The Doors Remain Shut

The Report on the working of the Emigration Office for 1921 stated that the prospects for Maltese emigrants to Canada were not bright. The Canadians insisted that they wanted men willing and capable of felling trees and taming the forests. Such people had to carry sufficient capital with them. Preferably, they were to have relatives or friends already settled in the area they were going to. The report concluded that such requirements effectively excluded the Maltese. The Report also commented on the climatic conditions prevailing over most of Canada and said that the arctic winters there prevented work being done during the cold months.

Many Maltese thought that if they had to go to North America, then the American States provided a better proposition. The Report cited states like Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama as zones where working prospects were bright, foreigners welcomed and wages higher than in Canada. California was still a very prosperous place and the Maltese who had settled there were mostly engaged in market gardening and earning good money.

In his book "Awake, Malta", Henry Casolani stated that up to 1921 the Maltese enjoyed full freedom of entry into Canada. The truth was that after that year it became more difficult for Maltese to settle there. The objections mentioned by Mr. Read in 1920 could have been easily levelled against any ethnic group. In the ten years following the Armistice thousands of aliens were allowed in without too much fuss. Casolani could never explain the discrimination against the Maltese.

In 1923 Ottawa issued a Privy Council Order which indicated the categories of British subjects which were to be allowed to enter Canada. That Order specifically left the Maltese out while it opened the door to British subjects who hailed from Great Britain, Ireland, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Australia and the Union of South Africa.

The Maltese were classified as aliens. This exclusion was made in spite of the fact that Malta was a European island within the British Empire and had acquired self-government in 1921. Canada would only accept two categories of Maltese: those who were 'bona fide' agriculturists and female domestic servants. These two classes were not very visible in Malta, though the Emigration Department did put forward a few men who were considered as agriculturists. Even these were rejected on the grounds that Maltese tended to stray from the land and drift towards large cities in Canada and in the U.S.A. Those who managed to sail to Canada "were mercilessly stopped at every port and one by one found their way back to Malta".

Writing in 1930, Henry Casolani complained that the Maltese alone seemed to fall victims to Canada's exclusion order. He wrote: "All Britishers, thousands of Italians and other European nationals are welcome. The Maltese alone are excluded".

Statistics show that after 1923 emigration to Canada became a mere trickle and Canada became effectively a "terra clausa" to the Maltese. Between 1926 and 1927 only thirty-seven Maltese were allowed entry and many of those were women and children who were joining the heads of their families.

By 1929 the regulation concerning landing money had been removed. Migrants, besides being in possession of a ticket which would take them to their final destination, were expected to have enough money to enable them to meet their expenses during the period between their arrival and their first job. The Maltese authorities suggested that those who were eligible to go to Canada should carry at least 20 on them. It was also made known that the Canadian authorities would not allow an immigrant to enter the country if it was known that his fare had been paid-in part or in full by a charitable organisation or out of public money.

In 1929 some slight changes had been introduced concerning the entry of foreigners into Canada. Such changes were due to the improvement in the field of employment. In order to be allowed to enter the country as permanent residents persons had to belong to one of six categories:

  1. a "bona fide" agriculturist who intended to follow his occupation in Canada and had sufficient financial means to start farming on his own.
  2. a "bona fide" farm labourer entering Canada to follow that occupation with reasonable assurance of employment.
  3. a female domestic servant entering Canada to follow that occupation with reasonable assurance of employment.
  4. wife or child under eighteen of any person legally admitted to Canada and resident there, who was in a position to care for his dependants.
  5. any person who had satisfied the Minister in Canada that his labour or service was required.
  6. the father or mother, the unmarried son or daughter eighteen years of age or over, the unmarried brother or sister of any person legally admitted to and resident in Canada who had satisfied the Minister in Canada of his willingness and ability to receive and care for such a relative.

The Emigration Department in Malta suggested that migrants proceeding to Canada should book their passage from ports in the United Kingdom. The Department also warned that because of the Privy Council Orders governing the entry of Maltese into Canada, it was found in practice almost impossible to operate the six points referred to. Only wives and children of Maltese already resident in Canada were assured of having their applications favourably considered.

In order to save unnecessary embarrassment the Emigration Department was not issuing passports to intending emigrants of whatever class unless a landing permit from the Department of Colonisation in Ottawa was produced or other arrangements had been previously made with a Canadian Immigration officer in Europe.

The six categories of admissible people referred to Europeans only. Not all Europeans were equal either. The most welcome type of immigrant was the one who hailed from the British Isles. Continental immigrants were to be considered when there were not enough men and women of British stock available. Even the Continentals were not considered as forming one homogenous class. There were those who were "Preferred" and those who were officially classified to as "Non-Preferred".

Men and women who had the great fortune of being "Preferred" in Canadian eyes came from France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Finland and Scandinavia. The lower types who fell into the category of "Non-Preferred" were those who came from Southern Europe. These were to be admitted only when there was no one of the superior categories willing to take vacant jobs. Moreover the "Non-Preferred" would only be allowed in if they were willing to work on the land and had a promise ofwork when they filled in their application to enter Canada.

Even Canada was not able to maintain such blatantly racial attitudes for ever. In August 1930 the distinction between "Preferred" and "NonPreferred" was deleted at least in theory. Henceforth all immigrants from any country had to produce proof that they were "bona fide" agriculturists with capital if they wanted to be given their visa. The annual report of the Emigration Department showed to what a low ebb was Maltese emigration to Canada reduced during the period of 1930-1931. At that particular time Canada allowed the total of fifteen Maltese to settle as permanent residents. Those fifteen migrants were ten men, three wives with two children.

In fact the total number of Maltese settlers in Canada was never significant. It is hard to comprehend the determination of the Canadian Department of Immigration and Colonisation to keep the Maltese out when their presence in the country was hardly noticeable. During the ten years between April 1, 1921 and March 31, 1931, the total number of Maltese who entered Canada was 63 1. Of these 335 went back to Malta, leaving a balance of 296 for ten years, or less than 30 Maltese immigrants for every year between 1921 and 193 1.

If later years are examined the influx of Maltese into Canada becomes almost invisible. For 1932 and 1933 the grand total of Maltese who entered Canada was made up of six immigrants. Of these three went back to Malta. The only comment Mr. Hugh Arrigo, the successor of Mr. Henry Casolani, was able to make in his report was that as long as the regulations requiring migrants to Canada to be agriculturists with capital remained in force, no improvement in the flow of Maltese to Canada was to be expected.

In fact later reports on the working of the Emigration Department left Canada out. In the report for 1936-1937 it was stated that a satisfactory revival in world migration was being felt as the effect of the Depression were slowly disappearing. The report claimed that migration to the receiving countries reflected the improvement being made in the economic conditions of those countries to which Maltese emigration was traditionally directed.

If there was an improvement, that improvement was not noticeable in the number of Maltese who entered Canada during the period 1936-1937. According to official statistics furnished by the Emigration Department, the total of Maltese who went to Canada at that time was One.

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

top-of-pageprevioustopic-indexnext Email-A-Page



We need your support to continue working on this site. Help us.
Text and pictures (c) 2001-2017 Malta Emigration Museum and/or its contributors.

Consultancy, hosting, programming and technical assistance provided by A6iT.