by Glenn Wright, Library and Archives Canada
In 1803, the British Parliament enacted legislation to regulate
vessels carrying emigrants to North America. For the first time, the master of
the vessel was required to prepare a list of passengers for deposit at the port
of embarkation. The earliest lists recorded the name of the head of the household,
and the number of adults and children in the family. For many years, children
between the ages of one and twelve were counted as half an adult; those under
age one, not at all. Since the size of the ship (registered tonnage) determined
the maximum number of adult or "statute" adult passengers and the amount
of provisions required for the voyage, accurate lists were both necessary and
Over the course of the 19th century the passenger list evolved and by 1860, the name, age, sex, occupation and national origin of all passengers was collected and recorded. From time to time, the format was amended; for example, in the 1890s, the form was redesigned to include information on the intended destination of immigrants. The form itself was prescribed by law, and shipping companies were responsible for ensuring that the lists were accurately prepared and deposited at the port of entry.
The lists were compiled for two main purposes: one, officials
at ports of entry interviewed or inspected immigrants based on the information
reported in the list to determine their suitability, health and prospects for
successful settlement in Canada; two, the lists were the basis for various statistical reports prepared and published by the government. The government, anxious to know as much as possible about the people entering Canada, used the reports to develop settlement policies and advertising campaigns directed at potential immigrants.
In 1909, all passengers destined for Canada (including Canadians returning from abroad) were required to complete a personal history questionnaire. The questionnaire was used in conjunction with information recorded on the passenger list for inspection and reporting purposes. This "Canadian Declaration Form," commonly referred to as the "interrogatory" form, was revised and condensed in 1918 and became known as "Form 30A." The form was used for inspection purposes at ports of entry and a duplicate copy was sent to Ottawa for indexing purposes. People entering Canada from the United States at inland border crossings used a similar form, Form 30.
Form 30A was introduced on passenger vessels during 1919 and,
until the end of 1920, both the form and the traditional passenger list were compiled.
In January 1921, the passenger manifest (list) was discontinued because amendments
to the Immigration Act required an even larger form. In its place, the
government decided that the inspection of immigrants could be done from the information
on Form 30A. At the same time, a small book-like index to passengers was compiled
by the purser of the vessel. Officials were convinced that Form 30A would expedite
the inspection and examination of immigrants, but actual practice proved otherwise.
The experiment continued, however, until January 1925, when an enlarged sheet
manifest form, based on similar American forms, was adopted; known as the "Canadian
Government Return" (CGR), it would be used with the index book for all inspections
and would continue to document immigrants until the early 1950s.
The passenger list and Form 30A documented the arrival of immigrants to Canada and contained personal information such as name, age, sex, occupation, religion, family and intentions. Initially created for reporting purposes, the list evolved over time and became the sole means of determining date of entry into Canada for purposes of naturalization. As more non-British immigrants arrived in Canada, the passenger list became a critical document because residency in Canada, a requirement for citizenship, was calculated from the date of arrival. For many immigrants, the passenger manifest was the only documented proof of their arrival. Officials in the Immigration Department used the lists for determining date of arrival in Canada; a brief annotation to the effect that a person has been naturalized years after arrival in Canada is often added to the relevant passenger list.
The passenger list is more than a list of names, however. It documents
the voyage, a unique event in itself, and provides information about the name
and size of the vessel, the shipping company, the name of the captain, and the
date and port of departure and arrival. The list may also record other events
that occurred during the voyage, including births, deaths and occasionally, a
marriage. It identifies immigrants, especially Home Children and other special
groups that were brought to Canada under the auspices of an emigration society,
a church or other charitable organization.
The passenger list, initially conceived for administrative purposes, evolved into a quasi-legal document, valuable for both the immigrant and the government. It has since evolved further as an important source for family history and genealogy because it is the one record that documents the movement of people from the United Kingdom, Europe and elsewhere to begin a new life in Canada.