Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900–1977

Chapter 2 (continued)
The Arrival of the Europeans


top of page  The Japanese

Because British Columbia faced the Pacific Ocean, it drew many of its non–British newcomers from Asia, including Japan. Although the first known Japanese person to emigrate to Canada, Manzo Nagano, settled in the province in 1877, Japanese immigrants did not begin arriving in appreciable numbers until 1900. By 1914, however, only 10,000 Japanese had settled in the whole of Canada, by far the largest number in British Columbia.

Japan limited the number of males who could emigrate to this country to 400 a year, thereby becoming the only nation to specifically control the movement of its people to Canada. As a consequence, for several years thereafter most of the immigrants from Japan were women who had come to join their husbands. In 1928, Canada and Japan revised the gentlemen’s agreement of 1907 to restrict Japanese immigration to Canada to 150 persons annually, a quota that was rarely met.

Photo of Japanese men arriving in Vancouver, 1899

Japanese coming ashore in Vancouver.
The first gentleman was a member
of a Japanese parliamentary
delegation seeking amendment of
British Columbia’s oppressive
policies towards immigration
from Asia, 1899.


Selkirk College Library

The first wave of Japanese immigrants, called Issei, arrived between 1877 and 1928. Prior to 1907, most Japanese settlers were young men. In that year, at Canada’s insistence, Japan limited the number of males who could emigrate to this country to 400 a year, thereby becoming the only nation to specifically control the movement of its people to Canada. As a consequence, for several years thereafter most of the immigrants from Japan were women who had come to join their husbands. In 1928, Canada and Japan revised the gentlemen’s agreement of 1907 to restrict Japanese immigration to Canada to 150 persons annually, a quota that was rarely met. The Issei were invariably young and came from poor and overcrowded fishing and farming villages on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. Most settled in or near Vancouver and Victoria, in fishing villages and pulp towns along the Pacific coast, and on farms in the Fraser Valley.

top of page  The Sikhs

The first immigrants from India came to Vancouver and Victoria in 1904. Although British Columbia did its best to discourage non–white immigrants from Asia, barring them from the professions and denying them the right to vote, among other measures, some 5,000 immigrants from India had journeyed to the province by the end of 1907. Of these, the overwhelming majority were Sikhs (members of the reformist religion that originated about 1500 in the Punjab in northern India). The first Sikhs arrived in the province in 1904, having learned about its beauties and advantages from a detachment of Sikh soldiers who had returned home from London by way of Canada after attending Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Most of these early Sikh immigrants found work in the province’s lumber mills and logging camps.

In 1999, a postage stamp was issued to commemorate the contributions that Sikh Canadians had made in the building of Canada. Among those present at the unveiling ceremony was Herb Dhaliwal, then the Minister of National Revenue, whose Sikh grandfather had come to Canada in 1906.

top of page  The Norwegians

In addition to Britons and Asiatics, Norwegians also settled in British Columbia in the early years of this century. Their ranks included a group that established a settlement at Grande Prairie in the Peace River District in 1908. Four years later another party of Norwegians founded the nearby settlement of Valhalla.

Photo of Norwegian immigrants, 1911

Norwegian immigrants at Grand Trunk Railway Ferry in Québec City, circa 1911.

National Archives of Canada (PA 10394)

top of page  Non–agricultural settlement

Because Canada received substantial numbers of good agricultural settlers during its most intensive period of nation–building, it is safe to say that Clifford Sifton met one of his chief objectives. On the other hand, he failed miserably in his attempts to direct large numbers of immigrants away from the cities. Contrary to the popular perception of the young Canada, this was not a country that farmed and exploited primary resources alone; in fact, approximately 70 percent of the newcomers in this period obtained work in industry and transportation, where there was a soaring demand for their services.

At the very time that the last of the choicest land in the West was being brought under the plough, Canada was experiencing rapid industrial development. In one 20–year period, 1890–1910, the number of persons employed in manufacturing doubled; by the outbreak of the First World War, Canadians were earning as much from manufacturing as they were from agriculture. Such feverish activity in the manufacturing sector, coupled with a mad rush to build more transcontinental railways and open new mines, translated into a huge demand for labour.

For this reason, it is easy to see why so many immigrants were more tempted by the cities than by rural areas. Furthermore, it was not always easy for most of the new arrivals in Canada to take up farming right away. Then, as now, settling on the land was an expensive business, and newcomers, especially those from eastern, southern, and central Europe, rarely had the necessary funds to begin farming right away. As a result, many of them first obtained employment in manufacturing or transportation in Canada’s cities and evolving industrial towns, while others found work in railway construction, lumbering, or mining. Even a good number of the immigrants who entered the agricultural force as wage labourers soon left this employment entirely to take up work elsewhere.

top of page  Opposition to immigration

Organized labour, of course, took a very jaundiced view of the hiring of unskilled immigrant labour by railways and manufacturing companies. One spokesman who did not hesitate to speak bluntly on the subject was James Wilks, a vice–president of the Trades and Labour Congress. In 1900, he wrote to Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier about the impact that an influx of Scandinavians and Finns from Minnesota had on the Canadian labour market. Wilks beseeched the Laurier government to enforce the Alien Labour Act, a piece of legislation designed to prevent the importation of contract labour. Only rigorous enforcement of this law, claimed Wilks, would prevent Canada from being inundated with “ignorant, unfortunate…non–English–speaking aliens” who would do irreparable damage to the community.

There was also widespread opposition to western pioneers from central and southeastern Europe. Excellent farmers they might have been, but in the eyes of many westerners this did not qualify them as desirable settlers. Only those who assimilated readily into the dominant Anglo–Saxon society were welcome.

On the Prairies, suspicion and hatred of this kind were focussed mainly on the Ukrainians and the Doukhobors. In Winnipeg, the gateway to the West, the Ukrainians consistently equalled or outnumbered the combined totals of American and British arrivals between 1897 and 1899. It did not matter that less than half of the total number of immigrants to Canada in most years (and usually far less than half) were other than British in origin. What did matter was what was happening in Winnipeg. And from this vantage point, concerned westerners saw sizeable pockets of unassimilable ethnic groups sprouting across the West. The result was a heated debate about “Canadianization” and a cry for the government to be more selective about the types of immigrants that it let into the country. After Sifton left office in 1905, his successor, Frank Oliver, would heed this cry and chart a new course.

Cyril Genik:
“Czar of Canada”

Bizarre as it sounds, there was once a “Czar of Canada.” He was not, of course, a real monarch, but a well–known and highly respected immigration officer. Cyril Genik, who lived from 1857 to 1925, was given his title by bewildered Ukrainian immigrants, happy to obey every command of a knowledgeable official who could help them in a new and strange land.

Like those he served, Cyril Genik was of Ukrainian origin. He came to this country in 1896, during the years of massive Ukrainian immigration to Canada (1896–1914). He headed the second group of Ukrainian immigrants dispatched to Canada during this period by Dr. Josef Oleskow, an agriculturalist who became known as “the father of organized Ukrainian immigration to Canada.”

Most of Cyril Genik’s compatriots were poorly educated peasants whose few worldly possessions had consisted of perhaps a small house, a tiny plot of land, a cow, and a few domestic fowl. Genik, by contrast, was a well–educated former teacher with a good knowledge of English and other languages.

Within a week of arriving in Winnipeg in July 1896, Genik and some of the men in his party left to reconnoitre agricultural land south of the city. By August, the settlers had chosen homesteads close to an established German Mennonite colony. The settlement that they founded, called Stuartburn, eventually became one of the largest Ukrainian colonies in Manitoba.

Although Genik registered his homestead, he and his family did not stay long in the new settlement. They soon returned to Winnipeg, where, in November 1896, Genik was hired by the federal government’s Immigration Branch as a part–time interpreter. The volume of Ukrainian immigration increased so dramatically that in 1898 he became a full–time salaried worker. As such, he became the first Ukrainian to be employed as a full–time Canadian public servant.

Cyril Genik was described officially as an “interpreter,” but his duties extended far beyond translation; he was expected to furnish many forms of guidance and assistance to Ukrainian immigrants as soon as possible after their arrival in Canada. Genik travelled to eastern ports to meet immigrant ships and then accompanied groups of Ukrainians on the train west. During the long train journey, he advised the newcomers on government homestead regulations, helped them to complete some of the preliminary arrangements, and held at bay swindling moneychangers and predatory merchants offering useless goods at exorbitant prices. Once the Ukrainians reached the prairies, Genik helped them choose land, register their homesteads, and find employment.

When they were settled, he visited their communities and reported to the federal government on their progress. In his Immigration Branch uniform, Cyril Genik became a familiar link between Canadian government officials and Ukrainian immigrants. As such, he played a valuable role in helping these newcomers adapt to the new and sometimes cruel land in which they had chosen to settle. And in easing the way for one group of immigrants, he emboldened other Ukrainians to leave home for Western Canada.

After his retirement in 1914, Cyril Genik continued to work as a leader in the Ukrainian–Canadian community, promoting various cultural causes, publishing articles, and, for a time, advocating the establishment of an independent Ukrainian church in Canada. His achievements were so many and so varied that by the time he died, Cyril Genik had come to be considered by many settlers as “something of a czar of Canada.”

In February 1999, in Winnipeg, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the invaluable role that Cyril Genik had played in the settlement and strengthening of the Ukrainian community in Canada.

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