Canada, Immigration Resources for Ontario and the Prairie Provinces (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian:Immigration Records  by Patricia McGregor, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Fight for control of the land that would become Ontario took place between the French and the English as it did in the Maritime provinces and Quebec. French and English trading posts were established in the early 1700s and these existed along with a stream of explorers, missionaries and fur traders in areas occupied by many Indian tribes including Huron, Iroquois, Ojibway and Cree.

After France ceded control of the area to Britain in 1763, the French/English conflict ended. Britain now controlled the old French territory (Quebec) that extended westward past the Great Lakes. After the American War of Independence those loyal to Britain crossed the border and settled in Niagara, along the shores of Lake Ontario and in the areas south and west of Montreal. We need to remember that at this time, the area was still called Quebec although much of this region would later form Upper Canada, then Canada West and later, the province of Ontario.

It was in 1791 that the area was divided into Upper (Ontario) and Lower (Quebec) Canada with the Ottawa River as the dividing line. In 1841 the two were joined, becoming known as Canada East (CE) and Canada West (CW).

Early in the nineteenth century and up until 1822, a Military Settling Department operated at Quebec and provided assistance to both military and civilian settlers. The records, available at Library and Archives Canada, include the following:

  • Perth Military Settlement Fonds available on microfilm C-4651. The records include a register of tickets of location granted to military settlers (1816-1822) and there is an alphabetical index at the beginning.
  • Settlers (1818-1820), microfilm reels C-3158 to C-3159. This group of records consists of establishments of the settling department, estimates, lists of immigrants, memoranda, petitions, reports, requisitions, returns, and correspondence relating chiefly to the military settlements at Drummonville, Lanark, Perth, and Richmond.

British and Germans formed the majority of the early settlers in Ontario. In 1794, 64 German families were brought to settle near Toronto by William von Moll Berczy. Library and Archives Canada holds the William von Moll Berczy Fonds. These fonds include among other items, some maps and lists of settlers. Consult record group RG 152-0-5E, or seven volumes on microfilm H 2298.

In the early 19th century, (1800-1820), 2,000 Mennonite immigrants moved to Upper Canada settling in three main areas: the Niagara District, the Markham area and on the Grand River. Statistics from the 1871 census indicate that 10% of the population of Ontario (158,000) were Germans. Since WWII, immigration to Ontario has been from almost every country in the world.

Archives and Societies

  • Archives of Ontario (genealogical research)
    134 Ian Macdonald Blvd
    Toronto, Ontario
    Canada M7A 2C5

The Prairies

By 1900 there was no more free (or even cheap) land in the American frontier. In the first decade of the 20th century the population of the three prairie provinces more than tripled, growing by almost one million people. About a third of the new Canadians who arrived in the west between 1896 and 1914 were not English speaking Anglo Saxons. For those who have ancestors enumerated in the 1901 census, it is worth noting that two of the questions asked pertained to place of birth and what language was spoken in the home. Answers to these questions will help identify country of origin. Furthermore, if the place of birth is a generic answer like “Russia”, the answer of “Latvian” or “Slovak” to the language question would be a major clue to identifying a more specific location.

You can learn more about the experiences of immigrants to Western Canada through a project of the University of Manitoba Archives and their Special Collections. There are over 15,000 digitized archival items (texts, photos, videos) available through their Prairie Immigration Experience website.

French In The West

Many French Canadian voyageurs who went west in the fur trade era remained there when their contracts ended. Some took Indian wives and their children were the first of the Métis population. By the time the province of Manitoba was formed in 1870 almost half the population was Métis.

Following the troubles at Red River, many of the Métis moved further west establishing colonies on the North Saskatchewan River, south of Prince Albert at St Albert, Lac Ste Anne, Lac La Biche and Tail Creek.

A French colonization society was established in St Boniface and in Montreal, but there was not a great deal of response to this. There was more interest from German, Ukranian and Scandinavian immigrants.

French Canadian settlements were established in Southern Manitoba, and in Saskatchewan at Ponteix, Gravelbourg, Lisieux, Lafleche and St Louis and in Alberta at St Albert, Morinville, Lamoureux, Legal, Grouxville, Beaumont and Picardville.

Settlement attempts by Frenchmen from France occurred in Alberta at Whitewood and Trochu in the early 1900s. These settlements attracted more settlers from France, and Trochu in particular was quite prosperous up until the outbreak of WWI. At this time, many of these settlers returned to France to serve in the military.

In Alberta there was some French migration from the St Lawrence to the northern areas of the province. This is an area where the Catholic missionaries had followed the Métis and then French Canadians followed the church resulting over time in communities that became more French than Métis.


Manitoba was part of the grant to the Hudson’s Bay Company which received a charter from the British King in 1670. Early settlement was sporadic. Employees of the HBC signed on for 3 to 5 years and usually returned to Britain at the end of their contracts. Although officially frowned upon, there were relationships between the fur traders and native women—and in many cases these relationships resulted in births.

Some initial settlement around the Red River was encouraged in the early 1800s in order to provide a permanent supply base for the Company’s operations. Widespread settlement did not begin until Manitoba entered Confederation in 1870 and construction of a railway to the west facilitated the movement of settlers. The government began to encourage emigration to Manitoba in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was particularly interested in attracting farmers from Europe. Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Estonians and Hungarians settled in the area.

“Agents of railway companies in the states and territories south of the international boundary line have striven to perpetuate the notion that the climate of Canada is against the country’s future. Not long ago, the Canadian department of agriculture found that there had been distributed, throughout England, thousands of pamphlets in which it was asserted, with the proper quantum of hypocritical lamentation, that the climate of Manitoba consists of “seven months’ Arctic winter and five months’ cold weather”; the object being to attract intending settlers from Manitoba to Dakota as possessing a better climate.” (Carling 1886, 2)

Three years after the suppression of the first Riel Rebellion, a large settlement of German speaking Mennonites was in southern Manitoba. Six thousand German-speaking settlers originally from Holland and the lower Rhine, left Russia where they had emigrated earlier, to settle in the Red River valley.

In 1874, 375 Icelanders arrived, having settled initially in Kinmount, Ontario. The next year, they moved as a group to the shore of Lake Winnipeg. Originally the settlement was called New Iceland, but was later changed to Gimli. These settlers adjusted well and were quite successful, so much so that the Canadian government decided to encourage more to come. An immigration agent was appointed in 1886 (one of the original group) and he brought over 7,000 Icelanders to Manitoba. Rural Manitoba was basically settled by 1900. In the 1911 Census, over 40 percent of all Manitobans are described as living in urban settings.

Archives and Societies


Early settlers in Saskatchewan in the mid 1700s were French traders. They were followed by Scottish and English traders after 1763. In 1867 the Hudson’s Bay Company relinquished its rights to millions of acres of land in exchange for £300,000 from the Canadian government. As the railway moved west, settlement followed. The line was completed as far as Moose Jaw in 1882. Over the next 20 years settlers arrived from the USA, Sweden, Germany, Iceland, Romania, Russia, the Ukraine and Denmark. In the first decade of the 20th century, 400,000 people arrived in the region that became Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan joined Confederation in 1905. The population in 1911 was almost five times higher than it had been in 1901. Three quarters of these new arrivals were settling in rural areas. Mennonite settlements were established in Saskatchewan and Alberta as land became scarcer in Manitoba.

There were two large group settlements of German Catholics in Saskatchewan in the early 1900s—St. Peter’s Colony run by the Benedictine order was established north east of Saskatoon and St. Joseph’s, west of Saskatoon was run by the Oblates. These colonies were populated by settlers lately from Minnesota, the Dakotas, Wisconsin and Kansas.

An attempt was made by a Canadian born Anglican Minister to settle the west with British colonists in the early 20th century. Rev. Isaac Barr joined forces with a British clergyman, Rev. George Lloyd, to found a colony of about 2,000 in Saskatchewan. The plan was poorly organized from the start. They made the voyage in 1903 aboard the S.S. Lake Manitoba. A rough sea voyage, an overcrowded ship, delays on arrival in Saint John NB, filthy trains which took them to Saskatoon and unscrupulous price gouging merchants made for a very unhappy group by the time they arrived in Battleford. Blaming Barr for the problems, a number of colonists decided to replace their leader Barr with Lloyd who had accompanied them on the trip. Initially they decided to call the colony Britannia—later it was renamed Lloydminster.

Archives and Societies

Saskatchewan Archives Board
Mailing address:
P.O. Box 1665 Regina SK S4P 3C6
Street address: 3303 Hillsdale Street Regina SK
Telephone: 306-787-4068
Saskatchewan Archives Board
Street and mailing address:
Murray Building
University of Saskatchewan
3 Campus Drive
Saskatoon SK S7N 5A4
Telephone: 306-933-5832


Alberta was also part of the large territory granted to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670. It also joined Confederation in 1905. Like Saskatchewan and Manitoba, early settlement was by those working in the fur trade. With the arrival of the railway in the mid-1880s, the area was accessible to many settlers. As land became scarcer in the American West, many came up to Alberta. Mormons from Utah moved into the Cardston area. Other settlers included immigrants from Denmark, Iceland and the Ukraine as well as migrants from Quebec and Ontario. Over 300,000 people moved into Alberta in the first decade of the 20th century.

Archives and Societies


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Immigration Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.