Numerous Ohioans are descended from both French and English Canadian ancestors. Today, Canadian Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.
In all likelihood, the first Europeans to arrive in the area of what is now Ohio were Frenchmen from modern-day Canada. During the winter of 1668-1669, Rene Robert Cavelier Sieur La Salle learned from several Iroquois Indians that a great river supposedly could be found in the interior of North America. The water flowed westward in the direction of China. It is unclear if the natives meant the Ohio River or the Mississippi River. La Salle was intrigued. In the summer of 1669, he left Montreal, Canada on his quest to find China. His party canoed down the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario and then proceeded overland. La Salle later claimed that he had reached the Ohio River and that he had traveled along it as far as modern-day Louisville, Kentucky. He is credited with being the first European to see the Ohio River.
Until the 1740s, France controlled what is now modern-day Ohio. Most of the French settlers had come to the Ohio Country from Canada and engaged in fur trade with the Indians. Starting in the 1740s, British traders began to cross the Appalachian Mountains to trade with the Ohio Country's Native Americans. From 1744 until 1748, Great Britain and France were engaged in King George's War. During the conflict, Great Britain managed to blockade France's colonies in North America. This greatly inhibited the French fur trade with the Indians of North America due to a lack of manufactured goods from Europe that could be exchanged for the natives' furs. British businessmen quickly stepped in to fill the void, becoming the major trading partners with the Native Americans in the Ohio Country. The French and British continued to battle over the Ohio Country until the conclusion of the French and Indian War. This war resulted in the British securing the Ohio Country.
Migration from Canada to the Ohio Country virtually ceased following the French and Indian War. Following the American Revolution, many of the people who moved to Ohio originally came from Canada. Some of these people were former soldiers in the British Army. Having seen the land available in the Ohio Country during the American Revolution, they chose to remain in the region. Other Canadians, especially French ones, received land in the Ohio Country from the United States government in 1801. These people received the land, which was known as the Refugee Tract, for actively assisting the Americans during the American Revolution. Sixty-seven Canadian refugees eventually claimed this land. The Refugee Tract was located in central Ohio, including parts of modern-day Franklin, Licking, Fairfield, and Perry Counties. Canadian immigration continued strongly through the War of 1812 and even afterwards. Most migrants hoped for better economic opportunities within the United States of America.
Whether they arrived before or after the War of 1812, the Canadian immigrants came from a variety of social and economic backgrounds. Beginning in the 1810s and 1820s, like the Irish, some of the Canadian people found employment on the canals and railroads. Other Canadian men and women worked in factories. Like most Ohioans, the majority of Canadian people were farmers. Unlike most other national groups, especially the Irish, the Canadian immigrants did not endure ridicule, harassment, or discrimination during the early nineteenth century. Many white Ohioans disliked the Irish because of their religious beliefs. Most Irish migrants were Roman Catholics, while most other Ohioans were Protestants. Many Canadian immigrants were also members of one of the various Protestant denominations.
For much of Ohio's history, a significant percentage of the state's population was foreign born. In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Prior to 1900, most foreign-born people living in Ohio came from Western European countries or from Canada. Most of these people were of German origin (204,160 in 1900), with the English and English Canadians second at 64,629 people, and the Irish third at 55,018 people. As late as 1920, nearly twenty-three thousand Canadians resided in Ohio.
By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern and Southern European countries, like Albania, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, and Czechoslovakia, rather than from Western European countries, like Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany, or from Canada. As the twentieth century progressed, Canadian immigration dwindled.
- Roseboom, E.H., and F.P. Weisenburger. A History of Ohio. Columbus: The Ohio Historical Society, 1996.