The flow of population to and from Canada changed dramatically in the second half of the 19th century. British immigration fell off rapidly; at the same time emigration from Canada, overwhelmingly to the United States, rose sharply. The 1880s were to become known as the time of 'the exodus.'
The immigrant stream, although diminished, still flowed. For a large number of European immigrants, however, Canada was merely a way-station on the road to the American frontier; all provinces lost population to the United States. From the Maritimes young single males and females from farm or traditional-craft families in coastal areas strongly tied to a declining commercial economy emigrated to the major ports of New England. A high rate of natural increase in rural Québec, coupled with limited agricultural opportunities, forced many French Canadians south, to the mill towns of New England. With most of its agricultural land occupied, rural Ontario lost young men to Detroit and Chicago, or to the agricultural and lumbering frontiers in the western United States.
Coinciding with entry and exodus, large numbers of people were also moving from one part of the country to another, as colonization of rural areas came to an end and industrialization and urbanization gathered momentum. In the 1870s some interior parts of Canada were still experiencing frontierward immigration, although in smaller numbers than in the preceding decades. Much of this originated from more densely settled rural areas, which were also losing young people to the emerging cities and industrial towns. By the 1880s frontierward migration had almost ceased and out-migration was occurring on a massive scale towards the highly centralized industrial heartland and its resource hinterlands.
Calculations based on the differences between expected and actual populations have been used to estimate intercensal net migrations by age and sex groups (see Sources). The totals, converted to rates, are mapped for the decades 1871-81 and 1881-91. Distinct regions of Canada are identifiable in terms of migration levels and the age-sex profiles of migrants. The vast majority of rural counties, along with many smaller cities outside the industrial heartland, experienced massive out-migration of young, adult, childless males and females. Peripheral agricultural and resource-frontier regions were characterized by in-migration of both men and women of all ages, but increasingly they also experienced countervailing out-migration of young adults. Six counties, almost exclusively in the urban industrial heartland, experienced massive in-migration of men and women of all ages. Many cities, even those experiencing heavy out-migration, also witnessed in-migration of young single women.