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

The Documentary TrailTraces of the PastFind an Immigrant
Free From Local Prejudice
A National Open-Door Policy
Filling the Promised Land
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A Depressing Period


by Sylvie Tremblay, Library and Archives Canada

The same ships used to export lumber (the port of Québec's main commercial activity) to the British Isles, transported emigrants from the British Isles to North America. Travelling conditions were arduous and often had tragic consequences. Many immigrants fell ill and died at sea. Others, particularly young children and the elderly, arrived at their destination in a pitiful state of health. Québec hospitals and their medical staff were rapidly overwhelmed.

In 1803, the British Parliament passed the first of a series of laws intended to regulate the transportation of immigrants, to protect emigrants on board ships from abuse by transportation companies, such as exorbitant rates and poor sanitary conditions. The Passenger Act imposed better conditions relating to hygiene, food and comfort for passengers travelling to North America. However, this law was not always rigorously applied by ship captains and the spread of contagious diseases accelerated.

Around 1826, Asiatic cholera appeared in India, reached Moscow, and finally spread to France and the British Isles. Aware that this disease would eventually reach Quebec, the Société des immigrants de Québec (Quebec Immigrants' Society), founded in 1818 and the only charitable organization providing assistance to immigrants, considered limiting immigration and even prohibiting it. Since it lacked the authority, the society reminded the government authorities of existing laws relating to passengers, and of its responsibility to provide assistance to immigrants. In 1832, confronted by the real danger of an epidemic, the government of Lower Canada passed the Quarantine Act, and built a quarantine station on Grosse-Île on the St. Lawrence River, downstream from Québec. There was a quarantine station at Pointe-Lévy, however it was unsuitable during an epidemic because of its proximity to the city. By laying down strict control measures for ships from Europe, the authorities expected that they could protect the local population from the disease.

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