Alberta Emigration and Immigration

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The Provincial Archives has some data on the immigration policies and movements of various groups of people rather than on individuals in Alberta. This can be helpful to know where various nationalities settled.

Years and Locations of Settlement[edit | edit source]

Immigration Through 1900[edit | edit source]

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, new settlers to Alberta were few and far between. In the early 1870s a few French-Canadians took land adjacent to the Catholic Mission at St. Albert as did a couple of former traders with the Hudson’s Bay Company. In the early 1880s a party of Methodists from London Ontario settled in the Red Deer area.

Latter-day Saint Settlers[edit | edit source]

It was not until 1887 that the first group of settlers moved into Alberta. This was a group of 40 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), who took land between the Belly and St. Mary Rivers in southern Alberta. Coming up from the United States, they brought with them a working knowledge of irrigation and immediately set to work digging ditches and canals to make the dry prairie land usable.

By 1901 these original settlers had been joined by another 3,200 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) from the U.S. all settling in the southern part of the province around Raymond, Magrath, and, of course, the town of Cardston where the large, impressive temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) stands as a tribute to these early pioneers.

The usage of "Mormon" and "LDS" on this page is approved according to current policy.

German Settlers[edit | edit source]

Another group of immigrants arrived in 1889. Germans, fleeing financial persecution in Austria, moved into Alberta to join a much smaller group who had settled in the Pincher Creek area in 1883. This second group, part of an even larger contingent who had settled in Saskatchewan, had been given large areas of land around Medicine Hat, but within two years decided that the arid land was not to their liking. Most moved northward to more favourable conditions. In 1891 and 1892 these settlers created the new communities of Rosenthal near Stony Plain and Haffnungen near Leduc, and located in the Horse Hills and Fort Saskatchewan areas. Many of their compatriots joined the original German immigrants over the years through to 1914. Today, many communities bear German names: Josephburg, Bruderheim, Bruderfield. In addition, Germans settled in many existing communities: Rabbit Hill, Wetaskiwin, Beaver Lake, Lacombe, Gull Lake and Sylvan Lake.

Ukrainian Settlers[edit | edit source]

In 1891, Ukrainians also sought new land in Alberta. Many were from the province of Galatia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, in fact, had been neighbours of the Austrian Germans who settled in the Fort Saskatchewan and Josephburg areas. By 1895, the number of Ukrainians immigrating to Alberta had increased considerably. They occupied some 2,000 square miles of land in the Beaverhill Lake, Whitford Lake and Willingdon areas. By 1905 their numbers had spread east as far as Vermillion and Vegreville.

Icelander Settlers[edit | edit source]

1891 saw the arrival of a small group of Icelanders who settled in Markerville, West of Red Deer. This was to be the only Icelandic community in the province and was made up of people who had settled earlier in Wisconsin or Manitoba.

French-Canadian Catholic Settlers[edit | edit source]

With the influx of these new settlers, the Catholic Church perceived the need to add to the population of French-Canadian Catholics if they were to retain any influence in the province. Bishop Vital Grandin and Father Albert Lacombe led the quest for French speaking settlers early in the 1880s with only limited success. Québec clergy encouraged their parishioners to stay, and those who felt compelled to leave because of economic reasons, chose to go south to work in the mills of New England. However, in 1891, Father Morin brought 65 French-Canadians by train to Calgary, then to Morinville, north of Edmonton, by wagon. In subsequent years, other French-Canadians moved into Alberta, mostly small family groups encouraged by previous settlers. There were also small groups of French and Belgians and some repatriated French from Michigan. Strong French communities are Beaumont, Villeneuve, St. Paul, Bonnyville, Rivière Qui Barre, Vimy, Pickardville and Legal.

Settlers from Ontario[edit | edit source]

There was sporadic homesteading by Ontarians from the early 1880s. In 1892 it was supplemented by 289 Anglo-Saxons from Parry Sound, Ontario. They moved into an area east of Edmonton, near Bremner, Fort Saskatchewan and the Beaver Hills areas near Lamont. They were soon joined by another 630 new settlers from Parry Sound.

Scandinavian Settlers[edit | edit source]

In 1892 and 1893 two groups of Scandinavians settled in Alberta. The first were from Minnesota and the Dakotas in the U.S. who traveled to Alberta by wagon and settled in the Limestone Lake area. The second group came from Europe and settled on 300 square miles, eight townships, east of Wetaskiwin. Over the next two years three more groups came, settling in Bardo, west of Stony Plain, west of Camrose and along the Burnt Lake Trail near Red Deer.

Jewish Settlers[edit | edit source]

A small group of Jewish settlers came to Alberta in 1893, however, they did not fare well. Gathered from the slums of Chicago and literally dropped off near Ghostpine Lake with a few tools, they were unable to meet the challenge of breaking and taming the raw land. Most returned to the States. For the most part, the few Jewish settlers in the province established themselves in the major communities: Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge, where they opened businesses of all kinds. By 1911, Vegreville also had a small Jewish community which grew to almost 60 people by 1921.

The exception were two farming communities. In 1906 a group of seventeen people began farming near Trochu. Another group joined them a year later and settled just east at Rumsey. Most of these settlers were from the Gomel area of Russia. The second settlement was in Sibbald, in east central Alberta. Settled in 1911 by Jews leaving North Dakota, the community was in the heart of the Palliser Triangle and by the end of the Dirty Thirties, only five Jewish families had survived the drought and depression.

Mennonite Settlers[edit | edit source]

The first Mennonites came to Alberta in 1889, but in 1894 a much larger contingent settled in the Lacombe area and east to Tail Creek and Buffalo Lake.

Increase in Population[edit | edit source]

By 1895 the influx of new settlers increased the District’s population to about 30,000. Over the next five years, immigration continued at a steady rate of 16,000 new people arriving yearly. This number doubled the following year, bringing the population in 1901 to 73,022. Of these, 84 percent lived in rural areas.

Immigration and Migration after 1900[edit | edit source]

Major Colonization Programs[edit | edit source]

Two major colonization programs took place in 1903. A group of French military families settled in the Trochu area and remained there until 1914. When the outbreak of World War I threatened their native France, most of them returned to fight for their country.

The second venture was comprised of a very large party of 1,964 English settlers who made their home in the Lloydminster area. The Barr Colonists were led by Reverend Isaac Barr, who proved to be a poor and unorganized leader. Reverend George Lloyd took over the colony and saved it from certain failure. In spite of the many hardships they faced and, in most cases, their complete lack of experience in farming, the colonists established the town of Lloydminster and most proved sturdy settlers.

Population Statistics in 1901[edit | edit source]

In fact, the 1901 census shows that of a total population of 73,022, almost 35,000 or 48 percent were of British ethnic origin. Indian and Innuit (Eskimo) accounted for 13,425, or about 18 percent. Other ethnic groups were as follows:

German 7,836
Russian 4,822
French  4,511
Scandinavian 3,940
Other European 1,409
Ukrainian 634
Polish 470
Dutch 369
Asian 249
Italian 109
Jewish 17
Other or not stated 328

Cities and Towns by 1905[edit | edit source]

By 1905, the year Alberta became a province, the major cities and towns in Alberta, besides Edmonton and Calgary, were Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Wetaskiwin, Cardston, Raymond, Fort Macleod, High River and Lacombe. The majority of settlement in the province was in a large east facing crescent, beginning in the north at Lloydminster, extending in the west to Westlock, south to Rocky Mountain House and in the east from Viking and Settler south to Gleichen and ending in Medicine Hat in the far south.

Large Ranches[edit | edit source]

By 1906, the large ranches of Southern Alberta were being broken up and the land made available under the Homestead Act. The Hudson’s Bay Company and Canadian Pacific Railroad were sold and homesteads were let. The giant Cochrane Ranch, west of Calgary, sold 106,500 acres to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).

The usage of "Mormon" and "LDS" on this page is approved according to current policy.

Immigration Changes[edit | edit source]

A change in the Minister of the Interior in 1906 resulted in a subtle change in immigration policy on the prairies. Clifford Sifton, who initiated the settlement of the Canadian west, believed that farmers—any farmers—were the most successful settlers and was prepared to promote Canada in Eastern European countries to get them. Although immigration programmes ran in Britain, urban folk were not encouraged to come. Frank Oliver, who took over the post, firmly believed that the British way of life had to be retained and strengthened; consequently the promotion of British immigration was stepped up.

The effort was reasonably successful: by 1911 over half of Albertans were of English ancestry. A number of the British immigrants were the sons of the well-to-do, seeking adventure in the ‘colonies.’ However, the majority were coal miners, shopkeepers or general labourers. They settled in the southern portion of the province: Millardville and Priddis, Pincher Creek, and the coal mining areas of the Crowsnest. Some settled slightly north near Pine Lake and Alex, east of Red Deer.

Also widely promoted and encouraged were immigrants from the U.S. Not only were they of the more desirable British or western European ancestry, but they brought with them a practical experience in farming, and often their own machinery. Between 1898 and 1914 over 600,000 Americans, primarily from the Midwestern states, moved north into Alberta. Some were expatriates, about one-third were European immigrants. They came both individually and in groups.

Railways[edit | edit source]

Railway building and natural resource development continued promoting Alberta as a potential home for immigrants. The Canadian Northern Railway and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway opened up new lands east of the settled crescent, west of Edmonton and north into the Peace River country. Homesteads were still available; in fact homesteads in north west Alberta were still available in the 1950s. Coal mines around Lethbridge and in the Crowsnest area and lumbering were alternatives for immigrants not inclined to farm. Entrepreneurs established new business in towns and cities; shopclerks, household help, white collar workers were needed and new immigrants helped fill the positions.

Later Immigration[edit | edit source]

Germans[edit | edit source]

German immigration accelerated after 1896 with most choosing rural, church centered communities. However, few came directly from Germany: most were German speaking people from Eastern Europe and Russia. Some of these came via Manitoba and the United States.

Other German speaking immigrants were the Mennonites: German Swiss coming from the U.S. or Ontario. Some settled in the Didsbury area but they were not inclined to settle in blocs and so integrated within established communities. Between World War I and World War II, there was an increasing number of German speaking immigrants: refugees from Russia and other parts of the world.

Hutterites[edit | edit source]

Hutterites came during World War I. As pacifists, they felt compelled to leave their homes in the U.S. and in 1918, after negotiating with the Canadian government to have their pacifist beliefs honoured, ten colonies were established in Alberta.

Scandinavians[edit | edit source]

Scandinavians continued to be considered excellent immigrants and in the decade between 1901-1911, they were by far the greatest number of new settlers. Some came from the U.S. and most chose to settle in central Alberta. Although they tended not to settle in blocs, many congregated in areas where there was a church and the support of others:

  • Danes in the Standard and Dalum areas
  • Swedes in Scandia
  • Norwegians in Claresholm

Western Europeans[edit | edit source]

Western Europeans, also considered highly desirous, continued to immigrate. Dutch, both Catholic and Dutch Reformed Church settled in Granan, Nobleford, Monarch, and Neerlandia. A few French speaking Belgians joined the French communities around St. Albert. Although there were very few French immigrants, French-Canadians still continued to move west. In 1912 Father Giroux brought a group from Québec and settled the town of Girouxville north of Grande Prairie.

Eastern Europeans[edit | edit source]

Ukrainians, particularly from the provinces of Galicia and Bukovina, and Poles from Galacia continued coming to Canada prior to World War I. Between 1896 and 1914 over 170,000 Ukrainians joined their compatriots settling in a wide swath north and east of Edmonton.

Hungarians, Slovaks and Czecks, mostly coal miners and labourers, came to southern Alberta, as did Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians. Jews and Doukabours left Russia to escape military conscription and religious persecution. In 1899, 7,000 Doukabours came to Canada to settle in Saskatchewan. Some of these then traveled west to British Columbia and others stopped in the Alberta foothills near Cowley and Lundbreck.

Mediterraneans[edit | edit source]

After 1900 a few Greeks, Italians and Arabs joined the flood of immigrants. As they generally were not farmers, they were not encouraged. Those who came joined the railroad crews, worked in the mines or on construction. The exception was two small groups of Italians who successfully farmed north of Edmonton in the Naples and Venice districts.

Asians[edit | edit source]

Immigration from Asia was largely discouraged. By 1921, only 3,500 Chinese and Japanese, a mere 200 of them women, were in Alberta. They were located primarily in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge and operated small businesses such as restaurants or laundries.

World War I and Later[edit | edit source]

Immigration from Germany and Eastern European countries ceased almost completely during World War I, then rebounded somewhat between 1920 and 1929. Rural-bound immigrants opened up new land in unused parts of the province, especially in the Peace River country. Joining them were businessmen, tradesmen, artisans and labourers. Although they immigrated as individuals or as a family, they often chose settlements in areas populated by other members of their family or countrymen. By far the largest numbers came from Britain, with the British government actually subsidizing emigration.

The Depression of the 1930s, followed immediately by World War II, slowed immigration over those fifteen years. It resumed again in 1946 when refugees, war veterans, the desperate and the adventurous left their countries for the promise of a better life in Alberta.

Statistics from the 1951 Census[edit | edit source]

The 1951 census returns shows Alberta with a population of 993,501. Over 74 percent were Canadian born, and of these, almost 54 percent were born in Alberta. Eight percent were British-born; 11 percent were born in Europe; 6 percent were born in the U.S. Only .5 percent were reported to have been born in Asia or ‘other.’[1]

Canadian Border Crossing Records[edit | edit source]

The United States kept records of people crossing the border from Canada to the United States. These records are called border crossing lists, passenger lists, or manifests. There are two kinds of manifests:

  • Manifests of people sailing from Canada to the United States.
  • Manifests of people traveling by train from Canada to the United States.

In 1895 Canadian shipping companies agreed to make manifests of passengers traveling to the United States. The Canadian government allowed U.S. immigration officials to inspect those passengers while they were still in Canada. The U.S. immigration officials also inspected train passengers traveling from Canada to the United States.  The U.S. officials worked at Canadian seaports and major cities like Québec and Winnipeg. The manifests from every seaport and emigration station in Canada were sent to St. Albans, Vermont.

The Family History Library has copies of both kinds of manifests.  Because the manifests were sent to St. Albans, Vermont, they are called St. Albans District Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory.  Despite the name the manifests are actually from seaports and railroad stations all over Canada and the northern United States, not just Vermont.

Border Crossing Manifests:

Manifests may include each passenger's name, port or station of entry, date of entry, literacy, last residence, previous visits to the United States, and birthplace. The manifests are reproduced in two series:

  • Manifests of Passengers Arriving in the St. Albans, Vermont, District through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1895–January 1921.(608 rolls; Family History Library films 1561087–499;)  Includes records from seaports and
     railroad stations all over Canada and the northern United States. These manifests provide two types of lists:

—Traditional passenger lists on U.S. immigration forms.

—Monthly lists of passengers crossing the border on trains. These lists are divided by month. In each month, the records are grouped by railroad station. (The stations are listed in alphabetical order.) Under the station, the passengers are grouped by railroad company.

  • Manifests of Passengers Arriving in the St. Albans, Vermont, District through Canadian Pacific Ports, 1929–1949. (25 rolls; Family History Library films 1549387–411; Travel to the United States from Canadian Pacific seaports only.

Border Crossing Index:

In many cases, index cards were the only records kept of the crossings. These cards are indexed in four publications:

  • Soundex Index to Canadian Border Entries through the St. Albans, Vermont, District, 1895–1924. (400 rolls; Family History Library films 1472801–3201.)

The Soundex is a surname index based on the way a name sounds rather than how it is spelled. Names like Smith and Smyth are filed together.

  • Soundex Index to Entries into the St. Albans, Vermont, District through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1924–1952. (98 rolls; Family History Library films 1570714–811.)
  • St. Albans District Manifest Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory: Records of Arrivals through Small Ports in Vermont, 1895–1924. (6 rolls; Family History Library films 1430987–92.) The records are arranged first by port and then alphabetically by surname. Only from Vermont ports of entry: Alburg, Beecher Falls, Canaan, Highgate Springs, Island Pond, Norton, Richford, St. Albans, and Swanton.
  • Detroit District Manifest Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory: Arrivals at Detroit, Michigan, 1906–1954.(117 rolls; Family History Library films 1490449–565.) Only from Michigan ports of entry: Bay City, Detroit, Port Huron, and Sault Ste. Marie.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Brunvand, Jan Harold, Norwegian Settlers in Alberta. National Museum of Man, National Museum of Canada, Ottawa, 1974.
    No. 8 in the Mercury Series: Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies, details the project which studied the traditional culture and folklore of Norwegians settlers in the Camrose/New Norway/Viking area. Includes interviews with first to third generations.
  • Dempsey, Hugh A. (ed), The Rundle Journals—1840-1848. Historical Society of Alberta and Glenbow-Alberta Institute 1977.
  • Frieson, Gerald,The Canadian Prairies: A History. University of Toronto Press; Toronto and London, 1984.
  • Kaye, Vladimir, Dictionary of Ukrainian Canadian Biography of Pioneer Settlers of Alberta 1891-1900. Ukrainian Publishers Asson of Alberta, 1984.
    Recovered facts about Ukrainian families who came to Canada including family information about birth place, date of migration, place of settlement, marriage, children and time of death.
  • Krontki, Joanna E., Local Histories of Alberta: An Annotated Bibliography, 2nd ed. Department of Slavic and East European Studies, University of Alberta, and Central and East European Studies Society of Alberta, 1983.
    Published as part of the Monographs, Papers and Reports: Central and East European ethno-cultural Groups in Alberta Study Project, co-ordinated by T. Yedlin, this book is a valuable resource for seeking ancestors in rural Alberta. Local histories of all descriptions are listed alphabetically by author or society, with details on their contents. These are then cross-referenced through five Subject Indexes: by place name; by ethno-cultural and religious groups; church histories and denominations; school, college and university histories; and hospital histories. A title index and appendix follow. Although the 1983 publishing date misses anything printed after this date, it does include the plethora of local histories compiled during and following Canada’s centennial.
  • MacGregor, James, G., A History of Alberta. Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, Alberta, 1972.
  • Martynowych, Orest T., The Ukrainian Bloc Settlement in East Central Alberta, 1890-1930: A History. Alberta Culture, Historica Sites Service, Occasional Paper No. 10, 1985.
  • Palmer, Howard and Tamara (eds), Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity. Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1985.
    Details the settlement patterns of fifteen ethnic groups, including minorities such as Asians, Jews, and Blacks. Also looks at the settlement by Ontarians in Alberta.
  • Swyripa, Frances,The Ukrainian Bloc in East Central Alberta 1976 (Provincial Archives of Alberta Library).
    Report submitted to the Director, Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, Alberta Culture. Written in six small volumes, this report looks in detail at Ukrainian settlement in Alberta.
• Volume 1 describes history of immigration, geographical areas of Ukrainian concentration, settlement, language, religion and communities.
• Volume 2 describes communities along the Canadian National Railroad line (1905-1906) with businesses and economic development.
• Volume 3 describes communities along the Northern Alberta Railroad line (1917) with businesses and economic development.
• Volume 4 describes communities along the Canadian National Railroad line (1918-1919) (Edmonton to St. Paul des Métis) with businesses and economic development.
• Volume 5 describes communities along the Canadian Pacific Railroad line (1927-1928) with businesses and economic development.
• Volumes 2, 3, 4 and 5 include names of proprietors, churches, social and cultural organizations and activities.
• Volume 6 lists rural communities alphabetically.[2]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Borgstede, Arlene. "Alberta Immigration (National Institute)," National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012),
  2. Borgstede, Arlene. "Alberta Bibliography (National Institute)," National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012),