How and where to find Immigration records in Canada will vary based on the era and records you are looking to assess. While these records date back to the 18th century, they are most often considered a hit-and-miss arrangement as there was little effort to make or keep passenger and crew lists before 1865. Aside from that, there was also no form of uniformity in the recording.
Therefore, while some surviving records can be quite useful, providing names, ages, places of birth, and occupations of heads of household and accompanying family members, were not done. Some just note names and dates of arrival of individuals.
Howbeit, note that the post-1865 situation is much better and more arranged. All immigration records from this date contain a vast range of extensive genealogy research data and are reasonably easy to access, although sometimes for a fee.
Library and Archives Canada are known to hold immigration records, up to 1935 for arrivals at ocean and border ports. From 1865 onward, passenger lists and border entry lists were the official records of immigration; no immigrant applications or files were in place. In another period, from 1919 to 1924, individual forms were used in place of passenger lists and border entry lists.
Note that Form 30A was meant for ocean arrivals while Form 30 replaced the border entry lists. According to reports, the use of passenger lists and border entry lists restarted in 1925. These records were microfilmed in the 1940s and 1950s and were not made to archival standards.
Owing to that, the quality of some microfilm reels became poor and the ink in some pages washed out before the records were filmed, and the original records were not retained after they were filmed. Passenger lists, border entry lists, and individual forms included basic information like name, age, country of origin, occupation, and the intended destination of the immigrant.
Also, note that Canada did not keep records of people exiting the country; there are no passenger lists for departures from Canadian ports. A good percentage of the records have been digitized and are indexed by name. To make things easy, the Search Help pages for databases and the collection of digitized microforms note in detail how the records are arranged, how to assess the records, and how to get copies.
Also, note that some Provincial Archives keep records relating to immigration; and records of immigrants arriving at Canadian land and seaports from January 1, 1936, onwards are kept with the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
How to Assess Immigration Records in Canada
To assess or obtain a copy of another person’s immigration record, you will have to mail a signed request to the quoted office below:
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)
Access to Information and Privacy Division
Ottawa, ON K1A 1L1
To ensure that your application is successful, make sure it includes the following;
- The full name at the time of entry into Canada, date of birth, and year of entry. Any extra information can be helpful, things like country of birth, port of entry, and names of accompanying family members.
- Indicate that the application is being requested under Access to Information. It will have to be submitted by a Canadian citizen or an individual residing in Canada. For non-citizens, you can work with a freelance researcher to help you submit the request. The request will need to come with signed consent from the person concerned or proof that he or she has been deceased for 20 years. Please note that IRCC requires proof of death irrespective of the person’s year of birth.
- Fee: $5.00 (by cheque or money order made payable to the Receiver General for Canada)
- If you intend to get a copy of your landing record, you will have to submit an Application for a Verification of Status (VOS) or Replacement of an Immigration Document to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. In addition, you can also apply for a Permanent Resident Card.
Where to Find Immigration Records in Canada
Aside from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), outlined below are details of principal places where you can find Immigration records in Canada. These places include;
Owing to their agreement with Libraries & Archives Canada, this massive subscription-based site provides valid and extensive immigration records. These collections mentioned are indexed, and digitized images can be viewed for a fee.
- Border Crossing Lists: From Canada to the USA 1895-1956
- Border Crossing Lists: From the USA to Canada 1908-1935
- Great Lakes Passenger Lists (of those who landed in Canada and traveled to the USA via the Great Lakes/St Albans Ports): Not complete.
- Canadian Passenger Lists: From Ireland and England (and elsewhere) to Canada 1865-1935. The details recorded vary according to the port.
- Canadian Census returns: From 1861-1911. (See LAC for free online access.)
You can use this service for free to find information on the following;
- Canadian Census 1881 and 1901 indexed and with images, plus a selection of indexes for other years, some linking to images.
- Canadian BMDs: Births and Baptisms 1661-1959; Marriages 1661-1949; Deaths and Burials 1664-1955.
- Canadian Passenger Lists 1881-1922: Index and manifest images for a variety of ports.
Libraries & Archives Canada (LAC)
This is one of the best places to find Immigration records in Canada as it is inundated with information for those seeking ancestors and an understanding of the 19th-century immigrant experience. What you can find include;
- Grosse Isle Quarantine Station 1832-1837: More than 33,000 immigrant records. Includes lists of the personal effects of those who died.
- Immigrants from Ireland & Britain: Pre 1865. Incomplete records of passengers arriving in Quebec and Ontario.
- Quebec City Passengers: 1865-1922. Index of names only.
- Canadian Census returns: LAC provides free access to a number of its censuses from 1825 to 1926.
Also, note there are many other online sites where you can find passenger lists and old immigration records. Mentioned below are some of the most viable places to find immigration records in Canada.
- Find Irish ancestors in Peter Robinson’s Irish settlers 1823-1825.
- Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild: These arrival lists date back to the 18th century
- Discover your Ancestors: a volunteer project holding details of some 15,000 Irish immigrants.
- New Brunswick Irish Portal has several free-to-access databases.
Owing to the advent of technology and modernization, it is now easier to find immigration records in Canada. Just as was noted above, a good percentage of the records have been digitized and are indexed by name.
There are also plans to ensure that more digital images and nominal indexes become accessible on the Library and Archives Canada website. To make things easy, the Search Help pages for databases and the collections of digitized microforms note in detail how the records are arranged, how to assess the records, and how to get copies.