Chapter 1: The History of Settlement Services in Canada

Settlement Services

Specific Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to

  1. Summarize the historical context of settlement services in Canada
  2. Define milestones in the history of immigration in Canada

Introduction to Settlement and Immigration in Canada

From 2019 to 2021 the Canadian government  welcomed 300,000 immigrants. This number will increase to 401,000 to 421,000 from 2021 to 2023. More than 50% of this target has been allocated to “Federal economic, provincial/territorial nominees” as indicated in the 2021–2023 Immigration Plan chart that follows. Consequently, the value of immigration is not purely an esoteric endeavour to satisfy Canada’s ideological pursuit of building a multicultural nation. The value of immigration is a practical investment in the economic future of Canada (Campbell Cohen Law Firm, 2021; El-Assal & Thevenot, 2020).


Supplementary Information for the 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan, Overall Planned Permanent Resident Admissions chart row (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada [IRCC], 2021)

Restoring a Declining Population: The Impetus for Immigration in Canada

Immigration has been vital to the development of Canada to sustain steady economic growth.  Canada’s  population is aging, and it is not being replaced at the same rate that it is declining. The following video looks at the changes throughout Canada’s history and how the aging population has affected immigration strategies. The video also points out how the need for increased immigration has affected the cultural identity of Canada.

TEDx. (2013, October 23). The big shift – understanding the new Canadian: Darell Bricker at TedxToronto [Video]. YouTube.


Chart 1. Number of immigrants who landed annually in Canada, 1852 to 2014 (Statistics Canada, 2016)

Chart 1 (Statistics Canada, 2016) gives an overview of immigration over 150 years of Canadian history. By 2021, the number of immigrants had reached 300,000 (Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, 2019) and is targeted to reach 421,000 by 2023. Immigration from the 1850s to the 1880s was approximately 20,000 to 50,000. Compared to the immigration numbers of 2020 to 2021, there has been an increase of approximately 88% over a span of 143 years. To put this increase in immigration into perspective, consider that the population of Canada in the mid-1880s was 2.5 million compared to the population of Canada in 2021 of approximately 28 million (O’Neill, 2020).

Immigration rises and falls in step with the major turning points in history. Immigration peaked in the early 1900s during the Industrial Revolution. The early 1900s was a time of new inventions and the start of the mass production of goods in Canada. It was a time that spurred a level of growth that required more people to build the country’s infrastructure and industry. Canada’s population growth increased exponentially from 2.5 million in the mid-1800s to 5.5 million in 1900, an increase of 45% in 50 years (O’Neill, 2020).


Acknowledgement of Indigenous Peoples Prior to Settlement in Canada

It is of great importance to note that prior to settlement in Canada, the land was occupied by Indigenous Peoples in thriving communities from time immemorial. Wilson (2018) expands on the history of colonization in Canada:

Before the arrival of European explorers and traders, North America was occupied by Indigenous Peoples living and thriving with their own distinct cultures, languages, and ways of knowing. …In its early days, the relationship between European traders and Indigenous Peoples was mutually beneficial. However, as time went by and more European settlers arrived, the relationship between the two peoples became much more challenging. … When settlers arrived in North America, they regarded it as terra nullius, or “nobody’s land.” They simply ignored the fact that Indigenous Peoples had been living on these lands for thousands of years, with their own cultures and civilizations. (Colonization section, para. 1, 4, 5)

Read more about the history of colonialism that still affects Indigenous Peoples today in Chapter 2, Section G. Colonialism, Genocide, and Anti-Indigenous Racism.

This acknowledgement contains material taken from Pulling Together: Foundations Guide, Section 2: Colonization by Kory Wilson, and is used under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

Canada: New Exploration Leads to New Directions

Prior to documented immigration, the Italian explorer John Cabot or Giovanni Caboto landed on the traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island, known today as Canada, in 1497–1498. Giovanni Caboto was a navigator and explorer from Genoa, Italy. His destination was Asia, but Caboto decided to take a new route, heading west instead of east. He thought he was taking a shortcut to Asia, but his ship landed in a very different location (Biography Editors, 2020). His voyage led to the colonization of what was initially referred to as the “New World,” and later became known as Canada.

Caboto’s journey laid the foundation for the subsequent settlement in Canada of people from English- and French-speaking countries such as England, Ireland, Scotland, and France, and the predominant languages of Canada spoken by the original settler communities thus became English and French. Most of these immigrants left with limited resources other than life skills and experiences acquired in their countries of origin.


Did You Know?

The history of settlement in Canada started long before Canada became a country. Although Giovanni Caboto was the most notable explorer who was considered the “first” to have arrived in Canada, there were many others (dating as far back as the 11th century) who may have landed before.

Watch the CBC series Canada: the Story of Us, episode 2 (44:29), which features the early explorers:


CBC. (2017, April 9). Hunting treasure | Canada: The story of us, full episode 2 [Video]. YouTube.

The settlement of Canada, started during the British–French conflicts from 1600 (Canadian Museum of History, n.d.) to the 1750s. This was long before the surge in immigration in the early 1900s. The need for adventure influenced explorers and traders to venture out to North America in the 1700s and 1800s. Eventually, many British and French citizens decided to set out to Canada to establish better lives for themselves. The wave of immigration to Canada in the 1900s was influenced by the collapse of social structures in European countries.

Throughout Canada’s history, including the 1900s, the push to increase immigration was driven by the demands of the Canadian economy. Canada was an attractive destination because of the growing economy and the quality-of-life opportunities that were absent in Europe. Immigrants were attracted to the Yukon Gold Rush, the development of the continental railway across Canada, the offer of land for farming, and the establishment of government policies that promoted immigration. The opportunity to live in a free, fair, and just society that offered economic opportunities to people of diverse backgrounds has transcended generations of immigrants who make their way to Canada.

In the TEDx Talk Why Canadian history isn’t as boring as you think it is (16:11), presenter Chris Turner gives an overview of early Canadian history. The Yukon Gold Rush is highlighted as an interesting piece of history that changes the perception that Canada’s history is neither memorable nor interesting.


TEDx Talks. (2013, July 16). Why Canadian history isn’t as boring as you think it is: Chris Turner at TEDxYYC [Video]. YouTube.


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Canadian Settlement in Action: History and Future Copyright © 2021 by NorQuest College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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