From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Spaniards/

Spaniards have a long history of migration, both within Europe and across the Atlantic. The transatlantic flow began almost immediately after the European arrival in the Americas at the end of the fifteenth century and has continued, with varying degrees of intensity, ever since. Spaniards were fully integrated into the great trans-Atlantic migration from Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth: from 1846 to 1932 almost five million people left Spain for the Americas, putting Spain in fifth place, behind Great Britain, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Germany. The motives for this massive migration were similar to those operating elsewhere in Europe: the disruption caused by the spread of industrialization and the increasing integration of the global, and especially the trans-Atlantic, economy.

The vast majority of these migrants went to the two remaining American colonies, Cuba and Puerto Rico, which until 1898 were favoured destinations. So were a number of the former Spanish colonies which had become independent in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Mexico and, above all, Argentina received hundreds of thousands of Spaniards: one third of the 4.5 million Europeans who went to Argentina between 1857 and 1915 came from Spain. Existing migration chains, active recruitment and the attraction of countries in which their language was spoken all drew Spaniards to Latin America; only a tiny fragment of the huge Spanish migratory flow went to North America and most of those went to the United States. Hawaiian sugar planters recruited people from southern Spain as labourers between 1907 and 1914 and later in the century Basques were specially recruited as shepherds for Nevada.

The vast majority of those who crossed the Atlantic came from a small number of provinces in Spain: the Canary Islands and the Cantabrian coastal areas of Galicia, Asturias, and Santander. All had a poor and overpopulated countryside and emigration became a standard experience for people in those regions. Two other provinces, Almería and Murcia, in the southeast, also became important sources of migrants when the local mining industries collapsed. Many of these migrants were “birds of passage” or sojourners, young males, both single and married, who crossed the ocean in search of wages to supplement the income from a smallholding. Many hoped to “make America,” as the Spanish saying put it, and return home as indianos, people who had made a fortune.

Residents of Spain were among the very first Europeans to arrive in Canada. In the sixteenth century, Basque fishermen and whalers worked the waters off Newfoundland. Their activities are commemorated in place names such as Port aux Basques and Spaniards’ Bay and in the remains of graves, pottery ovens, dwellings, and even a complete galleon discovered by archaeologists. The Spanish presence on the west coast began in 1774. The Crown sent official expeditions of exploration north from ports on the Pacific coast of Mexico to protect California by preventing Spain’s imperial rivals, Russia and Great Britain, from establishing themselves in the area. Spain had a military post at Nootka on Vancouver Island but never attempted to colonize the region. This post was abandoned in 1795. The only remnants of this early presence are names such as Galiano Island, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Narvaez Bay, and Mount Bodega.

Given the ease of migrating to countries where Spanish was the national language and for which well-established migratory chains already existed, there can be no surprise that few Spaniards came to North America. Modern Spanish migration to Canada falls into three clearly defined periods during the twentieth century. In the first, which lasted until 1957, there were very few immigrants from Spain. An estimated 2,000 Spaniards did come in 1913–14 but that was a much larger number than in previous or succeeding years. The total number of people who had come from Spain was 2,208 in 1921, 1,472 in 1931 and 1,030 in 1941. From 1946 to 1956 only 2,556 Spaniards were admitted to Canada, an average of 232 per year. In fact almost half came in 1951 and 1956; the average for the other nine years was only 150.

The second period began in 1957. The year before the Spanish government had created the National Emigration Institute to assist its nationals who sought to leave the country. This was part of a radical change in the overall economic policy of the Franco regime from autarky, or national economic self-sufficiency, with massive government intervention to a more liberalized model of industrialization. This shift included a concern to facilitate the migration of “excess” population, especially from the countryside. At the same time Canada was actively seeking more immigrants and in 1957 the two governments signed an agreement to bring Spaniards to Canada.

Three expeditions of Spanish immigrants were organized under the auspices of the 1957 agreement. The first, in May 1957, was known as “Operation Alce” (Moose) and brought 125 couples from all regions of the country to Canada. The following month “Operation Bisonte” (Bison), brought 98 single men, most of whom were farmers and most of whom came from the region of Navarre. The final expedition was organized in 1960 by the Spanish Catholic Commission on Emigration and brought 50 single women to work as domestic servants. This period of officially sponsored immigration ended in 1960.

Of course many Spaniards had come to Canada outside of these government agreements and they have continued to do so since 1960. A number of exiles from the Civil War came to Canada after having gone to a third country, usually one in Latin America. The pattern of Spanish immigration to Canada since 1960 resembles that of the years before 1957 and is marked by a steady but small flow of people. Between 1961 and 1989 a total of 16,184 Spaniards came to Canada, an average of 558 per year. The peak years were 1966, 1967, and 1968 with, respectively, 1,161, 1,372, and 1,367 Spanish immigrants.

The period of most arrivals in Canada corresponds to the years in which Spaniards generally were migrating most actively, either to other countries in Europe or within Spain itself. This helps explain the large number of Spaniards who came to Canada from third countries: according to a study done in Toronto in 1986, 43 percent fell into this category. Likewise, the immense scale of population movement within Spain accounts for the fact that many Spaniards came to Canada from the cities. The same Toronto study revealed that over half of the respondents had an urban background. Immigration fell off noticeably after 1977, when Spain had become a relatively wealthy country and democracy had been re-established following the death of General Franco. Between 1980 and 1992 the annual immigration of Spaniards to Canada was on average only 166.