Canada Naturalization and Citizenship (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian:Immigration Records  by Patricia McGregor, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Pre-1947[edit | edit source]

Prior to the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947 there was no such thing as a Canadian citizen. Persons born in Canada were British subjects. Those who had come to Canada from other parts of the Commonwealth were also British subjects and in terms of citizenship considered equal to those born in Canada. Those from non-commonwealth countries were considered aliens and had to become naturalized in order to enjoy the same rights as citizens.

From the time Britain defeated France and took control of the lands that would become Canada only British subjects could own land. The oath of allegiance included swearing allegiance to the British monarch and affirming of Protestantism, which at this time meant the Church of England.

The Department of the Secretary of State kept naturalization records from 1854-1917. The actual records have been destroyed but an index has survived and is available through LAC. There is very little genealogical information contained in these records—often just a name and a date.

Naturalization records do not include immigrants from the British Isles or other counties that were part of the British Empire. These records contain mostly immigrants from the United States and eastern Europe. With naturalization, immigrants were given the same rights as those of natural born citizens, including the right to own property.

Upper Canada[edit | edit source]

Act of 1828[edit | edit source]

In 1828 Upper Canada passed an Act titled An Act to Secure and Confer Upon Certain Inhabitants of this Province the Civil and Political Rights of Natural Born British Subjects. This legislation was in response to the many aliens who had entered the province (most of them immigrants from the United States). The government of Upper Canada was afraid that they might side with the Americans if another war broke out.

The main provisions of the act included:

  •  Aliens who had been living in the province for seven years were expected to take an oath of allegiance within another three years. If their religion forbade taking an oath they could make an affirmation.
  •  Those who were under the age of sixteen when the seven years expired were to take the oath within three years after their sixteenth birthday.
  •  County registrars were expected to keep duplicate registers and send them to the province at the end of each calendar year.

Only men were expected to take the oath. Another act passed seventeen years later stated women automatically acquired the citizenship of their husbands. Information required included:

  • the name of the applicant
  • place of residence
  • occupation
  • signature and date of registration

Act of 1841[edit | edit source]

A second act passed in 1841 called for additional information:

  • name in full
  • place of residence on 10 Feb. 1841
  • present residence
  • date of expiration of the seven years’ residence
  • if under sixteen when the seven years were achieved, the date when he reached the age of sixteen
  • signature, date and number of registry

The registers are organized in eight volumes and have been microfilmed by Library and Archives Canada. Volumes 1 to 6 are found on microfilm C-15692 and volumes 7 and 8 on microfilm C-15693.

Naturalization Helps[edit | edit source]

Two books can be recommended for further research on Upper Canada Naturalization Records:

Upper Canada Naturalization Registers by Norman K. Crowder and Sharon Bowman, Ottawa Branch OGS 1999
Upper Canada Naturalization Records 1828-1850 by Donald A McKenzie, OGS 1991

Oaths of Allegiance[edit | edit source]

The oath or affirmation was written in each county register book and stated the following:

“I do swear that(or affirm that)I have resided seven years in his Majesty’s Dominions without having been, during that time, a stated resident of any foreign country, and that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of this province as dependant thereon.” (McKenzie 1991, 2)

Some oaths of allegiance can also be found in Upper Canada Land Petitions at the Archives of Ontario and at Library and Archives Canada. The Baldwin Room at the Metro Toronto Reference Library also holds some records.

Nova Scotia Archives (NSARM) RG 49, Citizenship Records, holds a small collection of records pertaining to American and continental European immigrants. To see an interesting example of a naturalization oath, click on Search, then enter Naturalization in the search box.

One of the hits is the Oath of Naturalization of George Frederick Bailly on 1 April 1761. There is a scan of the document on the page. Ref. No. MG1 Vol. 105, #47.

Recommended reading is J.S. Martell’s Immigration to and Emigration from Nova Scotia, 1815-1838 (Halifax: Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 1942).

20th Century Naturalization[edit | edit source]

With the Naturalization Act of 1906, aliens could become naturalized after spending three years in Canada. Through this process they became British subjects, although it was a status recognized only in Canada. Applications were made to judges in provincial courts.

A tougher act was passed in 1914, although its implementation was delayed to allow anyone in Canada before 1 January 1915 to apply under the old rules. The last year for application of the older rules was 1917. The new law gave the same status to naturalized Canadians as those held by natural born British subjects. The following conditions applied and gave them Empire wide naturalization:

  • Residence in His Majesty’s dominions of not less than five years or service under the Crown for the same period within the last eight years
  •  Residence in Canada for not less than one year immediately preceding application and previous residency in Canada or elsewhere in His Majesty’s dominions for four years within the last eight
  •  Good character
  •  Knowledge of English or French
  •  Intention to reside in Canada
  •  Enter or continue in service to the Crown

The Naturalization Act of 1919 which was in effect for just over one year stipulated that persons of former enemy alien nationality could not be naturalized for ten years. In 1920 another Act came into effect specifying that persons from former enemy countries could not be naturalized until July 7, 1929. Immigrants who had been in the country for ten years before passing of this Act could apply for naturalization. This Act was amended several times over the next twenty-five years. For example, after Jan. 15, 1932 married women had to make separate applications, although children continued to be included with their parent’s application.

The Canada Gazette, the record of government activities contains indexes that indicate people who were naturalized. These records exist for the years 1915-1946. In addition, there is an index online at the Library and Archives Canadaof naturalized persons from annual reports of the Secretary of State covering the years 1915-1932.

Although naturalization was a federal government responsibility, the processing usually occurred in provincial courts. It would be advisable to check the provincial archives for your area of interest to see what records they hold. The British Columbia Archives in Victoria, for example, holds naturalization records from courts in that province.

The Citizenship Act of 1947[edit | edit source]

The spearhead for the project that resulted in the recognition of the term “Canadian Citizen” was Paul Martin Sr., father of a recent Prime Minister of Canada. Before this, there were three Acts dealing with citizenship—the Immigration Act of 1910, The Naturalization Act of 1914 and The Canadian Nationals Act of 1921. There were ambiguities in these acts that created confusion and embarrassment to the country, according to Martin. The Canadian Citizenship Act was passed 27 June 1946 and came into effect 1 January 1947 and “provided for the conferring of a common Canadian citizenship on all Canadians, whether or not they had been born in Canada.” (Knowles, 2000, p. 65)

Highlights of the Act included:

  • All Canadian citizens would have right of entry to Canada
  •  Immigrants would not qualify for full citizenship until they had been resident in Canada for five years and had taken out citizenship papers
  •   Married women were given full authority over their nationality status
  •  Citizenship would be lost by becoming a citizen of another country
  •  Instruction in rights and responsibilities of citizenship, ceremonies and revised oath would be provided

Canada became the first Commonwealth country to create its own citizenship, separate from Great Britain.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Immigration Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.