By Sandra McHugh
Who would have thought that finding the immigration records of my grandparents would have led to me to learn about two British government initiatives designed to promote immigration in the 1920s? I was looking in the Library and Archives Canada web site and found digitized records of Form 30 that recorded the entry of every immigrant between July 1921 and December 1924.1 I was thrilled to find the form that my grandfather, George Thomas Deakin, signed in August 1923, and the one that my grandmother, Grace Graham Hunter, signed in February 1924.
My grandfather’s form indicated that he came to Canada as part of the Harvester Scheme. In 1923, Canada had a bumper wheat crop and North America could not provide the labour needed to harvest the crop. Under the Harvester Scheme, the two major Canadian railway companies entered into an agreement with the British government to transport 12,000 workers out west where they would earn $4.00 per day plus board. This was considered a successful scheme as 11,871 migrants went out west to work, the harvest was successfully completed, and 80% of the harvesters stayed and were considered “successfully assimilated.”2
My grandmother’s passage was paid by the Empire Settlement Act. This Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1922 and its purpose was to provide an incentive for migrants to settle in the colonies. Canada badly needed farm labourers and domestic workers. At that time, the Canadian government favoured immigrants from Great Britain as a means of ensuring the predominance of British values. In the early 1920s, it was difficult for Canada to attract immigrants from Great Britain as Britain was enjoying a period of prosperity right after World War I. Another reason was the prohibitive cost of transatlantic transportation. Even passage in third class would have been expensive for a farm labourer or a domestic worker.3
My grandmother came to Canada to enter into domestic service as a cook and her destination in Montreal was the government hostel. Hostels were located in major urban areas across Canada. These hostels were partially funded by the provinces and immigrants from Great Britain were allowed free dormitory accommodation for 24 hours after their arrival. Young ladies were looked after by the Superintendent of the hostel and referred to a church worker. They were also referred to Employment Services of Canada who would find them employment.4
1 Library and Archives Canada: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca
2 Foster, John Elgin, 1983, The Developing West: Essays on Canadian History in Honor of Lewis H. Thomas, University of Alberta
4 Crawford, Ruth, 1924, “Canada’s Program for Assimilation”, The Rotarian, May 1924, p. 16