“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

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

Who will make good? The Land Development Records of the Canadian National Railway and its corporate predecessors

Railways have long played a prominent role in the stories we tell about Canada’s development as a nation. Promising to facilitate travel and trade across the vast expanse of Canada’s geography, the construction of transcontinental railway lines was once seen as pivotal to the formation of a coherent national identity.

But railway companies also participated in the settlement of Western Canada by serving as the developers and property agents for land granted to them by the federal government. Following the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada in 1870, railway land grants were a key component of the government’s plan to increase the population of western regions already occupied by indigenous communities, Métis settlements, and Hudson’s Bay Company outposts. Even in the early twentieth century, land grants were used to encourage the railway companies to extend their tracks across the whole of the continent, and railway construction was partly financed through the lease and sale of this land.

The Winnipeg Regional Services office holds a rich aggregation of records documenting the sale and lease of Western Canadian farm and townsite land by the Canadian National Railway and its corporate predecessors. Originating from the various subsidiary property companies linked to the Canadian National Railway, the Canadian Northern Railway, and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, these records sketch vivid portraits of Western Canadian settlers and some of the many challenges they faced in the early and mid-twentieth century. Continue reading

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―Book of Negroes, 1783” Database

Library and Archives Canada is pleased to announce the launch of a new online database, Carleton Papers―Book of Negroes, 1783.

This online database allows you to access close to 3,000 references to names of Black Loyalists. Names were taken from the Book of Negroes, a register containing details about Black Loyalists evacuated from the port of New York at the end of the American Revolution (1776–1783); their final destination was Nova Scotia.

Start searching the Carleton Papers—Book of Negroes 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!

Multiple Contexts: Library and Archives Canada at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Five pieces from the rich collection of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are currently part of the new exhibition space at The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. These objects including a commemorative medal, stamps, a map, and a land treaty will help illustrate the complex experience of immigration that continues to shape Canada’s past and present.

Attestation papers—informative documents from Canada’s history

One of the items from the Library and Archives collection included in the exhibition at Pier 21 is a document known as an attestation paper. An attestation paper was a form that recruits filled in and signed to show their willingness to serve overseas in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in the First World War. Library and Archives Canada currently holds 620,000 attestation papers, all of which are digitized and available online.

A black-and-white image of a typed form describing Joseph Wilder’s personal and physical information. It is signed by him and witnessed by a medical officer.

Joseph Wilder’s attestation paper (MIKAN 46114, Box 10355-39, 312833)

The details these papers provide allow us to learn a lot about individual soldiers. For example, each form provides details about their physical appearance such as height, eye colour, and chest measurements. Recruits also had to state their “trade or calling” (job), place of birth, next of kin and present address, among other information. When trying to learn about individuals from the past who did not leave a lot (or any!) documentation behind, attestation papers can be incredibly helpful in piecing together histories.

Joseph Wilder—Medical Sergeant and pharmacist

The attestation paper included in the exhibition at Pier 21 belonged to a man named Joseph Wilder. From this document, we learn that he lived at 140 Alfred Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was born in Romania, and made his living as a druggist (pharmacist). The information about Joseph Wilder that can be found on his attestation paper is valuable to a number of interest groups such as his later descendants, members of Winnipeg’s local community, and Canada’s national history. It also complements the information available about Wilder in his two books Read All About It: Reminiscences of an Immigrant Newsboy and Lotions, Potions and Liniments Pure: A Look at the Drug Trade in Winnipeg in the 1900’s.

You can find out more information about the Soldiers of the First World War database and the large-scale digitization initiative to make these documents available online.

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!

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.