Edinburgh Centre for Global History

Strangers in a Land of Promise: English Emigration to Canada 1900-1914

This project examined English emigration to Canada during the period 1901-1914. The project ran 2011-2014 with funding from the Leverhulme Trust.

During the early twentieth century, emigration from Britain reached unprecedented levels, with approximately 3.15 million people leaving between 1903 and 1913. The most popular destination during these years was Canada, which drew almost half of Britain’s emigrants. English emigrants have been chosen as the particular focus because they dominated the flow of migrants from the British Isles and constituted a distinct ethnic group in Canada. This project will examine who emigrated to Canada from England, why they emigrated, and how they fared; it will also assess their economic, social and cultural impact on Canada.

The project consisted of two parts. Firstly, a sample of passenger lists for the years 1905, 1907, 1910 and 1912 was transcribed, with the passengers being linked as much as possible to their corresponding entries in the 1911 Canadian census. This data provided a detailed profile of English settlement in Canada during the early-twentieth century: who settled where and how they generally fared. The second - and core - part of this project consisted of case studies of two contrasting regions where English immigrants settled in large numbers: western Toronto, and the rapidly-developing western town of Regina. A 50 per cent sample of the 1911 Canadian Census for these districts will be prepared; the English immigrants in this sample will then be linked to their corresponding entries in Canadian and American passenger lists. The resulting database provides a detailed profile of the English immigrants who lived in these districts. A wide range of archival materials were also used to study the economic, social and cultural impact of English immigrants on these two districts, as well as their adjustment and accommodation to Canadian society.

This project especially focused on the question of impact. In particular, the role that English immigrants played in Canada’s phenomenal economic growth and development during this period was examined, focussing chiefly on the human capital that English immigrants brought to Canada and how this was subsequently exploited. The impact of English immigrants on Canadian culture and identity was another major focus: did this large influx of English immigrants strengthen the sense of Canada as being a British country?

Strangers in a Land of Promise project blog

Project leader: Dr Amy Lloyd