By Anik Laflèche
If your last name is Schneider, Sigman, Henry, or André, or it has “von” in it, you may be of German descent.
In 1776, the Thirteen Colonies declared the United States of America to be independent from Great Britain. Many reasons were behind this declaration, including excessive taxation and lack of representation in Parliament. Civil war broke out in central North America, pitting George Washington against Benedict Arnold, and John Adams against Samuel Adams. This brutal civil war finally ended in 1783 when Great Britain accepted the independence of its old colonies. The United States would become a country and Great Britain would keep the northern colonies, now Canada. This started a massive wave of migration (almost 70,000 people including British citizens, First Nations and freed slaves) to what are now the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
While numerous families arrived during this massive wave of settlement, many Canadians are descendants of a smaller, less noticeable population migration that happened simultaneously—not First Nations, French, American or English immigrants, but surprisingly—German mercenaries, also known as Hessians.
Let us backtrack a bit in our story of American rebels and British Loyalists. From the late 1770s to the early 1780s, King George III of England, faced with war in the colonies, decided to hire 30,000 German soldiers (that is a German soldier for every 22 Québécois!) and ship them to the New World to combat the rebellious states. While many of these mercenary regiments were sent directly to the Thirteen Colonies to fight, some were deployed in Canada to protect the frontier, such as the Hesse-Hanau Regiment, which were active in the forts of Ontario and Quebec.
Although the German mercenaries and Loyalists fought valiantly, the balance of power tipped in favour of the American patriots. After the war was over, the German mercenaries were offered a choice of returning home to Germany or settling in Canada. Many soldiers decided to stay in Canada, settling in Lower Canada, Upper Canada, and Nova Scotia—learning French or English, marrying local girls, and assimilating into the surrounding societies.
But how did so many Canadian families forget their German ancestors? Should it not be easy to pinpoint a German name in our family trees? Not necessarily as in the 18th and 19th centuries, spelling of names often changed throughout people’s lives. Spelling, especially when foreign words were concerned, was based on sounds, and thus varied greatly. In the case of the mercenaries, local French or English priests were the ones recording names for marriages, births and deaths. When they heard a German name, they often francized or anglicized them based on what they understood. Thus, Heinrich Kristof Sieckmann, a German mercenary born in Vlotho, Germany, who served in the Hesse-Kassel Regiment, became Henry Christopher Sigman and André Christophe Sicman. A few generations later and other phonetically similar variations started to appear such as Ciegman, Sicman, Sickman, Sigman, Sickamen, Silchman and even Tieckman. With this new spelling, Heinrich Sieckmann, now Henry Sigman, could easily have been mistaken for an English immigrant on paper.
So to the Henrys and Andrés (Heinrich), the Sigmans (Sieckmann) and the Schneiders—if this might be you or if you are simply curious to learn more about these German soldiers that popped up on the Netflix show Turn, come on over to Library and Archives Canada. Our collections have a surprisingly large number of archival sources concerning the German mercenaries who fought during the American Revolution. We have nominal rolls of different regiments in manuscript groups MG11 and MG13; letters written by German officers in the Haldimand papers (MG21); and orders, correspondence and journals in MG23. Many of the microfilm reels containing these documents are digitized and available to the public through Héritage. We also have published sources on our German ancestors, with historical analysis, lists of soldiers and short biographies, mostly located in our Genealogy section. To learn more about our holdings on German mercenaries, visit Immigration: German.
Anik Laflèche is a student project assistant in the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.
“160-ACRE FARMS IN WESTERN CANADA – FREE!” So trumpeted one of the many posters printed by Canada’s Department of the Interior to entice immigrants to Western Canada. Between 1886 and the early 1930s, the Department of the Interior ran a vast publicity campaign to attract immigrant farming families to settle in the Prairies. Posters, pamphlets, leaflets, and exhibits in multiple languages were distributed across Europe and the United States to recruit as many immigrants as possible. Settlements linked directly to this campaign include 500 Ukrainian families who arrived in Dauphin, Manitoba in May of 1897, and the Barr Colony, a group of British settlers who arrived in present-day Lloydminster, Alberta in May of 1903.
As the steward of government records, Library and Archives Canada holds a large collection of the promotional materials used during this publicity campaign. The materials were designed to promote an idealized version of the West. Images of lush green landscapes, well-fed cattle, and harvests of golden grain were commonly used. Negative aspects of the Prairies, such as cold weather and isolation, were downplayed.
Private companies were involved in the campaign too. Shipping and rail companies used these same government-issued images to encourage settlers to come to Canada.
Recruitment tactics changed over time as the Prairies developed and printing techniques improved. Most early posters of the 1880s and 1890s (like the first image) were limited to text and small pictures. These posters featured information on the West, and promoted the benefits of free land. Different colours and sizes of print combined with small symbols and pictures were used to get people’s attention. As printing technology improved, large colourful pictures replaced words. Some posters used a mix of text and pictures, with each section boxed to create a patchwork effect.
Other posters, especially later examples, used brightly coloured pictures with short slogans and the name of the department or company.
The campaign worked. The immigration of Ukrainian settlers and Barr colonists was just the beginning; thousands more settled in the Prairies, motivated by the promise of free land and a new life. Yet many did not succeed. Drawn by an idealized version of the West portrayed in the campaign, the newcomers were unprepared for the realities of their new home. However, those who did succeed changed society and helped shape the Prairies into what they are today.
- Library and Archives Canada – The Canadian West (Archived)
- North Atlantic Trading Company – Posters & pamphlets in various languages, “160 Acres Free Homestead Land in Canada”
- Canadian Museum of History – The Last Best West: Advertising for Immigrants to Western Canada, 1870–1930
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900–1977
- Jaroslav Petryshyn, and Luba Dzubak. Peasants in the Promised Land: Canada and the Ukrainians, 1891–1914 (AMICUS No. 5584998)
Vasanthi Pendakur is an exhibitions assistant in the Exhibitions and Online Division of Library and Archives Canada
By Martin Lanthier
In the early 19th century, the arrival of ships carrying sometimes-ill immigrants raised fears that epidemics would spread in Lower Canada. The colony’s elite became aware of the situation and took initiatives to address the problem.
The correspondence of the Civil Secretary to the Governor of Lower Canada (RG4-A1, MIKAN 105377) includes documents that reflect these concerns and that describe incidents faced by physicians at the time. One particular example is a letter from Dr. William Hacket, dated July 29, 1818, in which he describes his efforts to care for Irish settlers suffering from typhoid fever.
The immigrants had arrived at the city of Québec on July 21 aboard the Royal Edward. A number of them were sick and, after a few days, it was decided to treat them. Since no hospital could accommodate such a large number of patients (119), and because conditions on board the vessel were unsanitary, the order was given to quarantine and treat the patients on Île au Ruau [or Île aux Ruaux], near Grosse Île in the St. Lawrence River. Dr. Hacket was put in charge, assisted by two colleagues, Dr. Wright and Dr. Holmes.
In his letter, written six days after the arrival of the passengers on the island, Dr. Hacket first describes his difficulties in convincing them to leave the ship—some declared that they would only be removed by force. He then goes on to say that without the help of soldiers, who set up a camp, he would never have been able to accommodate and treat the patients.
Five years ago, Jim Brownell, then Member of Provincial Parliament for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, tabled Bill 185 to have September 28 proclaimed ‘British Home Child Day’.
Mr. Brownell has close links to two home children: his paternal grandmother and his great aunt. The Scottish-born sisters both arrived in Canada through the home child program. Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 juvenile migrants were sent to Canada from the British Isles.
Mr. Brownell’s grandmother, Mary Scott Pearson, was born in Scotland and arrived in Canada on September 28, 1891 aboard the SS Hibernian. Her first home on Canadian soil would be the Fairknowe Home in Brockville, Ontario.
Perhaps you have come across a home child while researching your family history. It is estimated that eleven percent of the Canadian population can identify a home child as one of their ancestors.
Where to start my research to locate my ancestor?
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds extensive records to assist in your research on Home Children. These records include passenger lists, Immigration Branch correspondence files and inspection reports, non-government collections and private fonds (Middlemore’s), as well as indexes to some records held in the United Kingdom. Consult The Records section for search tips and explanations on the documents held at LAC.
Passenger lists and other immigration documents are often the first sources consulted. Not only are the names of children listed, but the name of the ship, the dates of departure and arrival, the name of the sending organization in the British Isles and the destination of the child in Canada are also included. All of these details are key in tracing immigrating ancestors.
The Guide to Sending Organizations and Receiving Homes provides a list and description of associated places, societies and institutions in the United Kingdom and Ireland and the associated places and Homes in Canada. A fourth column gives the names of people associated with the organizations often mentioned in passenger Lists. For example, Thomas Barnardo and John Hobday were associated with Barnardo’s Homes. Agnes Burges and William and Mary Quarrier were associated with Quarrier’s Orphan Homes of Scotland, whose Fairknowe Home was based in Brockville, Ontario. Children who had been baptized in the Catholic faith were usually placed with Catholic families or religious congregations, often in Quebec.
Military sources and census records
Many home children grew up and enlisted in the Canadian Forces during both the First and the Second World Wars; some chose to remain in the United Kingdom after the war. Consult our Military Heritage page to research personnel service files and other military resources.
If you would like to discover more on where a child resided, consult the Census records for the relevant time period. Please note that home children can be researched with the same surname listed in the passenger list. Most home children kept their birth name and were not formally adopted by the family with whom they resided.
If you would like to ask us a question, please drop by the Genealogy desk at 395 Wellington Street, in Ottawa, or email us using our Genealogy Assistance Request form.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the launch of the Guide to Sending Organizations and Receiving Homes.
This guide is an indispensable starting point for researching records about Home Children who came to Canada from the British Isles between 1869 and 1932. With this guide, you can discover what records are held at LAC and other institutions in Canada and in the British Isles. The guide also contains background information on the various organizations and useful links to websites for researching Home Children. The guide was originally compiled over many years by the genealogy staff at LAC.
Start consulting the guide now!
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the launch of a new online database, Carleton Papers―Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772–1784.
This online database allows you to access more than 54,000 references to names of Loyalists and British soldiers. Names were taken from the British Headquarters Papers, New York―also known as the Carleton Papers―which include a variety of documents about Loyalist soldiers, civilian refugees, as well as British and German soldiers who settled in Canada after the American Revolution (1776–1783).
Start searching the Loyalists and British Soldiers now!
For more information, please contact us.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the launch of a new online database, Ukrainian Immigrants, 1891–1930.
This online database allows you to access more than 14,700 references to names of Ukrainians who arrived in Canada and the United States between 1891 and 1930. Names were taken from passenger lists held at LAC for the following Canadian and American ports:
- Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Montréal and Québec, Quebec
- Saint John, New Brunswick
- New York, New York
- Portland, Maine
Names were also taken from notes about early Ukrainian settlers and pioneer families in Canada gathered by Dr. Vladimir Julian Kaye (1896–1976).
Start searching immigrants from Ukraine now!
Library and Archives Canada is pleased to announce the launch of a new online database, Immigrants to Canada, Porters and Domestics, 1899–1949.
This online database allows you to access more than 8,600 references to individuals who came to Canada as porters or domestics between 1899 and 1949. Names were taken from lists contained in the Central Registry Files series of the Immigration Branch (RG76 BIA) and other files held at LAC.
Start searching porters and domestics now!
Pointe St. Charles or “The Pointe” as it is more commonly known, is a Montréal, Quebec neighbourhood located southwest of downtown that has a rich and varied history. The area known as Pointe St. Charles was first acquired by Charles le Moyne in 1654, and is named in his honour. Throughout its early history, it was occupied by various religious communities and is also where Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, welcomed and housed les Filles du Roi, the young French women who immigrated to New France to increase its population. Thereafter, Pointe St. Charles remained primarily a farming community until the mid-nineteenth century.
The landscape and population of Pointe St. Charles changed dramatically upon completion of the Lachine Canal in 1848, and further still with the new railway infrastructure and construction of the Victoria Bridge to Montréal’s south shore. Several companies were drawn to the area; new jobs were created, and land previously given to agriculture was bought for residential housing. According to Héritage Montréal, by the beginning of the 20th century, Pointe St. Charles had become the largest industrial sector not only in Montréal but in all of Canada. It was at this time that The Pointe also became the quintessential example of an ethnic melting pot. Populated primarily by English (75%) and French (25%) Canadians, The Pointe increasingly became home to many different ethnic groups.
Several factors would contribute to The Pointe’s dramatic turn from Canada’s largest industrial sector to one of its most notorious slums. The Great Depression was the first event that contributed to the decline of the area’s primary economic activities. This was followed by the exodus of various factories and businesses to other industrial areas around Montréal, then culminating with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 and the closing of the Lachine Canal. Adding further to the area’s decline was the building of expressways that now run along The Pointe’s north and southwest borders. The Richard Arless photographic collection held by Library and Archives Canada substantiates the existence of these slum conditions. Montréal-born Richard Graham Arless (1906-1995) began his career as a Second World War military photographer. After the war, he worked for various newspapers and magazines, eventually opening his own commercial studio in Montréal. His photographs of the slum conditions of Pointe St. Charles, all taken on the same April day in 1946, capture the bleakness and poverty of this once vital, now broken-down and battered neighbourhood.
The people of Pointe St. Charles have always been a gregarious and hardy bunch. As their population dwindled and their neighbourhood and living conditions deteriorated, the residents banded together to confront and improve their lot. Community groups were started to improve housing, build parks and promote recreation and health care.
Most recently, The Pointe has experienced a revitalization. Land around the Lachine Canal was transformed for recreational use with bike paths, while many of the abandoned factories have been converted into condos that have attracted many new residents.