Making the Voyage

Between 1824 and 1834, more than 170,000 new immigrants journeyed to Upper Canada. For many of those setting sail from their home countries for the first time, the long voyage was an adventure, presenting countless new sights and sounds along the way. As surveyor John MacTaggart documented during his transatlantic journey in 1826, from the ships’ decks passengers saw everything from butterfly swarms and exotic birds, to sharks and porpoises, to immense pods of whales. For many new immigrants this excitement was tempered by the sadness of leaving home and family behind, as well as the uncertainty of what lay ahead. Upon landing in Bytown, many of these new citizens continued their voyage to other settlements in Upper Canada, while others remained in Bytown to begin work on the Rideau Canal.

Points of Interest

Sketch showing the difficult living conditions on an emigration vesselEnlarge

[Source: Emigration Vessel – Between Decks. The Illustrated London News, Illustrated books, albums and scrapbooks, Libarary and Archives Canada, accession number: MIKAN 2956054, C-006556 / Departure of the ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Athlone’ Steamers, with Emigrants on Board, for Liverpool. The Illustrated London News, Illustrated books, albums and scrapbooks, Libarary and Archives Canada, accession number: 2956053, C-006556]

Difficult Voyage

The Brunswick left Cork Harbour for North America on June 13, 1823, and although the most commonly reported ailment aboard the ship was seasickness, its weaker passengers were particularly susceptible to more dangerous illnesses that were easily spread in such close quarters. By the time the Brunswick arrived in Quebec six weeks later, twelve people, all under the age of fourteen, had died, their bodies cast overboard in the Atlantic Ocean to prevent further contagion.

Drawing showing an emigration vesselEnlarge

[Source: Departure from Dortrecht under Captain James Falbister, May 30, 1821. Peter Rindisbacher. Library and Archives and Canada, accession number 1988-250-1, C-001901]

Passenger Vessels Act

In 1803, the British Government took an active interest in immigration, creating the Passenger Vessels Act. The act was revised in 1828 to reduce the spread of illness-it required that all ships limit their passenger numbers, provide adequate food and water, and always have a doctor on board. Despite these efforts, and multiple revisions to the act over the years, many passengers still fell ill and even perished during their voyage to Canada.


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[Source: A View of the Pierced Island, a remarkable Rock in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Hervey Smyth, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1997-2-2, C-000784; A View of Cape Rouge or Carouge, Nine Miles above the City of Quebec. Hervey Smyth, W.H. Coverdale collection of Canadiana Manoir Richelieu collection, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1970-188-22, C-041475]

Duration: 10 seconds
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The Voyage-An Exercise in Patience

Depending on wind direction, the duration of transatlantic voyages varied greatly; once the ships neared the Gulf of St. Lawrence, fog became another challenge. On one voyage, a passenger recounts a two-day fog so thick they couldn’t see land, making it impossible to determine the proper channel to follow. Under such circumstances, ships were forced to anchor and wait. From the Gulf of St. Lawrence, most ships bound for Canada continued on to Quebec City or Montreal, and passengers wanting to go to Bytown did so on small bateaux.

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