A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History

As this documentary reveals, Americans who came to Canada in the 1960s to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War were not the first American draft evaders to settle in this country. In Dr. Nevitt's case, the concept of dodging the draft was very much alive during the American Civil War of the 1860s. In fact, there is a place in New Brunswick - in the Mapleton District of Carleton county - referred to as Skedaddle Ridge. It was a place where many Americans settled after "skedaddling" across the border from Maine to escape having to fight in the war.

While many immigrants have fled to Canada to avoid fighting against a particular enemy, many others have come as conscientious objectors, or pacifists. Religious members of the Society of Friends - Quakers - have consistently resisted fighting in wars. Starting with the American Revolutionary War in 1776, Quakers began escaping to Canada to avoid be the violence of battle. Back home, their fellow Americans called them cowards, and worse. Many Quakers were accused of treason because they would not fight against the English. Sometimes they were imprisoned, tortured, or publically humiliated. For the Quakers, and many other religious groups like them, Canada provided sanctuary and guaranteed them the right not to bear arms.

At about the same time the Quakers first began emigrating to Canada, crowds of United Empire Loyalists were arriving. Unlike the Quakers, they didn't necessarily object to war but chose to remain loyal to the British King who was at war with the American colonies. Vilified by other Americans, they were often imprisoned, tortured and their lands confiscated. They fled to Canada not only for the cause of the British Crown, but for the promise of free land. The British were in a hurry to populate their northern lands and encouraged Black and white Americans to settle. Loyalist communities continued for over two centuries in Nova Scotia, Picton County Ontario, and southern Ontario.

For the next hundred years, Americans, and people who lived in what is now called Canada, easily crossed each other's borders, often to find work, visit family or to settle. But that all changed with the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln became desperate for soldiers to fight against the South. Despite offering money for soldiers to sign up, the government had to enacted legislation to forcibly draft men into the army in 1862. There was also a provision allowing citizens to appoint a substitute in their place. This was one of the reasons so many Canadians decided to sign up for the war, and there was a brisk trade in soldiers of fortune in border cities such as Buffalo and Detroit.

But some of the American draftees decided to put themselves out of reach of authorities by crossing into Canada. These men were called "skedaddlers." Desertion and draft dodging were especially prevalent in border states such as Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Wisconsin and Minnesota. When the war ended, many draft dodgers decided to return home to America. Luckily, an amnesty was proclaimed in May of 1865, assuring them that they wouldn't be punished. Even people who had left the U.S. for Canada before the war caught the spirit of the time and moved back to the country where they'd been born.

Ironically, fifty years later, it was the U.S. that provided sanctuary for Canadians who didn't want to enlist during the First World War. When the Americans joined the fight overseas in 1917, Canadian draft dodgers lost their refuge.

The next big wave of draft dodgers, or war "resisters" as they prefer to be known, started arriving in Canada in the 1960s, when the controversy around the Vietnam War drove almost 60,000 Americans to Canada. Some came out of conscience, some out of fear. One historian called their presence "...the largest politically motivated migration from the United States since the United Empire Loyalists moved north to oppose the American Revolution." In the case of the war resisters, it was a clear case of voting with one's feet on the policies of one's country. Today, with amnesties allowing virtually all to return and with the fervor of the time long extinguished, about half remain, fitting comfortably into Canada's culture. Although some estimates are significantly higher, census data suggest that almost 60,000 Americans took up residence in Canada during the Vietnam War - just about the same number as those who died in Vietnam. They included draft dodgers and "deserters, and surprisingly, about half of the 60,000 who moved north were women. Canada was attractive to draft dodgers and deserters because it was easily reached, had no extradition treaty, and had a tradition of welcoming Americans who felt unwelcome in the United States. On January 21, 1977, President Jimmy Carter issued an amnesty for draft dodgers. Later amnesties covered deserters.

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