Coming to Toronto: The Golden Road to a New Life

Today Toronto is a city where people have come from over 200 different countries and speak over 150 languages, creating the most multicultural city in the world. They come for many reasons: family, opportunity and new beginnings. The long history of the immigrants’ experiences has not changed significantly since the city was incorporated, and the same combination of push and pull factors drew people here 175 years ago.

How did they hear about Toronto, and what it had to offer? And what did they find once they arrived here? For many the excitement and hope was inspired by businesses or agents who promised land, wealth and opportunity in Canada.

Colonization 50 men wanted for settlement in Canada

1849 Gourlay

Robert Gourlay was a radical reformer who had a political agenda that required attracting workingmen to Canada. He believed that ownership of land was the key to successful settlement, and he was very clear about the type of man he wanted to settle in Canada. His promise of “adventure” and his stipulation for only men of exceptional character and steady work habits may have caught the eye of men who might not otherwise consider the prospect.

Notice. About 20 young able bodied farm laboring servants...

1836 Notice

Advertisements, such as the one above, guaranteed wages, free board and lodging and passage. The added incentive of a return free trip or free land to stay seemed to be a no-lose proposition. What could possibly go wrong?

Not everyone based their decisions on the promises made in these slick advertisements. Many relied on the advice of family, friends and other immigrants who shared their experience through letters and books. These guides advised people of the difficulties and rewards that they could expect to encounter.

letter

 
Authentic letters from Upper Canada.
McGrath, T.W.
Dublin: William Curry, Jun. and Company, 1833.
917.13 M113 BR (pp.113-115)

letter
letter

 
Letter from Sussex Emigrants Gone Out From the South Side of the Hills to Upper Canada.
Chichester: William Hayley Mason, 1827.
917.13 L264 BR (p.5)

Of course, it’s always easier if you have connections. Joseph Willcocks was a successful businessman who immigrated to York (Toronto) in 1799 from Ireland. When he arrived, he worked as a private secretary for an administrator of Upper Canada.

detail from a letter

Click here or on the image on the right to see an excerpt from a letter recording his observations on social life, prices, living conditions and the weather.

Willcocks’ experience and concerns were quite different from those of some who arrived with little or no money, contacts, or possessions. With time and perseverance, the new settlers saw an improvement in living in Toronto.

In Toronto, organizations and influential people responded to the need by forming societies to assist new immigrants to adapt and establish themselves to the new land. When things went well, they went well, but any setback could have a devastating effect on people or families who were just starting out.

The Society for the Relief of Strangers in Distress recorded the problems encountered by the new immigrants and what assistance the society arranged to solve the problem. The various challenges highlighted just how precarious their situation could be.

annual report page 10

 
Annual Report of the Proceedings of the Society for the Relief of Strangers in Distress, at York: Under the Patronage of His Excellency Sir Peregrine Maitland, K.C.B.
York: Upper Canada Gazette Office, 1827.
361 S573 (pp.10-11)

annual report page 11
annual report page 20

 
Annual Report of the Proceedings of the Society for the Relief of Strangers in Distress, at York: Under the Patronage of His Excellency Sir Peregrine Maitland, K.C.B.
York: Upper Canada Gazette Office, 1827.
361 S573 (pp.20-21)

annual report page 21

The immigrants’ story continues with new hopes and challenges. Each generation has always found a reason to come to Toronto. The reasons for coming to Toronto are not much different now than they were 175 years ago.

Explore more Toronto Public Library exhibits highlighting Toronto’s 175th anniversary ...

Source: Special Collections, Toronto Public Library.