Geographic Origins

The Federation of Canada covers the northern section of North America. It is bordered by the northern Pacific Ocean and the American state of Alaska to the west, the Arctic Ocean to the north, the northern Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the United States of America to the south.

History of Immigration and Settlement

The first significant group of Canadians arrived in Australia after the 1837 rebellions in Canada. Approximately 150 Canadians were transported to Australia as convicts. Nearly all of these men returned to Canada after serving their sentences.

The Australian gold rushes of the 1850s and 1860s attracted a significant  number of Canadians to Australia. Some prospectors later settled in South Australia.

Samuel Jenkins settled in South Australia after prospecting on the goldfields of Ballarat. He was born in Nova Scotia in 1825 and had trained as a shipwright and a shipsmith. Samuel and his family settled in Adelaide in the 1860s. He founded the Scotia Marine Railway at Birkenhead. Samuel’s son carried on the business after his father’s death in 1889.

Australia’s early history and development is indebted to many Canadian migrants. Charles Ross designed the Eureka flag and Samuel McGowan from Ontario built the first telegraphic service between Melbourne and Williamstown. Many Canadian migrants were involved in revolutionising Australia’s mining, timber and transport industries.

The South Australian Riverland town of Renmark was founded with the help of two Canadian brothers. George Chaffey was born in Brockville, Ontario, in 1848. He had an extensive knowledge of Californian irrigation techniques. George travelled to Australia in 1886 to assist the Victorian Royal Commission on Irrigation. His brother William, who was a horticulturist, joined him shortly afterwards. The brothers travelled along the Murray and were involved in founding the Victorian Riverland town of Mildura. At the request of the South Australian Premier, John Downer, the brothers then came to South Australia where they developed an irrigation system in Renmark in 1887. After some initial difficulties Renmark became a prosperous Riverland settlement.

Small numbers of Canadian immigrants have resettled in South Australia throughout the twentieth century. The common heritage of Australia and Canada as British colonies and the favourable Australian climate have probably led some Canadians to resettle in Australia.

In 1947 there were 192 Canadian South Australians. A number of Canadian spouses of South Australian ex-servicemen and women settled in the state in the post-war years. By 1961 there were 351 Canadian South Australians.

Since the 1960s Canadian immigrants have been highly skilled in either professional or technical occupations. A number of Canadians who have settled in South Australia originally came under temporary employment arrangements. By 1966 there were 568 Canadian South Australians.

Canadian South Australians work in a wide range of occupations and have settled throughout the state.

Community Activities

The Australia Canada Association was founded in 1957. It aimed to bring together Canadian South Australians and other members of the community who shared an interest in Canada. Initially the association met in private homes. In 1993 the association’s activities were based at the Brecknock Hotel which was managed by a Canadian South Australian family. 

The Australia Canada Association meets regularly for social gatherings, BBQ’s and hockey games. The highlights of its year are Canada Day and its Christmas party.

A Canadian, Terry Fox, 19, lost his leg to cancer in 1977. With the aid of an artificial leg he ran across Canada to raise funds for cancer research but was forced to abandon his trek after contracting lung cancer. Terry died in 1981. The first Terry Fox Run was held in Adelaide in 1992. Participants had a choice of a five-kilometre course from Elder Park to Molesworth Street, North Adelaide, or a ten-kilometre course to Barton Terrace. The Australia Canada Association provided a free pancake breakfast for all participants.

Canada Day is celebrated on 1 July. It commemorates the 1867 creation of the confederation of Canadian states. The day is marked by a flag raising ceremony and brunch which is followed by, and sometimes in place of, a dinner dance.
The Australia Canada Association holds its Christmas party on a Sunday morning in early December. Members and their friends relax and eat pancakes with maple syrup.

In 1993 the students of Lenswood Primary School, South Australia, joined the Australia Canada Association. They had discovered that there was a small apple-growing community called Lenswood in Manitoba, Canada. The students of Lenswood Primary School established a sister-school arrangement with their counterparts in Canada as part of their celebrations for the Lenswood Apple and Pear Festival.

Artist Florence Peitsch, born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, migrated to South Australia in 1974. She worked from a studio in Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills for some years.  In 1992 Florence held an exhibition called ‘The Promised Land’, which examined the themes of immigration, family, and life in Australia.  

Organisations and Media

  • Australia Canada Association newsletter


According to the 1981 census there were 1,188 Canadian-born South Australians.

The 1986 census recorded 1,542 Canadian-born South Australians. 565 people said they were of Canadian descent.

The 1991 census recorded 1,602 Canadian-born South Australians. 1,582 South Australians said that their mothers were born in Canada, and 1,756 that their fathers were.

The 1996 census recorded 1,544 Canadian-born South Australians, and a second generation of 1,287.

According to the 2001 census there were 1,570 Canadian-born South Australians, while 1,298 stated they were of Canadian descent.

The 2006 census recorded 1,880 Canadian-born South Australians, while 1,768 people said that they were of Canadian descent, and 91 said that they were of French Canadian descent.

The 2011 census recorded 2,162 Canadian-born South Australians, while 1,997 people said that they were of Canadian descent, and 104 said that they were of French Canadian descent.

The 2016 census recorded 2,224 Canadian-born South Australians, while 2,033 people said that they were of Canadian descent, and 86 said that they were of French Canadian descent.

By Migration Museum

This article is part of the From Many Places project documenting the diverse cultural groups in South Australia. It is a project started by the Migration Museum in 1992 and continued in partnership today. 

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Courtesy of/Photographer:Bit Scribbly Design

Migration Museum

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