For family historians researching Canadian roots, the date and place of an ancestor's arrival in Canada is crucial information, providing a key chronological milestone against which to base research both in Canada and the country of origin. Records of immigration also provide important details such as age, place of origin and names of other family members.
The Vancouver Public Library collection includes many useful resources for researching Canadian passenger lists and border entry records. Additional records are available at other repositories. An extensive amount of historical immigration data can also be accessed online, together with digital images of original records.
Other primary sources of information on immigrant arrivals in Canada exist in addition to passenger lists and border entry records. Some of these sources are listed at the end.
This guide explores both official records of immigration to Canada as well as miscellaneous sources of immigrant arrival data prior to 1865. It also provides information on researching passenger arrival records for Canadian coastal ports as well as border entry records for overland arrivals from the United States. It does not consider border entry records for people who crossed from Canada to the United States. For information on people who came from the United States to Canada during the U.S. Revolutionary War, see the Loyalists section.
Official Canadian immigration records include:
Records do not begin until 1865 for ship passenger lists and 1908 for border entry records. Both are available to 1935. Form 30 and Form 30A only cover a period of approximately five years from 1919-1924.
|Note: In the context of immigration, “port of entry” does not necessarily refer to a location situated on a waterway, such as an ocean coast or river. It refers to a place where one may lawfully enter a country. Border posts, for example, are “ports of entry” even if they are located inland.|
Passenger Lists and Border Entry Records
- Ship Passenger Lists
- Form 30A Passenger Records 1919-1924
- Border Entry Records
- Form 30 Border Entries, 1919-1924
- Records After 1935
- Date of Arrival
No comprehensive Canadian passenger lists exist prior to 1865 because there was no organized system for documenting immigrant arrivals in Canada. Even so, some passenger lists and other records related to immigrants have survived and are in the collections of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and provincial archives. Transcripts and indexes to some early records have also been published or posted online.
From 1865 on, a regular system of recording passenger arrivals was established. The corresponding records constitute the official record of immigration during this period. There are no other official immigration records and no records of departure.
Passenger lists exist for the following ports of entry to Canada:
These lists include only the names of passengers who intended to proceed directly to Canada. Extracts of U.S. manifests at the east coast ports of New York, Baltimore, Boston, Portland, Philadelphia and Providence were collected by the Canadian immigration service beginning in 1905.
Notwithstanding the ranges of dates cited above, there are gaps from approximately 1919 to 1924 due to the use of Form 30A.
From June 1, 1921 to December 31, 1924, the Department of Immigration and Colonization replaced passenger lists with individual manifests known as Form 30A. Each person - including children - had to submit Form 30A although individuals transiting directly to the U.S. were not required to complete it.
Use of Form 30A was inconsistent. In some offices an earlier version was used as early as 1919. Elsewhere, the old-style passenger lists remained in use as late as 1922.
Some immigrants appear in both passenger lists and Form 30A records. If you are searching for an arrival between 1919-1924, it is recommended that you search both passenger lists and Form 30A records.
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA
Before April 1908, people could move freely across the United States–Canada border. There are no records of trans-border immigration during this period.
Between April and December 1908, Canada established approximately 70 official “border ports of entry” along the Canada-U.S. border as well as additional unofficial or secondary inspection posts. Immigration officers first began compiling border entry lists in the same year, although records for many ports of entry do not begin until sometime later. Border entry records include records of immigrants arriving in Canada via ferries at fresh-water and some sea ports.
Records of border entries exist for all provinces except Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, which have no borders with the United States. There are also border entry lists for those entering the Yukon from Alaska. As well, by 1918, Canadian border entry ports had been established in the United States on major train and ferry routes into Canada. U.S.-based Canadian border entry post locations included Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, as well as several border and lake towns in Vermont and New York State.
There are many gaps in surviving border entry records. This is because not all immigrants were recorded. For example, some crossed the border when the port of entry was closed or did not arrive through a port of entry. Other border crossings went unrecorded because individuals were considered returning Canadians rather than immigrants if one or either parent was born or had resided in Canada.
From January 1, 1919 to the end of 1924, border entry lists were replaced by individual manifests known as Form 30. Form 30 was the overland equivalent of Form 30A. Use of Form 30 was discontinued on January 1, 1925.
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA
Records of immigrant arrivals at Canadian land and sea ports of entry after December 31, 1935 are in the custody of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Requests for copies of landing records after 1935 can be submitted to Citizenship and Immigration Canada under Access to Information legislation. Visit the Access to Information Request Form web page for more information, including printable online forms.
There is a $5.00 fee for each Access to Information request. Forms can be mailed to:
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Public Rights Administration
360 Laurier Avenue West, 10th Floor
Because of the huge waves of immigration to Canada in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it may be difficult to pinpoint your ancestor's arrival in passenger lists or border entry records unless you have some idea of the date. Many immigrants shared common surnames and given names, even if they were unrelated. For example, a search of one popular online collection of Canadian passenger lists retrieved 844 records of passengers named John Thompson arriving at Canadian ports between 1865-1935.
Many genealogical sources provide clues to the date that an ancestor arrived in Canada. For example, when searching back through city directories, the disappearance of an ancestor from the listings suggests that he or she may have arrived in Canada around that time. On the other hand, the person may have settled briefly elsewhere when they first arrived, only to relocate later to the area covered by the directory.
Some sources provide more specific clues. For example, column 12 of 1901 and 1911 Canadian census schedules indicates the Year of Immigration to Canada. Some civil death registration records document the length of the deceased’s residence in Canada, if the person was an immigrant. This information can be used to calculate the approximate year of arrival.
Naturalization records may also include information indicating when a person arrived in Canada. For more information on naturalization records see: Citizenship and Naturalization (Library and Archives Canada).
The National Registration of 1940 asked immigrants to indicate their year of arrival in Canada. For more information on the National Registration of 1940 see: 1940 National Registration (Library and Archives Canada).
Print and Microfilm
To see a list for some print and microfilm sources of nominal information on immigrants to Canada available in the Vancouver Public Library collection, visit the Immigration Records booklist.
Ancestry Library Edition
Ancestry Library Edition (ALE) is a version of ancestry.ca licensed for use in libraries. It is available at all Vancouver Public Library locations but cannot be used from home.
Ancestry Library Edition is not a single database but a collection of thousands of databases, including several derived from Canadian passenger lists and border entry records. These are listed below. Unless otherwise noted, search results are linked to digital versions of original records.
Border Crossings: From U.S. to Canada, 1908-1935
Over 1.6 million records of arrivals at Canadian border entry ports in Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon, as well as some processed in the U.S. (Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont).
Canada, Ocean Arrivals (Form 30A), 1919-1924
Over 750,000 individual declarations of immigrants arriving at Canadian ports.
Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935
Over 7 million records of passenger arrivals at Canadian ports as well as records of passengers arriving at eastern U.S. ports enroute to Canada.
Ship Passengers Arriving in Canada (Letter A): 1919-1924
An index derived from Form 30A records for passengers with surnames Aagard, Bjarre to Adams, Julua only. Comprises approximately 2300 records. There are no digital images associated with this database. A complete A-Z index to all Form 30A records is available in Canada, Ocean Arrivals (Form 30A), 1919-1924.
The sources listed in our Passenger Lists - Research Tools booklist do not include names of immigrants but may be useful when researching ship passenger lists and border entry records.
The extensive collection of Canadian genealogical materials at the Cloverdale Branch of the Surrey Public Library includes Canadian ship passenger lists on microfilm. Collection highlights are briefly described below. For full details, see Canadian Family History Resources: A Guide to the Materials Held at the Cloverdale Library.
Pre-1865 Records at Cloverdale Branch
The following microfilm sources available at Cloverdale Branch comprise some lists of passengers and immigrants:
- Nova Scotia Colonial Office 1745-1792
- Duckworth Papers: Newfoundland 1786-1815
- Colonial Office Records Index
- Toronto Emigration Office Records (Hawke Papers) 1831-1892
- Peter Robinson Papers: 1823, 1825, 1844
1865-1935 Records at Cloverdale Branch
The Cloverdale collection includes complete microfilm collections of the following Canadian passenger ship arrival and border entry records:
- Passenger Lists, 1865-1935
- Form 30A
- Border Entry Records
The collection also includes lists of ships and a few microfilmed passenger list indexes from 1906-1919.
Canadian Passenger Lists and Border Entry Records
Library and Archives Canada's collection includes microfilm copies of Canadian passenger lists and border entry records. Film numbers are listed on the following web pages:
- Border Entry, 1925-1935 (RG 76): List of Dates and Microfilm Reel Numbers
- French Regime, Passenger Lists (MG 1 F5B): List of Volumes and Microfilm Reel Numbers
- Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 (RG 76): List of Ports, Dates and Microfilm Reel Numbers
- Immigration Form 30, Border Entries, 1919-1924 (RG 76 C5b): List of Microfilm Reel Numbers
- Immigration Form 30A, Ocean Arrivals, 1919-1924 (RG 76 C1j): List of Microfilm Reel Numbers
Unpublished Thematic Guides
Detailed thematic guides can be found on the Library and Archives Canada website. These guides explore specific types of records in depth. Some of the records and documents cited may be useful for the purposes of genealogical research.
- Canadian Immigration Since Confederation and the Department of External Affairs
- Grosse-Île Quarantine Station (Québec)
- Immigration Instructions: A Chart of Circulars, Directives and Operations Memoranda, 1909-1978
- Immigration of Farm Labourers to Canada, 1918-1945
- Most Frequently Used Immigration Records
- Records on the Immigration of Domestics
To order a print or digital reproduction of material in the collection at Library and Archives Canada, please visit their Reproduction Requests web page.
Online Ship Passenger Lists and Border Entry Records
A large amount of information from Canadian passenger lists and border entry records is available for free on the Internet. In many cases, digital images of original records are provided.
Some databases duplicate data available in other sources. If you are unable to find your ancestor in one source, it is worth repeating the search in another database because transcription and indexing standards are often inconsistently applied.
AVITUS – Directory of Resources (Library and Archives Canada)
This portal provides access to a range of online genealogy resources created by a diverse group of Canadian organizations and agencies. To find passenger list and border entry information using AVITUS:
- Click on Advanced Search.
- For Type, select Resource.
- Enter passenger lists or border in the first text entry box.
- Run the search.
Canadian Passenger Lists (Olive Tree Genealogy)
Links to a few transcriptions of passenger lists and other sources of immigrant information.
Form 30A, 1919-1924 (Ocean Arrivals) (Library and Archives Canada)
Digitized images for individual manifests (Form 30A, RG 76 C1j) submitted to immigration officers at the ports of arrival by each passenger arriving by ship between 1919 and 1924.
Immigrant Ship Transcribers Guild (ISTG)
The Immigrant Ship Transcribers Guild is a group of volunteers dedicated to transcribing ship passenger lists from approximately the 18th to the mid-20th centuries and making the data available online. Although the site is not user-friendly and lacks source citations, the ISTG has succeeded in transcribing over 10,000 passenger lists and may be a useful starting point. Canadian passenger lists are included in:
- Volumes 1-7
- Volume 9
- Volume 11
Immigrants before 1865 (Library and Archives Canada)
Although there are no comprehensive official records of immigrant arrivals before 1865, a few miscellaneous lists have been identified and indexed by name in this database, which comprises 23,000 references. Other types of records such as declarations of aliens and names of some Irish orphans are also indexed.
Passenger Lists and Border Entries, 1925-1935 - Nominal Indexes (Library and Archives Canada)
This database provides online access to information about immigrant arrivals from 1925-1935 and includes references to microfilm copies of the original lists. The microfilm have been digitized and are available on the Library and Archives Canada website. Border entry records for individuals with surnames beginning with C are also indexed.
Passenger List Indexing Project (Nanaimo Family History Society)
The aim of this major project is to index arrivals at Quebec (including Montreal) from 1900 to about 1921, when Form 30A was adopted. Quebec arrivals from July 31, 1903 to October 13, 1910 are now complete and available on the website. Quebec arrivals from 1903 back to 1900 are currently being indexed.
The Passenger Lists, 1865-1922 (Library and Archives Canada)
This database can be searched by name of ship, year of arrival, port of arrival, shipping line, port of departure, date of departure, and date of arrival. It is not possible to search according to an individual's name, although individual names appear on the passenger lists. Currently available lists include:
- Halifax, 1881-1912
- North Sydney, 1906-1908
- Quebec, 1865-1921
- Saint John, 1900-1912
- Vancouver, 1905-1912
Port Returns [including Passenger Lists] (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick)
A database of information derived from manifests created pursuant to legislation passed by the General Assembly of New Brunswick in 1832. All surviving passenger lists held by the PANB have been indexed for this project (10,412 records). Only 135 lists are represented, a very small proportion of all immigrants to New Brunswick.
Passenger Lists for the Port of Quebec City, 1865-1900 (Library and Archives Canada)
Access to almost 1 million references to names of passengers appearing on lists for Quebec City from May 1, 1865 to April 24,1900. Search results are linked to digital images of original records.
Other Online Immigration Records
In addition to the online sources of data from Canadian ship passenger and border entry records listed above, there are other electronic nominal lists of immigrants to Canada:
Home Children (1869-1932) (Library and Archives Canada)
Records of over 100,000 orphaned, abandoned and pauper children sent to Canada from Great Britain by philanthropic organizations between 1869 and the late 1930s. The database does not include digital images.
Immigrants at Grosse-Île (Library and Archives Canada)
Grosse-Ile is a small island in the St. Lawrence River that served as a quarantine station for the Port of Quebec from 1832-1937. It was a mandatory stop for all ships destined for Quebec City. Passengers were required to undergo medical inspection and those who were sick were hospitalized on the island. Healthy passengers who had been in contact with the sick were detained separately for medical observation. The database comprises information culled from a variety of records, representing 33,026 individuals associated with the island. It includes names from records of baptisms, births at sea, burials, deaths at sea, hospital registers and other sources. In some cases, references are linked to images of original documents.
Immigrants from China (Library and Archives Canada)
Beginning in 1885, Chinese immigrants to Canada were required to pay an exorbitant head tax to immigrate to Canada. The database comprises over 98,000 references to Chinese immigrant arrivals in Canada, mainly derived from registers used to record receipt of head tax payments. Search results include a large amount of detailed information about each immigrant and are linked to digital images of the original registers.
Irish Famine Migration to New Brunswick 1845-1852 (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick)
Approximately 23,000 references to Irish immigrant arrivals in New Brunswick compiled from a variety of sources held by the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. The database includes archival references but there are no digital images of original documents.
Immigrants from the Russian Empire, 1898-1922 (Library and Archives Canada)
A database comprising 11,400 references derived from a collection of records created by officials of Imperial Russian Consular offices in Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver from 1898-1922. The records comprise personal documents brought by immigrants from Russia and surrendered to consular officials in exchange for identity cards that allowed them to live and work in Canada. There are also images of the original documents, typically extending to several pages for each immigrant.
Immigrants Sponsored by the Montreal Emigrant Society, 1832  (Library and Archives Canada)
The Montreal Emigrant Society was established in 1831 to assist poor immigrants who needed assistance travelling to destinations in parts of Lower and Upper Canada where they planned to settle. It assisted 49,740 immigrants between 1831-1835. This database comprises 1947 references from the Montreal Emigrant Society Passage Book for 1832. The records are taken from a single register in custody of Library and Archives Canada. Digital images of the register are included.
Peter Robinson Ships' Lists (Trent Valley Archives)
Transcribed passenger lists of nine ships that set sail from Cork, Ireland in May 1825, carrying a combined total of 2024 passengers. The immigrants were led by Peter Robinson, who had served in the Legislative Assembly and later the Executive and Legislative Council of Upper Canada and who had been asked by his brother, the Attorney-General for Upper Canada, to lead an emigration from poverty-stricken Ireland to Canada. Robinson had previously led an Irish immigration in 1823. The information is similar to that found in the Kawartha Ancestral Research Association’s Irish Settlers of 1825.
Irish Settlers of 1825 (Kawartha Ancestral Research Association Inc.)
A listing of Peter Robinson settlers from the emigration of 1825. Includes similar information to that found in the Trent Valley Archives’ Peter Robinson Ships' Lists database. The information is organized according to the destination township of each immigrant rather than the name of the ship on which they travelled.
Toronto Emigrant Office Assisted Immigration Registers Database (Archives of Ontario)
An online index to four volumes of assisted immigration registers created by the Toronto Emigrant Office between 1865 and 1883. The registers are a chronological listing of new immigrants who were assisted by the government in travelling to many destinations across southern Ontario.
Citizenship and Naturalization Records
Citizenship and naturalization records can also be a useful source of information when researching an ancestor who immigrated to Canada.
Naturalization Records, 1915-1951 (Library and Archives Canada)
Lists published by the Secretary of State of immigrants who were not British subjects by birth and became Canadians. Nearly 400,000 records from 1915-1939 can be searched by name and country of origin. From 1939 to 1951 it can be searched by date only. Information includes name, residence, occupation and date of naturalization.
Citizenship Registration Records, 1851-1945 - Montreal Circuit Court (Library and Archives Canada)
Over 8,000 naturalization records from the Circuit Court office in Montreal created between 1868 and 1916. Records typically include name, age, residence, former residence, place of birth, length of residence in Canada, occupation, and date of naturalization.
Naturalization Records, 1828-1850 - Upper Canada and Canada West (Library and Archives Canada)
Copies of register entries for nearly 3,000 immigrants mostly from the United States who took the Oath of Allegiance. Records can include name, residence, occupation and date of oath.