Crossing the 49th Parallel: Migration from Canada to the United States, 1900-1930 – RAMIREZ (CSS)

RAMIREZ, Bruno. Crossing the 49th Parallel: Migration from Canada to the United States, 1900-1930. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 2001. 219p. Resenha de: NEIDHARDT, W. W. Canadian Social Studies, v.38, n.2, p., 2004.

Professor Ramirez has provided us with an excellent study of the migration movement from Canada to the United States in the period from 1900-1930. His monograph is clearly a ground-breaking piece of work that fills a major gap in the migration historiography of both countries. It is probably one of the best books on the subject since the excellent but somewhat limited and definitely dated book by Marcus Hansen and John B. Brebner, The Mingling of the Canadian and American Peoples, which was published back in 1940. There does, of course, already exist a considerable body of the published material dealing with the French Canadian migration to the United States during the 19th century. However, the rest of the migration story has received relatively little attention even though about 2.8 million people moved from Canada to the United States from 1840-1940. Approximately two thirds of these emigrants were non-French Canadians. Crossing the 49th Parallel does much to remedy this situation.
However, this is a book that will probably only appeal to someone who specializes in immigration history. I would surmise that most high school students would use this study of Canadian-American cross-border immigration only if they were doing some very specialized research project. The rightful place for Crossing the 49th Parallel seems to be at the post-secondary level of education.

So what will an interested reader find in this book? First of all, Crossing the 49th Parallel is clearly a well-researched book with an almost overwhelming amount of densely packed information. The writing is precise and to the point, although several paragraphs that are more than one page in length could perhaps have been restructured. Within its covers are 19 pages of detailed documentation, 18 Tables of Statistics, several charts, 20 photos, a brief appendix and a very useful index. The book is also carefully structured. There is a good preface in which the author introduces the subject matter; five more or less equally long chapters make up the main body of the monograph. An excellent conclusion rounds out the book.

Chapter 1 is entitled Societies in Motion in Nineteenth Century North America and it provides the necessary background information without which the remaining chapters would seem strangely isolated. In this chapter the author explains how and why Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes contributed to the enormous population flow into the United States particularly New England, the Great Lakes region and the American Mid-west. He also examines the roles played by agriculture, commerce and industry in this southward movement of peoples.

In Chapter 2, the author examines what he calls The Rise of the Border. He argues that by the end of the 19th century, the Canadian-American border – which once used to be relatively open to cross-border migration – was no longer a mere line drawn by international agreements to mark the end of one national territory and the beginning of another; it had also become a system of controls to prevent the entry of unwanted persons into U.S. territory (p.39). It was the time when numerous inspection points began to sprout all along the Canadian-American border.

Emigration from French Canada to the United States is the title of chapter 3 and the focus here is, of course, the French Canadian migration to the United States, particularly to the New England region. Here the author – who has already written extensively on this generally well-known topic – analyzes the roles played by geographic proximity and economic opportunity in enticing so many French Canadians to leave their homeland and settle down in the petits Canadas that began to appear in many American cities. This French Canadian exodus was, according to Ramirez, largely a farm to city move (p.86) and he presents ample evidence that the presence of kin or fellow villagers(p.75) in many of these American cities served, in fact, as a primary attraction for many French Canadians. He concludes that throughout the first three decades of the new century the majority of French Canadians chose a U.S. location in which they had a member of their immediate family, a relative, or a friend waiting for them (p.76). The author also provides his readers with considerable detail about some of the men, women and children who left during this migration; who they were, from what walks of life they came, and their plans.

The focus of Chapter 4 is Emigration from English Canada: 1900-1930. Once again the same questions are asked: who were the emigrants that went to the United States? Where did they come from? Why did they leave and where did they go? For example, we are told that these emigrants came from various backgrounds and from all walks of life and that Ontario had been the home of most of them – although considerable numbers also came from the Maritimes and the West. They all hoped to find a better way of life south of the border and they made their new homes in nearly all the states of the American republic (p.105). The vast majority of them chose to settle in Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, but some also settled in Washington and California. The number of English-speaking emigrants was considerably larger than their French-speaking counterparts and Ramirez writes that on most days for every French Canadian who emigrated to the United States, two Anglo-Canadians did likewise(p.97). It is interesting to note that English Canadians, once they had settled in the United States, did not develop the same kind of ethnic institutions and did not create the same demographic clusters as their French-speaking counterparts. In fact, Ramirez states, regional dispersion and occupational diversity were the hallmarks of the Anglo-Canadian movement (p.100). Most of the English Canadian emigrants would make their homes in the cities of America and Ramirez gives considerable attention to Detroit because it acted as a continental crossroads of population and labor power (p.111). This chapter also examines some of the difficulties that Canadian emigrants encountered as they tried to cross the border and more often than not were confronted by some very hard-nosed
customs inspectors who had enormous discretionary powers as to who could enter. The migration of English Canadians actually began to slow down by 1927 and not surprisingly, of course, came to a virtual halt with the onset of the Great Depression.

The Remigration Movement from Canada is the fifth and final chapter of the book and it examines in considerable detail how Canada became an important gate through which men and women of all nationalities sought to enter the United States legally and illegally (pp.139-140). In fact, one of the more remarkable statistics found in this chapter is the fact that one in five persons who joined the migration flow from Canada to the United States was someone who had first immigrated to Canada and had resided there for a certain length of time (p.139). According to Professor Ramirez, these remigrants, too, came from all Canadian provinces with Ontario and the western provinces leading the way. Not surprisingly, most of these men and women chose to settle not far from the Canadian-American border with New York, Michigan and Washington becoming the three most prominent destinations. Once again, Ramirez provides his readers with all kinds of statistical detail about these remigrants. One particularly informative section deals with Canada’s Italian community and its participation in the migration movement to the United States in the early years of the 20th century.

There is no question that Crossing the 49th Parallel makes a valuable contribution to the migration historiography of North America. Hopefully it will find its rightful place on the bookshelves and research tables of colleges and universities.

S. Neidhardt – Toronto, Ontario.

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