Immigrants to Canada

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Immigration Report of 1858

The following information was extracted from the British Parliamentary Papers, 1859(II) XIV (2555), pp 37-44.

The number of immigrants who arrived in Canada by the route of the St. Lawrence in 1858 was 12,810, the smallest number in any year since 1839. Of these, 12,596 arrived from Europe, and 214 from the Lower Provinces. The births on the voyage were 15, and the deaths 39, equal to .30 per cent. The number of ships employed was 154; of which 138 were sailing ships, and carried 9,206 persons, and 16 were steam ships, carrying 3,390. The average passage of the sailing ships was 40 days; of the steam ships a little over 12. The whole number of adult males included in the immigration was 4,442; of whom 1,651, or upwards of 37 per cent, were farmers; 1,593, or nearly 36 per cent, labourers; and 932, or nearly 21 per cent, mechanics. The remainder, amounting to 266 persons, are classed as clerks and servants. The ineffective portion of the immigration was therefore very small. The number of persons assisted to emigrate by parishes or otherwise was 353, of whom 243 were females. The single females among these readily obtained situations; but some widows with their children who were sent out from an union in Ireland found great difficulty in procuring employment. It is obvious that the condition of such persons cannot be improved by their transfer from a country where they have friends and a legal title to support, to a country where they are strangers, and where no legal provision exists for their subsistence. It is calculated that the whole number of immigrants who arrived in Canada by the St. Lawrence and through the United States in the course of the year was 38,014, and that the number who left was 25,675, leaving in the province 12,339, and that of these there settled in
Canada West11,100
Canada East1,240
 12,340

Among those who have settled in Canada West are a number of German families; and in Canada East a number of Norwegian families have purchased land of the British American Company. The Norwegians, numbering about 500 families, were possessed of considerable capital, more than 10,000l. having been remitted for them to Quebec in letters of credit, exclusive of the money they carried with them.

In their session of 1858, the legislature of Canada passed an Act to amend the law relating to emigration, the principal objects of which were to equalize the emigrant tax on adults and children, to regulate the relations of steam-boat agents and tavern-keepers towards emigrants, and to afford protection to foreign emigrants on the voyage. It may be a question whether the provisions on this latter head were not beyond the competency of the Canadian legislature, but in other respects the Act may be expected to have a beneficial effect.

With respect to the prospects which the province holds out to emigrants, we quote the following passages from the Reports of Mr. Buchanan, the emigration agent at Quebec, and Mr. Hawke, the emigration agent for Western Canada:–Mr. Buchanan says "The prospects which Canada holds out to some classes of the emigration of 1859 are less encouraging than could be wished for. The condition of the province is materially improved over that existing at the close of 1857; and it may be reasonably expected that each month, particularly after the opening of the summer, will show an increasing improvement in every line of employment. It will, however, be some time before the existing redundancy in mechanics' and artisans' labour can be provided for; and while established workmen are to be had, the newly arrived will find difficulty in obtaining situations. I am called upon to repeat my warning against the emigration to Canada of all such classes as have no calling, or experience in work; such persons can only injure their condition by resorting to a country where, if industry is generally well rewarded, there is no provision for those who are unemployed, whether from choice or misfortune. In Canada, to succeed it is necessary to possess capital, or the means of labour, and those means must comprehend physical ability, supported by industrial habits. The best description of settler not possessing money to purchase land and improve it, is the strong and active man habituated to agricultural pursuits. These and all others of analogous habits can readily adapt themselves to some one or other of the descriptions of labour which are most general in Canada. Men, whether labourers or artisans, who have acquired less general knowledge of labour, who have been confined to special employments at home, cannot turn their hands, without difficulty to such new and various work as may be open here, nor do they so soon accommodate themselves to the changed circumstances of a new country. There is at present throughout the Western district of the province a want of employment in all branches; and even agriculturists acquainted with the country are in many cases unable to earn fair wages." In this the reports of Mr. Hawke and Mr. Dixon concur. But in the Ottawa district Mr. Clemow's information is to the effect that few or no men of any class are unengaged. "If the anticipation of more general activity which is confidently entertained throughout the country should be fulfilled on the re-appearance of summer, and if the immigration should be of no more than moderate extent, I do not look forward to any great difficulty in our absorbing the usual proportion of the labouring class. Farming men will be generally in demand, and a moderate supply of unskilled labour also may be required. Female servants, with some experience, will find places readily, but they must be unencumbered by families of children. But no encouragement can be offered to the emigration of superior artisans and mechanics who have not some resources on which to fall back. These classes, dependent on immediate employment, may find themselves greatly distressed should there be further delay in the re-commencement of the works which alone can require them."

Mr. Hawke observes– "With reference to the encouragement we are justified in holding out to emigrants for the ensuing year, I can only repeat the remarks I have recently inserted in the Colonization Circular, viz., that until a change takes place in the condition of Upper Canada it will not be desirable for any considerable number of emigrants to come here. Farmers possessed of 400l. or 500l. being prudent and industrious, are sure to do well. Capitalists can always find good and safe investments. The legal interest is now 7 per cent., but 10 or 12 per cent. can be obtained on landed security. Good farm servants stand the next best chance of settling to advantage, but clerks, porters, grocers, gentlemen's servants, male and female, and mechanics accustomed to the highest kind of skilled labour, had better remain at home until the times change."

New Brunswick

The emigration from the United Kingdom to New Brunswick comprised in 1858 only 309 persons, being considerably less than even the small immigrations of 1856 and 1857. We have not received nay Report on the subject from the immigration agent, Mr. Perley, nor any of the usual ship returns; but, from the absence of remark, we infer that during the past year the immigration was not less healthy than in former years. In the month of August last a new set of regulations was proclaimed throughout the colony for the disposal of the crown lands. A copy of these regulations we print in the Appendix. They provide for the sale of the public lands on two plans, by auction and by private contract on conditions of settlement. By the first plan the lands are to be put up to sale at an up-set price of 3s. an acre (exclusive of charges of survey), and the money is to be paid by four equal annual instalments,[sic] By the other plan the land is to be sold at a fixed price of 3s. an acre, payable also in four equal annual instalments, in money or labour, at the option of the purchaser. If in money, the amount is to be expended on roads through the land.

As Her Majesty has surrendered to the colonial legislature the management of the crown lands, these regulations were assented to; but it is impossible not to doubt whether the provision which allows of the payment for crown lands by labour can be strictly or profitably enforced.

British Columbia

Since the date of our last Report, British Columbia has been added to the list of the colonial dependencies of the crown.

As early as June 1856, Mr. Douglas, the Governor of Vancouver's Island, reported to the Secretary of State the discovery of gold in the British territory north of the 49 latitude, and stated that the earnings of diggers amounted to from 2l. to 8l. a day. The diggers at that time were, however, very few in consequence of the hostile attitude assumed by the natives.

The discovery attracted at first less attention than might have been expected; but, in December 1857, Governor Douglas reported that the Indians themselves were engaging largely in the search for gold, and that the reports which had reached the neighbouring states of the Union had created much excitement there. It was not, however, until May 1858, that a stream of immigration sufficient to overpower the opposition of the Indians fairly set in. By the 8th of may, 1,500 miners had arrived; and it was reported that before 15th June more than 10,500 persons had left San Francisco alone for the mines.

As soon as intelligence of this immigration was received a bill was introduced into Parliament for erecting British Columbia into a colony, and for conferring on Her Majesty the power by order in council to legislate, or to delegate to the governor the power to legislate, for the maintenance of order in the colony. This bill received the Royal Assent on 2d August, and on 2d September letters patent passed the great seal, appointing Mr. Douglas governor, and delegating to him the power to make laws and ordinances, by proclamations. These letters were accompanied by instructions under the sign manual, defining and limiting the manner in which his legislative and other powers were to be exercised.

The despatches which accompanied or followed these more formal instruments explained the principles by which Her majesty's Government desired that he should be guided in the exercise of the large powers conferred on him. As those despatches have been presented to Parliament and printed, it will be sufficient in this place to indicate very briefly their general effect. The governor was instructed to consider the best mode of dealing with the natives, and promoting their civilization,–to offer no obstacle to the influx of aliens, but to endeavour to conciliate their good will,–to bear in mind that representative institutions would be established at the earliest opportunity, and in the meantime to consider whether out of the most respectable of the immigrants it would not be possible at once to form a council of advice. He was directed to bear in mind that British Columbia must be self-supporting,–was authorized to sell land for agricultural purposes, but to prevent as far as possible illegal occupation, and was especially warned against any undue favouritism towards the Hudson's Bay Company or those in its employ. He was likewise apprized that a body of 150 sappers and miners would be sent out under the command of engineer officers to aid in the survey of the crown lands, and to assist in the maintenance of order.

Various communications, which are printed in the papers presented to parliament, and which it is therefore unnecessary to notice here, have passed on the important subject of the disposal of the crown lands; and on 14th February last Governor Douglas issued a proclamation containing regulations for that purpose, a copy of which we print in the Appendix. The general effect of this proclamation is that all lands, other than town or mineral lands or lands specially reserved, are to be sold by auction at an up-set price of 10s. an acre, the price to be paid half in cash at the time of sale, and the other half at the end of two years; that lands unsold at auction may be disposed of by private contract at the up-set price, and that all sales are to be subject to such private right of way as may be afterwards declared. The conveyance of the land is to include all trees and mines and minerals except gold and silver.

Previously to this Governor Douglas had decided on laying out a town at Fort Langley on the south bank of the Frazer River, about 30 miles from its mouth, and a sale of lots took place on 25th November last. The lots were about one sixth of an acre in size (120 x 64 ft.), and were put up at an upset price of $100 or 20l. 16s. 8d., equal to 42l. 13s. a lot. Subsequently, on the recommendation of Colonel Moody, the commanding officer of Engineers, the Governor determined to place the site of the capital on the north bank of the Frazer's River, about 10 miles lower down than Fort Langley, and consequently in the above proclamation he offered the purchasers at Fort Langley the option of transferring their purchases to the new site if they desired it. The proclamation also contained regulations for the laying out of the town and the sale of the lots in it. It was proposed that one fourth of those lots should be reserved for sale in the United Kingdom and the British colonies, but probably, in consequence of instructions recently issued to the governor, this part of the scheme will be abandoned.

In respect to the area of the gold field of the colony, it is much too early to pronounce any opinion. Flake gold is found from a few miles below Fort Hope to the furthest point yet explored on the Frazer and Thompson Rivers, and in all the intermediate tributary streams; it is also found in coarse lumps in the plains bordering on those rivers. The quantity may be inferred from the statement that one person (Mr. Curling), employing five hired labourers and using a "sluice," received in a single week 2,500 dollars worth; another (George Cade), employing four men, averaged during 6 days 400 dollars a day; and another (Martin Gallagher) made 35 dollars a day out of ground that had been already washed by the cradle to the depth of 18 inches. The ease with which it is obtained from the surface of the land and the bars in the rivers has little to obviate the necessity of any very deep digging, or of the crushing of the quartz rock; and accordingly we have as yet heard of the discovery of no considerable nuggets. The largest lump discovered appears to have been about 1½ ozs. found at Bridge River. But there seems no doubt that the whole region is highly auriferous, and that the several ranges of mountains by which the country is intersected contain large deposits of gold. The whole mount obtained between June and December 1858 was estimated at 106,305 oz.

As regards the gold in the rivers, the season within which it can be obtained appears likely to be very short. It was not till 9th September that Governor Douglas says, "the river is now falling rapidly, and the miners in many places are doing well," while it appears that by the end of November the miners were driven away by the severe cold, and considerable numbers were leaving the colony. The season for the "dry diggings" will naturally begin much earlier, and it will probably be from these that the largest quantity will be collected. The miners appear to have exhibited great ingenuity and perseverance in constructing channels to bring water to these diggings, so as to allow of their using the "sluice" to wash the gold. Some of the channels so constructed are said to be several miles long. The regulations for gold mining established by the Governor we print in the Appendix. They require the payment in advance of a licence fee of 21s. per month as regards alluvial gold. They fix at 25 feet frontage on every river, 25 feet to either side of every stream or ravine, and 20 feet square in dry diggings, the extent of ground to be assigned to each digger. For the working of quartz veins they require the licencee to give a bond, with two sureties in 2,000l., to secure the payment of a royalty of 10 per cent., and that the licence should not extend, without renewal, beyond three years. Whether it will be possible to maintain these regulations permanently may be matter of doubt, looking to the experience of the Australian Colonies, but in the meantime they are calculated to produce a considerable revenue to the colony.

The head of the steamboat navigation of the Frazer River is Fort Yale, about 130 miles from its mouth, and the difficult nature of the country beyond makes carriage very expensive, and raises the cost of supplies to an exorbitant amount. On 9th November Governor Douglas states that flour was selling at "the Forks," at 4s. 2d. per lb., and other articles of food were equally dear. To remedy this state of things, the Governor undertook the opening of a road through Harrison River and Lake to a point on Frazer's River beyond the mountains, and employed on the work a party of 500 men. The terms on which these men volunteered their services were singular, especially as they are said to have included not only British subjects and Americans, but French, Germans, Danes, Africans, and Chinese. "Each man," says Governor Douglas, "on being enrolled into the corps, paid into our hands the sum of $25 as security for good conduct. They receive no remuneration in the form of pay, the government having merely to supply them with food while employed on the road, and to transport them free of expense to the commencement of the road on Harrison's Lake, where the money deposit of $25 is to be repaid to them in provisions at Victoria prices, when the road is finished." The road was finished in November, and the reduction in the cost of transport to Fort Lytton at the junction of Frazer's and Thomson's Rivers was equal to about 158 per cent.

It was scarcely to be expected that a population so heterogeneous in its composition and so undisciplined in its habits could be suddenly let loose in a country where no settled government or police existed, and should be brought in contact with a native population under the exciting influence of gold seeking, without some collisions, and breaches of the peace. But upon the whole, it may be considered that such occurrences have been wonderfully rare. On three occasions only does it appear that any disturbance took place, and although in these instances some lives were lost; order was soon restored by the interference of the government authorities. Generally speaking the miners appear to have behaved with much moderation and forbearance.


UWInfo | Young Immigrants | Genealogy | Local History | 19th Century Immigration

© Marjorie P. Kohli, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 1997-2007
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