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A Brief History of the Toronto Emigrant Office

In the 1780s, well before the existence of the emigrant office, the British Army played a role in assisting Loyalist refugees from the United States.

Watercolour: Encampment of the Loyalists in Johnstown, a new settlement on the banks of the River St. Lawrence, in Canada West, August 12, 1925

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Encampment of the Loyalists at Johnstown, a New Settlement, on the Banks of the River St. Laurence in Canada, taken June 6th 1784 (copy by J. R. Simpson, August 12, 1925, after original by James Peachey, National Gallery of Canada accession # 42320),
Reference Code: RG 2-344-0-0-89,
Archives of Ontario, I0003081

In the nineteenth century, the Military Settling Department at Quebec, under British orders, assisted new immigrants until it was disbanded in 1822. Assistance was also given under the authority of the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada (Ontario), and, after the Office of the Commissioner of Crown Lands was established in 1827, crown land agents helped new immigrants as one aspect of their work. As specialized emigration agents were appointed, they took over these responsibilities.

Photo: Yachts at Camp Headlaw, [ca. 1875]
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Yachts at Camp Headlaw, [ca. 1875]
William Barrow
Black and white print
Reference Code: F 4398-0-0-0-36
Archives of Ontario, I0009587

From 1828, the emigrant agent at Quebec, Alexander Carlisle Buchanan Sr., acted on behalf of Upper Canada in that port. Sir John Colborne, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, was convinced, however, that Buchanan could not single-handedly provide sufficient services for Upper Canada from his office in distant Quebec. He gave his instructions for the reception of immigrants within Upper Canada to the Commissioner of Crown Lands. During the heavy immigration of 1831 and 1832, the needs of immigrants took up much of the attention of crown land agents.

The first emigrant office in Upper Canada was opened in 1833 in Toronto, headed by AB Hawke. Hawke reported to Colborne's Civil Secretary and, as Chief Agent, had the authority to appoint and instruct agents under him.

It is not totally clear which communities other than Toronto, Kingston, and Hamilton had proper "offices" as such, but Hawke received reports from agents in Ottawa, Port Hope, Peterborough, Cobourg, Prescott, and other locations at various times.

At first, the connections between the Emigrant Office and the Office of the Commissioner of Crown Lands were fairly close, as indicated by financial and other records. In later times, the two offices seem to have been less closely associated, though the Crown Lands Department continued to play a limited role in the promotion of immigration for many years.

Print: Governor General Lord Sydenham
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Lord Sydenham, [ca. 1850]
Engraver Unknown. Ontario Legislative
Library print collection.
Reference Code: RG 49-33-0-0-29
Archives of Ontario, I0009132

In 1838, Governor General Lord Sydenham placed another A. C. Buchanan (the nephew of the first) above Hawke in the chain of command, thus uniting the agents for Lower and Upper Canada under his control. While such a structure was theoretically in place, Hawke in fact continued to report almost exclusively to the Lieutenant-Governor's Civil Secretary for the next few years. It appears that the agents for Lower and Upper Canada still operated rather independently.

After the union of Upper and Lower Canada into the province of Canada in 1841, a single immigrant agency was created, and Buchanan at last presided over Hawke and the other agents of Canada West in practice as well as theory. Hawke reported to and took orders from Buchanan (though he also continued to report to the Civil Secretary and later the Provincial Secretary until the early 1850s).

As Buchanan was based in Canada East, Hawke still maintained a leadership role among Canada West agents. Accounts for all agents were submitted to Buchanan and paid by the provincial government. The Quebec office was made the official headquarters for the agency in 1842.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the imperial government played a major role in matters relating to immigration. The province of Canada gained substantial autonomy in establishing its own immigration policy from about 1848, but the imperial ties persisted. Buchanan's annual report was sent to the Colonial Office in London until 1854. In that year, the British government made its last grant to supplement the province's spending on immigrants.

In 1852 or 1853, the Emigrant Office (also referred to as the "Emigration Office") was placed under the Bureau of Agriculture, but during this decade, the bureau relied on Buchanan to administer the agency to a large degree. Hawke continued to take orders from and report to Buchanan, though he also consulted occasionally with the Minister of Agriculture on matters such as approval of staff appointments and budgets.

Emigrant Passage Ticket
Emigrant Passage Ticket
Reference Code: RG 11-3-0-3
Archives of Ontario

The Bureau of Agriculture became a full-fledged department in 1862, and the Emigration Office was now better integrated as part of the Department of Agriculture and Statistics. Hawke's letterbooks show, however, that Buchanan was still influential in the running of day-to-day operations. Hawke and his successor, J. A. Donaldson, still continued to report to Buchanan as well as to the Minister of Agriculture.

With the passage of the British North America Act of 1867, the provinces of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were united to form the Dominion of Canada. Under this Act, the federal and provincial governments shared responsibility for immigration. At both levels of government, the agencies responsible for immigration were placed under the respective departments of agriculture. Ontario's Immigration Branch was established as part of the Department of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Public Works in 1869.

Photo: Steamer "Maude" at dock, [ca. 1875]
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Steamer "Maud." at dock, [ca. 1875]
William Barrow
Black and white print
Reference Code: F 4398-0-0-0-25
Archives of Ontario, I0009576

In 1874 a new Department of Immigration under a Commissioner of Immigration replaced the Immigration Branch. This department was responsible for promoting emigration to Ontario from offices established in Europe, as well as aiding newly-arrived immigrants. The last report submitted by the Department of Immigration to the Legislative Assembly was for the year 1899. By 1900, the department had been replaced by the Bureau of Colonization (part of the Department of Crown Lands).