Guarding the Gates: The Canadian Labour Movement and Immigration, 1872–1934.


274 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7748-1364-8
DDC 331.880971





Reviewed by Terry A. Crowley

Terry A. Crowley is a professor of history at the University of Guelph,
and the author of Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality.


If the rise of women constituted the foremost development of the 20th century in the Western world, high levels of immigration have been the foremost societal development in Canada during the past two decades. With as many as a quarter million immigrants entering the country annually, this country has been receiving proportionally more new residents than any other in the world.


Although the annual numbers of immigrants in the recent past have been no higher than what Canada received during the boom years of the opening of the Prairies from 1897 to 1914, what has distinguished the recent tides has been the presence of so many non-British and non-Western European peoples. During the 1960s Canada began to shed its White Canada Forever immigration policies through legislation that insured more rational planning for family reunification and human resource needs related to regulating the economy.


McMaster labour studies professor David Goutor adds greatly to our historical knowledge about such processes through a detailed study of labour (particularly organized labour) in relation to immigration during the years from Confederation in 1867 until the Depression of the 1930s virtually closed the floodgates against immigration. Goutor first examines the dark pages of labour’s opposition to Asian immigration and the Canadian federal government’s retrograde anti-Asian policies that included head taxes on Chinese immigrants. In a second section, the author looks at organized labour’s stance in relation to European immigration, since there were major concerns not only about numbers of people let in to compete for scarce jobs but also about the quality of intending immigrants. The final section picks out three developments between 1867 and 1930 for closer inspection: the attempt to promote farm labour immigration during the 1870s; matters pertaining to tariffs and land settlement in the late 19th century; and the attempt to manage immigration during the opening three decades of the 20th century.


David Goutor’s account is enlightening, but it would have benefited by more fully integrating into its account the severe limitations imposed by Canada’s colonial subservience to Britain before the Statute of Westminster in 1932.


Goutor, David., “Guarding the Gates: The Canadian Labour Movement and Immigration, 1872–1934.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,