Is Canada An Immigration Sieve?

JOHN A. STEVENSON February 15 1923

Is Canada An Immigration Sieve?

JOHN A. STEVENSON February 15 1923

MR. SAMUEL JOHNSON once said that the finest view in Scotland was the high road into England, and to-day it seems as if the roads and railways southward across the international boundary are the most attractive objects that many Canadian eyes can see.

Yet this southward trek is an old tale in our history. More than a century ago Simcoe and other early governors were complaining that they could not keep British settlers out of the more prosperous republic to the south, and in the thirties and forties there were many plaintive murmurs that Canada was merely a sieve for immigrants. In the nineties Laurier found deadly ammunition in the scale of the emigration which was then in progress, and Liberal orators were wont to draw gloomy pictures of "the trails southward out of Manitoba worn bare by settlers fleeing in disgust from the consequences of a Tory regime.”

But at the end of last century the development of the west wrought a change; restless Ontarians who would otherwise have gone to Iowa or the Dakotas turned their steps towards Saskatchewan and Alberta, and a vast tide of immigration set in for our shores. It reached its peak in 1913 when 402,432 immigrants entered our gates and bade fair to go on indefinitely till the Great War intervened. Its results upon the population problem have been far reaching. In the year just ended the 75,000 odd immigrants whom we secured did not make good our losses by emigration—a dismal fact.

Now the war upset more things than the throne of Wilhelm II. Its blood-letting ended the surplusage of population which had driven thousands across the Atlantic and the destruction of the feudal system in Eastern Europe satiated a land hunger which had given Western Canada so many hardy homesteaders.

But a more serious consequence was that it upset the economic equilibrium which had made the settlement and cultivation of the prairies of western Canada profitable. These regions were not peopled by high-hearted Kiplingesque pioneers anxious to challenge the wilderness for their private sport and amusement. They would still be left to Indians, trappers and a few ranchers if there had not in the last century accumulated in Europe vast masses of industrial population whose food demands far exceeded the local supplies and had to be sought elsewhere. A hundred years ago the Red River settlers were growing fine crops of grain, but its export was unprofitable until the increase of the European demand, coupled with an increase in domestic consumption in the United States, whose exportable surplus thereby grew less, altered the situation. Grain growing for export purposes became a profitable venture in our west and the prairie provinces were equipped with elaborate physical machinery on the pleasant assumption that the European demand would be permanently maintained at the same level.

But the war and the peace which followed laid an axe at the root of these cheerful calculations. The delicate fabric of European industrialism has been sadly shattered, some people think beyond repair, and far and wide on that continent there has taken place a fall in the standard of living which has inevitably lessened the demand for imported food products. In 1918 the European consumption of food was only seventy per cent of the prewar level and production was at the same ratio. The United States Department of Commerce last year estimated that European consumption has improved to eighty-five per cent, of the pre-war standard, but simultaneously European agriculture has also been recovering. having gained 400.000.000 bushels last year.

Will Wheat Drop to Fifty Cents a Bushel?

IN THE years immediately following the war the elimaination of Russia, which used to export 300 million bushels of grain each year, and the lessened production of many European countries like Roumania, kept up the demand for wheat from exporting countries outside Europe. But as European agriculture began to recover, prices in the great world markets sagged steadily and they have now reached a level which the western farmers deem quite unprofitable. To-day they are gloomy and peevish, but what will their mood be if Russia recovers rapidly and resumes her old role of a grain-exporting country? If by that time Central Europe has not also emerged from its present chaos, No. 1 Northern may be selling in Winnipeg at 50 cents a bushel. It is a contingency which cannot be dismissed as an idle dream.

It is, however, the European chaos which accounts for the failure of the most abundant crop in our history to give anything more than a tiny stimulus to the recovery of real prosperity. Inevitably great disappointment has ensued, for the crop seemed to herald the beginning of that golden age which we were assured by august tongues must inevitably, after a few readjustments had been made, follow the end of the war which “scotched militarism and made democracy safe.” It is the European chaos and its worsening tendencies which to-day act as a damper on the perennial optimism of the west. Often before when crops have failed and real estate booms have been in their death throes, early winter has seen the western brow clouded over, but hope and courage always returned with the approach of spring. To-day, in February, Jeremiahs abound in the land, their wailings fill the heavens and they are not sternly suppressed as of yore.

Now, the jeremiads could be endured if they did not generate a spirit of discontent and pessimism which destroyed the self-confidence and springs of hope so essential to success in the struggles of pioneer life. There is little realization that hardships are only relative, and bad though the plight of many Canadian farmers may be, it is sheer blessedness compared with the fate of thousands and thousands of British artisans who have been tramping the streets of grimy towns in a vain search for work and seeing their families eke out a bare existence on state doles.

That Southern Exodus

HOWEVER, the cult of pessimism about Canada’s future has spread far and wide and its fruits are reflected in an accumulation of evidence that a southward exodus on an alarming scale has been in progress for the last six months. It comes from a multiplicity of quarters. One western member tells of a train whereon were thirty families hurrying in concert from Alberta to California, where they were going to try a fresh bout with fortune on a new irrigated area. Another claims that the southern half of his riding has lost forty per cent, of its population in the past year, and a third pessimistic parliamentarian tells of a locality where a count of families lately departed from the neighbourhood reached two score and ten. A great migration surely. In Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, where lately there was an acute house famine, the loss of population has changed landlords from supercilious tyrants to gracious suppliants. From the Maritime provinces fifty families per week are said to be moving to the New England States, and at the other end of the country Colonel W. B. Forster, of Vancouver, declares that the province has lost 177,000 people by emigration in the last decade, although the Vancouver Province challenges his figures.

But perhaps the most deadly evidence of all comes from the customs returns which show that in the year ending December 31, whereas the value of imports under the head of “settlers’ effects” total $6,195,569, the parallel exports reached $7,832,052. This clear loss on the balance is a most disconcerting novelty.

But little further proof of the existence of a steady exodus is needed beyond the latest census figures. In 1911 the population was officially estimated at 7,206,463. In the succeeding decade 1,975,000 people entered our gates and the natural increment should normally have been 1,800,000. Making the fullest allowance for losses of the war, the census of 1921, if Canada had retained all her native born increment and her immigrants, should have reached a total of ten and a half millions. But the actual figures as given by the Bureau of Statistics are 8,769,489. Lord Shaughnessy is therefore correct in maintaining that not only have we lost all our immigrants of the last decade, but have failed to maintain the increase due to natural accretion.

It is difficult to keep track of our lost citizens because Ottawa, unlike Washington, does not indulge in emigration statistics. But the Washington records are available and as published in the Toronto Telegram show that between 1911 and 1921 the United States received 820,469 immigrants from Canada. The movement southward reached its peak in 1917 when 105,395 people entered the United States from Canada, but in 1920 and 1921 the official figures were little short of 100,000. The accuracy of these figures is seriously disputed on the ground that many transient travellers are included, but even if a third were deducted on this account the leakage would be very serious.

The Lure of Opportunity

THE causes of this emigration are numerous and most of them not new. Lately the discovery was made that fifteen per cent, of the graduates of the University of Toronto were living in the United States and a similar proportion of Mr. Drury’s classmates at Barrie Collegiate are likewise in exile. Is is true that the records of Edinburgh and Glasgow universities would show a similar proportion of their alumni located south of the Tweed, but there is the material difference that they would still be citizens of the same state.

To young, able and ambitious men a great and populous community like the United States must always offer opportunities which are not available in smaller societies of less diversified texture and it is difficult to blame young men who succumb to the lure. But of late with us their number has become dangerously large, and many of them can ill be spared. Bryce Stewart was one of the ablest officials of the Labor Department in Ottawa and the mainspring of the system of employment exchange which was established in 1919. To-day he is in Chicago drawing about twice as much, as the employment expert of the United Garment Workers of America. Professor W. C. Clark was one of the cleverest of our younger economists, but Queen’s University could only pay him a pittance and he is now earning $10,000 per annum as the economic expert for a large bond house in Chicago. When Vere Brown, western superintendent of the Bank of Commerce, joined the staff of the National City Bank in New York a few years ago he soon drew after him some of the brightest members of Winnipeg’s younger banking fraternity.

The list could be multiplied indefinitely and is not likely ever to be closed. In many spheres of life we cannot hope to offer the salaries and prizes which can be won in the United States, but what we can and must do is to establish and maintain a reasonable standard of remuneration for people engaged in the professions, the universities and public service. To-day they do promise rewards which look very attractive to ambitious Europeans who take a dark view of Europe’s future, but while they may fill the gaps caused by our losses to the United States, they can never fully compensate for the departure of the flower of our native stock. If it is persistently drained away the results are bound to be disastrous.

Painters and plumbers can be replaced, but if Dr. Saunders, the inventor of Marquis wheat, had been allured to the United States thirty years ago millions of dollars might have been lost to western Canada, and a research student of the calibre of Dr. Banting, the discoverer of insulin, is not bred every week. The sum of the matter is that if we are to keep in the country the adequate number of educated and professional men whose presence is indispensable to the health and efficiency of any society, we must ensure the prevalence of a general level of prosperity which will enable the payment of adequate remuneration commensurate with the maintenance of a good social position.

That New Immigration Law

IN THE end therefore the same causes which take able public officials and economists south of the line take away William Jones of the local Painters’ Union or that staunch agrarian Peter Mactavish of N1/2 14-8-23 W.3. But to-day there is a special cause which takes William Jones and his brethern south of the line. Last year there came into operation in the United States an immigration measure known as the Dillingham law; it prescribed that into the United States there should enter from each European country a quota of immigrants not more than three per cent, of the total number of the nationals of that country already living under the Stars and Stripes. Its immediate effect was to check the flow of immigration from Europe. It worked great hardships on individuals, but it produced a scarcity of labor and a rise in wages for the working classes. Then last summer there came a sharp revival of industrial activity in the United States and in places like Chicago and Los Angeles a veritable building boom developed. Wages rose and still the supply of skilled labor soon fell far short of the demand.

Tales began to filter north, to the ears of Canadian bricklayers, carpenters and plasterers of wages at $8 to $10 per day and the prospects of steady work throughout the winter under warmer skies, with cheaper coal bills. Labor recruiting agents spread the news and among our skilled artisans a steady southward exodus set in.

Take the town of Amherst, in Nova Scotia, long a thriving industrial centre. One of its star establishments has been the plant of the Canadian Car and Foundry Company, but for months it has been running on very short time and the local workers have lived on short commons. Who can blame them if dozens of them have now gone to steady work at decent wages in Boston or Springfield, Mass.? Some of these industrial wild geese will return to their ancient haunts, but many will stay with the cheaper coal bills and be lost to Canada forever.

Yet as long as the Dillingham law remains in force and shuts out all but a limited number of European immigrants, the drain of our skilled artisans is likely to continue, for the quota rule does not apply to Canada. One result will probably be an increase in our immigration returns next year, for the word will spread in Europe that Canada is a most convenient back door whereby the great Elysium called the United States can easily be entered.

Why the Farmers Flit

BUT it is no Dillingham law or building boom that is taking active farmers southward from the plains of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The motives which cause them to flit are many and varied. Some grow tired of the severity of the winter and others of the monotony of the landscape. The western winter has many pleasant aspects, but it would be folly to deny its rigors and minimise the keen dislike which many incomers feel for it. Only a limited number of English people who were born south of the River Trent will ever be really happy in the prairie provinces of Canada, and the natives of milder climes simply will not stay there. As long ago as 1769 Lord Dorchester, the Governor-General of the day, was writing to Lord Shelburne in these terms: “The Europeans who migrate never will prefer the long, inhospitable winters of Canada to the more cheerful climates and more fruitful soil of His Majesty’s southern provinces.”

The conditions of colonization have completely changed from the days when Ontario was settled. The immigrants of that epoch were forced by circumstances to become real home-builders; even if they had the means, travel and movement of property were difficult. Few of them ever expected to return to their native land and they planned their lives and work on the basis of permanent settlement in the new world.

Sir Andrew Macphail has a theory that once a race or an individual migrates and leaves its original home, it acquires a habit which it cannot shake off. It explains in his eyes why every year troops of the youth of Prince Edward Island leave that Arcadian isle to seek fresh pastures often less luscious than their own. But to-day if an immigrant does not find conditions exactly as he pictured them and if fate does not smile kindly upon his initial ventures, he can easily move on elsewhere and too often he moves before he has given the new life a fair trial.

For this reason if our captains of finance and industry want to see a stable and prosperous population in the western provinces and all our rural districts, they must not levy too severe a toll for their services and reduce to a disheartening level the financial gains which might have reconciled the immigrant to his initial trials and the severance from old associations. In many cases the farmers who have thrown up homesteads in our western provinces to try their luck in Oregon or Texas find they have been chasing a rainbow and that the plagues and trials of the pioneer vary in kind but not in severity, according to his location. But rarely do they come back to the place which they left; they move on to some new Eldorado, Mexico or New Zealand.

The Remedies

OBVIOUSLY while an exodus on a serious scale is in progress, expenditure on immigration schemes is sheer waste of money, and it is equally plain that a country burdened with such heavy fixed charges as ours cannot afford any great loss from a population already far too sparse. What remedies can be devised?

First of all, our political leaders can be made to unlearn one of their present deep convictions that foreign affairs do not matter unless they happen near at home. They can be made to realize that a settlement of the European chaos must be a prelude to the revival of any real and permanent prosperity for Canada, and be driven to take an active interest in promoting that settlement. The people and politicians of America are slowly learning this lesson and we must do likewise.

Parliament can give some remedies for notorious abuses which afflict the primary producer in this country, but its power is limited. The real remedy must come from the producers themselves. Our systems of marketing the products of the farm are still antiquated and faulty and the establishment of a genuine co-operative system such as has been achieved in Denmark and scores of other places would bring great gains. It would also knit the rural communities together in social ties, which people would be loath to break. Real co-operation has made considerable headway in Ontario and Nova Scotia, but in the west where it is needed most its progress has been hampered by the existence of some pseudo-co-operative organizations whose directors so far have either lacked the wits or desire to construct a real co-operative fabric.

Drudgery on the farms can be lightened in many directions by the utilization of electricity and it can be brightened by the exercise of some imagination and mutual sacrifice. There is no reason why every village in Canada should not have a community centre which would be a nucleus for a new social atmosphere in the locality.

Most of our politicians are cumbered, like Martha, with much serving, and have little time to give to such problems. Moreover, in the ultimate, the control of our present system resides elsewhere. On the boards of our various banks sit more than one hundred of the leaders of industry and finance, and yet it is said that only one of them is a genuine “dirt” farmer.

Meeting the Situation

BUT the success and prosperity of their institutions must in the end depend upon the checking of the present exodus, and it cannot be checked till a revival of rural prosperity keeps our farmers on their farms and generates a keener demand for urban products. Why should not our bank directors combine to set up a Rural Development Commission which would investigate all the problems bound up in the emigration question from a scientific point of view, make recommendations and see that they are carried out? There are two ways of securing reforms—under the one method they are forced by agitation from below and under the other way they come from the spontaneous action of the intelligent and propertied classes when wisely led, they realize that delay in introducing reforms spells grave disaster. Here are our farmers grumbling that they cannot sell their products at a decent price and here are thousands of English artisans unable to buy decent food. Is it totally beyond the province of statesmanship that the two problems should not be tackled together and a complementary solution found?