immigration.


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