Canadians of French origin are descendants of about 10,000 settlers who arrived in the 17th century and in the first half of the 18th century. Black slaves were brought to Canada as early as 1608. Later in the 18th century, thousands of British settlers came to Canada from New England and other colonies to the south. By 1850, 500,000 persons had left the British Isles for Canada; between 1846–54, an additional 500,000 arrived, mainly from Ireland. The Underground Railway, a network of people and safe houses that helped runaway slaves reach freedom, operated from 1840–60, and enabled about 30,000 blacks to reach Canada. The peak year for immigration was 1913, when 400,870 people arrived. From 1921–30, there were 1,230,202 immigrants; in 1931–40, 158,562; in 1946–65, 2,504,120. Many re-emigrated, mainly to the United States; by 1950, Canadian-born persons formed the second-largest group of foreign-born US inhabitants. Between 1951–56, however, the excess of immigration over emigration was almost 600,000. After a lull in the early 1960s, immigration reached a peak of 222,876 in 1967. In 1974, immigration controls were tightened, and between 1975–85, the number of immigrants per year averaged 118,656, and between 1986–93, 193,881. In 1993, total immigration was 252,042. Of these, immigrants from Asia numbered 134,532; from Europe, 50,050; Africa, 19,033; the Caribbean, 19,028; the United States, 6,565; and South America, 11,327. Emigration is mainly to the United States.
In 2001 Canada had 44,040 applications for asylum, primarily from Hungary, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and China. There were 30,030 refugees in the country in 2001. In addition, The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which became law in 2001, determines admissibility emphasizing education, language and skills. There is a large percentage of immigration from Asia.
Inter-provincial migration is generally from east to west. During 1990–91 British Columbia gained 37,620 more people from other provinces than it lost, and Alberta 7,502, while Ontario lost 22,301 more than in gained, Saskatchewan 9,941, and Québec, 7,690. In 2001, the net migration rate for Canada was 4.8 migrants per 1,000 population.