THE IMMIGRATION STORY
The arrival in 1761 of men from Fraser's Highlanders Regiment at La
Malbaie.They were amongst Canada's first Scottish settlers. (Courtesy Library and Archives Canada C-040583)
There are many misconceptions about Scottish emigration to Canada. Some commentators prefer the stereotype of the
impoverished Scottish emigrants being forced to emigrate. They were always the helpless victims of economic destitution, landlord oppression and government heartlessness. However, the reality was
quite different. Most emigrant Scots left of their own free will and financed their crossing themselves. While there was some compulsion, particularly during the period of the infamous Highland
Clearances, the main driving force was economic self-betterment. Far from being powerless victims, most emigrants planned their departure carefully and were highly knowledgeable on the economic
advantages which Canada offered. Here is a summary of some of the key points:
The Scottish Perspective
- Scots were particularly well represented in the early phase of British immigration which began in the late 18th century.
From the beginning, they were strongly associated with enterprise and entrepreneurial activity, being in the forefront of the timber trade.
- Although Scotland experienced unparalleled economic growth in the 19th century, there was widespread destitution caused by
the demise of traditional jobs and the introduction of more modern farming methods. Faced with a choice between a job in the manufacturing Lowlands and emigrating, many Scots opted for a new life in
- The Scottish influx to Canada grew slowly. Before 1816 emigration had been seen as an unwelcome development; landlords and
the British government, fearing the loss of economic and military manpower, mobilised anti-emigration campaigns in an attempt to minimise the exodus. However, attitudes changed dramatically with the
worsening economic conditions which followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1816. In this new economic and political climate emigration was seen less as a threat and more as a cure for the
nation's social ills.
- Because many Scots received financial assistance to emigrate, they are widely perceived as having been coerced to leave
Scotland rather than freely opting for Canada. However, far from regarding themselves as hapless victims, they had a remarkable knowledge of the opportunities which Canada had to offer and were
highly selective in their settlement choices.
- Highlanders and Islanders were highly acclaimed as successful pioneers, being ideally suited to the harsh conditions and
privations which had to be endured by the first wave of immigrants. Once established they generally attracted large numbers of followers from their homeland regions.
- Most Scots crossed the Atlantic in good ships under experienced sea captains. The popular depiction of leaky and
sub-standard vessels is simply not borne out by the evidence.