The best books to capture Canada’s colourful immigration history

Valerie Knowles Author Of Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-2015
By Valerie Knowles

Who am I?

I am a Canadian freelance writer, who has a BA in honours history from Smith College, an MA in history from McGill University, and a Bachelor in Journalism from Carleton University. As I have a special interest in Canadian history and Canadian biography, I have authored books in these subject areas. These include an award-winning biography of Sir William Van Horne, a polymath and railway general who pushed through the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Cairine Wilson. Canada’s first woman senator, who was celebrated for her work with refugees in the 1930s and 1940s, and a best-selling survey of Canadian immigration and immigration policy, Strangers At Our Gates.


I wrote...

Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-2015

By Valerie Knowles,

Book cover of Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-2015

What is my book about?

Immigrants and immigration have always been central to the development of Canada and to Canadians’ perception of themselves as a country and a society. In this crisply written history, Valerie Knowles describes the different kinds of immigrants who have settled in Canada and the immigration policies that have helped to define the character of Canadian immigration over the centuries. Key policymakers and shapers of public opinion also figure prominently in this colourful story.

The books I picked & why

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Canada and immigration: Public policy and public concern

By Freda Hawkins,

Book cover of Canada and immigration: Public policy and public concern

Why this book?

This book, which was written when serious questions were being asked about Canadian immigration, is a gold mine of information on this delicate and emotional subject. The research is both extensive and meticulous. Moreover, the author does not just cite and explain facts about events and circumstances, she also provides clues as to what she feels constitutes an immigration policy.


The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy

By Ninette Kelley, Michael Trebilcock,

Book cover of The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy

Why this book?

Canadian immigration policy has always been a subject of fierce political and public debate and in this authoritative work Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock examine the interests, ideas, institutions, and rhetoric that have shaped it. The authors begin their study in the pre-Confederation period and interpret major developments in the evolution of Canadian immigration policy. Among the shameful episodes they describe are the deportations of the First World War and Great Depression and the uprooting and internment of Japanese Canadians after Pearl Harbour.


The Little Immigrants: The Orphans Who Came to Canada

By Kenneth Bagnell,

Book cover of The Little Immigrants: The Orphans Who Came to Canada

Why this book?

Journalist, author, and retired United Church minister, Kenneth Bagnell has written a vivid account of the thousands of slum children (not all of them were orphans) who were dispatched to Canada from 1869 to the late 1930s by well-meaning philanthropists, philanthropic rescue homes, and parish workhouse schools. At the time, this seemed to be the ideal solution to a two-pronged problem: what to do with the tens of thousands of children from the slums of Britain who faced a bleak future there and how to meet the soaring demand for cheap labour on Canadian farms.


Invisible Immigrants: The English in Canada since 1945

By Marilyn Barber, Murray Watson,

Book cover of Invisible Immigrants: The English in Canada since 1945

Why this book?

Although the English are among the largest immigrant groups contributing to the development of modern Canada, their story remained, for the most part, untold until the publication of this book in 2015. In this carefully researched work of popular history, Marilyn Barber and Murray Watson recount the personal experiences of English immigrants who elected to come to Canada between the 1940s and 1970s, England’s last major wave of emigration. Most of these postwar English immigrants thought they were going to a country whose language and culture would be familiar. Instead, like other immigrants, they contended with separation from loved ones back home while adapting to a new landscape and culture. Moreover, although they did not appear visibly different from their neighbours, these newcomers were immediately labelled “foreigners” as soon as they started to speak.


Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, 1975-1980

By Michael Molloy, Peter Duschinsky, Kurt Jensen, Robert Shalka

Book cover of Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, 1975-1980

Why this book?

The fall of Saigon in 1975, inspired the largest and most ambitious refugee resettlement program in Canada’s history. In this compelling book, former Canadian immigration officers recount the experiences of a few dozen men and women who visited 70 remote refugee camps to arrange for the selection and resettlement of thousands of individuals displaced by oppression and war in eight different countries. The long days and humid and trying conditions under which these officers worked — sometimes sleeping on their work tables and subsisting on green tea and dried noodles – make for a gripping narrative. But the history also describes the 1976 Immigration Act, which established new refugee procedures and introduced private sponsorship. Ultimately, Canada accepted and resettled 60,000 refugees, half of whom were privately sponsored.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Canada, public policy, and immigrants?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Canada, public policy, and immigrants.

Canada Explore 216 books about Canada
Public Policy Explore 48 books about public policy
Immigrants Explore 84 books about immigrants

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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