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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
A Preferred Policy
A Depressing Period

Radical Policies

by Vadim Kukushkin, University of Alberta

The new admission regulations made entry to Canada next to impossible, turning away thousands of potential immigrants. Ethnic groups traditionally suspected of having "un-Canadian" habits experienced the brunt of the new policy. This happened, for instance, to several thousands of Russian Mennonites who applied for admission to Canada in 1929-1932 to escape the effects of Soviet collectivization and mounting repressions against religious minorities at home. The German government granted the Mennonites temporary refuge but it had no land for them to settle on. The leaders of the Canadian Mennonite community petitioned the federal and provincial governments to grant admission to their suffering co-religionists. In climate of economic uncertainty and heightened anti-immigrant prejudice, the idea of bringing new parties of hard-to-assimilate "foreigners" to Canada encountered strong opposition from various segments of the population. In the end, only 1,344 Mennonite refugees made their way to Canada by 1932.

At the same time as the persecuted Mennonites were knocking at Canada's doors, some Canadian immigrants headed in precisely the opposite direction. Enticed by promises of a workers' paradise and steady industrial employment, about 2,500 Canadians of Finnish origin emigrated to Soviet Russia in the early 1930s, settling in the northern province of Karelia, which bordered on Finland. Many of them paid with their lives for their idealism when a wave of repressions decimated Finnish communities there in the late 1930s.

For thousands of other Canadian immigrants, the depression years became an era of struggle against economic adversity and social prejudice. Although few Canadians were unaffected by the depression, immigrants were among the hardest hit, for they often lacked even those meagre resources and opportunities that were available to the native-born. Thousands of immigrant labourers in the early 1930s criss-crossed Canada on freight trains, desperately searching for jobs. For those who had not acquired Canadian domicile (the status achieved by having lived in Canada for five years), applying for welfare assistance was not an option, for it could result in deportation. Life on the farms was hardly easier but at least there was a steady supply of food -- something many urban immigrants could only dream of.

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