Detroit Largest Canadian City in U.S.A. – 100,000 Canucks Living There – But Heavy Movement Across Line Is Over – They’re Coming Back Now at Rate of Eleven a Day at Windsor Border – Natural Attraction of the Big Cities, Rather Than Discontent with Canadian Conditions, Has Sent Many Young Men From Ontario Rural Districts to Detroit

By Gregory Clark, March 21, 1925.

In Detroit they call Canadians “freshwater immigrants.”

Nevertheless, Detroit is the largest Canadian city in the United States.

Canadian cities rank as follows by population: Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Hamilton, Ottawa, Detroit.

One hundred thousand is the estimate of the number of Canadian born who dwell in Detroit. Of its million population, one in ten is a Canadian. Detroit ranks as fourth city in the United States. But it is only the seventh Canadian city.

For every so many hundred square miles of the surface of the earth, there is a dominating city. Detroit is the big city of Western Ontario. What Toronto is to central Ontario and what Montreal is to the eastern townships, Detroit is to that piece of Ontario which slopes away to the southwest.

No other American city of a size sufficient to be powerfully magnetic to Canadians is located right on the border. But Detroit is within seventy-five cents of a score of Canadian villages, It is within two dollars of London. It is bigger than Canada’s biggest city.

It costs only five cents to cross the “imaginary line” on a ferry.

So to Detroit may we turn for light on the emigration of Canadians to the States with respect to which the politicians are crying out loud.

The minute you set foot in Detroit you know it is a city. Its skyscrapers have four fronts.

The sign of a city is when the city architect discovers that a skyscraper can be seen from four different directions and therefore has four fronts. Skyscrapers with one stone front and three homely brick backs are the continuation of the village institution of false-front stores – two-storey false fronts concealing a one-room shanty behind.

You step into Detroit. Its pavements are not good as Toronto’s or Barrie’s. But they are better than Montreal’s. A large bus, two touring cars and a limousine nearly run over you. With loud Canadian exclamation you hug the inside of the sidewalk. Two well-dressed panhandlers stop you boldly and touch you for a quarter apiece. They are framed, as they stand there, hands modestly extended, against a vista of beauty – ah, silver minarets against the blue, high, higher, highest skyscraper posed against skyscraper, far and away. A policeman dressed like a motorcop taps you smartly on the shoulder.

“Hey! Move on!”

Apologizing to the two handsome panhandlers for so niggardly a gift as a quarter, you move hurriedly on.

Such are your first five minutes in Detroit.

Still, Canada may well be proud of Detroit. It is a fine city.

It is the gate through which pass by far the largest number of Canadians who enter the United States for other than a mere visit. In the opinion of the United States inspector of immigration at that port, about one-quarter of all Canadians who cross the continent-wide boundary cross it at Detroit. Here, the facts of the exciting emigration of Canadians may best be dug up.

“The flood is past,” says Inspector A. M. Doig, in charge of immigration at Detroit, “From the end of the war, until 1923, the number of Canadians paying the head tax – that means those who come for a visit of more than six months – has been on the increase. It reached its peak in the year ending March, 1923. The decrease is rapid. For the past few months, the number of Canadians entering this port has fallen to what we call normal constant, an average of between thirty and thirty-five a day.

“Of course, there are local peaks during every year – one at the end of the harvest, when the farm laborers come south, and another in the spring, after the breakup in the bush, when the lumbermen and laborers come out of the Canadian bush and come down for summer work. These farm laborers and lumberjacks constitute a very large roving band who cross and recross the border.

“Of those other than seasonal workers, the peak is past, and I imagine quite large numbers of them, who have come over in the past five years, are returning to Canada.”

“Does the fact that a person pays the head tax mean that he leaves Canada for good and takes up permanent residence in the States?” we asked.

“Oh, no,” replied the inspector. “All who enter for more than a brief visit pay the $8 head tax. They may collect it again if they return to Canada within six months. Of those who pay the head tax, about 70 per cent. do not reclaim it.”

“Meaning,” we said, “that 30 per cent. do?”

“Yes. And of course we have no statistics beyond that. While we believe that a good many of that 70 per cent. who appear to have stayed actually do stay, yet the past six years have been abnormal and very unsettled, and there is room to doubt any conclusions that we may draw from general experience,” said the inspector. “But the immigration of Canadians to the States is not a new thing. It has been going on for a century. There has always been a steady trickle of Canadians over to us. They are perhaps the most desirable of all newcomers, because they are so quickly absorbed. A Canadian is the only immigrant you cannot tell from a native-born American at a glance.”

992,388 to U. S. in Decade

And here follows the rate at which Canadians have been going over the border – the whole United States border – for the past ten years:

Ten-year total992,383

The present slump has occurred in the fiscal year 1925, ending this month.

About 70 per cent. of these have not reclaimed their head tax. That is, they have stayed more than six months, or forgot to go to the trouble of writing and recovering the eight dollars.

It is, of course, within political license to say that the whole 992,388 have abandoned Canada. But the only facts are that 70 per cent. of that number didn’t collect their head tax. It is not safe even to assume that the whole 70 per cent. or 690,000, have stayed in the States during the past ten years.

Canada, unfortunately, has never kept tab on the number of Canadians who come back home from the States. But since the politicians who are “out” have been raising the cry of emigration to show how bad conditions are, the government has started to keep count, which shows in the last ten months that 39,000 who had taken up residence in the States had returned to Canada.

At the Detroit border, where Canadians are going over at the normal constant rate of thirty a day, they are coming back across the Windsor border at the average rate of 351 a month or eleven a day.

If Detroit were not so handy to the border, and within such easy range of western Ontario – which she drains just as normally as Toronto drains the counties all around her – would emigration to the States have been so great? Is not Detroit a special factor in the whole case, which throws out of joint all the reasoning by which emigration can be traced to business conditions?

Why does a young fellow leave Bowmanville for Toronto, Dundas for Hamilton, the Manitoba village for Winnipeg, or the little Quebec hamlet for Montreal?

In that answer, you find the junction between economics and human nature.

Big City’s Natural Attraction

Charles Mitchell, well-known Toronto man who for five years has been in Detroit organizing the Independent Order of Foresters there, is president of the Canadian Club of Detroit.

“I would estimate,” says Mr. Mitchell, “the number of Canadian-born in this city at over 80,000. And these include many who have been here since childhood. I know plenty of old men in this city who were born in Canada and came across nearly half a century ago. It is quite as logical for young men to come to Detroit as it is for young men to come to Toronto. The big city attracts. The bigger it is, the bigger the attraction. The most prosperous year Coboconk ever had probably saw some young men light out for Toronto. Economic conditions undoubtedly have something to do with migrations, of population, but don’t forget the human factor or youth in its determination to ‘see the world.’

“These figures you show seem very impressive. But do you realize that a very large part of them are farm and bush workers who follow the seasons, around; that builders and mechanics in large numbers, when the Canadian climate suspends building, come over and go to the southern states to work at their trades? And, of course, perhaps as high as 80 per cent. of the whole lot are single men, young men, free to move and therefore – moving!

“Don’t forget another thing: Canadians as workers are very highly esteemed here in the States. Bank clerks, accountants and other skilled office men in particular. Just a moment.”

And right before our eyes, Mr. Mitchell took the telephone and called up the head of a Detroit printing establishment who was known as one who favored Canadian printers above all others.

“Why is it that you prefer Canadians, and why have you a staff largely of Canadians?” Mr. Mitchell asked this gentleman, himself a native born American.

The answer taken down was this:

“They are more thorough, more reliable, a little better schooled than our own printers.”

“Why are they more reliable?”

“By that I mean that they are not so free-and-easy and off-hand as our own people. They have a better sense of responsibility in their work. They stick to the job better.”

Detroit Favors Canadians

Mr. Mitchell hung up the phone.

“You see? Democracy is a mighty fine thing. I admire it intensely. But it has its drawbacks. Canadians as a class are more conservative than Americans. Not so free-and-easy. This quality is highly prized in Detroit by business men. I can, if you like, call up bankers, business men, merchants, and all will say the same of Canadians. Now, there is another factor in the case. Not only do Canadians come here; they are wanted here.”

“But,” we said, “we can’t print a free ad. for the States like that!”

“Why not?” said Mr. Mitchell. “There are millions of Canadians who wouldn’t live in the States anyway. Oh, Canada has its advantages.”

He looked out of the window, where Detroit was beginning to make its five o’clock roar.

While there are a little under a million people in Detroit itself, there is almost another million living close around it. From towns and villages as far away as sixty miles, commuters come in every day of their lives, by two-hour steam railway journeys, to work in the city. It has a vast foreign population – other than Canadian – mostly Polish and south European, who live in communities packed all about. You can go up Toronto’s Yonge street by street car six miles. But up Woodward avenue you can go fifteen. The street numbers go to 3500 on Yonge street. But on Woodward avenue the 20,000’s are still in town.

As you get up into the five figures of street numbers you get into the three-figure values of houses. Queer little bird-boxes, close packed, with no hope, as there are in, say, Toronto’s shacktowns, of presently expanding into a brick residential district. Huge suburbs entirely of negroes. Swarming regions where even the policemen speak English with difficulty.

We Canadians have a peculiar impression that the United States is a sort of big British brother who has left home and is living by himself. It is with a peculiar apoplectic sensation that you are herded into a wicket at the Detroit border, while an Italian, wearing a blue uniform and the eagle on his cap, halts you, eyes you coldly and calculatingly, and asks you all about yourself and your assumption that you are free to go into the United States.

If you don’t look good to him, this swarthy gentleman with the flashing eye will put a head tax on you.

Thirty thousand Canadians commute daily from Windsor over to Detroit to work. And a peculiar turn of affairs is that several thousand Americans are moving across to the Canadian side to live, though their work is in Detroit.

Some of the emigration is not deliberate.

Dr. Prentiss, the director of immigration at Detroit, told us of a dentist and his wife from Nova Scotia who came on a tourist trip east as far as Detroit. They had friends in the city with whom they stayed a month. And they found an opportunity for establishing a practice in Detroit which looked good to them. So they decided to stay. But they had to return to Nova Scotia to have their passports made out.

How Population Drifts

A Guelph business man, on his way for a winter holiday in California, stopped off in Detroit to see some business friends. He played around his own line of business, and within a week saw certain chances that made him stay two and ultimately four weeks. He did not go on to California at all. He made up his mind to open a business like his own right in Detroit. He is now the head of one of the city’s thriving manufacturing firms.

“We have no end of cases,” says Dr. Prentiss, “of Canadians who came over on a holiday who remained. Of course, that is also true of Canada and our own people.”

One emigrant to the States takes another with him. That is shown in the above table of emigration for the past ten years. In the train going to Detroit we met a prominent young Ontario financial man and promoter, who has interests equally distributed in Canada and the States.

“Western Ontario,” said he, “with its natural drift of population to Detroit, its nearest big city, is one of the biggest contributors to emigration to the States. In my immediate family connection in Western Ontario there have been seven families move to Detroit. It all began with one, a printer, who went over and at once found a good job. His success inspired a cousin to do likewise. This success spread about amongst the relatives, and seven of them moved. Not all have been a success. Two have returned to Canada. But emigration moves that way. One marked success will sometimes take half the young men away from a village. But in the end there is still only the one marked success.”

It is possible those who decry this emigration to the States have some scheme whereby human nature can be muzzled and youth held down so that it will no longer want to roam and see the world.

For as far as other factors are involved, the emigration from Canada has fallen back to normal. Canadians who, in the confusion and excitement of the end of the war, when half a million ex-soldiers were cast upon a dominion all at once deflated from munitions wages, went south to where the greatest accumulation of war wealth in the world was located, are now on the home bend.

Let’s hope they are all bringing nice fat chunks of that war wealth back home with them.

Editor’s Notes: There must have been a political issue at the time that caused this article to be written.

Coboconk is a community in the Kawartha Lakes area.