Invisible Immigrants

The English in Canada since 1945

Marilyn Barber (Author), Murray Watson (Author)


Despite being one of the largest immigrant groups contributing to the development of modern Canada, the story of the English has been all but untold. In Invisible Immigrants, Barber and Watson document the experiences of English-born immigrants who chose to come to Canada during England’s last major wave of emigration between the 1940s and the 1970s. Engaging life story oral histories reveal the aspirations, adventures, occasional naïveté, and challenges of these hidden immigrants.

Postwar English immigrants believed they were moving to a familiar British country. Instead, like other immigrants, they found they had to deal with separation from home and family while adapting to a new country, a new landscape, and a new culture. Although English immigrants did not appear visibly different from their new neighbours, as soon as they spoke, they were immediately identified as “foreign.”

Barber and Watson reveal the personal nature of the migration experience and how socio-economic structures, gender expectations, and marital status shaped possibilities and responses. In postwar North America dramatic changes in both technology and the formation of national identities influenced their new lives and helped shape their memories. Their stories contribute to our understanding of postwar immigration and fill a significant gap in the history of English migration to Canada.


“Invisible Immigrants opens a fascinating window on an important and largely neglected topic in Canadian immigration history. As an oral history, it releases the voices of ordinary immigrants from England and analyzes the factors that pushed and pulled them to Canada between 1945 and 1971. This study explores how conditions after the Second World War, including the introduction of air travel, fundamentally changed the nature of English emigration and makes a significant original contribution to our understanding of Canada’s post-war development.”

Margaret Conrad, University of New Brunswick

"Those who love history, those who hope to deepen their knowledge of Canadian immigration history and those who are postwar English immigrants will most appreciate this carefully researched and informative contribution to a part of our history that has received little attention."

Cheryl Girard, Winnipeg Free Press

“This lovely little book from two respected historians is as much a welcome addition to the academic literature of immigration studies in Canada as it is a fascinating work of popular history.”

Charlene Elgee, The Canadian Immigration Historical Society

About the Authors

Marilyn Barber is a historian of immigration, women’s and gender history, and oral history.

Murray Watson is a UK-based oral historian specializing in postwar English immigration.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - Migration and Society in the postwar years
Chapter 2 - Why Emigrate? Why Canada?
Chapter 3 - Crossing the Atlantic
Chapter 4 - Adaptation
Chapter 5 - Earning a living
Chapter 6 - Home, Family, Community
Chapter 7 - National Identity