Canadian colonization companies: an introduction

2014 McClure blog post canada ocean arrival 1923

One of the best things about working on the reference desk at the New England Historic Genealogical Society is that each new patron brings new challenges. Often new discoveries come with these challenges that I can use down the road to assist another patron. Such an event happened recently. (Click on the images to expand them.)

In assisting a woman with her Hungarian relatives, one of whom came to the United States by way of a few years in Canada, we reviewed some of the records the patron had discovered before coming to NEHGS, including the “Declaration of Passenger to Canada” form (above left) that her great-grandmother filled out when she arrived in Canada in 1923. Like many arrival records there were specific questions about origins, the reason for coming to the country, whether the visitor intended to remain in the country, and who paid for passage. However, in the question devoted to where the immigrant was destined (within Canada), there appeared a cryptic notation: Gelly Colonization Dèpartment Canada Governament [sic].

Though spelled differently, the patron said the phrase made her mind turn to jelly, as in preserves. And I have to admit I was headed that way myself. But then I was wondering what the colonization department was. In digging deeper, because I absolutely hate to leave a question unanswered, I did what any good researcher would do – I turned to Google. In the search field I typed in: gelly colonization winnipeg

2014 McClure blog post winnipegtribune 26 aug 1917 p1 col 2About six hits down on the first page of Google’s search results, I discovered a link to a item from the 27 August 1917 issue of The Winnipeg Tribune which actually dealt with the discovery of two runaway girls, but within the article there was mention of “Thomas Gelly, Dominion immigration official.”  On this same page, in a different news item, there was mentioned a man named H.H. Hinch who was president of the Manitoba Colonization company.

2014 McClure blog post winnipegtribune 26 aug 1917 p1 col 3

When researching immigration into the United States, especially by the 1900s, one should remember there were laws that had been enacted to prevent immigrants from having been promised a job to entice them to emigrate – contract labor laws. These were designed to protect the immigrants as well as protect those already in the United States from having their jobs given to newly arriving, and probably lower paid, foreign workers. So the idea that there were companies to entice immigrants to come and work was something new to me.

It appears that in addition to making promises of pay and jobs in England, there were similar announcements and possibly even enticements to encourage farming immigrants to venture to the western Canadian provinces.

As someone who enjoys learning about emigration processes and enticements as well as immigration rules and requirements, this opened a new avenue of research for myself – in my spare time – as the patron and I returned to her question. However, it was just another example of why genealogy and family history are such a great hobby. It seems that there is always a new opportunity to learn more about your favorite subjects with a field full of potential projects.

So you can expect to find me trolling the internet and searching more newspapers, as well as manuscript catalogs and university catalogs in Winnipeg, to see what else I can learn with regard to these colonization companies. It could explain why certain ethnicities such as Hungarians, Italians, and Germans, to name just a few, immigrated to specific areas of Canada. And I am intrigued by the idea that Canada was offering jobs and actively encouraging immigration in a period of time when the United States seemed to fear it.

Rhonda McClure

About Rhonda McClure

Rhonda R. McClure, Genealogist, is a nationally recognized professional genealogist and lecturer specializing in New England and celebrity research as well as computerized genealogy; is compiler of more than 120 celebrity family trees; has been a contributing editor for Heritage Quest Magazine, Biography magazine and was a contributor to The History Channel Magazine and American History Magazine. In addition to numerous articles, she is the author of ten books, including the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition, Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors, and Digitizing Your Family History.View all posts by Rhonda McClure