In honour of the Canadian Immigrant Magazine’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Contest, we have compiled a list of the Canadian immigrants that have contributed the most throughout of all of Canada’s short but illustrious history.
8. Spanish Flu
The only non-human immigrant to ever be awarded this honour, the Spanish Influenza Virus earns an Honorable Mention in this competition. Along with many other Eurasian viruses and diseases, the Spanish flu crossed the Atlantic on ships with the rest of the European colonizers and settlers. And just like the European colonizers and settlers, it explored the land from coast to coast, decimating indigenous populations as it went.
7. Hans Bernhardt
In 1664 Bernhardt came to Canada, earning an honorary place in Canadian history as the first recorded German immigrant. We recognize Bernhardt here not just because he is a special first, but because he illustrates that even though Cartier founded the first French settlement in the Americas only a hundred years before, any person arriving to Canada that was not English or French (sometimes also Scottish and Irish) would be deemed an immigrant, while the English and French (and Scottish and Irish) were simply pioneers. This deeply Canadian practice of snubbing anyone else that attempts to build a life in Canada has been wholeheartedly carried on through Canadian policy, practice and government. One notable partisan is Mr. Jason Kenny, current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.
6. Henry Hudson
The story of Henry Hudson, an English sea explorer, illustrates the excitement felt by Europeans discovering a new world and the glory in their ad- ventures. In the early seventeenth century, Hudson explored the East Coast of North America looking for passage to the East for the Dutch East India Company. The river he explored in that area was eventually named after him. In 1611, after spending the winter in James Bay, Hudson wanted to continue further West, but his crew, representing the only European explorers (other than the Vikings, see 2) to ever visit a foreign land and simply return, were apparently tired of the famous Canadian winter (I’m assuming they didn’t have toques or Sorels then), so they mutinied, and left Hudson, his young son and a few other crewmembers adrift in what was to become Hud- son’s Bay, and they were never seen again. Upon returning to Europe, the mutineers were not convicted and executed as most mutineers are, instead they were charged with murder and acquitted, being that they possessed information of the new world that was far more valuable to north American colonizers than was justice, another tradition that has wound its way into the Canadian judiciary and political systems and since remained.
5. Chinese-Canadian railway workers
We decided it would be pertinent to apply this honour to a group of people, and we would like to recognize the Chinese workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway for two reasons. The first being that they don’t appear to be formally recognized anywhere else. The second, that they are the first and only immigrant population to be actually requested by the Canadian government, who today prefers illegal and/ or temporary workers. BC politicians of the time pushed for an accommodating immigrant program for workers from the British Isles (an obvious preference) after being given a strict time limit to build the railway. But our then Prime Minister, much like our current Prime Minister, recognized the true value and opportunity in cheap foreign labour, and he (John A. Macdonald) can be quoted as saying, “It is sim- ply a question of alternatives: either you must have this labour or you can’t have the railway.” A true testament to early Canadian capitalism, Macdonald’s words illustrate the importance of making money over than domestic development needs.
4. Sir John A. Macdonald
Macdonald moved to Canada with his family at the tender age of five. Similar to many immigrant experiences in Canadian history, his family struggled to find financial footing in their new home, and young John was forced to leave school at 15, (he was unable to attend university), to help support his family. With no post secondary education, and no interest in learning a trade, the only option for the man who was to enter politics and eventually become the first Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada was, apparently, law. Along with being a solid number four on our list and the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald was also the first conservative Prime Minister in Canadian history. A tradition that is yet to expire, but we’ve all got our fingers crossed.
3. William Lyon Mackenzie
Mr. Mackenzie’s story is another classic tale of a struggling immigrant rising to make his own in a new and foreign land. Mackenzie left Europe at 25 be- cause he lacked stable employment. When he arrived here he worked on a canal in Lower Canada (present day eastern Quebec), and wrote for various local newspapers. He eventually established his own paper, the Colonial Advocate. His interest in local politics led to him running for office. This quintessential story of a newcomer in Canada peaked in 1834 when Mackenzie was appointed Mayor But Mackenzie only lasted until 1835 because he did not address the city’s debt or the need for public works another longstanding tradition.
2. Leif “the Lucky” Ericsson
Leif the Lucky was the first European to visit North America, likely responsible for establishing the L’ans aux Meadows settlement in present day Newfoundland. It is not a very well known fact that the first Europeans to visit North America were actually Vikings. This is probably because the Norse explorers did so hundreds of years before anyone else and did not steal, colonize and claim ownership of the land to the same extent of their later counterparts. Some have surmised that their apparent lack of ambition or interest in the land (occasionally mis- interpreted as an understanding that the land was previously inhabited and not theirs to take) was what kept them out of the history books. We recognize Ericsson here because after his genial first visit to North America, he came back (after having returned to Norway and converted to Christianity) this time with a priest, kicking off a long and far less friendly tradition of Euro- pean missionary work (also known as ‘forced conversion of the native heathens’ in some texts) in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific Colonies, to name a few.
1. Christopher Columbus
The Top Canadian Immigrant Award of all time goes Christopher Columbus, a fifteenth-century Italian sailor. Though Columbus never actually made it to Canada in his lifetime, his extraordinary underestimation of the circumference of our planet lead to one of the most profitable mistakes in history for European colonization of the ‘Americas’. His famous navigational gaffe, landing him in the Bahamas instead of India, was the first of four famous voyages he made across the Atlantic, opening the door to colonization of North and South America and the decimation of entire indigenous populations. His infamous inability to distinguish between the cultures of North American indigenous peoples and those of India lead to the development of the terms‘American Indians’, or ‘Native Indians’. His well-lauded racism, rapaciousness and the genocide and land-theft that were born of it are still celebrated in the United States today on Columbus Day, an official holiday.
published in the devrEyeopener, annual satirical component of the Ryerson Free Press under Zsa Zsa McWilliams, History Editor, April 2011