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Immigrant experiences in postwar Canada

The Story


An Italian woman remembers weeping and clutching her child after arriving in Toronto, only to be told there were no jobs. A Ukrainian man was happy to find himself toiling on a Winnipeg farm. A Portuguese-Canadian business owner remembers the shock he felt at drinking milk, not wine, with his meal. In this radio retrospective, immigrants look back on their experiences as part of the wave of newcomers to Canada's shores after the Second World War. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Identities
Broadcast Date: Oct. 23, 1977
Host: Warren Davis
Reporter: Mietta Pagella
Duration: 8:58
Photo: National Archives of Canada PA-129829

Did You know?


• Immediately after the Second World War, Canada's immigration policy remained highly restrictive, despite strong signals that the economy needed an injection of workers.
• In July 1946, Canada agreed to a British request to take in 3,000 Polish soldiers who had fought as allies. Prime Minister Mackenzie King later agreed to also accept European refugees and "displaced persons" -- people who were chased from, or fled, their homelands and could not go back after the war.

• The immigration wave really began in 1947 when King announced a liberalization of Canada's immigration rules. The government's new policy, he said, was to "foster the growth of the population of Canada by the encouragement of immigration." The change of heart paved the way for hundreds of thousands of Europeans to enter Canada over the subsequent decade.

• King, however, added a caveat -- "the racial and national balance of immigration would be regulated to preserve the fundamental character of the Canadian population." Immigration from Asia would continue to be restricted.

• In the late 1940s, half of all Canadians were of British or Irish descent; 31 per cent were of French descent.

• Annual immigration to Canada:
-- 1944: 12,000
-- 1948: 125,000
-- 1957: 282,000 (the end of the post-war immigration boom)

• Postwar newcomers included Italians, Britons, Dutch, Poles, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and European Jews. Watch a German family make its way to Toronto in 1954.

• Many immigrants found work, at least initially, as farmers, labourers and domestics.

• Further liberalization of Canada's immigration laws, including a new Immigration Act in 1952, dramatically expanded the regions from which Canada would draw new citizens, including the Far East and South Asia.

• "The new migrants affected the texture of Canadian life ... Toronto in particular became a genuinely multiracial and multicultural society, while in Montreal the immigrants, who generally wanted to learn English and work in that language, appeared to threaten the demographic dominance of the francophones. In Vancouver the long-established communities of Chinese and East Indians were reinforced and many other ethnic backgrounds were represented ...": Canada Since 1945 by Robert Bothwell, Ian Drummond and John English (1989).


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