Essay from Concise Atlas

Throughout Canada's history there have been episodes that, in the reflective light of subsequent generations, we recognize now as landmarks along the path to modern nationhood. Some have involved the relocation of people or boundaries, others concern our stature in the world. All stand out as moments when the course of Canada's development took a new direction.

Migration from France to Canada began as the 17th century opened. It proceeded by fits and starts, in response to varying circumstances in the homeland, and stopped suddenly and permanently almost exactly 150 years later (The French Origins of the Canadian Population, 1608-1759, Concise Plate 34 ). This was one of history's most distinctly circumscribed population movements. Virtually all persons of French heritage in Canada trace their roots to that period, and everyone who moved into the St Lawrence valley at that time had emigrated from France. Despite their rural style in New France, the graph shows that immigrants were as likely as not to have come from cities or towns in old France. The spatter of tiny dots on the main map shows that many left for the St Lawrence in ones and twos, and as the decades passed they came from further inland (three purple maps). But the marine regions of the north and west - most isolated and outward-looking - were the predominant places of origin, and homogeneity in New France was high. Exceptional numbers emigrated in the 1660s and 1750s (table), periods when New France was threatened by the English. In the earlier instance, the threat subsided and a properly founded colony took shape; in the latter case, the threat was a harbinger of war, and of eventual British authority. A century and a half of sporadic settling activity was enough to plant a French society in America, and then the pipeline was shut off.

By the middle of the 18th century New France had grown into a crescent-shaped territory, arcing from Louisbourg, on Cape Breton Island, through the St Lawrence River valley, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi River valley to New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico. France's was an inland claim, and a provocative confinement of the British colonies on the East Coast, from Massachusetts southward. In this unstable situation, war inevitably erupted between these traditional enemy nations (The Seven Years' War, 1756-1763). The first action took place deep in the continent, in western New York and wilderness Pennsylvania, where the French troops successfully used guerrilla tactics and outmaneuvered the British at every opportunity (main map, blue stars). The survival and prosperity of New France depended on free passage overseas, however, and here British seapower was clearly supreme (red stars). The extent of French settlement (blue shading) was feeble in comparison with the rapid colonization of the British (pink shading), and the French claim to America could not long withstand British pressure. With the extinction of French power following the British conquest of the town of Quebec in 1759, British authority extended from Florida to the Arctic Islands and well inland. For tens of thousands of French people, life carried on as in a foreign country.

In Acadia - that part of New France that we speak of today as the Maritimes - the transfer from French to British authority proceeded very differently (Acadian Deportation and Return, 1750-1803). In 1750, several thousand people of French descent (map, upper left, purple circles) were living in what had become British land a generation before, and had been resolutely defying British authority. The stress mounted steadily through mid-century, and in 1755 Great Britain precipitated a refugee problem that would persist for half a century. British forces undertook the deportation - the scattering, more accurately - of French people from the Baie Franšaise (Bay of Fundy) to other English colonies as a means of breaking their resistance. Flowlines on the three buff-coloured maps depict a chaotic mixture of expulsion, escape, and relocation that continued for years throughout the Atlantic world. Many Acadians, or their descendants, eventually made their way back to the region, although seldom to precisely the same places (map, lower right). Henry W. Longfellow's epic poem 'Evangeline' recounts one couple's lifelong search for each other and the Acadian homeland they had lost.

Some three decades later yet another refugee crisis occurred, this time involving British loyalists (The Coming of the Loyalists, Late 18th Century, Concise Plate 37). In 1776, British colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia declared independence from the rule of Great Britain, leaving about half a million people (one-quarter of the entire anglophone population in America) foreigners in their own land. Most stayed in place during the Revolutionary War (1776-83), but thereafter a few thousand departed northward to the Quebec colony (central map). Some of these people had borne arms for Britain, and had to leave, while other 'United Empire Loyalists' left voluntarily in order to remain British subjects. Among those who emigrated from the United States were nearly 2000 members of First Nations societies (yellow map, left). Hundreds more who sought a haven in southwestern New Brunswick found limited opportunity there and subsequently re-migrated - principally to Upper Canada (Ontario), but sometimes back to the United States (maps, upper right; also Plate 48, upper left). Displaced Loyalists and deeply rooted habitants made a potent combination, and from this unstable situation emerged Canada's two solitudes - French Quebec in the St Lawrence River valley and English Ontario along the Great Lakes. A large proportion of this group were children (Concise Plate 37, main map), lifeblood for a new society. The farmlot survey (plan, lower left) for permanent rural land-holdings, made before occupants were received, shows Britain's encouragement of, and support for, a substantial influx. Strung out from Nova Scotia to Lake Huron, and nowhere far from the new United States, a new component of the British Empire of the 19th century was taking hold and would gradually flourish.

Canada consolidated its English-speaking, British character during the second quarter of the 19th century, but only after a close call. The United States nearly won the War of 1812 (The War of 1812, 1812-1814), but the thin scattering of settlers in British America and the small, professional British garrison - about one person for every twenty Americans - proved a worthy opponent. Peace was declared in 1815, and open warfare never again erupted along the border. But a wariness of American expansionist tendencies was established at this time, and has been a central part of Canadian life ever since.

Heavy, steady immigration swelled Canada's numbers to some 1,000,000 inhabitants by about 1830 and to more than twice that number twenty years later (Transatlantic Migrations, 1815-1865, Concise Plate 39). Growth was most intense in Upper Canada (Ontario), where, following a generation in which civil institutions were established and the land survey started, tens of thousands of settlers from Ireland, Scotland, and England arrived to start new, better lives. The flow lines on the main maps largely bypass Lower Canada (Quebec), but a substantial number of people continued on to the United States. The earlier comers tended to be independent, skilled, and not a burden on society; those who came later, and especially those seeking a haven after the Irish famine of 1846-7, were in the opposite position. Once uprooted, people are prone to relocate more than once before settling back into a new permanence. Whereas this pattern was obvious in the case of the Acadians and the United Empire Loyalists, it was more subtly manifested in this later instance, as evident in the case study of immigrants in Wellington County, Ontario, depicted in the lower left corner of the plate.

With the start of the First World War, a full century of peace and its opportunities for civilian migration came to a close. The story of population movements took a new, darker turn. From coast to coast, thousands of ordinary Canadians and Newfoundlanders found themselves involved in a distinctive counter-migration, voluntarily returning overseas to fight an Old World war (The Great War, 1914-1918). Enlistments were particularly strong in Manitoba, and not a street - indeed, hardly a house - in St John's failed to send its sons and daughters into service (main map). The city was literally at war. Canada's industrial heartland of southern Ontario and southern Quebec produced munitions and spearheaded unprecedented fund-raising activities (map and graphs, lower left). Of the various battlefields on which Canadian forces distinguished themselves (map, centre right), none has been as significant as Vimy Ridge, taken in 1917 amid enormous sacrifice and the failure of other nations' forces. Canada is said to have come of age as a nation here, and received recognition for having effectively turned the war around.

The Great Depression of the 1930s put thousands of Canadians involuntarily on the move within their own country, in search of work and of answers to their loss of relevance in such a resource-rich country (The Impact of the Great Depression, 1928-1940). The idea that this was to be 'Canada's Century' was an illusion, as Canadians attempted to support their fellow citizens in this domestic battle for survival. There surely was no depression in the record-keeping offices, as is evident from the variety of statistical material given graphic display on this plate.

The eruption of the Second World War once again directs our focus to the Atlantic Ocean and overseas (The Second World War, 1939-1945). The Canadian army, in Italy and the Low Countries, fought as well as anybody and, considering that they were badly equipped, better than the polished German machine. The landing at Dieppe (1944) once again placed Canadians in the vanguard of turning the war around. Canadian flyers formed the backbone of the Royal Air Force after heavy losses in the Battle of Britain; thousands of European and other pilots trained all across Canada (map, upper left). The Navy, also badly equipped, escorted convoys and, along with the Merchant Marine, heroically faced German U-boats in the North Atlantic, a theatre of military activity wider than any since the Napoleonic era 130 years earlier.

Printed Historical Atlas of Canada source:

Concise Historical Atlas of Canada, pp. 74-75.