The Journal of Economic History


Conspicuous by their Absence: French Canadians and the Settlement of the Canadian West

a1 Alan Green is Adjunct Emeritus Professor, Department of Economics, Queen's University. E-mail:
a2 Mary MacKinnon is Associate Professor, Department of Economics, McGill University. E-mail:
a3 Chris Minns is Lecturer, Department of Economics, and Research Associate, Institute for International Integration Studies (IIIS), Trinity College, Dublin. E-mail:


The failure of French Canadians to settle the Canadian west before 1900, when substantial numbers of anglophones and Europeans were migrating, is a long-standing puzzle. Historians have relied mainly on cultural explanations. Using new data, we demonstrate that anglophones and francophones had very different personal characteristics, so that movement to the west was rarely economically attractive for francophones. However, large-scale migration into New England fitted French Canadians' demographic and human capital profile. Even if the United States had imposed immigration restrictions by the 1880s, this would not likely have diverted many French Canadians westward.