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Ontario GenWeb Project: Immigration Records
Research By Topic
Immigration Records

What Is It

Immigration Records would refer to records of foreign-born persons entering Canada to live (i.e. ships lists, railway records, border crossings, and quarantine records). Citizenship and Naturalization Records technically fall under Immigration Records as well but they're covered elsewhere on this website.

How Do I Find It

To find a record of immigration, assuming there is one to be found, you should first learn as much as possible about the person you're seeking. Then learn about the immigration process, reasons for immigration, and how these might apply to your ancestor.

What year did your ancestor immigrate and from what country? To find the answers to these questions you must use other types of records (census records, newspapers, vital statistics, etc.). Knowing their name (plus any alternatives that may have been used) and the year of immigration can cut hours (or years!) off your research time. The more you know about your ancestor before you start seeking an immigration record, the more clues you have to point you in the right direction.

What form of transportation would your ancestor have taken? If they came from across the ocean it's safe to assume they used a ship prior to the invention of the commercial airplane. But once on North American soil, how did they arrive at their final destination? Did they walk? Take another ship through to the Great Lakes? Train?

Below are some points to consider while seeking an immigration record. If you have any to add that may help someone find an immigration record, please share it.

    Border Crossings
      Records of border crossings weren't taken until the turn of the century. For those entering Canada from the USA records only exist from 1908-1918. For those leaving Canada for entry to the USA records exist from 1895-1954. Records do not exist for anyone who arrived or left prior to 1908 or 1895.

    Quarantine Records
      Immigrants from overseas had a required first stop at a quarantine station to be checked for contagious diseases before being allowed entrance into Canada. Those found to be infected were quarantined, and those found healthy were allowed on their way. This found many families split apart -- some to never be reunited.

      Grosse Île operated from 1832 to the 1930's. This island is located in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City. From Grosse Île, immigrants had three options, remain in Quebec (which some did for a generation or two before heading west), travel west via land (check for train records!), or travel west via water (check for ship records!).

      Pier 21 operated from 1928 to 1971 and is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

      Both quarantine stations are now national historic sites and have websites (links below) that provide information on tracing ancestors who passed through (or never left) these stations.

    Ships

      If your ancestor was a British subject, or arrived by ship prior to 1865 it's unlikely you'll find them on a ship passenger list. Because Canada was a British colony British subjects could enter and leave without leaving much of a paper trail (the exception to this was emigration schemes - see below). And until 1865 the government did not keep passenger lists, and even then it was only for arrivals into Quebec City. Passenger lists for other ports weren't kept until later. There are intermittent passenger lists that still exist for voyages prior to 1865 but it's hit or miss (mostly miss).

      Most ships arrived at Quebec City but during the winter months, when the St. Lawrence River was unpassable, no ships could get through. The ports in Halifax were open year-round and could accommodate larger vessels.

      Major ports of entry via ship were:

      • Quebec City, Quebec (records exist from 1865-1919)
      • Halifax, Nova Scotia (records exist from 1881-1919)
      • Saint John, New Brunswick
      • Vancouver, British Columbia
      • Victoria, British Columbia

      Ontario ports of entry included:
      • Cornwall (Stormont County)
      • Kingston (Frontenac County)
      • Toronto (York County)
      • Trenton (Hastings County)
      • Windsor (Essex County)

    Trains

      Train records are available starting in the 1850's. Depending upon where your ancestor entered the country, they may have chosen to take a train to continue travelling to their destination (keep railways in mind as means to migrate from one area of Canada or the USA to another, as well as for employment). But, unfortunately, train passenger lists weren't kept in Canada. However, when seeking train records keep in mind that you may have to look at American resources - not all trains that operated in Ontario were Canadian. If your ancestor took an American owned train there might be a record of their journey.

    Planes

      Information regarding plane passenger lists is unavailable. It's unknown if these records are available to research.

    Sponsored Emigration

      In the 1800's there were several emigration schemes meant to bring new settlers to Canada. These schemes would involve a mass migration of people from one place (usually England, Ireland or Scotland) to another (usually one township or county in Upper Canada) paid for in full or paid for partially by the government or a company funding the migration.

      Some well-known sponsored emigrations include:

      • Peter Robinson Settlers: Migrated from County Cork, Ireland to Lanark County (in 1823) & Peterborough County (in 1825)
      • Petworth Emigration Scheme: 1,800 people from Petworth, West Sussex, England to Upper Canada.
      • Home Children: Approximately 100,000 children aged 4-16 were sent from the UK to live in Canada as indentured servants or to be adopted.

Tips & Advice

  • Check all alternate or phonetic spellings.
  • Try to learn your ancestor's full name before seeking an immigration record. They may have used a middle or nickname upon their entry.
  • Look at American ship arrivals as well. Some immigrants arrived in bordering ports and took other transportation into Canada.
  • Look at European ship departures. Sometimes records don't exist for those arriving in Canada, but they exist for those leaving European ports.
  • The earlier your ancestor emigrated from their homeland (i.e. 1850 or prior), the more likely they left Europe from Britain (check British records).
  • Check the newspapers of Canadian & American port cities. Some papers would list the names of incoming passengers.

What Does It Offer

*Note that this is an example of what the records might offer if found. Not all had the same information.

Border Crossings
     Name, Age, Date, Nationality, Occupation, Previous Residence, Destination; Sometimes included a name of a relative if they were sponsored.

Quarantine Records
     Name, Age, Date of Immigration, Origin, Travelling companion

Ships
     Name, Age, Nationality, Last Residence, Final Destination, Date

Sponsored Emigration
     Name, Age, Date & Place of Departure & Arrival, Destination

Trains
     Name, Place of Departure & Arrival, Date

What Does It Look Like

If you have a scan of an Immigration Record, please consider sending it in to be included as an example.

Where Can I Find It

    Border Crossings
    • Library & Archives Canada: 1908-1935
    • Citizenship & Immigration Canada: 1936+ (Due to the Privacy Act these records are not accessible for public viewing)
    • U.S. National Archives

    Quarantine Records
    • Library & Archives Canada

    Ships
    • Library & Archives Canada: approx 1865 (depending on port) up to 1919; includes some earlier lists
    • Archives of Ontario: For ships that arrived at Ontario ports
    • Be sure to check archives of other countries as well!

    Trains
    • Archives of Ontario has some 'Emigrant Railway Pass Records' (link below)

    Sponsored Emigration
    • Library & Archives Canada
    • Archives of Ontario

Is It Online?

Yes, and no. It depends what type of immigration record and the year of immigration. Records that are known to be online are linked below.

Alternate Resources

  • Citizenship and Naturalization Records
  • Land Records
  • Newspapers

    Related Material

  • Questions & Answers
  • Books
  • Links
  • Birth Records
        Adoption In Ontario
    Census Records
    Church Records
        Religion In Ontario
    Citizenship/Naturalization Records
    Court Records
    Death Records
        Cemetery Records
        Funeral Records
        Disasters
        Epidemics
    Emigration Records
        To the Red River Valley
        Migration: Out of Ontario
    Immigration Records
        Grosse Île
        Migration: Into Ontario
        Ships Lists
        Petworth Emigration Scheme
        WANTED: Settlers
    Land Records
        Maps
    Marriage Records
    Military Records
        Military Actions
        UE Loyalists: What? Who Were They?
    Miscellany
        Black History
        Books
        Directories
        Mental Health Records
        How Gender Influences Work on Wolfe Island, Frontenac Co. Ontario
        Languages In Ontario
        Population
        Newspapers
        Ontario Newspapers: Past and Present
        Ten Ontario Research Tips

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