Canada's English immigrants
Oil painting, On the Point, Portsmouth,1857
Smyth. The white building on the waterfront
at the right is the Quebec
Hotel. Its name recalls the days
when ships regularly
crossed from Portsmouth to Quebec.
Portsmouth Museums and Records Service.)
It is wrongly
assumed that Canada was settled primarily by the Scots and Irish. In fact, the
English were the dominant immigrant group to come to Canada from Britain.
Although they formed only around a quarter of the total British influx to Canada
before Confederation, the English actually dominated the much larger emigrant
stream that arrived from Britain between 1867 and 1915. And yet they have been
One reason for this neglect is that the English did not register as an
identifiable ethnic group. While the Scots and Irish revelled in their pipe
bands and tartans the English faded into the background and became Canadians.
They played a major role in Canada’s early development but what they did is
largely an untold story. Here is a summary of some key points:
• The English only arrived in Canada in appreciable numbers from the 1830s.
Before then they came mainly from the north of England – especially from
• The growing emigration from the 1830s was fuelled partly by England's rapid
industrialization. As machines increasingly replaced people thousands of
agricultural labourers and tradesmen found themselves redundant. With an
oversupply of labour leading to chronic unemployment and pitiful wage rates many
opted for Canada.
• After 1830 most parts of England lost people to Canada. They were generally
attracted to Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Quebec by the opportunities
to be had from the timber trade, while those who went to Nova Scotia and Ontario
were more heavily influenced by the availability of good farm land. On the other
hand, Newfoundland relied almost entirely on fishermen from southwest England to
bolster its early immigrant population. Whatever their motivations the English
were remarkably successful as pioneer settlers.
• While most of the English financed their own travel costs, a significant
number were very poor and received financial help from their parishes and
landlords. As a result copious documentation survives for the very poor but it
should be remembered that they were a minority of the total. Most English
immigrants paid their own costs.
• There were two types of English. Most came directly from England but there
were also Loyalists, having English ancestry, who entered Canada from the late
18th century via the United States. They were independently-minded Yankees whose
family links were with the United States rather than England. And yet, they and
their descendents regarded themselves as English, even though their ethnic links
were very distant. Their presence contributed to some of the large English
concentrations later to be found in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and
This site has information on English emigration to the
following provinces. Click on the links to find out more.