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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Ontario ports of entry included:
- 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
- Cornwall (Stormont County)
- Kingston (Frontenac County)
- Toronto (York County)
- Trenton (Hastings County)
- Windsor (Essex County)
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.
Information regarding plane passenger lists is unavailable. It's unknown if these records are available to research.
- 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.
*Note that this is an example of what the records might offer if found. Not all had the same information.
Name, Age, Date, Nationality, Occupation, Previous Residence, Destination; Sometimes included a name of a relative if they were sponsored.
Name, Age, Date of Immigration, Origin, Travelling companion
Name, Age, Nationality, Last Residence, Final Destination, Date
Name, Age, Date & Place of Departure & Arrival, Destination
Name, Place of Departure & Arrival, Date
If you have a scan of an Immigration Record, please consider sending it in to be included as an example.
- 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
- Library & Archives Canada
- 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!
- Archives of Ontario has some 'Emigrant Railway Pass Records' (link below)
- Library & Archives Canada
- Archives of Ontario
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.
Citizenship and Naturalization Records
Questions & Answers