||Newcomers to Canada
This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 8 The Great Enterprise
1840 to 1850 was marked by expanded immigration to Canada. Hundreds of thousands of people streamed into the country in search of a better life. Among them were Blacks fleeing slavery and seeking the freedom that had been denied them in the United States for generations.
The Fugitive Slave Act, an American law passed in 1850, permitted pro-slavery states to arrest and extradite any and all fugitive slaves and accomplices in the crime. The passage of this controversial bill drove many Blacks, free and slave, to cross the border into Canada where slavery had been outlawed, to ensure their personal liberty. Black men and women found free communities in Ontario, notably Amherstburg and Dresden.
Other Blacks moved to Toronto to start their new lives. They encountered suspicion and hostility, but also celebrated the emergence of their distinctive identities. Josiah Henson set up the community of Dawn and became a fundraiser for a vocational school he founded to educate the largely illiterate fugitive slave population. Mary Ann Shadd, a free Black from Delaware, settled in Chatham and established a school in Windsor and published a newspaper, The Provincial Freeman.
Nearly simultaneously, another wave of immigrants arrived from Ireland. The Irish sought refuge from starvation and their landlords who had driven them from their homesteads. They endured filthy, disease-infested cargo vessels on their long trek overseas. Those who survived settled in working-class districts of cities or sought work on the land. Orphans who survived were given up for adoption.
Among the Irish immigrants was Thomas D'Arcy McGee, a journalist. He immigrated to North America in 1842, then returned to Ireland where he incited his compatriots to revolt. When he came back to Canada in 1857, he was elected to the legislature. McGee advocated setting aside old-world attitudes and hatreds for a fresh new nationality rooted in tolerance and respect. McGee would go on to become a member of the Great Coalition built at the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences and one of the Fathers of Confederation. He was assassinated in Ottawa in January, 1868, by a Fenian.