Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
May 2006

Documents of Canadian History / Documents de l'histoire du Canada


Canadian Opinion of Immigrants

(pre 1945 period)


Sir John A. MACDONALD (1890)

Reflecting on the massive immigration of Slavic and Southern Europeans into the United States, a movement he deplored, Macdonald is quoted as saying:

"It is a great country, but it will have its vicissitudes and revolutions. Look at the mass of foreign ignorance and vice which has flooded that country with socialism, atheism and all other isms".

Quoted in AVERY, Dangerous Foreigners, p. 40.


Sir Mackenzie BOWELL (former Prime Minister of Canada) on Ukrainians

"[...] The Galicians, they of the sheepskin coats, the filth and the vermin do not make splendid material for the building of a great nation. One look at the disgusting creatures after they pass through over the C.P.R. on their way West has caused many to marvel that beings bearing the human form could have sunk to such a bestial level [...]"

from the Bellleville Intelligencer; quoted in Pierre BERTON, The Promised Land - Settling the West, 1896-1914, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1984, 388p., p. 50.


The Daily NorthWesters about Ukrainian immigrants:

"The protest of the Council is quite justified. The dumping down of these filthy, penniless and ignorant foreigners into progressive and intelligent communities is a serious hardship to such a community".

Date of the article is unspecified in the source.


Clifford SIFTON (1901)

In a letter that he sent to Wilfrid Laurier on April 15, 1901, Clifford Sifton Laurier's Minister of the Interior, and thus in charge of immigration wrote the following:

"Our desire is to promote the immigration of farmers and farm labourers. We have not been disposed to exclude foreigners of any nationality who seemed likely to become successful agriculturalists"

"It is admitted that additions to the population of our cites and towns by immigration [are] undesirable from every standpoint and such additions do not in any way whatever contribute to the object which is constantly kept in view by the Government of Canada in encouraging immigration for the development of natural resources and the increase in production of wealth from these resources ..."

From Mabel F. TIMLIN, "Canada's Immigration Policy, 1896-1910", in Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, Vol. XXVI, No 4 (November 1960): 517-532, p. 518.


Cornelius VAN HORNE (1906)

Reflecting the greater openness of business leaders to immigration, and opposing restrictive regulations based on racial or ethnic criteria, Van Horne is quoted in the Montreal Star as saying:

"What we want is population. Labour is required from the Arctic to Patagonia, throughout North and South America, but the governments of other lands are not such idiots as we are in the matter of restricting immigration. Let them all come in. There is work for all. Every two or three men that come to Canada and do a day's work create new work for someone else to do".

From Montreal Star, July 27, 1906 (quoted in the Canadian Annual Review, 1906, p. 281).

The Missionary Outlook (Methodist) in June 1908

"If from this North American continent is to come a superior race, a race to be specially used by God in the carrying on of His work, what is our duty to those who are now our fellow-citizens? Many of them come to us as nominal Christians, that is, they owe allegiance to the Greek or Roman Catholic churches but their moral standards and ideals are far below those of the Christian citizens of the Dominion [...] It is our duty to meet them with an open Bible, and to instill into their minds the principles and ideals of Anglo-Saxon Civilization".


William Lyon Mackenzie KING (1908)

"That Canada should desire to restrict immigration from the Orient is regarded as natural, that Canada should remain a white man's country is believed to be not only desirable for economic and social reasons but highly necessary on political and national grounds."

(From a 1908 Report; at the time, Mackenzie King was Deputy-Minister of Labour; he later became Prime Minister of Canada in 1921)


"We need more of our blood to assist us to maintain in Canada our British traditions and to mould the incoming armies of foreigners into loyal British subjects".

From his Strangers Within our Gates, p. 46. Woodsworth was a Protestant clergyman. He later became leader of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) Party.


"[...] but only the best people of European countries should be selected, only those who can assimilate with us to make one united, sound anglo-saxon race".

Statement made by Arthur Goodeve in the Canadian House of Commons on May 18, 1911. Goodeve was a Conservative member from Kootenay, B.C (although originally from Ontario).

The same member is also quoted as saying: "Everyone will agree that we cannot assimilate Asiatic immigration and make the Asiatics good Canadian citizens. But that is no reason why we should not trade with them [Japanese]".

W. D. SCOTT (historian) in 1914

"Undesirable immigrants are those who will not assimilate with the Canadian people, or whose presence will tend to bring about a deterioration from the political, moral, social or economical point of view."

In Canada and Its Provinces, p. 568.


Clifford SIFTON on East European Immigrants (1922)

"I think a stalwart peasant in sheep-skin coat, born on the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half dozen children, is good quality"

from Macleans Magazine. Note that this was said long after Sifton was out of politics and responsible for immigration. According to Berton, (The Promised Land, op. cit., p. 21) Sifton had deep-seated suspicion of Roman Catholics and French Canadians. He did not employ a single Quebecer in his department.


Tom MacINNES (1927) on Chinese Immigration

MacInnes spent the period of 1916 to 1927 in China. In that country, he worked with the great Chinese nationalist, Sun Yat Sen, on the creation of a tramway network for the city of Canton. However, the communist advances drove him out of the country. He spent much of the 1930's as an anti-bolchevist and pro fascist speaker in Canada.

"It may be very right indeed to separate a man by law from his wife and family if he belongs to a race whose increase in the country would be disastrous to those already in occupation of it; especially if such intruding race be very prolific and very difficult to assimilate; and by reason of a more meagre standard of living capable of undoing the masses of those to whom such a country belongs. But aside from all that, the Chinese cannot rightly be said to be separated by any Canadian law from their wives and children in China. They are free to go back to their wives and children any time, and God speed them!"

Tom MacInnes, Oriental occupation of British Columbia, 1927, pp.12-13

Armand LAVERGNE (1931)

"If you had in your western country Canadians of French descent, of French tradition, [...] instead of the foreign element which you brought in, do you think that bolshevist speeches along the lines of Lenin in Russia would be possible in Canada?".

House of Commons Debates, March 30, 1931, p. 182. Lavergne was a Conservative member from Montmagny in Quebec.


William Lyon Mackenzie KING (1938)

"We must seek to keep this part of the Continent free from unrest and from too much intermixture of foreign strains of blood".

From King's Diary, 1938. King was Prime Minister of Canada at the time.


© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College