Canada a "Terra Clausa"

In 1930 Mr. Henry Casolani, Malta's chief spokesman on emigration, complained that Canada was a "terra clausa" or a prohibited land, to the Maltese. While that country agreed to accept immigrants from Great Britain and Southern Europe, many obstacles were then being placed in the path of those Maltese who wished to emigrate to Canada.

Yet interest among Maltese intending emigrants had been shown in Canada from the nineteenth century. Dr. Charles Mattei of the Emigration Committee had visited that country on various occasions and in 1912 he travelled across that land on a mission sponsored by the Government of Malta. He said that he had met a number of Maltese workers who had entered Canada before the turn of the century. In his report drawn after his trip to Canada, Dr. Mattei thought that Canada offered good opportunities to the Maltese migrant. He advised against settling in Toronto but he thought prospects were good in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and especially in British Columbia.

The Malta Emigration Committee had stated that British Columbia was highly suitable for those Maltese who wished to emigrate to Canada because of the equitable weather and because of the sparse population on Canada's Pacific Coast. Thousands of Maltese could find employment in the lumber industry because wages were good and the opportunities for work were plentiful.

Prior to 1914 small nuclei of Maltese communities were in existence in Toronto, Windsor, Winnipeg and Vancouver. The Maltese in Winnipeg had organised themselves into a Protective Society which helped to keep them united by offering friendship through bringing Maltese together particularly in social functions.

In 1913 contacts had been established by the Malta Emigration Committee with two prominent Canadians who were in Malta in April of that same year. The two men were Mgr. Joseph M. Emard, bishop of Valleyficid, and the Rev. Philip Cosgrain who was the director of the Catholic Immigration Association of Canada. Father Cosgrain was familiar with Malta and the Maltese as he had served for some years in Malta with the British Army. It was during his time in Malta that he had made many friends and even learned to speak the language of the Maltese.

Emard and Cosgrain had promised the Maltese Government that they would help to make emigration to Canada easier for the Maltese. More important perhaps, they promised that their representatives would meet arrivals from Malta as they disembarked at ports in Quebec. Cosgrain was hopeful that he would obtain funds from his Association to help those who did not have enough money for their journey from Malta to Canada.

After the signing of the Armistice the migratory movement from Malta towards Canada began gaining momentum. Between 1918 and 1920 the number of Maltese emigrants who had chosen Canada as their destination was 611. These declared that Winnipeg, Toronto and British Columbia were their final destinations. More than 40% of these emigrants were classified as unskilled and illiterate.

The inability of the average emigrant to read was to prove to be a serious hindrance. In July 1919 the Literacy Test was imposed on all persons entering Canada. Naturally such an imposition was bound to reduce the rate of immigrants entering the country. The Literacy Test applied to all immigrants who were fifteen years and older, but those who had been in Canada before 1919 were exempted. Also exempted were wives and children of persons who were considered as legally admissible.

In that same year when the Literacy Test came into force, nineteen immigrants were held at Canadian ports. Father Cosgrain made representations on their behalf and eventually all but two were allowed in. After that incident Cosgrain requested that pamphlets containing information about Canadian Immigration Laws should be quickly dispatched to the authorities in Malta so as to avoid future delays and hardships. Copies of these regulations were sent to the Governor from Ottawa on November 13, 1919.

Another restraining condition meant to regulate the flow of immigrants into Canada was imposed towards the end of 1920. This consisted in the need of possessing landing money before being admitted into Canada. A foreigner entering the country between January 1 and March 31, had to show that he had 250 dollars for himself plus 125 dollars for his wife and 50 dollars for each child between five years and eighteen. The only exceptions to this rule were those immigrants who had been specially authorised to enter Canada and who had been provided with special cards by the Canadian authorities.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.

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