Scots began arriving to Canada as early as the early seventeenth century. Sir William Alexander obtained permission from King James I to establish a Scottish settlement in 1622 named New Scotland or Nova Scotia. The colony failed to flourish, however, and few families settled in Canada before the British conquest in 1759. The majority of these early Scottish settlers were Roman Catholics seeking political and religious refuge, fur traders with the Hudson's Bay Company, merchants and disbanded soldiers.
After this early period there were also a number of Highland farmers who emigrated from Scotland after being ejected from their land to make way for sheep grazing. The primary destinations for these early settlers were agricultural communities in Upper Canada, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Cape Breton Island had a significant Scottish population, Gaelic being the only language spoken there. Scottish Loyalists arrived in Canada from the United States in 1783 and settled mainly in Glengarry, Upper Canada, and Nova Scotia. Lord Selkirk also settled over 800 Scottish migrants in Prince Edward Island in 1803 and placed many others in his Red River settlement in Manitoba in 1812. By 1815, there were already more than 15,000 Scots living in Canada.
Between 1815 and 1870, over 170,000 Scots immigrated, with increasing numbers settling in Quebec and Ontario, notably in Lanark County. They were a widely-varied group, including Highlanders and Lowlanders, farmers, teachers, merchants, clergymen and servants. Many were Presbyterian and English speaking. Many Scots were encouraged and supported by the British government and private companies in their effort to emigrate.
Scottish immigration to Canada continued into the twentieth century and increased the Scottish population to over 1 million by 1930. Most of these later Scottish migrants were farmers and farm labourers coming from the Lowland regions, while fewer Highlanders emigrated during that period. There were also many more industrial workers coming after 1900, many in the iron and steel industries. The primary destination for this later settlement of Scots was western Canada, with Manitoba receiving the largest numbers.
After the First World War, many Scots were able to gain passage to Canada under the Empire Settlement Act. Immigration from Scotland to Canada continued in large numbers throughout the twentieth century and between 1945 and 1993 approximately 260 000 settled in Canada. Today, there are approximately 4 million Canadians of Scottish heritage.
Research at Library and Archives Canada
Immigration Branch: Central Registry Files (RG 76)
Other series of Records
Library and Archives Canada also holds other private records regarding Scottish families. Consult the Archives Search database using keywords such as a surname or the name of an organization.
Research in Other Institutions
General Registrar Office for Scotland
Hudson's Bay Company Archives
National Archives of Scotland
National Library of Scotland
Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives and Record Office
Scottish Catholic Archives
Scottish Genealogy Society
The United Church of Canada Archives
University of Guelph Scottish Studies Collection
Research in Published Sources
Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada Before Confederation by Donald Whyte.
Dictionary of Scottish Settlers in North America1625-1825 by David Dobson.
Finding your Scottish ancestors by Penelope Christensen.
Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians by Sherry Irvine.
The Scots in Canada, by J.M. Bumsted
Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors published by National Archives of Scotland.
Search for other books on Scots in AMICUS, using authors, titles or subject keywords such as:
Consult our Bibliography for further information on this topic.
A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846)
Canadian Scottish History
Clan Fraser Society of Canada
GEN UKI: Scotland
Glasgow Poor Law Archives
Maps of Scotland
Saskatchewan GenWeb: Scottish Saskatchewan Genealogy Roots
Scottish Archive Network