They Sought a New World: The Story of European Immigration to North America


48 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-88776-172-0





Reviewed by Albert Stray

Al Stray is manager of the Port Credit Public Library.


William Kurelek, whose own maternal grandparents were immigrants from the Ukraine, wanted to tell the immigrant story through a series of historical paintings. Before his death in 1977 he had completed the story of five of the different ethnic groups that have helped build Canada. His last book was The Polish Canadians.

Margaret Englehart, the U.S. editor of Tundra Books, felt the Polish Canadian immigrant experience was one shared by all European immigrants to North America. She has “re-packaged” Kurelek’s last book, given it a new title (same cover painting), added twelve different Kurelek paintings, kept sixteen and wrapped it together with her own research. The result is an easy-reading slice of history. Divided into twelve segments, the book is brief, informative, and inspiring.

They Sought a New World, like Kurelek’s own books, is a visual delight. It brings to life the crowded boarding houses, hard labor, isolation, and the calamities and joy that were the lot of the immigrant. In The Polish Canadians (1981) and The Ukrainian Pioneer (1980), Kurelek provided a background for each of the paintings, which represented specific events in the lives of Canadian immigrants. Though Englehart quotes freely from Kurelek, her attempt to mesh the American and Canadian immigrant experience has reduced the intimacy Kurelek brought to his other books.

At the end of the book information about the European origin of the Canadian population is included. It would have been more timely had 1981 census data been used rather than 1971 data. European immigration to the United States for the period 1820-1979 is also given, but because the information is of two different types no basis of comparison is possible.

The contribution to North American society of non-European immigrants is acknowledged. Perhaps we can look forward to reading about the experiences of the Asians, Africans, and South Americans in the future.


Kurelek, William, “They Sought a New World: The Story of European Immigration to North America,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,