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Written by: Emily Karklin

The Immigration Boom

We live in a country full of many different ethnicities. Since Confederation in 1867, 17 million people have immigrated to Canada. In the late 1800s to the early 1900s, many migrants passed through Selkirk and East Selkirk in search of a better life. Some stayed while others chose to move further into the country.

In 1891, Manitoba had a population around 153,000 people while Winnipeg had around 26,000 people. Selkirk at this time had a population of about 1,300 people. Selkirk was primarily made up of Scottish settlers due to Lord Selkirk and the founding of the Red River Colony in 1812. In order to populate the vast lands of Canada, Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier started an immigration incentive system. Propaganda was created to persuade those searching for a better life to come to Canada.

Canadian Government's Immigration Propaganda - Source: pier21.ca

Immigration Sheds

One of the first major waves of immigration from Eastern Europe to Manitoba consisted of 1,700 Russian Doukhobors. They arrived in East Selkirk in February in 1899. They stayed in the old Round House located south of Colville Road on Frank Street, which at the time was converted into an immigration shed. An immigration shed was a building used to house large numbers of immigrants. The building was originally used by the CPR for train engine repairs but was abandoned when the CPR decided to build a train bridge closer to Winnipeg.

Round House Immigration Shed, East Selkirk, c1903 - Source: redrivernothheritage.com

Only 2 months later, approximately 600 Ukrainians joined the already cramped quarters that the Russians were living in. In May of 1899, another 1000 Russian Doukhobors migrated to East Selkirk. The Round House was not big enough to accommodate everyone and as if it wasn’t full enough, an even larger group followed not far behind them. Large tents were built to house the growing number of migrants arriving every month. Poles and Latvians were also a part of the growing numbers. Over the summer of 1899, many people boarded trains to settle in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, however, many others chose to stay.

Here to Stay

Communities like Libau and Narol were established because of those who did not choose to leave for the West. From 1891 to 1920, 170,000 Ukrainians immigrated to Canada. They came mostly from the Ukrainian provinces, Glicia and Bukovyna. Meanwhile, the Doukhobors were being forced to fight for Czar Nicholas II of Russia. They faced an ultimatum; If they did not join his army, they would be imprisoned in Siberia. Canada offered to help the Doukhobors by promising them free land, religious freedom, and exemption from military service.

In Poland, many people were having trouble finding jobs. The CPR advertised employment opportunities in Poland which led to about 120, 000 Polish immigrants arriving in Canada from 1895 to 1913.

Immigration
Ukrainian Family in Manitoba - Source: winnipegfreepress.com

The journey was not easy for those coming to Canada. Many left their homelands in search of a better life for their families, others left to find work. Ukrainians, Russians, Latvians, Poles, and many other ethnic groups found a home in Selkirk which helped Selkirk grow into the city that we know today. There is still a large Ukrainian community within Selkirk and East Selkirk. The next blog will discuss the importance of culture within these communities.

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