Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 1983


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 4, Fall 1983, pp. 219-33.


Copyright 1983 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Immigration historians in Canada and the United States are becoming aware of the need to look at immigration history within the larger context of North American history. Canadian immigration patterns have been affected, indirectly, almost as much by American immigration policy as by Canadian policy. Within many ethnic groups in North America, there has been a significant exchange of people and cultural patterns between Canada and the United States. Marcus Lee Hansen and John Brebner first looked at the interchange of people between Canada and the United States in their pioneering work, The Mingling of the Canadian and American Peoples, but this study has not been followed up in any concerted way, despite the many gaps they left.

Hansen and Brebner discuss the movement of more than half a million Americans (mainly from the American Midwest) to the Canadian prairies at the turn of the twentieth century. One important feature of this movement that they do not highlight is the extent to which it included European immigrants and their children who had settled earlier in the United States but decided to move on as new opportunities opened up in Canada. The Hrst sizable settlements of Hungarians, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Czechs, Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Swedes, Icelanders, Dutch, Welsh, and Hutterites on the Canadian prairies did not come directly from Europe but from communities in the United States where members of their ethnic groups were located.

Given the large number of ethnic groups involved and the primitive state of research on many of them, it is not yet possible to synthesize the history of these migrating people. One would like to know what motivated each of them to leave the United States, what their perceptions of Canada were, how they reconciled loyalties to three different countries (their homeland, Canada, and the United States), and the extent to which they maintained contact with their fellow countrymen in the United States once they arrived in Canada. To what extent did their previous residence in the United States precondition them for a successful adaptation in Canada? How many of these twice-transplanted people became disillusioned with pioneering conditions on the Canadian prairies and returned to settlements of their countrymen in the United States?