“The New El Dorado” – Attracting Settlers to the West

Poster with prominent words “Canada” and “Lecture.” The other words vary in size, and all are printed in blue ink against a sepia background.

Poster advertising a lecture in Glasgow, Scotland on the subject of Canada and the benefits of settling there (MIKAN 1437596)

“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.

A small card printed in Norwegian with lettering and background alternating between colours of blue and sepia.

A Norwegian card advertising free land in Canada (MIKAN 2945660)

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.

Brightly coloured poster shows a man carrying a bundle of wheat under one arm and a boy in the other. A basket of potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and onions is at his feet, and in the background are some chickens and pigs, a herd of cattle, and a farmhouse.

“Canada – The New Homeland” (MIKAN 2958967)

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.

Colourful poster illustrating a mountainous landscape divided by an international border, with two men representing each country standing on either side. The picture is set between a recruitment slogan and train travel information between the two countries.

“40,000 Men Needed in Western Canada…” (MIKAN 2837964)

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.

Colourful poster highlighting farm scenes in “Western Canada” on a decorative backdrop of golden wheat and maple leaves. Slogans surrounding the images advertise information and advice.

“Western Canada: The New Eldorado” (MIKAN 2945432)

Other posters, especially later examples, used brightly coloured pictures with short slogans and the name of the department or company.

Brightly coloured poster with “Canada” printed in large red letters across the top, birds flying over golden wheat fields encircled below, and a slogan and space for contact information at the bottom.

“Build Your Nest in Western Canada” (MIKAN 1433941)

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.

Related Resources


Vasanthi Pendakur is an exhibitions assistant in the Exhibitions and Online Division of Library and Archives Canada

A document of interest: an 1818 letter dealing with the treatment of Irish immigrants suffering from typhoid fever

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.

First page of a handwritten letter, black ink on white paper.

Letter from Dr. William Hacket to A.W. Cochrane, Civil Secretary, Québec, July 29, 1818 (RG4-A1, volume 180 MIKAN 126122). e011181012

Continue reading

British Home Child Day: how more than 100,000 British Home Children contributed to Canada’s population

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.

A black and white image of a house with melting snow all around. In front of the house are two horse-drawn sleighs with people around them.

Miss Macpherson’s receiving home “Marchmont” in Belleville, Ontario (home for immigrant children from Britain) (MIKAN 3591133)

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.

Finally, don’t forget to read previous articles about Home Children: Introduction, Edward Brignall, Harold Mornington, Wallace Ford and The Honourable James Murdock

Other sources

Home Children: A guide to sending organizations and receiving homes

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!

Launch of “Carleton Papers―Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772–1784” Database

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.

Launch of “Ukrainian Immigrants, 1891–1930” Database

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!

Launch of “Immigrants to Canada, Porters and Domestics, 1899–1949” Database

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!

“The Pointe”

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.

Black-and-white stereoscopic photograph showing the construction of a bridge.

Stereoscopic photograph of the Victoria Bridge construction in progress from Pointe St. Charles (MIKAN 3357662)

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.

Black-and-white photograph showing a locomotive under construction.

“Trevithick” railway engine under construction at Pointe St. Charles, from the Alexander Mackenzie Ross collection by William Notman, 1859 (MIKAN 3192802)

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.

Black-and-white photograph showing a courtyard with laundry hanging from various clotheslines. Three children are playing on the ground.

Children playing in a courtyard in the Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380642)

Black-and-white photograph showing a long, narrow lane strewn with garbage. A young child stands at the far end looking at the viewer.

View of a child in a narrow, garbage-strewn lane in Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380643)

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.

Black-and-white photograph showing the dilapidated back lane behind the row houses. Children look towards the viewer.

View of a dilapidated back alley in Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380652)

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.

Release of an updated version of the Immigrants from China database

May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada, during which we acknowledge the long and rich history of Asian Canadians and their contributions to Canada. Asian Heritage Month also provides an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on and celebrate the contributions of Canadians of Asian heritage to the growth and prosperity of Canada.

To celebrate Asian culture, Library and Archives Canada is pleased to announce the addition of more than 35,000 references to its Immigrants from China database. It now includes references to the C.I.9 certificates issued to people of Chinese origin born outside Canada and wanting to leave Canada for a limited time without losing their Canadian status. The actual records include a photograph and provide information such as the individual’s name, age and place of birth, as well as the port and date of departure, and the ship’s name.

Immigration images now on Flickr 

Canada is distinguished from most other countries by the diversity of its population. Our unique cultural, ethnic and linguistic mosaic is reflected in the wide assortment of holdings at Library and Archives Canada associated with the different ethno-cultural groups.