Newfoundland and Labrador is often described as having the most homogeneous
population of European origin in Canada. This is a result of the historical
pattern of settlement by Europeans and the low levels of later immigration
compared to the rest of Canada.
The aboriginal population of what is now Newfoundland and Labrador can be
divided into three, or perhaps four, ethnic categories. The Inuit (previously
called 'Eskimos') lived along the north Labrador coast. as fishers and hunters
of sea mammals. The Innu (previously called 'Montagnais/Naskapi Indians) lived
in the interior of Labrador as hunters of caribou and other game. The island
portion of the province was occupied by the Beothuk, a people who probably spoke
an Algonkian language, like the Innu, and lived by a complex seasonal movement
between interior hunting, mainly of caribou, and coastal fishing and sea-mammal
hunting. The Mi'kmaq traditionally used southern areas of Newfoundland.
(Aboriginal groups, and the Labrador Metis, are discussed in the
Peoples section of the site).
||A sketch of the Beothuk people.
A representation of John Guy's encounter with the Beothuk in 1612.
From Theodor de Bry, America (Historia Americæ sive Novi Orbis), pt. XIII, German, edited by
Matthaeus Merian (Frankfurt: Caspar Rðtel, 1628, 1634) 7. Copy courtesy of the CIHM/ICMH (Canadian
Institute for Historical Microreproductions) microfiche series; no. 94749 in the Queen Elizabeth II Library at
Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland. Original housed in The National Library
of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.
A large majority of the present-day inhabitants of Newfoundland and Labrador
are the descendants of people who migrated here from relatively small areas of
southwestern England and southeastern Ireland between the mid-17th century and
the mid-19th century. Europeans exploited the fisheries of Newfoundland long
before there was any appreciable permanent settlement. Most members of the
crews who crossed the Atlantic for the seasonal fishery went back in the autumn.
A few stayed over the winter to maintain the shore installations, and fewer still
stayed on permanently as 'liveyers'.
The resident population grew very slowly until the beginning of the 19th century,
when a decline in the migratory fishery made permanent settlement in Newfoundland
attractive, and the population quadrupled in a little over 30 years. In those
years there were more Irish migrants than English, but Irish migration came
almost to a halt by 1833, and English migration continued at a slower rate for
a longer time.
Later movements of people from Europe to the New World, like the Irish migration
in the famine years of the 1840s, did not come to Newfoundland but went on to
Canada and the United States.
After the flow of migration nearly stopped in the middle of the century, the
population of Newfoundland continued to grow by natural increase. By the 1930s,
more than 95 per cent of Newfoundland's people were native born, the descendants
of the English and Irish settlers of 100 years before.
French settlement on the west coast of Newfoundland probably began in the late
18th century, but most French-speaking immigrants arrived during the following
century, both Acadians and others from France and St. Pierre. In the early part
of the 20th century the francophones and other minorities such as the Mi'kmaq
were subjected to considerable pressure to assimilate, but since the 1970s there
has been a linguistic, social and cultural revival among people of French and of
|The MacArthur home, ca. 1920's.
The MacArthur family was one of several families that emigrated from Scotland to Newfoundland. Many
Scottish immigrants, like the MacArthurs, settled in Codroy Valley.
From Margaret Bennett Knight, Some Aspects of the Scottish Gaelic Traditions of the Codroy Valley, Newfoundland
(Unpublished Thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1975).
A small number of Highland Scots migrated to the Codroy Valley on the
southwestern coast in the middle part of the 19th century. Many of their
descendants still live there and preserve some elements of the Scots Gaelic
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, a number of
Chinese men came to Newfoundland, and in spite of both official and unofficial
discrimination against them, established themselves as residents. Several
opened businesses - at first laundries and later restaurants. No Chinese women
were allowed to immigrate until 1949. The Chinese came first to St. John's, and
some later opened businesses in other larger centres. In spite of
discrimination and mistreatment, the small contingent of Chinese Newfoundlanders
has become a significant part of the society.
Around the same time as the Chinese were first arriving, a number of Lebanese
Christians were being driven from their homes in Syria and Lebanon by religious
strife, and some of them came to Newfoundland. They were at first called
“Assyrians” by the press, and also subjected to a certain amount of
discrimination, but settled successfully in St. John's, Bell Island, Grand
Falls/Windsor, and the Corner Brook area, where they and their descendants have
played an important part in Newfoundland life.
||Chinese Community, 1940.
Members of the Chinese community welcome the Chinese General Consul to Newfoundland
outside the Nickel Theatre in St. John's.
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, St. John's, Newfoundland.
Small numbers of people of other ethnic backgrounds did come to Newfoundland and
Labrador , and since 1949 more have arrived, either from Canada or directly from
their original homelands. Memorial University has attracted people of varied
ethnic backgrounds, both as staff and students. However, the vast majority of
the population is still made up of the descendants of the English and Irish
settlers of the 19th century.
©2000, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site Project
Sidebar links updated September 2008 and July 2009
Date of Chinese Community image updated May 2012