Arthur Lower was for many years a professor of Canadian history at Queen’s University. He wrote probingly about immigration to Canada. Many of his insights blow away some of the myths that continue to fog up the immigration debate.

The sad thing is that our leaders simply ignore the insights of the past.

Here are comments on Professor Lower from his book FROM COLONY TO NATION (1947) on two key contentions:

  • That Canada is an “empty” land that must be filled with wave after wave of immigration.
  • That immigration infuses “good” people into a needy nation;

“In 1919 few people understood that the great Volkerwandering of the 19th century was drawing to a close: most thought that the war had only interrupted a flow that would eventually give Canada a much larger population. It was not realized that the supply of good land in the west was, like others of Canada’s ‘inexhaustible’ resources, not far from exhausted: there were no resh Saskatchewans…” [p.488]

Regarding the Brain Drain.

“…[By 1931…] “The Canadian-born population of the United States had increased at a rate that suggested an emigration of the native-born from Canada of about 300,000, a figure which included too many young people of energy and good education. To replace them within a single generation called for too great a step in adaption on the part of the children of recently arrived immigrants, however good these latter might be intrinsically. Immigration was proving as injurious for the quality of the population as it was ineffective for the quantity.

The man who will work for a low wage will always drive out the man who has become accustomed to a higher: to a clergyman from England or a carpenter from Poland, Canadian pay seems high. But it is lower than American: consequently, other things being equal, the clergyman or carpenter will come to Canada and the Canadian clergyman or carpenter go to the United States. Sir Richard Gresham, in the days of good Queen Bess, formulated the rule that ‘cheap money drives out dear’, a sound monetary maxim. Just so will ‘cheap’ men drive out ‘dear’, an equally sound sociological principle. If the movement of population were completely free throughout the world, there is little question who within a few generations would inherit the earth: it would be a class of men not much liked in Canada, the only human being who seems able to stand heat and cold, hunger and thirst, the Arctics and the tropics, who will work cheerfully from dawn to dusk on wages which other men would starve and who seems to have more disease-resistant anti-toxins in him than ony other known specimen of the human animal: — the Chinese coolie. The men who demand least from life drive out the men who demand more. From 1921 to 1931 the increase of Canadian-born professionals in the United States and of European-born peasants in Canada indicated how inexorably this ‘Gresham’s Law of Immigration’ was working.

The immigration of 1921-31 created serious stresses and strains in Canadian society. Labour opposed it because it was pretty sure of its deliberate cheap wage aspects. The French opposed it because they objected to foreigners being aided to settle in the west while the native-born had to depend on their own resources and because immigrants assimiliate to the English group. The Protestant churches came to oppose the new immigration, for it was heavily weighted towards Catholicism. English-speaking western farmers opposed it, for the European immigrant was steadily driving them off the land. But none of this opposition was of sufficient strenght to countervail the influence of ‘the interests’ (of which the railways were the chief) with a government such as Mr. King’s (1921 – 1930) which had no social ideas of its own and responded to the strongest pressure. It took the largest depression in history to end an influx that was rapidly becoming socially injurious.” [pp. 489-90]

Arthur Lower – Colony to Nation 1947