A brief history of Americans moving to Canada
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Mar 11, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

A brief history of Americans moving to Canada

As hits keep growing on Cape Breton’s tongue-in-cheek Internet invitation to Trump-wary Yanks, it’s worth keeping in mind that for many it’s not a joke — they’ve done it.


If Google searches and late-night talk show hosts are to be believed, the Peace Bridge may soon be overrun with Americans fleeing Donald Trump’s relentless march towards the presidency.

Google reported that the search term “how can I move to Canada” surged 350 per cent within a matter of hours on Super Tuesday. While Cape Bretoners are encouraging those hapless refugees of Trumpmania to emigrate to their windy shores.

These Yanks aren’t traitors against their homeland — they’re simply exercising their God-given right as Americans to head north when things get rough at home.

Here’s a look at the centuries-long tradition of Americans moving to Canada.

  JD Kelly
Painting by J.D. Kelly (1862-1958) depicts a group of United Empire Loyalists arriving in 1783. (LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA)

Refugees from the revolution

As long as there has been America, there have been Americans moving to Canada. About 100,000 colonists loyal to the king fled the thirteen colonies either during or just after the Revolutionary War.

About half settled in Canada, primarily in the Maritimes, Quebec and southern Ontario. Some were promised large plots of land, while others moved to escape hostile revolutionaries. These loyalists, as they were called, helped to create large English communities in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia, forever changing the Canada’s cultural landscape.

Fleeing for freedom

Before the United States abolished slavery in 1865, thousands of black Americans headed north to find freedom from slavery and racial oppression. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Britain promised land (mostly in Nova Scotia) to black slaves and freemen if they would fight for the Crown.

According to Historica Canada, British Commander-in-Chief Sir Guy Carleton promised all slaves who “formally requested British protection” freedom.

Still, slavery persisted in Canada for years after the revolution, and many black people were discriminated against and denied land initially promised to them.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, thousands more fled slavery on the Underground Railroad, settling in southern Ontario. Although they found freedom, they still faced persistent economic discrimination and segregation.

One estimate is that 330,000 American pioneers settled in Saskatchewan between 1905 and 1923. (LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA)

Prairie pioneers

Although the land rush of the American frontier had ended by the end of the 19th century, there was plenty of wide open space in Western Canada well into the dawn of the 20th century.

According to the University of Regina, some 330,000 American pioneers settled in Saskatchewan between 1905 and 1923. Some were born in the U.S., while others were European immigrants who had first tried to settle south of the border.

Draft dodgers

The turmoil of the 1960s brought thousands of Americans who opposed the Vietnam to Canada, especially those who refused to participate in the draft.

Between 1966 and 1975, almost 240,000 Americans moved to Canada, according to Statistics Canada, almost twice the number as in the previous decade. In 1969, the Canadian government passed a law allowing U.S. immigration regardless of military status, effectively opening the door to draft-dodgers and deserters.

Moving to Canada reached its peak in 1974, when 27,932 Americans crossed the border. Although the U.S. granted amnesty to people who evaded the draft in 1977, many stayed in Canada.

Bush-era escapees

When George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, not everyone was thrilled.

“That’s it!” many left-leaning Americans presumably said. “I’m moving to Canada.” The day after Bush was re-elected president, there were 191,000 hits on Canada's immigration website, six times its average traffic, an article in the Star stated.

Like the draft dodgers of the ’60s and ’70s, post-9/11 Americans moved to Canada more for ideological reasons than economic security. Although U.S. immigration to Canada never reached the heights that it did in the 1970s, there was a spike. In 2006, 10,942 Americans moved to Canada, a 30-year-high.

The threat of moving to Canada became such a popular trope that it even made the list of “Stuff White People Like,” a popular satirical blog.

“Though they will never actually move to Canada, the act of declaring that they are willing to undertake the journey is very symbolic in white culture. It shows that their dedication to their lifestyle and beliefs are so strong, that they would consider packing up their entire lives and moving to a country that is only slightly different to the one they live in now,” wrote blogger Christian Lander.

Toronto Star

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