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Arrival and Settlement to 1850

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/English/Bruce S. Elliott

Lower and Upper Canada

Although more English people than one might expect found their way to the French colonies in North America before the Conquest of 1760, British subjects in all accounted for no more than 600 of the some 10,250 permanent colonists of New France. What proportion of these were English is uncertain, but they were clearly exceeded in number by colonial-born New Englanders. Few English colonists arrived in what is now central Canada in the half-century after the conquest. Some soldiers, many of them Scots, were disbanded and given land in the vicinity of Quebec, and an immigrant merchant class developed quickly in Quebec and Montreal, the “grasping vultures” famously deplored by Governor Guy Carleton. The origins of the humbler ones are difficult to discover, but many were Scottish and German rather than English. Though many of the seigneuries came into British ownership, attempts to attract New Englanders this far into the interior proved fruitless and there were no large group settlements of foreign Protestants in Quebec as there were in Nova Scotia.

The thinly populated and mostly francophone frontier colony thus held few attractions for the great wave of officially unsanctioned migrants who flooded into North America in the decade and a half between the conquest and the American Revolution. Historian Bernard Bailyn has defined the exodus of that period as a dual migration. Young, underemployed single males emigrated largely from London to the old middle colonies of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland in quest of work and paid off the costs of their passage through indentured servitude, while large farming families from Scotland and the north of England departed for the frontiers of New York, the Carolinas, and Nova Scotia. The trickle of emigrants who came to Quebec in this period constituted a tiny subset of the former, or metropolitan, stream. During the brief period for which data was collected at English ports of embarkation, 1773–76, only thirty-one emigrants took ship for Quebec and Montreal.

After 1815, emigration proved much less popular in England than in Scotland or Ireland. Until 1821, Scottish emigration represented from a quarter to nearly 60 percent of the annual arrivals at Quebec. Thereafter the Scottish numbers fell drastically as the Irish proportion rose, from a third in 1817 to 80 percent by 1822.

Irish interest grew while English interest wavered. English sailings represented between a fifth and a quarter of Quebec passenger arrivals before 1820 but then fell to between 5 and 10 percent, about half the Scottish level. It would appear that English emigration was tied to the short-lived economic hardships following the Napoleonic Wars. The regional origins of departures suggest, moreover, that this movement came largely from districts that had a tradition of transatlantic emigration. As the post-war depression eased, interest in emigration waned correspondingly, to be reawakened as the English economy deteriorated again at the beginning of the 1830s.

In terms of regional origins within England, a dual pattern of emigration seems to have continued, with farming families departing northern England for rural life in the Canadas and young single males accounting for a preponderance of the London traffic. In all, some 10,000 settlers from English ports arrived at Quebec in the 1815–24 period. More than half sailed from ports in the five northern counties, with 26 percent of all steerage passengers embarking at Hull in Yorkshire. Total numbers rose to a peak of 2,500 in 1819, but then declined as the post-war depression eased, to a low of 238 in 1826. Numbers then rose to the levels attained in the late 1810s, but this increase represented a strengthening of interest in the north and a falling away elsewhere. Fully 71 percent of the 4,176 English steerage passengers boarded ships at northern ports between 1825 and 1829.

The early 1830s saw a great increase in English emigration generally, with arrivals in 1830–34 tripling the number that had come since 1815, and movement out of the north of England multiplied 5.5 times over levels of the previous half-decade. Northern numbers dropped to previous levels thereafter and maintained a fair consistency at about 600 to 1,000 per year through the early 1850s.

The greater part of the Yorkshire people apparently settled in the rural hinterland of Toronto, especially in the newly surveyed lands of York, Halton, and Peel counties. Yorkshire accounts for a third of all English places of origin noted on gravestones in this area. The York Courier in the summer of 1830 commented that the English arriving were “from Yorkshire chiefly . . . the greater part of them . . . farmers or farming labourers of the better class, and their families; with a few mechanics.”

Though the northern emigration that so dominated early movement from England was heavily from Yorkshire, the counties farther north towards Scotland also accounted for a significant proportion. Whereas Yorkshire people represented 29 percent of the English in early Ontario Methodist obituaries, another 15 percent came from this region, which accounted for 18 percent of the English origins noted on Toronto area gravestones. Prominent among the northern contingent were emigrants from Cumberland. About 7,000 emigrants from Cumbrian ports landed at Quebec between 1815 and 1854, two-thirds of them in the early 1830s and most of the rest before then.

The best-documented colony was on the south shore of the lower Ottawa River just west of Montreal in the seigneury of Vaudreuil. Some thirty families migrated there from small villages in the vicinity of Penrith in the Vale of Eden in the 1820s and 1830s. The instigator of this movement was likely the Reverend Joseph Abbott, a native of Little Strickland, near Penrith, who had been appointed Anglican missionary at St Andrew’s on the opposite shore of the Ottawa in 1818; the first of the emigrants arrived the following year.

The migration in some instances extended over three generations, and most of the immigrants were “young, unmarried, and penniless” and located in the unsettled and therefore cheaper rear concession of Côte Saint-Charles. Their poverty was a consequence of economic changes in the Vale of Eden, where enclosure of Inglewood Forest had deprived smallholders of essential common pasture at the same time as domestic industries had entered a period of decline. Most had known one another in England, and soon the Côte Saint-Charles was reported to be “settled mainly by friends from England.” The emigration continued until about 1835, resulting in a concentrated settlement that was isolated by language and religion from the surrounding francophone population.

Emigration brought larger numbers of West Country settlers to Ontario than to P.E.I., but the numbers were proportionally much less significant in the larger province; nonetheless, emigration from Devon and Cornwall accounted for some of the largest concentrated English settlements in central Canada. Some 400 steerage passengers disembarked at Quebec from Plymouth vessels in the immediate post-Napoleonic years, but by the late 1820s the number had declined. The early 1830s saw a surge of English emigration everywhere, and this wave brought 5,600 West Country emigrants to Quebec. Significant though these numbers were, they pale in comparison to the 20,000 who arrived during the 1845–54 period. Plymouth remained the port of choice for central Canada through the 1820s and 1830s, but some quite small West Country havens, such as Padstow and Falmouth, contributed about a quarter of the numbers from 1830–34. The small ports accounted for half the movement in the late 1840s, however, and for about a quarter of it in the early 1850s when Bideford finally assumed some minor significance in the Quebec traffic.

One of the settlers of the 1840s, Samuel Pedlar, has left us a memoir of his emigration in 1841 as one of 600 Cornish people who emigrated on four ships from Padstow. The ships were engaged in the timber trade with Quebec, but the emigration was encouraged by a return visit from an earlier emigrant. From Montreal the parties went by Durham boat up the Ottawa-Rideau route, then by steamer from Kingston to Port Hope. The Pedlar family journeyed 64 kilometres overland to stay with a friend of a fellow-traveller in Whitby Township, and then bought a town lot in Oshawa. Nearly all of the 600 settled in Ontario and Durham counties.

Such West Country parties were instrumental in forming the largest concentration of English immigrants in Upper Canada at mid-century, in York, Ontario, and Durham counties, along the western half of the Lake Ontario shore between Port Hope and Toronto. In this area, more than 30 percent of the foreign-born were English, and nine municipalities contained more than 1,000 natives of England in 1852; only Brantford Township and four of the five cities (Toronto, Kingston, Hamilton, and London) were home to as many elsewhere. The English concentration was most notable in Darlington (foreign-born 56 percent English), Whitby (47 percent), Hope (41 percent,) and Clarke (34 percent). These townships contained an overflow of the Yorkshire concentration farther west, but they were the heartland of the Devon and Cornwall settlers from 1830 onward.

By the 1850s increasing numbers of West Country settlers were also locating to the north in Mariposa Township and in the Canada Company’s Huron tract, where a settlement had been formed contemporaneously with the Darlington one. The first settler located near the site of Exeter (named for the Devonshire city) in 1831 and returned to England to encourage his friends to follow; however, most came only in the late 1840s and 1850s. By 1851 Stephen Township was 58 percent English, Usborne 39 percent, and Fullarton, to the north, 41 percent.

Not all who settled in the Toronto area during the 1830s were “chain migrants” following in the footsteps of others from Yorkshire or Devon. The migration of northern farming families continued and that from the West Country was just nicely starting, but, because of the beginning of a prolonged commercial depression in England that left thousands unemployed or underemployed, the emigration net widened into parts of the country previously untouched and dropped markedly down the social scale. Many with little money arrived in Upper Canada on their own and sought employment in York (Toronto), often as a preliminary to earning enough to buy land.

The year 1831 saw a great increase in immigration generally, with arrivals from England exceeding the numbers that had sailed thence during the entire previous decade. The government’s recently appointed emigrant agent at Quebec, A.C. Buchanan, reported that “a large proportion [were] possessed of considerable property, particularly those from Yorkshire and Cumberland” and that many “respectable” emigrants had arrived from the midland and western counties. But emigration was increasing from all parts of the United Kingdom, with “vast numbers . . . from counties that hitherto were not in the habit of sending any.” Arrivals from the north dropped from 71 to 25 percent of the total, and Liverpool’s proportion was reduced slightly from 16 to 13 percent. On the other hand, the proportion departing London and the surrounding home counties doubled to a quarter of all arrivals; another third were from the southeast, the West Country, and Bristol, which hitherto had sent negligible numbers, and over 1,000 arrived from East Anglia, from where none had sailed directly in the previous five years.

The widening of the emigration net was in part the consequence of efforts on the part of landowners and parish vestries to reduce the poor rates by assisting paupers to emigrate. The number of assisted emigrants in 1831 amounted to just under 5,000, which accounted for nearly 30 percent of the arrivals from English ports that year and for a fifth of arrivals over the next two. Many reached York ill. For example, in June 1831 a party of “the lowest class of English paupers” arrived in the city by steamer, presenting “an appearance of abject misery and want, such as we have never before witnessed in the English labouring class.” With authorities fearing that they would drive down wages, they were forwarded on to Hamilton. Hundreds received relief in the hospital and Lieutenant Governor John Colborne assisted with plots of land and work on the Rideau and Welland canals. In 1832 emigration from throughout the British Isles increased and the number of indigents assisted at Montreal more than doubled. To make matters worse, some 1,700 commuted army pensioners arrived, having exchanged their pensions for passage and the expectation of land. Many were elderly or disabled and should never have been allowed to come; a hundred died. It is uncertain how many were English; from the names, most appear to have been Irish. Colborne made free land grants available in frontier townships and put the poor to work building roads and bridges. At the end of the decade, Colborne, an advocate of assisted emigration, admitted that there had been great distress in 1831– 33 especially. By then, emigration societies, private charities, and a Toronto “house of industry” were in place to cope with what was to be a continuing phenomenon.

The most statistically dramatic example of this pauper movement, the newly awakened emigration from East Anglia, was to prove largely a feature of the 1830s. Only eight emigrants had arrived direct from East Anglian ports previously; during this decade, 7,742 took ship there. This tide accounted for 12.6 percent of English sailings, and the actual numbers were larger since some Norfolk and Suffolk residents also took ship from London. The major East Anglian port was Yarmouth, which entered the Canadian emigrant trade for the first time in 1830 and soon assumed significant proportions. In 1836 it accounted for a quarter of all English sailings, 55 percent of them assisted.

The inspiration behind this movement was William Cattermole, who returned to England in the fall of 1830 after three years’ residence in Upper Canada. Cattermole lectured on Canada in Colchester and Ipswich, countering widespread stories of the adversity of the Canadian winter with details of the colony’s advantages and demonstrating that a family could be set up on a partially cultivated farm there for the cost of a mere passage to the Australian colonies. The lectures were published as a pamphlet in the spring of 1831. Cattermole was affiliated with the Canada Company and particularly encouraged emigrants from Suffolk, Essex, and Norfolk to settle near the company’s towns of Guelph and Goderich. He drew landowners’ attention to the advantages of assisting underemployed labourers to migrate to Canada in order to reduce the poor rate, and he was one of many to urge legislation to facilitate such projects.

In 1831 Cattermole superintended the embarkation of more than 1,000 emigrants from East Anglia. Most were labourers, but their numbers included some small farmers with capital. Cattermole felt that more of the latter class would emigrate once the shortage of labour in Canada was alleviated by the emigration he promoted. To encourage the process, he personally led 208 emigrants with capital from the vicinity of Lenham in Kent and Laxfield in Suffolk to Guelph Township in 1832.

Other entrepreneurs were not long in following his example. A millwright named Betts from Bungay, Suffolk, also returned to England and brought out a few acquaintances after earning enough as a journeymen in twelve months to establish himself as an employer in Montreal. For at least three years beginning in 1831, an emigrant named Sharman made annual trips back to Norfolk to “induce others to go out on the following Season.” In 1833 he led a party that sailed from Yarmouth with a promise of free land on the estate of Colonel Hale on the north shore of the St Lawrence. Hale hoped that getting some land under improvement in this way would improve the value of the whole.

The tendency of emigrants with capital to make private purchases in the upper province subverted the personal interest of Cattermole, who had arranged with the Canada Company to be remunerated in proportion to the numbers of settlers located on their lands. Moreover, the greatest beneficiary of the East Anglian movement turned out to be a competing land company in Lower Canada. The British American Land Company (BALC) employed a recruiting agent in England, but landowners and the precedent established by earlier emigrants were also central in generating the large numbers that took ship from East Anglia in 1836. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act not only legalized the use of the poor rates to fund emigration of paupers; it greatly increased the cost of maintaining them in England and hence heightened the incentive to assist them away. In 1835– 36, 3,057 emigrants were sent out from Norfolk and 786 from Suffolk, and together they accounted for 78 percent of all the parochially assisted emigration from England that year.

The motivations behind parochially assisted emigration were widely questioned in England and opponents came to characterize the policy as “shovelling out paupers.” The embarkation at Ipswich of 177 labourers from Stradbroke provoked a riot in 1836 as a mob from the town attempted to dissuade the families from leaving. Most of those who turned back were persuaded by parish officers to return to the vessel, and several men from the crowd were jailed for using “inflammatory and profane language.”

Though most of these Suffolk and Norfolk labourers and farmers preferred Upper Canada, some were settled in the BALC tract in the Eastern Townships. The Quebec Gazette reported on 8 July that about 1,400 emigrants had reached Sherbrooke, principally from Norfolk and Suffolk. In general, the assisted emigrants landed “much too poor,” for the vast majority had received their parochial allotments of cash before leaving England and had spent it before landing “in gambling and purchasing ardent spirits” from the ships’ masters. The financial crisis of 1837 and the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837– 38 put a damper on English immigration in general, and Yarmouth disappeared entirely from the emigration statistics after 1841, when only thirty-four migrants landed at Quebec out of a single vessel. Few of the East Anglian settlers remained in Lower Canada, and the Eastern Townships settlement is judged to have been essentially a failure, certainly a financial one for the company. Many departed the region, but the 1844 census recorded 1,436 natives of England in Sherbrooke County, by far the largest concentration in the province outside the cities. In 1851 there were 1,279 there, with the largest numbers in the town itself and in Bury, Shipton, Melbourne, and Compton townships.

In all, nearly 10,000 English paupers were assisted to immigrate to British North America under the terms of the Poor Law Amendment Act between 1835 and 1847, and probably as many more were helped to leave in 1831–34 before the legislation came into force. Of those financed under the act, two-thirds arrived during the first three years, most of them from East Anglia, and another quarter of the total came in 1842–45. Norfolk and Suffolk accounted for half the assisted emigrants; Sussex contributed as many emigrants as Suffolk, 1,278 or 13 percent of the total. There the Earl of Egremont and the rector of Petworth, Thomas Sockett, had organized the Petworth Emigration Committee, which, like the Norfolk movement, antedated the new legislation. Between 1832 and 1837 the committee sent out some 1,900 paupers on chartered ships. It remained active after Egremont’s death until at least 1844, sending people on regular vessels out of London. The Petworth emigrants settled widely. Tradesmen found work around Toronto while many others sailed on to Hamilton and settled in groups of families around Ancaster, Dundas, and Guelph. Some were directed to the new townships of the Western District, where one of the largest communities took shape in Adelaide Township. Kentish parishes contributed 1,189 assisted emigrants (12 percent) and Wiltshire 657 (6.6 percent). These five counties together accounted for 80 percent of the total. Many assisted emigrants scattered through the southwestern peninsula of Upper Canada; others made their way to the United States. As is often the case with assisted emigrants, their departure and arrival are documented but their movements afterwards remain obscure for the most part.