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Banner: Moving Here, Staying Here. The Canadian Immigrant Experience

The Documentary TrailTraces of the PastFind an Immigrant

Immigrant Guides

by Laura Madokoro, Library and Archives Canada

Many emigrants embarking on the journey to 19th-century British North America wrestled with daunting questions about their future. What would the sea voyage be like? How should they prepare for the trip? What could they expect in their new home?

To address these and other concerns, British officials, private individuals and organizations (such as the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) began to publish guides in the early 1800s, to inform and champion the cause of emigration. Some guides encouraged potential emigrants by lauding the merits of British North America, while other guides braced newcomers for their arrival, giving sage advice. One author, Joseph Pickering (an emigrant himself), declared, "There is no perfect Paradise to be seen on earth´┐Ż" and further admonished that "perseverance alone can ensure success." (Pickering 1831, p. iv-v) A.C. Buchanan, an emigrant agent stationed in Québec, observed the predominantly male settler population and advised that "every young farmer, or labourer going out, (who can pay for the passage of two) [should] take an active young wife with him." (Buchanan 1828, p. 89)

Since they attempted to educate people about every aspect of life in British North America, emigration guides were sometimes quite lengthy. It was quite common for some of these guides to run up to a hundred pages. A few were arranged in chapters, while others took the form of a diary or a memoir. The guides covered all facets of the emigrant experience, from what to bring on the boat and what to do upon disembarkation, to where the best land for settlement was situated and what could be expected during the first, second and third years on a farm. Guides sometimes dispensed very basic advice, including warnings to "carefully clear the timber and bush to a distance from your dwelling and out buildings, as in the event of fire in the woods, great risk is incurred in their being destroyed." (Buchanan 1832, p. 6)

Other guides described the climate, geography and conditions of employment in the colonies in minute detail. One guide described Canadian winters as "cold, but dry and bracing" (Buchanan 1828, p. 89). Differences and similarities between the Province of Canada and Great Britain were frequently emphasized. On similarities, one immigrant declared, "to enter Canada, is to pass into a region of the most intense loyalty to the Throne...." (Paton 1886, p. ii) Joseph Pickering, who noted differences in sheep shearing, later observed in his diary that, "the Canadians shear the belly and neck, and then tie the sheeps' [sic] legs and shear along them...." He concluded that the sheep were "not nice about their appearance when finished." (Pickering 1831, p. 56) Pickering's diary served as the basis for his widely consulted guide Inquiries of an Emigrant: Being the Narrative of an English Farmer from the Year 1824 to 1830. Catharine Parr Traill, famed author of The Backwoods of Canada, was also the creator of a guide entitled, The Canadian Emigrant Housekeeper's Guide, whose aim was to address yet another aspect of, and audience for, emigration to Canada.

Nineteenth-century emigration guides, of which only a few survive, offer a riveting account of the numerous forces at work on migration in the 1800s and the kinds of conditions that greeted arrivals to the colonies. Using these guides, researchers can uncover fascinating tidbits about the legislation and regulations that governed population migration. Researchers can also learn from the contemporary observations the guides contain about the social life of settlers and how urban and rural Canada looked in the mid-1800s. But as one writer cautioned, works of emigration were occasionally "vamped up by persons either hired or interested to cry up one locality in the general competition for settlers" so naturally, some claims have to be taken with a grain of salt (Smith 1850, p. 40).


Buchanan, A.C. Advice to Emigrants [microform]. [Québec?: s.n.], 1832. (Québec: T. Cary).

_____. Emigration Practically Considered, with Detailed Directions to Emigrants Proceeding to British North America, Particularly to the Canadas: In a Letter to the Right Hon. R. Wilmot Horton, M.P. London: H. Colburn, 1828.

_____. Canada: Information for Emigrants to Canada and the Northern and Western States of America, Showing the Routes, Distances, and Rates of Passage from Quebec to the Principal Points. Québec: Emigration Office, 1856.

Pickering, Joseph. Inquiries of an Emigrant: Being the Narrative of an English Farmer, from the Year 1824 to 1830, During Which Period He Traversed the United States of America, and the British Province of Canada, with a View to Settle as an Emigrant: Containing Observations on the Manners, Soil, Climate, and Husbandry of the Americans, with Estimates of Outfit, Charges of Voyage and Travelling Expenses, and a Comparative Statement of the Advantages Offered in the United States and Canada. London: E. Wilson, 1831.

Paton, Walter B., and Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (Great Britain). The Handy Guide to Emigration to the British Colonies, with Maps. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1886.

Smith, Sidney. The Settler's New Home, or, Whether to Go, and Wither?: Being a Guide to Emigrants in the Selection of a Settlement, and the Preliminary Details of the Voyage, Embracing the Whole Fields of Emigration, and the Most Recent Information Relating Thereto. London: J. Kendrick, 1850.

Ten years' resident. Emigrant's Guide [microform]: Being the Information Published by His Majesty's Commissioners for Emigration Respecting the British Colonies of Upper and Lower Canada and New Brunswick: With General Observations on the Voyage, Climate, Soil, Wages, Prices of Provisions, &c. Devonport, England: W. Pollard, [1832?].

Traill, Catharine Parr. The Backwoods of Canada: Being Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer, Illustrative of the Domestic Economy of British America. London: C. Knight, 1836.

_____. The Canadian Emigrant's Housekeeper's Guide. Toronto: Lovell & Gibson, 1862.

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