Two bison on the prairie

By 1875 bison (also called buffalo) were on the verge of disappearing from the Canadian West. By 1889 only 635 buffalo remained in North America. At the beginning of the 19th century, there had been 50 million freely roaming the Prairies and Plains of North America. During this time, an increasing number of immigrants came to Canada. Many Ukrainians, Poles, and Russians made the prairies their home, whereas many South Asians, Chinese, and Japanese immigrated to the west coast. Most of the treaties which displaced First Peoples onto reserves were designed to clear the prairies for new immigrants, agriculture, and the railway.

Travel Alberta

© Travel Alberta. All Rights Reserved.


This period of Canada’s history is a time of nation building and growing pains.

Through Confederation, which established the Dominion of Canada, we carved our way into nationhood.  With the building of the railway we carved into the land. With our participation and sacrifice in the First World War we also made our way onto the world stage as a nation of many peoples.

Confederation joined the country together.  It was the product of political, regional, and cultural compromise.  Confederation attempted to unify our population despite having differences such as language and religion.  Confederation was seen as a way out of political deadlock, as an avenue for improved trade, and as a means of achieving better defence.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries an increasing number of immigrants came to Canada.  Many Ukrainians, Poles, and Russians made the prairies their home, whereas many South Asians, Chinese, and Japanese immigrated to the west coast.

Confederation did nothing for First Peoples. They were forced to relocate to reserves, often situated on inhospitable land.  Many First Peoples faced a Read More
This period of Canada’s history is a time of nation building and growing pains.

Through Confederation, which established the Dominion of Canada, we carved our way into nationhood.  With the building of the railway we carved into the land. With our participation and sacrifice in the First World War we also made our way onto the world stage as a nation of many peoples.

Confederation joined the country together.  It was the product of political, regional, and cultural compromise.  Confederation attempted to unify our population despite having differences such as language and religion.  Confederation was seen as a way out of political deadlock, as an avenue for improved trade, and as a means of achieving better defence.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries an increasing number of immigrants came to Canada.  Many Ukrainians, Poles, and Russians made the prairies their home, whereas many South Asians, Chinese, and Japanese immigrated to the west coast.

Confederation did nothing for First Peoples. They were forced to relocate to reserves, often situated on inhospitable land.  Many First Peoples faced a bleak future.  Louis Riel, a Métis leader who was later named Father of Manitoba, claimed that his people were “… being bartered away like common cattle.”  However, instead of listening, Ottawa passed the Indian Act, which legislated and regulated every aspect of First Peoples’ lives.  It even outlawed ancestral traditions such as the Potlatch and Sundance.  It controlled daily life and restricted freedom of movement; anyone who tried to leave the reserve lost their status.  These polices greatly isolated the First Peoples.

As a part of the British Empire, Canada automatically entered the First World War when the U.K. declared war in August 1914.  This conflict marked Canada’s first appearance on the world stage, and many immigrants and First Peoples joined the war effort.  A modern Canadian identity was beginning to take shape.
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© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

Construction crew at Rat Portage (Kenora), Ontario, winter of 1881-1882.

Construction crew at Rat Portage (Kenora), Ontario, winter of 1881-1882. The Government of Canada undertook the construction of the transcontinental railway from the Lakehead to Winnipeg, Manitoba. This was difficult terrain, much of which was muskeg country, necessitating the construction of many trestles. In the late 19th century, a key agent of national unity was the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which physically united our vast landscape through wood and steel.

Courtesy of R.C. Kennell, Manager, Heritage Services Canadian Pacific Railway
1881 - 1882
NS.2365
© 2006, Heritage Services Canadian Pacific Railway. All Rights Reserved.


Railway construction crew at the symbolic completion of the CPR

The CPR Division Point at Donald, B.C. was located 107.5 miles (170 km) east of the site of the driving of the last spike – signifying the completion of the CPR – at Craigellachie, B.C. on November 7, 1885. Not everyone associated with the construction could be present on that occasion, and these workers in the vicinity of Donald posed for their own version of the event.

Courtesy of R.C. Kennell, Manager, Heritage Services Canadian Pacific Railway
1885-11-07
NS.1340
© Heritage Services Canadian Pacific Railway. All Rights Reserved.


Chinese workers in a camp in Kamloops, B.C.

15, 000 Chinese labourers came to work on the railway between 1881 and 1884. Chinese workers were paid $1.00 a day, while labourers or European descent received $1.50 to $2.50 a day. After the CPR was completed, the government imposed a head tax of $50 on every Chinese immigrant. In 1900 the Head Tax was increased to $100, and in 1903 the Head Tax rose to $500, which was the equivalent to two years' wages. On top of this, Chinese immigrants were denied citizenship. The federal government collected $23 million from the Chinese through the Head Tax. In 2006, the federal government offered a formal apology for the fact that the tax was imposed. The government also acknowledged the stigma and exclusion that the tax represented.

Edouard Deville/Library and Archives Canada/C-021987 Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC)

C-021987; other accession no: 1933-240 NPC
© Library and Archives Canada. All Rights Reserved.


Mounted Chinese labourer's jacket and trousers.

This is an example of the kind of clothing that Chinese labourers would have worn while working on the Canadian Pacific Railway (the CPR). It would have been affordable because it’s made of inexpensive, coarse, indigo-dyed cotton – similar to denim. We know this outfit would have been made for men because the jackets are fastened by an odd number of buttons and loops (either five or seven knotted buttons). The odd numbers represent masculinity, or Yang (whereas even numbers represent Ying, the feminine). The spacious trousers are popularly called dadangku which, literally translated, means big-crotch trousers. The wide waistband makes it easy for the wearer to step into and out of them, and also makes it easy to fasten them without a belt. On rainy days, the pant legs can be rolled up to prevent them from getting wet and soiled. We know that these workers’ lives were difficult and that their job was dangerous. They did the most back-breaking jobs, in harsh conditions and in difficult terrain. This means that comfort and versatility would have been very important. The loose-fitting nature of the outfit allows the user freedom of movement while working and also air circulation, thus reducing perspiration. And the outfits could easily be swapped between father to son. ____________________________________________ Historical Advisor: Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), National Archives Canada

Royal Ontario Museum
1900 - 1925
971.166.53A and 971.166.53B
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


"Without the Chinese labourers, there would be no railroad."
– Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald

Chinese workers’ lives were difficult and their jobs were dangerous.  Landslides and dynamite blasts killed many.  It has been estimated that at least 600 died during railway construction.  Those workers who escaped death or harm faced certain discrimination and racism.

In November 1885, the last spike of the CPR was driven.  This historic event was captured in many photographs, yet none of the Chinese workers were invited to attend this momentous ceremony.

As soon as the CPR was completed, the Federal Government moved to restrict the immigration of Chinese to Canada.  The first anti-Chinese immigration bill was passed in 1885.  It took the form of a Head Tax, imposing $50 upon every person of Chinese origin who entered the country.  The government targeted no other ethic group in this way.
In 1900 the Head Tax was increased to $100. Read More
"Without the Chinese labourers, there would be no railroad."
– Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald

Chinese workers’ lives were difficult and their jobs were dangerous.  Landslides and dynamite blasts killed many.  It has been estimated that at least 600 died during railway construction.  Those workers who escaped death or harm faced certain discrimination and racism.

In November 1885, the last spike of the CPR was driven.  This historic event was captured in many photographs, yet none of the Chinese workers were invited to attend this momentous ceremony.

As soon as the CPR was completed, the Federal Government moved to restrict the immigration of Chinese to Canada.  The first anti-Chinese immigration bill was passed in 1885.  It took the form of a Head Tax, imposing $50 upon every person of Chinese origin who entered the country.  The government targeted no other ethic group in this way.
  • In 1900 the Head Tax was increased to $100.
  • In 1903 the Head Tax was increased to $500.  This amount equalled two years'  wages.
  • Chinese immigrants were denied citizenship.
  • The federal government collected $23 million from the Chinese through the Head Tax.
  • In 2006, the federal government offered a formal apology for the fact that the tax was imposed.  The government also acknowledged the stigma and exclusion that the tax represented.
____________________________________________________________

© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

Two mounted Ukrainian sheepskin coats

If you look closely, you’ll notice that one of these coats is more decorative. It’s also shorter and has no fastenings or buttons. We know that this coat would have been worn by a woman. The artifact on the right is the back of a man's coat. The woman’s coat dates to the early 1900s while the man’s coat dates to the early 1800s. The man’s coat is quite plain, and longer than the woman’s coat. It has a hook-and-eye fastening and it would have been worn with a belt. It is also very practical: it flares at the bottom so that the wearer can have freedom of movement in a work setting. Both coats are functional and warm. Each village had its own style of decoration, cut, and design. These were clues that revealed one’s identity and place of origin.

Royal Ontario Museum
Ukrainian Museum of Canada - Ontario Branch
1800 - 1900
Female coat: 997.128.7; male coat: 972.14.7
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


“I think a stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half dozen children, is good quality."
– Sir Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior in Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s government, defining the ideal immigrant

Between 1891 and 1914, 250,000 Ukrainians came to Canada from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Of these, some 171,000 stayed in Canada.  The majority settled on homesteads in western Canada.  There one could buy 160 acres (65 ha) of Crown land for a $10 registration fee.

The Ukrainians who came to Canada in the late 1800s brought traditional music and dance.  They built schools and churches.  They also brought with them sacred objects, seeds for farming and clothing that suited Canada’s cold winters. 

At this time, up until around 1910, most of the land-clearing and farm work was done entirely by hand.  Despite this, Ukrainian labourers an Read More
“I think a stalwart peasant in a sheep-skin coat, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half dozen children, is good quality."
– Sir Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior in Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s government, defining the ideal immigrant

Between 1891 and 1914, 250,000 Ukrainians came to Canada from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Of these, some 171,000 stayed in Canada.  The majority settled on homesteads in western Canada.  There one could buy 160 acres (65 ha) of Crown land for a $10 registration fee.

The Ukrainians who came to Canada in the late 1800s brought traditional music and dance.  They built schools and churches.  They also brought with them sacred objects, seeds for farming and clothing that suited Canada’s cold winters. 

At this time, up until around 1910, most of the land-clearing and farm work was done entirely by hand.  Despite this, Ukrainian labourers and other immigrants cleared land and roads equivalent to the distance between Winnipeg and Edmonton, which is 1,360 km. That is the length of 11,000 soccer fields.  Clearing the land and building the transcontinental railway were regarded as critical to the overall development of Canada as a nation.

However, this is not only a time of nation building but also of international conflict. On August 4th 1914, the British Empire entered the First World War against the German, Ottoman Turkish and Austro-Hungarian Empires.  Here at home, Canada prepared to go to war and passed the War Measures Act.

Thousands of Canadians of Ukrainian origin had been born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the region that is now western Ukraine.  When Canada entered the First World War as a part of the British Empire, Ukrainian Canadians were considered enemy aliens despite all their contributions and hard work.  Under the authority of the War Measures Act, 8579 "enemy aliens" were incarcerated between 1914 and 1920. Among them were women and children. 5000 of them were of Ukrainian origin. Some Poles, Italians, Bulgarians, Croats, Turks, Serbs, Hungarians, Russians, Jews and Romanians were also imprisoned or registered as "enemy aliens".

Despite these hardships, the agricultural know-how of Ukrainian Canadians became a defining factor in the future of Western Canada.  In particular, they introduced a Ukrainian wheat strain known as Red Fife Wheat.  This grain gave Canada the title of “granary of the Empire”.
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© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

Two wooden candle holders or tristas, one carved and one painted

The symbols on this trista speak to a time before Christianity and are as insightful as any history text. In earlier times, it was believed that symbols were filled with magical and religious significance. They carried messages, influenced behaviours and offered protection from evil. ___________________________________________ Historical Advisor: Ukrainian Museum of Canada - Ontario Branch

Royal Ontario Museum
Ukrainian Museum of Canada - Ontario Branch
19th Century
004.58.41, 004.57.41
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Carved wooden candle holder or trista

The symbols on this trista speak to a time before Christianity and are as insightful as any history text. In earlier times, it was believed that symbols were filled with magical and religious significance. They carried messages, influenced behaviours and offered protection from evil. _____________________________________________________ Historical Advisor: Ukrainian Museum of Canada - Ontario Branch

Royal Ontario Museum
Ukrainian Museum of Canada - Ontario Branch
19th Century
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Early immigrant and pioneering Ukrainian families drew on these old and familiar symbols to sustain themselves in their new and often harsh environment.  The symbols were used to decorate religious and household items in their new world.
The Straight Horizontal Line – represents the earth and symbolizes eternity. The Wavy Line – represents water.  Without water there could be no harvest.  With immigration to the “new world”, the wavy line began to represent the waters of the great Atlantic Ocean. The Circle – represents heavenly fire, the sun – a source of light and life.  It also represents completeness, continuity, and the cyclical nature of the universe. The Moon – represents light at night – help for travelers and to chase away evil powers from the household. The Cross – first appears over 30,000 years ago.  It is related to the sun and to the cult of fire.  It was also an astrological symbol representing the four corners of the earth.  With Christianity it came to repr Read More
Early immigrant and pioneering Ukrainian families drew on these old and familiar symbols to sustain themselves in their new and often harsh environment.  The symbols were used to decorate religious and household items in their new world.
  • The Straight Horizontal Line – represents the earth and symbolizes eternity.
  • The Wavy Line – represents water.  Without water there could be no harvest.  With immigration to the “new world”, the wavy line began to represent the waters of the great Atlantic Ocean.
  • The Circle – represents heavenly fire, the sun – a source of light and life.  It also represents completeness, continuity, and the cyclical nature of the universe.
  • The Moon – represents light at night – help for travelers and to chase away evil powers from the household.
  • The Cross – first appears over 30,000 years ago.  It is related to the sun and to the cult of fire.  It was also an astrological symbol representing the four corners of the earth.  With Christianity it came to represent Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
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© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk talks about WWI internment camps in Canada

Professor Lubomyr Luciuk teaches political geography at The Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston, Ontario. He also serves as director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which has spearheaded an educational campaign aimed at securing government recognition of what happened during Canada's First National Internment Operations.

Well, right now you’re standing in the interior courtyard of Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario. And really this is the most important artifact I could present to give you a sense of what Canada means to me because here, during the First World War, during the period known as Canada’s First National Interment Operations, many men and in other places women and children were held not because of anything they had done but only because of where they’d come from and who they were. And I’m particularly of course interested in the Ukrainians that were held here as enemy aliens in that period. Most of us don’t know very much about this period because very often the internees were labeled Austrians or Austro-Hungarians or Germans or Turks but in fact the population of these 24 concentration camps was overwhelmingly so called Austrian of whom the majority were Ukrainians but there were also Croatians and Serbs and some Jews and others who were also interned. So this was actually a multicultural multinational, multi-confessional population of internees, some genuine prisoners of war but the majority civilian internees who had done nothing wrong.

Royal Ontario Museum
Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, Department of Politics and Economics, Royal Military College and director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association

© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk talks about WWI internment camps in Canada

Well, right now you’re standing in the interior courtyard of Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario. And really this is the most important artifact I could present to give you a sense of what Canada means to me because here, during the First World War, during the period known as Canada’s First National Interment Operations, many men and in other places women and children were held not because of anything they had done but only because of where they’d come from and who they were. And I’m particularly of course interested in the Ukrainians that were held here as enemy aliens in that period. Most of us don’t know very much about this period because very often the internees were labeled Austrians or Austro-Hungarians or Germans or Turks but in fact the population of these 24 concentration camps was overwhelmingly so called Austrian of whom the majority were Ukrainians but there were also Croatians and Serbs and some Jews and others who were also interned. So this was actually a multicultural multinational, multi-confessional population of internees, some genuine prisoners of war but the majority civilian internees who had done nothing wrong.

Royal Ontario Museum
Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk, Department of Politics and Economics, Royal Military College and director of research for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association

© 2007, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

  • Analyzes how local, national and global influences have helped shape Canada’s history and peoples
     
  • Assesses the significance of Chinese and Ukrainian immigration in the development of identities in Canada

Learning Activity:

The Chinese and Ukrainian communities are two examples of migrating groups that had a tremendous impact on the shaping of Canadian identity during the country’s infancy. And there were many other migrating groups – such as the Dutch, Italian and Icelandic communities – whose influence and contributions can still be felt today.

Make a detailed list of the contributions made by the Chinese and Ukrainian communities to their new home. Choose a third community group that migrated through Canada during this time period – research their contributions and add them to your list.

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