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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

Religious Refugees

by Matthew Wangler, research consultant

Government decisions greatly influenced the immigration and settlement experiences of the Mennonites, Doukhobors and Mormons. Negotiations and disagreements between these groups and both federal and provincial governments -- over such issues as education, landholding and religious practices -- were essential in determining the place of each community within the Canadian political context.

Before emigrating from Russia to Canada in 1874, the Mennonites arranged a delegation to inspect the land and secure promises from the Canadian government about issues like military exemptions and the right to teach their children the German language and the Mennonite faith. In the decades that followed, multiple versions of these promises and confusion over matters of jurisdiction and interpretation would lead to serious conflicts between some members of the Mennonite community and the federal and provincial governments.

The Mormons who settled in southern Alberta in 1887 came without special privileges. Once there, however, they lobbied the government for concessions on cultural and economic matters. Exiled from the United States because of that country's harsh anti-polygamy Edmunds Act, some Alberta Mormons unsuccessfully lobbied the Canadian government for the right to bring their plural families from Utah to their new homes. As well, they sought privileges in the use of natural resources and in the payment of tariffs. The government refused their requests.

In the late 1890s, intermediaries like Dr. James Mavor of the University of Toronto represented the Doukhobors in their negotiations with the Canadian government. Through these middlemen, the Doukhobors were granted formal military exemption. However, other matters of great concern -- like the freedom to farm communally and exemption from the swearing of oaths -- were not officially guaranteed and would remain contentious issues.

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