Documents de l’histoire du Québec / Quebec History Documents
The Exodus of Our People
With the return of the spring season the tide of immigration from Canada to the United States is again setting in. We ought to be used to the spectacle by this time, but we are not, and whenever we witness it, we experience a fresh pain. We saw a whole procession of men, women and children pass through last week on their way to the cars. They were well dressed, provided with well filled portmanteaus, and seemed quite cheerful. We learn, besides, that numbers of family have recently left their farms and their houses to seek a new home beyond the lines. Crowds will soon be passing through Montreal from other parts of the country, bound for the same destination.
The exodus of our people, like that of the old Israelites who were lured to the banks of the Nile, ought to be a subject of commiseration for every Canadian patriot. It is a slur upon the country, which the Americans themselves are not slow to throw into our faces, and it is, moreover, a misfortune for the poor deluded emigrants themselves.
Time was when Canadians could reasonably expect to do better in the United States than in their native land, but this is no longer the case now, when the American finances are so inflated, when the prices of life necessaries rule immoderately high, when work is confessedly scarce, and thousands of the best hands are thrown out of employment, and when the prospects of amelioration, instead of brightening are, in consequence of political complications, getting gloomier day after day.
Let us look at the facts, just as they are. Let our countrymen know the unvarnished truth. How do Canadians get on when once in the United States, what is their condition there, how are they treated and regarded ? The immense majority of them live and die the slaves of the Americans. This is the bitter expression we have heard used time and again by emigrants themselves. All the hard work, all the low work is for them. A visit to Lowell, South Adams, Troy and other manufacturing centres is enough to verify the withering truth. Men and women slave there from morning to night, and few of them ever rise above their condition. The young girls especially, once so pure and happy in their quiet villages at home, it is sad and humiliating to know how much they are exposed in the factories. Go to Ogdensburg and Oswego, and visit the cabins on water’s edge. They are filled with Canadians who do all the drudgery of those cities. Let not the people be deceived by the young swells who return from the States, now and then, with shining beaver, paste jewellery and other gimeracks, swaggering like Bowery loafers, and spurting broken-English slang, learned in the purlieus. If they knew all, they would beware of those youngsters, instead of allowing themselves to be humbugged by the stories they tell of fortune beyond the frontier.
And what do most of these people leave behind them, when they emigrate from the country ? They leave good lands, good farms, good situations, good prospects. They have independence and respectability, to become servants of the stranger, and to be looked down upon as an inferior class, into the bargain. Even if they leave poverty and hard work, it is only to find another species of poverty and harder work. They get discouraged here without reason, but when they arrive there, their discouragement is not lessened, because their condition is not bettered, and, like the Jewish exiles on Babylonian waters, they sigh in vain for a return to their native land.
We commend this matter to the Federal and Provincial Governments. We commend it earnestly, in the best interests of the country. It is no use discussing abstract political questions, and devising schemes of administration, if we cannot insure the prosperity of the masses. It is no use either talking about emigration from Europe, if we cannot retain our own population, keep it at home, give it employment, and afford it chances of getting on. Something must be done thoroughly to arrest this exodus of Canadians towards the United States. In our opinion there is no public question which deserves a more anxious consideration from all classes of the country.
Source: “The Exodus of Our People”, in Canadian Illustrated News (Montreal), May 5, 1877, p. 274.
© 2008 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College