Canadian immigration to the United States

2011-02-08 10:21:50

From the earliest period of European settlement in North America in the 17th century, France and England both found it difficult to attract settlers to the cold northern colonies that eventually became Canada. As communities and economic opportunities grew to the south, however, Canadians, most of whom spoke English, found it relatively easy to relocate to the United States. As a result, Canada has, throughout much of its history, suffered a net loss of migration, despite the immigration of more than 16 million people between 1852 and 2002. According to the 2000 U.S. census, 647,376 Americans claimed Canadian descent, though the number clearly underrepresents those whose families once inhabited Canada. Between 1820 and 2002, more than 4.5 million Canadians immigrated to the United States, though many were born in European countries and only temporarily resided in Canada before moving on to the south.
The first major migration of Canadians to the lands of the present-day United States was in 1755, when Britain captured Acadia from France during the ongoing colonial conflict that developed into the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). Over the next several years, most of the Frenchspeaking Acadians were scattered throughout Britain’s southern colonies, with about 4,000 eventually settling together in Louisiana, where they formed a distinctive “Cajun” culture. Tensions between British North America and the thirteen American colonies that eventually won their independence in the American Revolution (1775–83) were high between 1763 and 1815. Though common cultural and economic interests fostered a gradual normalization of relations between the two countries, immigration remained small prior to the 1850s. There was still a considerable amount of good farmland in Canada, and talk of federation promoted hope for economic development in the future.
Records before the second decade of the 20th century are unreliable, but it seems that Canadian immigration to the United States rose steadily from the 1850s. Around 1860, more Canadians left the country than European and U.S. immigrants arrived. As the United States rapidly industrialized after the Civil War (1861–65), Canadians frequently took advantage of the demand for labor, moving across the international border much as if they were moving internally. French Canadians in Quebec, dissatisfied with the old siegneurial system, left en masse, usually for the textile mills of New England. Farmers dissatisfied with weather and isolation in the prairie provinces frequently sought better conditions to the south. In the 1880s alone, 390,000 immigrated to the United States. Between 1891 and 1931, another 8 million followed. Three-quarters were born in Europe, but as many as 2 million were Canadian born. By 1900, Canadian immigrants comprised 8 percent of America’s foreign-born population. Even with passage of the restrictionist Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, Canadians were exempt and continued to come in large numbers, with almost 1 million immigrating in the 1920s. Generally, French-speaking Canadians settled in New England, while English speakers often moved to New York or California.
Canadian immigration declined during the depression and World War II era but picked up significantly during the 1950s and 1960s, as Canadians took advantage of job opportunities in a booming U.S. economy. Following passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, however, which established hemispheric quotas, numbers declined dramatically. Between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, the Canadian share of immigrants to the United States dropped from 12 percent to 2 percent. Still, between 1931 and 1990, about 1.4 million Canadians officially entered the United States, though the actual figures were much higher. Statistics prior to the United States census of 1910 and the Canadian census of 1911 are estimates, as Canadian movements were treated as internal migration rather than international immigration, and there were almost no regulations before 1965.
Ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), reducing trade barriers between Canada, the United States, and Mexico, further strengthened economic ties between Canada and the United States. NAFTA stipulated that business managers and other professionals should be allowed to move more freely across borders. Between 1991 and 2002, about 185,000 Canadians came to the United States, with larger numbers than ever coming as well-paid professionals.
See also Canada—immigration survey and policy overview; French immigration.