Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian national archive, holds original passenger arrival records. You can search a massive index to them on their website–for free.
There’s good news and bad news for those searching for Canadian passenger arrival lists. Bad news: You won’t find a lot before 1865 because those lists didn’t generally survive. Good news: You WILL find a lot AFTER 1865–and you’ll find it easily online.
“The passenger lists are the sole surviving official records of the arrival of the majority of people accepted as immigrants in Canada,” says a Library Archives Canada webpage. “The passenger list is a list of immigrants arriving at an official port of entry on a particular ship on a given date. Generally speaking, each manifest gives the name of the ship, its port(s) and date(s) of departure [and arrival in Canada, and] the name, age, sex, profession or occupation, nationality and destination of each passenger aboard.”
The earlier lists aren’t always so detailed. But in some cases, other lists have information about travelers’ health, religion, previous travels to Canada, family members and how much they carried in their wallets.
Start your search in Passenger Lists, 1865-1922 at the Library and Archives Canada website (it’s free!). The city of Quebec, the major arrival port for many years, is covered for nearly that entire time span. If you find it easier to search for these records in genealogy websites (so you can attach them to individuals in your tree), or if you’re specifically looking for passengers whose final destination was the U.S., check out these databases:
- Canadian Passenger lists, 1881-1922 at FamilySearch. The database includes records for Canadian ports–Quebec City, Halifax, St. John, North Sydney, Vancouver and Victoria–as well as U.S. ports for passengers who reported Canada as their final destination.
- Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 at Ancestry. Quebec ports are included for these time periods: May 1865–Jun 1908, Jun 1919–Jul 1921, Apr 1925–Nov 1935.
- U.S., Passenger and Crew Lists for U.S.-Bound Vessels Arriving in Canada, 1912-1939 and 1953-1962 at Ancestry. Nearly 100,000 records of travelers to the U.S. via Canada are recorded for the ports of Montreal, Quebec; Saint John, New Brunswick; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Vancouver, British Columbia; Victoria, British Columbia; Toronto, Ontario and Quebec Ports.