Between 1815 and 1850, population growth was soaring throughout Europe. Though the Industrial Revolution was making the continent wealthier overall, jobs were scarce and many were forced to look toward the New World for economic survival. During the first half of the century, over 800,000 European immigrants left their homes and settled throughout Canada.
Seeing as the Industrial Revolution started in England, nearly 60% of these immigrants came from Britain. Immigrants came from other countries as well. Americans and Chinese came looking for gold. Many Irish came to escape the great Potato famine. The British were the first to set out for Canada, however, and were the largest cultural group at the end of the migration.
This Great Migration was spurred by a number of factors. Obviously, the Industrial Revolution was an overarching factor; however, individual motivations and reasons for leaving varied greatly. Lower classes were obviously facing a severe job shortage. Unemployment was rampant, and the poor felt suppressed by the government. Industrialization was in its infancy and regulations were practically non-existent, so towns were made filthy with soot and fumes. The Irish were facing a unique struggle with the great Potato Famine, and thousands were starving and desperate for a solution.
England’s wealthy classes were also looking toward Canada, though for different reasons. Canada was fresh new territory, ripe for the taking. Enormous opportunities existed for new business ventures, and those who could get in early stood to make a fortune.
Regardless of why the immigrants left Britain, each was hoping for a chance at a better life. Most felt that the better life they were hoping for would be attainable if they could find a job, enough food to sustain their family, a healthier environment, and a greater voice in their government.
Following the promise of cheap or free land in Canada, the immigrants left England with high hopes. They endured expensive, arduous sea voyages, only to have those hopes crushed in many cases. Many arrived sick from the long voyage, and if they were too ill, they were often deported, quarantined, or even simply left to die.
Success didn’t come easily to the immigrants. There was opportunity aplenty, but the settlers had to fight for every inch. The climate was harsh, and the British settlers were not prepared for the bitterly cold winters. During certain seasons, insects invaded in force, and caused serious trouble for the newly arrived settlers. Though the immigrants found jobs, education, equality in government representation, freedom of language, and freedom of religion, the path to success wasn’t smooth sailing by any means.
In spite of the struggles, many immigrants did succeed, and the British settlers have since made a huge impact on the culture and development of Canada. The English language is the national tongue, thanks to the British immigrants, and many place names and traditions, principles and even religion were brought in with the British settlers of the Great Migration.