Immigrant settlers from the United States crossing the prairies, heading for available wheat fields in Alberta, 1906

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Boom Years: 1901-1913

"Immigrant settlers from the United States crossing the prairies, heading for available wheat fields in Alberta, 1906" (11553 National Archives of Canada)

These years witnessed the greatest percentage increase in Canada's total population. Between the census years there was a 34.2 per cent increase in Canada's total population from nearly 5.4 million in 1901 to 7.2 million in 1911. In 1913 alone an all time peak of 400,870 people entered Canada. 28 per cent of immigrants from overseas between 1904 and 1914 stated that they were coming to Canada with the intention of farming.

Settlers came to the prairies in large numbers. Some historians suggest the closing of the American frontier was responsible, as thousands of settlers headed for the United States were now diverted towards Canada, "the last best west." This development coincided with an increase in the price of grain and fodder and a decrease in the cost of consumer goods, agricultural machinery and building supplies. Ocean freight rates for bulky products, wheat for example, declined. Also, quick-maturing wheat strains and dry-land farming techniques made farmland west of Manitoba more viable. New branch railways increased settlement area and provided a means for farmers to export their products.

Not all of the immigrants who arrived between these years stayed. Many must have returned home disappointed or went south to the United States as of the nearly 1.8 million who came between 1901 and 1911, just over 1 million left.


During these years eastern Canada industrialized and urbanized. In terms of Western Canada's urbanization by 1901 British Columbia was already 50.48 per cent urban, Manitoba was 26.89 per cent urban, and Alberta was 37.88 per cent urban. By 1911 these numbers had slightly increased to 51.9 per cent in British Columbia, 38.07 per cent in Alberta, and most dramatically to 43.43 per cent in Manitoba.

What these figures do not reveal is the preponderance of small incorporated towns and villages on the prairie landscape, as opposed to the large manufacturing centres of the east. After 1900 at least 600 towns, with many villages in between, came into existence in the West. All of these centres existed primarily to serve the agricultural needs of prairie inhabitants. With the exception of Winnipeg, which was by 1911 the largest manufacturing city in Western Canada, the manufacturing centres envisioned by eastern politicians and business interests before the turn of the century had not come about.

The War Years

The beginning of World War I in 1914 effectively halted immigration to Canada. Racism towards certain 'enemy' immigrant groups increased at this time. Germans and Austro-Hungarians were required to register with the Canadian government, and some groups from the enemy German, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish Empires were interned during the war.

The Peopling of Canada: 1891-1921 / The Applied History Research Group / The University of Calgary

Questions for consideration:

  1. In the second line what is meant by the word ‘census ’?

  1. Interview of immigrants

  2. Interview of refugees

  3. Survey of the citizens of a country

  4. Survey of immigrants and emigrants

  1. What is meant by the statement; ‘they were coming to Canada with the intention of farming”?

  1. Immigrants were not going to farm

  2. Immigrants were planning on coming to a major city

  3. Immigrants were planning on farming when they came to Canada to make a living

  4. Immigrants were planning on working in industry

  1. Of all the people who came to Canada between 1901 and 1911, how many left?

  1. Just over 1 million

  2. 1.8 million

  3. 7.2 million

  4. 400, 870

  1. What is the main idea of the sub-paragraph titled “Urban/Rural”?

  1. What is an enemy immigrant?

  1. Which people were considered enemies? Why do you think they were thought of that way?

  1. What does it mean in the last sentence that people were ‘interned during the war’?

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