As the 19th century drew to a close the influx of immigrants to Canada accelerated greatly, reaching a peak in the years 1909-13. There were many immigrants from eastern Europe, especially Poland, Austria, and Russia. Scandinavians also came in large numbers, often having first emigrated to the United States. A significant number of Americans came, mostly to the areas of agricultural settlement in the West. Britain, the traditional source of immigrants to Canada, continued to provide the greatest number. Canada was not, however, equally open to all immigrants: Asians were required to pay restrictive head taxes.
The outstanding attraction of Canada was farming on the plains, where 160-acre farms were offered free under homestead policy. Almost as many immigrants came to non-agricultural jobs, however, especially in railway construction, mining, and logging in the West and manufacturing and other jobs in the cities of Central Canada. Canadians continued to emigrate to the United States in large numbers, particularly to industrial cities near the border such as Detroit and Buffalo.
Between 1896 and 1914 about one-third of Prairie settlers came from the United States, largely from nearby states where people were already familiar with homesteading conditions in the area. Some were children of Canadians who had resettled in the United States; others were earlier immigrants from Europe - especially Germans and Scandinavians - and their children. A remarkably large portion of the Americans came from .1 few districts of Minnesota and North Dakota, just south of the Canadian border. Other areas in the midwestern states contributed prominently, as did such populous states of the northeast as New York and Massachusetts.
The flows of immigrants shown on the map have been inferred from differences in the numbers of foreign born recorded in the censuses of 1901 and 1921. This excludes a great deal of re-migration. The numbers are lower than would be shown by the cumulated annual influx of immigrants. ‘Europeans' include many who came via the United States.
Emigration from Canada to the United States partly offset immigration. There was long standing emigration of French Canadians to jobs in New England textile mills and of Maritimers to the Boston states' while new industrial opportunities in Great Lakes cities and the West attracted Ontarians.
Chinese immigrants found ready employment in labour-scarce British Columbia but white labour and racist sentiments convinced the dominion government to impose on them increasingly stiff head taxes, backed by restrictive immigration legislation that also affected Japanese and East Indians. The head tax for Chinese immigrants increased from $50 in 1885 to $100 in 1901 and $500 in 1904.
The Canadians who settled the Prairie region came overwhelmingly from Ontario, especially from farming districts of the old Huron Tract - Grey, Bruce, Huron, and Perth. That region had been one of the later areas of southern Ontario to be settled. Birth rates had remained high for longer there, and by 1891 the region had an even greater surplus of young adults than elsewhere in the province. The district was relatively remote from the growing centres of industrial employment in Ontario and the northeastern United States and thus migration to the agricultural West was an attractive option.