The English were among the first Europeans to reach Canadian shores and waters after the Norse seafarers of the 10th and 11th centuries. English mariners probably fished in Canadian waters even before John CABOT'S voyage of 1497; Dr John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I's astrologer, who was interested in the discovery of the NORTHWEST PASSAGE, found evidence to suggest that 2 Bristol merchants - Thorne and Eliot - may have reached Newfoundland c 1494.

Early English Penetration

English merchants financed several voyages at the beginning of the 16th century, and as early as 1527 the harbour of ST JOHN'S became a rendezvous site for fishing vessels. When Sir Humphrey GILBERT arrived to claim the land for Queen Elizabeth I in 1583, he found a makeshift town to serve the Devon fishermen already there. In 1610 John Guy, also of Bristol, founded the well-known English settlement at Cupers Cove, later known as CUPIDS, and from this point onwards settlement continued, people from the English West Country outnumbering the Irish immigrants 2 to one. To this day Newfoundland remains, by descent, the most English province of Canada.

 Another early direction of English penetration was through the Northwest Passage to Hudson Bay. Some of the famous Elizabethan captains went in search of the passage, including Martin FROBISHER, who received an Inuit arrow in his rump at Frobisher Bay in 1577. In 1610 Henry HUDSON entered the inland sea now called Hudson Bay. In 1670 the foundation of the HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY brought an influx of English traders and employees, largely recruited from the urban unemployed. Englishmen based in the company's forts on the bay conducted pioneer explorations of the West and the North, including Henry KELSEY's 1690 travels in the Canadian prairies, Anthony HENDAY's sighting of the Rockies in 1754 and Samuel HEARNE's epic journey down the Coppermine River to the Arctic Sea in 1771-72.


Because of immigration, for many years a large portion of Canada's population was English-born. Between 1871 and 1901 about 22% of Canadian residents were born in England. In 1911, 25% of the population recorded England as their place of birth, a figure that increased to nearly 30% in 1921. After WW II, Canada's English-born population declined, in both relative and real terms. The 1981 census recorded that just under 4% of Canadians had been born in the UK, a statistical category which included England.

Although Statistics Canada no longer distinguishes "English" from "British" immigrants in its census, the English have generally constituted the largest ethnic group within the larger cohort of British immigrants. Of the 4657 British immigrants who entered Canada in 1984, 3516 (75%) were from England. In recent years, the number of British immigrants (relative to non-British immigrant groups) has declined and the number of English immigrants has declined accordingly. Nearly 30% of Canada's immigrants came from Britain in the 1950s. British (mainly English) emigrants accounted for 13% of Canada's immigration in the 1970s. In the 1980s the proportion of British (mainly English) immigrants fell to 7.5 % and in the 1990s it has fallen to below 4%. Despite a decline in the number of immigrants, the English element has remained significant. In the 2006 census 1 367 125 people listed English as their single ethnic origin and a further 5 202 890 listed English as a multiple response (English and one or more other ethnic origins).


People of English descent came to Canada either directly from England or indirectly through the American colonies. In the first case their motives were largely economic. In the early 19th century, many working people were unemployed, and among the upper and middle classes, younger sons and discharged officers emigrated because they were unable to keep up appearances at home. In the later period of the settlement of the PRAIRIE WEST, many English immigrants were attracted to Canada by the offer of free land.

The motives of those of English descent who emigrated from the US were largely political, for most of them were LOYALISTS, although it is true that many English-Americans immigrated to Upper Canada and later to the Prairies because of the farming opportunities. Apart from the special connection between Newfoundland and the western counties of Devon and Dorset, no part of England can be singled out as having contributed particularly to the Canadian population; immigrants have come from all parts of the country, and from urban as well as rural areas.


Because England was the imperial centre and by definition the "old country" of English Canada, many of the English, at least until 1867, came in official capacities as public servants and soldiers who, on release from service, remained in the country. For example, almost all the officials in BC, when it entered Confederation in 1871, were English or Anglo-Irish.

Migration in the broader sense began in the Atlantic colonies with the foundation of HALIFAX in 1749. Two-thirds of its early population of 3000 were Englishmen based there as a counterbalance to the French force at LOUISBOURG. With the capture of Louisbourg in 1758 and of Québec in 1759, and with the Treaty of PARIS (1763), New France became another British colony. Shortly afterwards in the 1760s, New England farmers of English descent began to settle around the Bay of Fundy on former Acadian lands, and in the early 1770s a group of Yorkshiremen put down roots in northern Nova Scotia. Then, at the end of the American War of Independence, the Loyalists came northward and carved out in 1784 the province of New Brunswick, whose population - apart from the returning Acadians - has remained largely English in descent.

Some of the Loyalists travelled to the region which in 1791 became Upper Canada. Here they were joined after the Napoleonic Wars by a considerable influx of English from England suffering the effects of high unemployment and depressed wages. By 1819 one-half of the British subjects who sailed for British North America were English from the British Isles. Many of these emigrated in various ways with official encouragement or assistance. The imperial authorities hoped to reproduce, at least partially, the English graded social system in Canada, and for this reason they encouraged ex-officers and other members of the gentry with generous grants of land, hoping to establish a kind of aristocracy.

Speculative companies such as the CANADA COMPANY acquired large tracts of land on condition that they bring in suitable settlers from England. At the bottom of the scale were the schemes by which English parishes unloaded into Canada the paupers who were victims of crop failures and economic recession and who reached Canada with no means and none of the skills they needed in a pioneer environment.

By 1851 this wave of immigration had settled down, and after a considerable outflow to the US some 93 000 people actually born in England remained in Canada West [Ontario], constituting about one-tenth of the population. They were almost matched in number by the Scottish-born (90 000) and greatly outnumbered by the 227 000 Irish-born.

There were at least 3 other great waves of English immigration. After Confederation, children from private homes, industrial schools and poor-law schools were given free passage to Canada, where they became wards of various societies. Between 1867 and the 1920s thousands of British children, the majority of them English, were settled across Canada (seeIMMIGRANT CHILDREN).

Opening of the Prairies

 Between 1890 and 1914, in response to the opening of the Prairie provinces, there was another large influx of English settlers. In 1901 they numbered less than 10 000, but in 1906, 3 years after an immigration office was established in central London, 65 000 immigrants arrived in Canada and in 1913 the number peaked at 113 004. Although the British government under the Empire Settlement Act of 1922 helped 130 000 British immigrants settle in Canada after WWI, the number of English immigrants did not rise significantly until after WWII. In 1947 over 7000 English, many of them trained industrial workers, artisans and technicians, immigrated to Canada; in 1957 the number rose to 75 546 and in 1967 it was 43 000.

Settlement Patterns

Proportionately the most heavy English settlement has been in Newfoundland, BC, the Maritime provinces, and later in Ontario. In Québec the English are found mainly in enclaves in Montréal and the Eastern Townships. But wherever they have settled, except in Québec, they have tended to become assimilated quickly into the local community, largely because they have not had to learn a new language and have encountered little prejudice. Outbursts of anglophobia have been rare enough for such manifestations as the "Englishmen Need Not Apply" job notices of the early 1900s to have passed into Prairie legend as historic curiosities.

 Popular resentment against the English (as indeed against immigrants generally) was most acute during periods of economic crisis. During the depression of the early 1900s, the government dealt as harshly with the English as with other immigrants; of nearly 1800 persons deported in 1908, 1100 were returned to the British Isles. The few cases of all-English agrarian settlements have usually existed because their members shared the same class attitudes or the same opinions rather than because they shared "Englishness." An example of the former was the colony of English gentlemen founded at CANNINGTON MANOR in Saskatchewan in 1882; one of the latter was the Barr Colony (seeBARR COLONISTS) on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

Economic Life

The English entered into every level of Canadian life. They have been prominent in government and have shared the control of Canadian business with the SCOTS, not only in the English-speaking parts of Canada but also in Montréal (seeELITES; BUSINESS ELITES). The Canadian armed forces were created and have largely been staffed by officers of English descent.

The first waves of English immigration contributed greatly to the farming population in the rural areas and to the skilled artisan population in the towns, but after WWII many English immigrants were professionals, technicians or individuals concerned in various ways with the arts. English immigrants have made important contributions to many Canadian institutions, including the NFB, the CBC, the Canada Council, the National Ballet and the Stratford Festival.

Social and Cultural Life

The English, perhaps because they are so widely and evenly spread across Canada and because they consider themselves a founding race, have tended to be less self-defensively clannish than other groups. The family unit facilitated and promoted their ethnic identity. The ratio of male to female English prior to WWI was 5:3, while for other groups it was 5:1. Once the largest and most important English cultural society was the Sons of England, which in 1913 had 40 000 Canadian members. Lodges formed across Canada were usually led by affluent Englishmen, professionals, clergymen and former military officers who had joined local elites.

An important vehicle for maintaining traditions was the social evening "At home," which was modelled on the English music hall. On these occasions the Sons were expected to thrill to jingoistic songs, weep at evocations of England, savour warm, dark ale and revert to regional dialects. As a mutual benefit society, the Sons organized receptions for newcomers, provided medical services and paid unemployment and disability benefits.

The English were often perceived by other ethnic groups as xenophobic and industrious. English ethnicity could be asserted productively in Canada, because it provided not only status but a competitive advantage in securing employment. Companies such as The T. EATON CO were so partial to English workers that they imported them from London to work in their stores and factories, and the CPR used the union which had organized metal-trade workers in Britain as a supplier of labour.

Unlike the Scottish and Irish groups, the English pay scant attention to national days; only in Newfoundland is St George's Day celebrated seriously. They maintain few formal organizations to nurture group ties, although informal activities help to define an English identity. The long-running English television soap opera Coronation Street is a fixture on CBC and Coronation Street fan clubs flourish in many Canadian cities. But as the generations passed and the class accents of England dissolved into Canadian speech, the divisions of the homeland's sharply stratified society have blurred. If the descendants of the English in Canada are now vertically divided, it is more by wealth than by birth. The snobbish English enclaves of WESTMOUNT and VICTORIA are almost as obsolete as that uniquely English institution, the once numerous corps of REMITTANCE MEN - feckless sons of wealthy families paid to stay in Canada. Many of the remittance men died during WWI; the rest finally vanished when currency restrictions ended their English subsidies during WWII.

A number of Canadian institutions - some of them very important - have been profoundly influenced by English models and are still largely supported by Canadians of English stock. Representative institutions and the traditions of the British and English COMMON LAW are among the most important inheritances Canada has received from Great Britain.

The parliamentary system, under which the Cabinet, which rules the country, is responsible to Parliament, is an extension of the British Cabinet system to colonial government embodied in the British North America Act of 1867. In the realm of LAW, the civil law in 9 of Canada's provinces (the exception is Québec, where French CIVIL LAW is maintained) is based largely on English common law; the system of courts follows the English model closely.

Another institution is the exclusive club frequented by businessmen and professionals which exists in all Canadian cities and is modelled directly on the clubs of London's West End; until recently, like their English counterparts, many clubs excluded women and non Anglo-Saxons. These are inherited from a transformed English class system now based less on descent than on fortune. The PRIVATE SCHOOL, based on the English public school is another exclusive institution. The English maintain private schools in Canada not to preserve their culture but to maintain, in a changed form, their traditional class system.

The Anglican Church, formerly the Church of England in Canada, is perhaps the largest of the distinctively English institutions, transplanted almost unchanged from the homeland (seeANGLICANISM). About 50% of Canadians of English descent adhere to it; the rest belong to the United Church and some smaller Protestant sects, with a relatively small minority being Roman Catholics. Institutions such as the RED CROSS, the Boy SCOUTS and the GIRL GUIDES were also brought from England.

Finally, English workingmen brought to Canada their own traditions of trade unions and social democracy. Trade unionists from Britain have comprised the labour elite in Canada. In 1965 over 70% of the top posts in Canadian labour unions were held by people of British (mainly English) descent; about 50% of union executives were of British descent in 1990. Canadian labour unions as they exist today are a hybrid of American and English forms, but their militancy is Anglo-Scottish in character. Politically, Canada is distinct in North America because, unlike the US, it has a viable party (the NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY, previously the CO-OPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH FEDERATION) dedicated to democratic socialism, which was founded and built mainly by English, Welsh and Scots reared in the traditions of the British Independent Labour Party and later of the Labour Party. To this day the NDP operates more like an Anglo-Scottish party than an American one, and its structure - of constituency branches combined with labour unions - reflects that of the Labour Party in Britain.

English cultural activities have permeated Canada, largely through the dominance of the English language outside Québec and northwest New Brunswick. This is true especially in literature. The influence of English traditions and English models has inevitably been profound, and it is only within the present generation that a distinctive English Canadian literature has really emerged. Yet there has never been a distinctive literature of Englishmen writing to preserve or portray English culture in Canada, as there has been one of, for example, Icelanders writing to preserve an Icelandic culture. Again, the English person's sense of being part of the dominant culture precludes particularism; immigrant writers from England have quickly found their places in the Canadian setting, and in helping to form a Canadian literature an English tradition has been freely modified to its North American milieu.