The Canadian Agreement of 1893
As the nineteenth century was drawing to a close the United States tightened its previously wide open immigration policies, denying access to those immigrants it deemed undesirable in its ports and across the Mexican border. The long border between the United States and Canada, and the access across the Detroit River and at many other border crossings made bypassing America’s immigration laws a simple matter of entering Canada, and then crossing the border to the south. Bypassing the American east coast ports and entering via Canada became a favored method of entry, as it avoided the need to deal with often corrupt immigration officials.
Under the Page Act and the subsequent Immigration Act of 1882, it was the responsibility of transportation companies to return persons rejected for immigration into the United States to their nation of origin, or their point of embarkation, at the expense of the company. Companies which balked at performing this obligation were informed that their ships would be denied access to American ports, regardless of what cargo or passengers the ships were carrying. With trade between the United States and Europe booming, shippers were loath to lose the lucrative business, and equally loath to absorb the expenses of returning passengers rejected because of the intransigence of American inspectors.
The solution was to enter into Canadian ports, where the entry of individuals was not subject to the local whims and prejudices which infected American ports. By the 1890s entry into Canada was the favored route of many Europeans, especially those in Northern Europe and Scandinavia, who would then enter the United States through Minnesota, Michigan, or Wisconsin, where there were large communities of Scandinavian immigrants, or those of Northern European descent. Canadian shipping companies encouraged potential immigrants to travel on their ships to North America, on both coasts, and the cost of patrolling the northern border precluded the United States from stemming the tide from the north.
In 1893 the United States and Canada negotiated an agreement in which immigration inspectors from the United States were stationed in the major Canadian ports and granted the authority to deny entry into Canada individuals which would be denied entry into the United States based on existing immigration criteria. The authority extended to those requesting immigration into Canada, without expressing any desire or interest in entering the United States. American immigration officials were placed in Victoria and Vancouver on the west coast of Canada, and the major ports of Halifax, Montreal, and Quebec in the east.
Shipping companies were required to be signatories to the agreement, and for the next two decades Canada and the United States clashed over the execution of the policy. Both Canadian shipping companies and railroads were brought into compliance with American immigration requirements. Canadian shippers were required to complete US Shipping Manifests, and subsequent documentation allowing entry to the United States was completed by American inspectors. In effect, the United States, while not completely controlling immigration into Canada, imposed its requirements of entry on those coming to North America via Canadian ships.