“This is Ticklish Business”: Undesirable Religious Groups and Canadian Immigration after the Second World War

Through the 1950s and 1960s, Canadian immigration officials viewed conservative religious groups, and in particular the Amish, as undesirable immigrants. Historian Steven Schwinghamer examines how these immigrants were singled out for more rigorous screening, and likely refusal, based on religious prejudice.

The history of immigration facilities at the port of Victoria, British Columbia, extends from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. However, Victoria’s role was marginalized by the emergence of Vancouver as a key port of entry in the 1920s. The development, operation, and diminution of the city’s immigration facilities reflected changing immigration policies and practices. First, Victoria’s economic and social role in British Columbia and in Canada changed substantially, which also changed the nature and scope of immigration to the city. Second, public health interests often overwhelmed - and sometimes completely displaced - the implementation of civil immigration policy. Finally, Victoria’s immigration facility history reflects periods of cooperation and conflict between the provincial and federal governments. In addition to shedding light on Victoria’s role in immigration history, an examination of these three factors provides some useful information on the development of Canada’s early national immigration structures.

The manual used by immigration staff in the 1950s stated that medical and physical requirements of the Immigration Act were “[f]or the protection of residents of Canada, and to ensure that persons seeking admission do not become public charges…” This connection between public health and medical controls on immigrants in Canada has deep historical roots in Canada, notably in Halifax, which suffered several cholera outbreaks and scares connected with migration during the nineteenth century. In response to the perceived public health risks, the immigration branch required prospective immigrants to clear medical examinations overseas and at their port of entry. These policies were updated regularly, which led to the medical facilities being the most dynamic structures in historic Pier 21. This also influenced personal experience and practices at Pier 21, for immigrants and staff alike.

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