By Andrew Elliott
More than a century ago, on June 6, 1919, the Canadian National Railway Company (CN) was born. Its incorporation consolidated private and public railway systems into one public organization. The intention was for the new rail company to provide stable rail service to all parts of Canada. There are many aspects to the history of CN and the vast and rich archival collection—nearly 16,000 containers of archival material—in the Canadian National Railways fonds at Library and Archives Canada reflects this sprawl. The fonds, like the company itself, resembles a many-headed hydra. The myriad company functions reflected the perceived need for the company to be all things to all people.
To this archivist, two very interesting sub-sections of CN were the Colonization and Agriculture Department and the Canadian National Land Settlement Association (CNLSA). The Colonization and Agriculture Department existed from 1919 to 1963 and was run by T.P. Devlin for most of this time. In 1925, the federal government’s Department of Immigration and Colonization enacted regulations that remained in effect until 1951. These regulations stated that, where possible, immigrant land settlers from continental Europe should deposit money in trust with a government-approved land settlement agency.
Thus a land settlement division, called the CNLSA, was established within CN’s Colonization and Agriculture Department on March 9, 1925, as part of their program to promote immigration and land settlement in Canada, which had significant negative impacts on First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation. This both increased rail traffic and assisted the railway in disposing of some of its land grants. Over 27,000 immigrants were assisted by the CNLSA. Land was located and money released to immigrants to purchase land, equipment and livestock. This continued until 1963. As both the Colonization and Agriculture Department and the CNLSA were closely associated in this work, the CNLSA being virtually part of the Department, the records are often intermingled. It is also worth noting that the CNLSA competed with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s own association, the Canadian Colonization Association, which operated from 1923 onwards. Further information about that organization can be found at the Glenbow Archives in Calgary, Alberta.
Much of the administrative and operational records created by the Office of the Director of Colonization and Agriculture (and the CNLSA) help document CN’s efforts to obtain settlers, and the latter’s placement on the land and progress. These records include reports, policy and correspondence files, files concerning individuals and organizations (usually identified by ethnic origins), community progress reports, settlement proposals, shipping files, relations with various governments, and copies of annual reports and other publications. Of particular interest are the specific immigrant files, which include an application questionnaire indicating nationality, language, religion, age and family members; identification cards; record of service, including name of the shipping line and ship used for passage to Canada; receipts; documentation on location of settlement in Canada; and various correspondence. In the 1920s and 1930s, many immigrants brought over to Canada were from Ukraine and other Eastern European countries.
The series is split into the following sub-sections:
- Saskatoon Office of the Department of Colonization and Agriculture
- Canadian National Land Settlement Association—operational and administrative records
- Canadian National Land Settlement Association—reports and photographs
- Land Settlement Records for Immigrants
- Canadian National Land Settlement Association—monthly and annual reports
Since these records first arrived at LAC back in the 1960s, the way to search the collection has been through a number of finding aids, including a 194-page paper finding aid (FA 30–39).These finding aids are now searchable online.
There are numerous CNLSA photographic reports, found in a sub-series attached to the main CN photograph collection. Additional records can be found in the Canadian National Land Settlement Association reports and photographs sub-series, which document the settlement of immigrant families, particularly in Western Canada in the 1920s and 1930s. Many reports provide lists with interesting information, such as the following list of immigrants settled in Western Canada in 1934–35.
Many European immigrants heading for farms in Western Canada stopped at the Winnipeg immigration sheds attached to the CN railway station, as seen in this photograph.
The CNLSA reports are invaluable resources for researchers who would wish to find out more about their ancestors and about farm settlement patterns. Since the censuses for the 1930s have not yet been released, the information provided in the CNSLA reports will be, for some years to come, the only information available as to where the immigrants came from and where they settled. Here are a few examples:
Many of these photographic reports were recently digitized. You can help tag and transcribe these reports using LAC’s Co-Lab tool. Maybe you will see where your ancestors came from, or maybe you will spot the first farm they purchased! These CNLSA archival records are a treasure trove of information, particularly for Western Canadian farm settlement, and we hope this will excite new and long-term genealogists alike.
Andrew Elliott is an archivist with the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.