Resources

Migration

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Channel Islanders/Yves Frenette

It was primarily fishing and trade that brought people from Jersey and Guernsey to Canada. Early on, Channel Islanders fished the banks of Newfoundland; the first written reference to their presence dates to 1591. Nine years later the new governor of Jersey, Sir Walter Raleigh, stimulated the growth of the North American fishery by encouraging the island’s entrepreneurs to outfit ships for the new lands. When the French left the south coast of Newfoundland after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 the Channel Islanders’ commercial presence in the region increased. In 1731 there were seventeen ships and 1500 people in the employ of Jersey firms in Atlantic Canada; this figure does not include the numerous people from Jersey who were employed by shipowners from Guernsey, England, and France. The 943 fishers from the Channel Islands in Newfoundland in 1765 represented 10 percent of the total number of fishers.

Fishing boats from Jersey and Guernsey left in the spring and returned in the fall. However, a few people had to stay the winter to take care of the shore structures and prepare the next fishing season. Such were the hesitant beginnings of permanent settlement. Although their numbers were dwarfed by the English and Irish, Channel Islanders were the third largest group of pioneers in Newfoundland.

After the conquest, entrepreneurs from the Channel Islands entered the Gulf of St Lawrence. Each year, about fifty Jersey ships with crews totalling 2,500 people fished off the coast of Canada. A number of firms moved towards a sedentary fishery during this period, establishing permanent settlements and recruiting fishers from the local population.

As much as possible, Jersey entrepreneurs avoided gens de règle – sailors and artisans accustomed to the Canadian fishery – in favour of gens d’entreprise, who came from the most rural parishes of the island and had little experience of working for wages. Almost all the skilled workers, day-labourers, and sailors came from the Channel Islands. Mostly farmers and agricultural workers, whose wives and children took care of their farms while they were away, they left Jersey after the spring communion and hoped to be back in time for the harvest. Clerks were recruited in the schools of Jersey, where the most promising teenagers had already begun an apprenticeship that they would complete in Atlantic Canada. These young people had to sign on for five years, and they worked extremely hard.

It was under the umbrella of the fish companies that Channel Islanders settled in Atlantic Canada. The companies did not openly discourage people who contracted with them from settling on the coast when their contracts were up. Even families that immigrated independently were undoubtedly attracted by the availability of credit offered by the companies and the guarantee of being able to sell cod to them.

The Channel Islands did not make a large numerical contribution to Canada’s population. In 1871 when the presence of Channel Islanders in Canada was at its height, there were 852 people born in Jersey and Guernsey in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. Even on the Gaspé coast, the 397 people from Jersey and Guernsey represented only 1.3 percent of the population at the time. The only significant concentrations of Channel Islanders in Atlantic Canada were in Arichat on Isle Madame, off the southwest coast of Cape Breton, and in Paspébiac in the Gaspé. Both of these were headquarters for the large fish companies. Only in Grande-Grave and Malbay, also in the Gaspé, did immigrants from the Channel Islands represent a majority of the population.

There has been virtually no immigration from the Channel Islands to Canada since 1930. In fact, an indeterminate number of people from Jersey have returned to their native island or emigrated to the United States. Some, however, chose to stay, continuing to work for the few remaining fish companies. Although these companies had become Canadian, they were still managed by people from Jersey or thoroughly anglicized Canadians of Jersey origin, and as much as possible continued to hire clerks whose family origins were in Jersey.