Drastic changes to social surroundings and life circumstances, for instance, immigration decisions, exemplify families’ extremely influential experiences. Since gaining access to relevant and detailed family history accounts is challenging in my case, the essay will explore my Canadian friend’s story. Most of her relatives from both maternal and paternal lines were not immigrants. The only exception that she is generally aware of is the biological father of her deceased paternal grandmother. The old woman never discussed his persona with enthusiasm because he abandoned her mother and moved in an unknown direction before her birth. In one conversation, she briefly mentioned this white man’s coming to Canada, presumably from the U.S., in the early twentieth century. The person initially settled in rural Alberta as a farm laborer. The man’s daughter did not know any specific details or see him later in life. This essay seeks to put this vague piece of information into a larger context and explore trends in immigration to Canada in the early twentieth century and common reasons for migration peculiar to the period.
The Dawn of the Twentieth Century and Immigration to Canada: Time, Place, and Reasons for Migration
The first decades of the previous century became a crucial epoch in Canada’s immigration history, and studying them provides an insight into the country’s ethnically diverse population. Nowadays, Canada and Australia outperform many societies in terms of multiculturalism scores, which stems from the country’s history of active immigration originating in the late 1860s. In the early 1890s, after the closure of the U.S. western frontier, Canada’s interior authorities started large-scale efforts to attract newcomers. Specifically, the country launched a series of propaganda campaigns aimed to raise British people’s, U.S. citizens’, and Europeans’ awareness of “the Canadian prairie West,” which resulted in an epidemic of the so-called “settlement fever.” The beginning of the twentieth century brought new unique challenges for rural Canada’s labor force and further economic development, thus intensifying the demand for foreign-born agricultural workers. After a period of economic recession continuing until 1896, Canada’s demand for farm alimentary products, especially durum wheat, increased drastically, prompting the need for population influxes to support the agricultural sector in the West. Therefore, the man’s arrival to Canada’s provincial region fits into the broader historical context and the country’s economic needs.
One place-related contributor to farm workers’, and, possibly, the discussed person’s preference for Alberta could be the territory’s actively developing infrastructures and networks aimed at supporting and protecting farmers. There were multiple prominent farmers’ associations, including the Territorial Grain Growers Association, the Association of Alberta Farmers, and other equity-focused societies. In the late decades of the nineteenth century, these local farmer groups in Alberta experienced tremendous growth in terms of membership and influence. The groups started organizing smaller farmer alliances in Alberta that white newcomers would join, which eventually led to the establishment of the United Farmers of Alberta in the late 1900s. Some influential organizations were heavily influenced by the U.S. and the country’s perspectives on inter-class relationships and the methods of opposing external oppression. Specifically, the organization named the Patrons of Industry was, as Hall explains, “an American import” and actively supported local farmers and farm employees in getting fair compensation for their hard work. Being an immigrant originating from the U.S., the man from the case would be likely to assimilate into Alberta farmers’ culture successfully and find vast opportunities to protect his rights as a professional.
The man’s decision to select Alberta as his initial place of residence can be linked with the province’s tremendous attractiveness to those in the agricultural sector. Prior to Alberta’s establishment as a province, the territory’s economic life was dominated by the commercial trade of furs. Later, due to the considerations of land suitability, Alberta started to transform into an agrarian society. Its geographic and climatic characteristics still seen today include rather high insolation levels, arable lands, and diversity in terms of landscapes, which makes both crop production and livestock raising activities possible. Nevertheless, any information on the man’s life in the U.S. would encourage more specific takeaways linked with the place’s attractiveness for this particular immigrant.
The discussed person’s decision to move to Canada could be linked with Clifford Sifton’s political activity and the marketing of the Canadian West as the land of opportunity for agricultural employees and independent farmers. In the U.S., the “dwindling stock of available land” motivated farmers’ relocation plans, enabling Sifton, Canada’s Minister of the Interior, to develop relevant rhetoric strategies to promote massive immigration. In 1896, the politician started framing the positive image of the Prairie West through printing promotional booklets for prospective individual immigrants and families with experiences in farming. As parts of his advertising efforts, various booklets about the climate and vast agricultural potentials of Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Assiniboia were disseminated internationally to enable struggling farmers to make informed immigration decisions. Concerning the man in question, his exact motivations for leaving the U.S. cannot be established now. However, Sifton’s “Last Best West” campaign and the dream the politician aimed to sell could have contributed to his determination since the campaign’s reach definitely was not insufficiently small. The idealized depictions of the Canadian prairies could have reinforced that person’s decision stemming from personal and financial challenges.
People moving to Canada in the specified period would need to meet certain criteria to prove their worth as newcomers, and gender could be a prominent factor in this regard. Sifton’s promotional booklets portrayed the Western provinces’ idyllic environments and conceptualized moving to Alberta and other territories as a crucial opportunity for any person involved in the agricultural sector. It is possible that the chosen approach helped the government to reach two targets at once, including promoting foreign farmers’ awareness while also creating some competition to select the most productive and desirable candidates. Based on the analysis of Sifton’s prose pieces, Switzer concludes that the pre-WWI propaganda aimed at new settlers was mainly targeted at male newcomers without making the exclusion of women an explicit theme. For instance, in promotional prose, the male role models clearly outnumbered female ones in terms of showing the management of challenging farming activities. Also, from the viewpoint of social power dynamics, the government’s “Last Best West” campaign further solidified the values of frontier masculinity. Therefore, the time period’s traditionalism and the power of gender roles could affect immigrants’ experiences.
From the facts mentioned above, although both male and female immigrants were welcome to establish their farms, being a man would definitely make a candidate more desirable as an independent farmer immigrating alone. Today’s immigrants to Canada possess various professional qualifications, including jobs with vastly diverse proportions of intellectual versus physical activity involved in job tasks, which can promote the equality of opportunity. However, since the historical period that the paper emphasizes was fraught with a high demand for alimentary products, the considerations of strength and muscular power would essentially dominate immigrant targeting practices. Sex-based differences in absolute strength and the elimination of specific factors that hinder farmers’ capacity for physical work, such as pregnancy, would, therefore, place male immigrants coming to Canada without relatives in an advantageous position. To some degree, such understandings of men’s and women’s desirability as agricultural workers could have factored into the discussed man’s and his male contemporaries’ decisions and successful immigration endeavors.
In the discussed period, race-specific restraints were more prominent than now, placing white immigrants from the U.S. in an advantageous position. The time period’s legislative culture allowed to categorize potential immigrants and their expected value to the larger community based on their phenotypic variation. Black people, especially those from southern U.S. states, could move to Canada for decades, with migration rates peaking in the years after the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War. However, in the early 1910s, Canada’s government swiftly changed its official position to impose a temporary ban on Black populations’ entrance into the country. Wilfred Laurier, Canada’s Prime Minister between 1896 and 1911, approved a policy to restrict Black individuals’ immigration to Canada in the last year of his civil service. Specifically, the City of Edmonton’s immigration policy incorporated a resolution “against the settlement of Blacks” based on their supposed “unsuitability” for Canada’s climate, which was an artificial pretext for the prohibition. Thus, migration patterns and trends in the first decades of the twentieth century were still reflective of the time period’s social justice deficiencies and preferential utilitarianism, such as anti-Black favoritism.
For white U.S. citizens, migrating into Canada and assimilating to the established communities’ cultures was significantly easier compared to their minority counterparts’ experiences, which could have factored into the discussed man’s successful acculturation. Anti-Chinese and anti-Black moods gained traction in Canada at the times of the Gold Rush. Rather partial presentation of information in the press and ongoing rumors about “Blacks from Oklahoma” willing to invade Canada’s West stemmed from the anti-minority sentiment growing in the country in the specified period. In 1908, the Ottawa Free Press misrepresented the case of Black families’ arrival to Alberta by omitting white citizens’ hostile reactions to it and the unwillingness to accept the new neighbors. In these circumstances, obviously white individuals or mixed-race immigrants with unique phenotypic traits allowing them to pass as white would be significantly less likely to face this form of aggression. Actually, it is safe to assume that intra-group conflicts with non-indigenous Canadians and previous settlers’ descendants over resources could still be possible. Nevertheless, considering the racial discrimination patterns, mixing into the crowd of settlers from European backgrounds would constitute a great advantage for achieving personal wealth.
In the early twentieth century, potential immigrants’ reasons for coming to Canada could vary depending on people’s socio-demographic characteristics, including both race and religious identities. For U.S. citizens disadvantaged on the basis of race, Canada’s immigration laws prior to Laurier’s decision could offer new job opportunities and some relief from their country’s legacy of slavery. Aside from that, in terms of religious mindsets, being a member of numerical and, therefore, sociological minorities could support foreigners’ decision to move to Canada’s western territories.
To continue on immigrants’ motivations, although the man’s actual religious status remains unknown, it is true that many of his contemporaries from North America and even Eurasia sought religious asylum in Canada. For instance, at the times of the third wave of immigration, prior to the First World War, Canada accepted numerous religiously persecuted families from the U.S, Russia, and European countries. The specific religious groups seeking security for their families in Canada included the adepts of the Mormon religion, the Doukhobors, the followers of the Mennonite Church, and those identifying with Hutterianism, a branch of Anabaptism. For those in conflict with prominent and influential religions, coming and taking Canada’s relatively untamed lands in the West could be a crucial chance. For many believers, this could be an opportunity to fulfill their deities’ will by building small new worlds to function in accordance with their religiously informed philosophies of family life and society. Unfortunately, verifying this motivating factor’s applicability to the discussed family’s earlier generations is not possible, which, however, does not diminish this motivator’s role in the immigration situation at the national level.
Finally, exploring the previous generations’ immigration experiences and challenges that have affected their achievements of personhood and socialization supports an understanding of different families’ unique mindsets. Despite lacking very specific details, the immigration case learned from another person’s family history fits into the general immigration-related tendencies of the first decades of the twentieth century. The person’s known socio-demographic characteristics, including being a white male immigrant from the U.S., could have increased his desirability and the anticipated ability to assimilate. In particular, he did not differ from ideal farmers or farm laborers depicted in Canada’s propaganda campaigns.
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