The Arrival of Displaced Persons in Canada, 1945-1951


After the Second World War, more than 157,000 refugees, known as displaced persons, and sometimes referred to as “DPs,” came to Canada. They seized the opportunity to start over again, found new homes in this country and added to the multi-cultural complexion of Canada.

The term “displaced person” was defined as any person who was displaced because of the Second World War. Many came to Canada from Europe during the period between 1945, when the war ended, until 1951 when the International Refugee Organization (IRO) closed its displaced persons camps. For Canada, the arrival of this large wave of people marked a notable chapter in the nation’s immigration history. While the largest groups of displaced persons to come were Poles and Ukrainians, there were also a significant number of Holocaust survivors and Jews as well as Croatians, Czechoslovakians, Estonians, Hungarians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Romanians and Yugoslavians. Some of these people had been either forced labourers or prisoners of war during the Nazi occupation of many parts of Eastern Europe, while other displaced persons left their homelands later, as new governments based on Soviet communism were formed.

Displaced persons, as the largest group of 20th-century refugees to come to Canada, collectively alerted Canadians to the plight of stateless peoples and helped pave the way for more generous immigration policies and practices. Moreover, as displaced persons made their homes in Canada, they contributed to a cultural renaissance in their ethno-cultural communities, and eventually added strong voices to the calls for recognition of Canada’s growing cultural diversity.

Persons displaced in the aftermath of the Second World War ended up in Displaced Persons Camps in Europe run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA) and the IRO. Although initially reluctant to accept these refugees, the Canadian government announced a program in 1947 to bring displaced persons to Canada as contract workers. Most signed one-year contracts to meet specific labour needs in Canada’s burgeoning economy, particularly in mining, logging, agriculture, needle trades and domestic service. This large and diverse group of refugees, many of whom were well-educated professionals, contrasted with earlier waves of immigrants who were primarily workers or farmers. Most displaced persons fulfilled the terms of their contracts in low paying, often remote jobs, and were initially forced to leave their families behind. While their adjustment to Canada was often difficult, many eventually found work that was more in keeping with their experience and training, and were re-united with their families. Most moved to major Canadian cities, where they joined ethnic neighbourhoods.


Title of the Image: Augustinas Kuolas, a Lithuanian, stands in the doorway of a displaced persons camp in April 1948.
Source of the Image: Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3193462

English Image titled: Augustinas Kuolas, a Lithuanian, stands in the doorway of a displaced persons camp in April 1948.
Copyright: Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3193462 

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Hon. Catherine McKenna Parks Canada History and Archaeology

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