The Search for a New National Identity

The Rise of Multiculturalism in Canada and Australia, 1890s–1970s

by Jatinder Mann (Author)
Monographs XVI, 340 Pages

Table Of Content

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The writing of this book has been a journey that has taken place in different countries and continents, and I would like to thank those who have supported me throughout this venture. This book grew out of my doctoral thesis, which extended into further research on the themes explored herein. I thank Peter Lang Publishing for agreeing to publish my monograph, and in particular I acknowledge the support received from Michelle Salyga as well as Jackie Pavlovic. Additionally, I thank the editors of the series, “Interdisciplinary Studies in Diaspora,” Professors Irene Maria F. Blayer and Dulce Maria Scott, for their guidance and inclusion of this book in the series. I also thank the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK for their generous subvention, which contributed to the publication of this monograph.

An article based on Chapter One entitled “‘Anglo-Conformity’: Assimilation policy in Canada, 1890s–1950s” was published in the International Journal of Canadian Studies. An article based on Chapter Five entitled “‘Leaving British Traditions’: Integration Policy in Australia, 1962–1972” was published in the Australian Journal of Politics and History. An article based on parts of Chapters Three, Six and Nine entitled “The Introduction of Multiculturalism in Canada and Australia, 1960s–1970s” was published in Nations and Nationalism. I would ← xi | xii → like to thank the publishers of these three journals for their permission to publish these sections of the book.

I owe thanks to many people and institutions for their assistance during the process leading to the completion of this manuscript. In particular, I recognize King’s College London, University College London, the University of Alberta, the Australian National University, Carleton University and the Victoria University of Wellington. I thank all my friends and colleagues in these institutions for their constant encouragement and support in the writing of this book. I would especially like to mention my mentors, Professors Carl Bridge, Janine Brodie, and Rick Halpern.

I would also like to express my immense gratitude to Associate Professors Neville Meaney and James Curran for their guidance and constructive criticism throughout my doctoral research. A special thank you goes to Neville for taking me under his wing when I first arrived in Australia. In particular, the dinner seminars held at his home always provided an encouraging and supportive academic environment in Sydney. His influence on my academic work will be quite obvious to readers, and I thank him for steering me in the right direction. I am grateful to James for kindly assuming a supervisory role after Neville’s retirement. James’s influence on my work will also be quite clear to the reader.

I express gratitude to the Australian Department of Education, Science and Training (now the Department of Education, Employment and Work Relations) for awarding me an Endeavour International Postgraduate Research Scholarship, which contributed to financing my studies in Australia. I also thank the University of Sydney for giving me an International Postgraduate Award, without which my graduate studies in Australia would not have been possible. Gratitude is also due to the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney for awarding me a Research Travel Grant Scheme and a Postgraduate Research Support Scheme for my research in Australia and Canada.

The staff members at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and the National Library of Australia (NLA) in Canberra were always very helpful, and I would especially like to thank Kerri Ward at the NAA and the Manuscripts Division at the NLA for their assistance. My research in Canada took place at the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, and I thank all the staff in both the Library and Archives divisions for their assistance. In particular I acknowledge Neysa McLeod. I am also very grateful to the late Professor George ‘Jerzy’ Zubryzcki for giving me permission to look at some of his unpublished research materials. Dr. Mary Elizabeth Calwell deserves thanks for allowing me to consult sections of Arthur Calwell’s papers that are not available to the public. Additionally, ← xii | xiii → the Honourable Marc Lalonde gave me permission to consult some restricted parts of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau fonds.

Gratitude is also due to the staff at Fisher Library at the University of Sydney. Additionally, I express my thanks to International House, University of Sydney, which became my home while I lived in Australia. I also received support from the Women’s Committee Bursary and Ian Hudson Scholarship. The staff members at the International Student Support Unit at the University of Sydney were also a great help, especially Maria Pirrello. I thank the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, King’s College London, for their seminar series, which enabled me to continue to be a part of the academic world when I returned to the United Kingdom. To all of my friends in Australia, Canada, and the UK, thank you for your encouragement throughout this journey.

Lastly, I thank my family for their financial and emotional support over the course of my studies and the writing of this book. It would not be an exaggeration to say that without you I would not have been able to complete this project. I would especially like to mention my mother, Charn Kaur Mann, for her unwavering and unconditional support. My eldest sister, Dr. Parminder Mann, instilled in me, from a very young age, a love of history, and for this I will forever be grateful. Both she and my other sister, Inderjit, were a constant source of encouragement. My nephews and nieces, Amrit, Sabrina, Nanaki, Sahib, and Mansukh, deserve thanks for always making me laugh and, thus, put things into perspective.

Jatinder Mann
Wellington, New Zealand, January 2016 ← xiii | xiv →

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Countries and Geographic Groupings

EEC – European Economic Community

UK – United Kingdom

UN – United Nations

US – United States

USSR – Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Institutions and Government Departments

AGPS – Australian Government Publishing Service

ANU – Australian National University

DFAT – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

OMA – Office of Multicultural Affairs


AFAR – Australian Foreign Affairs Record

AHS – Australian Historical Studies

AJPH – Australian Journal of Politics and History ← xv | xvi →

ANZJS – Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology

CCP – Commonwealth & Comparative Politics

CES – Canadian Ethnic Studies

CHR – Canadian Historical Review

IJCS – International Journal of Canadian Studies

JCS – Journal of Canadian Studies

JICH – Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History


AEAC – Australian Ethnic Affairs Council

AIMA – Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs

ALP – Australian Labor Party

CAQ – Coalition Avenir Quebéc

CIAC – Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council

IODE – Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire

NMAC – National Multicultural Advisory Council

PQ – Parti-Québécois

TLC – Trades and Labour Congress

YMCA – Young Men’s Christian Association

YWCA – Young Women’s Christian Association


MP – Member of Parliament

NSW – New South Wales

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This book explores the profound social, cultural, and political changes that affected the way in which Canadians and Australians defined themselves as a “people” from the late nineteenth century to the 1970s. Taking as its central theme the way each country responded to the introduction of new migrants, this book asks a key historical question: why and how did multiculturalism replace Britishness as the defining idea of community for English-speaking Canada and Australia, and what does this say about their respective experiences of nationalism in the twentieth century?

The book begins from a simple premise—namely, that the path towards the adoption of multiculturalism as the orthodox way of defining national community in English-speaking Canada and Australia in the latter half of the twentieth century was both uncertain and unsteady. It followed a period in which both nations had looked first and foremost to Britain to define their national self-image. In both nations, however, following the breakdown of their more formal and institutional ties to the “mother-country” in the post-war period there was a crisis of national meaning, and policy makers and politicians moved quickly to fill the void with a new idea of the nation—one that was the very antithesis to the White, monolithic idea of Britishness. ← 1 | 2 →

At the core of this study is a broader argument about the problem of nationalism and Britishness in both nations, and in particular the difficulties that both have had in adjusting to the post-imperial era. Although there has been considerable disagreement among scholars on the question of nationalism and its meaning, in nearly all cases, two core ingredients are foregrounded here: firstly that nationalism emerged in the nineteenth century and was primarily associated with Europe and the US; and secondly that there is a fundamental connection between nationalism and history. This connection is most often found in the myth or story of the nation, which holds that from time immemorial the “people” have been engaged in struggles against an alien “other” in order to achieve their national destiny.

This book draws on Benedict Anderson’s definition of the nation as an “imagined community,” one which is imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.1 As Anderson elaborates, “It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their family-members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” He argues that “The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations.” It is imagined as sovereign since the idea itself came to prominence in an era in which revolution and enlightenment were tearing down the authority of the “divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm.” Finally, it is imagined as a community because, in spite of the real exploitation and inequality that may occur in each, the nation is always regarded as a “deep, horizontal comradeship.”2

Anderson’s definition of nationalism draws much from Ernest Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism,3 Hugh Seton-Watson’s Nations and States,4 and especially Hans Kohn’s The Idea of Nationalism.5 Seton-Watson makes a distinction between states and nations. He claims that while “A state is a legal and political organisation, with the power to require obedience and loyalty from its citizens,” in contrast “A nation is a community of people, whose members are bound together by a sense of solidarity, a common culture, a national consciousness.” In Seton-Watson’s view “nationalism” is a term to be approached with even more uncertainty, being usually employed to designate any kind of collective self-interest or aggression that the speaker or writer disagrees with. Indeed he argues that it has turned into a derogatory word, employed instead of the reputable term “patriotism.” Seton-Watson asserts that nationalism has two basic meanings: “One of these meanings is a doctrine about the character, interests, rights and duties of nations…The second meaning is an organised political movement, ← 2 | 3 → designed to further the alleged aims and interests of nations.” He argues that a nation exists when a large number of people in a community consider themselves to form a nation, or act as if they form one. It is not a prerequisite that all of the group should feel like this, or behave like this, and it is not possible to specifically establish a minimum proportion of a population that must be this way inclined.6

Britishness was a broad nationalism, which originated in the late nineteenth century in the UK and its white settler communities. The core of the identity was a belief that all the peoples of these different countries were “British” and an integral part of a wider British world. Duncan Bell in his The Idea of Greater Britain studies the relationship between the idea of “Greater Britain” and imperial federation in the late nineteenth century. He asserts that “The relationship between Greater Britain and imperial federation was complex and often confused…While virtually all federalists employed the language of Greater Britain, not all of the proponents of Greater Britain were federalists.” Bell draws attention to Britishness in the British Isles, which is a hitherto little studied dimension of the concept. There have been various studies on the rise of British race patriotism in the settler societies but not many that have looked at the opposite side of the coin. Ultimately the proponents for imperial federation failed, but the study of their efforts is not a worthless one as they illustrate the broader political issues prevalent at the time in Britain and its settler societies.7

James Belich’s Replenishing the Earth explores the settler revolution and the emergence of an Anglo-World from the end of the eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. He links the rise of Britishness with “changes in attitudes to empire, or at least to the white empire.”8 Belich attributes the rise of the term “Greater Britain” to writers such as Charles Dilke9 and J. R. Seeley10 in the mid-to late nineteenth century. He also discusses the problem of outlining the histories of the former white Dominions as independent nations due to their identity being based on Britishness for such a long period:

The histories of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada as independent nations share a curious characteristic: nobody knows when they began…‘If asked when and how their country became independent, most Australians can only cough and stammer…some will point to the federation of the Australian colonies in 1901, some to Gallipoli in 1915, some to Australia’s turn to the United States for protection in 1941.”11

The works by Bell and Belich are the most recent in the transnational “British world” field or perspective. This began initially with the work of Phillip Buckner and Carl Bridge in their article “Reinventing the British World” in 2003. They ← 3 | 4 → argued that the vast majority of the histories of Canada and Australia and other former British settler societies focused predominantly on their specific “national” stories, epitomised by their struggle for autonomy within the British Empire. Buckner and Bridge maintained instead that these British settler societies formed part of a wider “British world,” in which each member regarded themselves as essentially a British people, albeit with variations according to local geography and demography. Imperial historians in the UK undertook any study of their broader connection to the British Empire and the metropolis-periphery relationship was the focus of their efforts, not their self-identification as “British.” Therefore, Buckner and Bridge advocated the study of this fascinating but hitherto largely neglected history by historians from the former British settler societies themselves.

Douglas Cole in his “The Crimson Thread of Kinship” established that the national identity of Australia for much of the twentieth century was based on British race patriotism and the belief it was an integral part of a wider British world. According to Cole, “Assuming the unique value of British stock and civilisation, the Britannic ethnocentric strand stressed the kindred nature of Australians and Britons…Commonality of ancestry, heritage, history, language, and literature were used to confirm the common identity of the British race.” Cole also makes a strong link between Britishness and whiteness: “The ethnic consciousness of being British was never sharply distinguished from that of being white…‘Scratch White Australia and you find British Australia,’ wrote W. D. Forsyth.”12

Neville Meaney built upon Cole’s ideas in The Search for Security in the Pacific, 1901–1914, arguing that in order to understand what he called the “riddle of Australian nationalism,” scholars had to differentiate between Australia’s overwhelming sense of cultural identification with Britain—its “community of culture”—and its own political interests arising out of its particular geopolitical circumstances—what Meaney called the “community of interest.”13 Meaney asserts that “In the nationalist era (1870s–1960s) Britishness was the dominant cultural myth in Australia, the dominant social idea giving meaning to ‘the people,’” and he even goes so far as to suggest “Britishness was more pervasive in Australia than in Britain itself.” He demonstrates the prevalence of Britishness in Australia by citing an opinion poll in 1947 in which 65 per cent of Australians opted for being British when asked whether they wanted to have British or Australian nationality.14

Like Meaney, Stuart Ward suggests that British race patriotism not only formed the foundation of Australian national identity, but also provided Australians with a greater sense of importance than any local nationalism could ever provide. By the end of the twentieth century, however, British race patriotism no longer existed as a credible means of defining Australia’s idea of community. Ward ← 4 | 5 → argues that the shift in outlook and assumptions in Australian political culture centred on one single major event: Britain’s decision to seek membership in the EEC from 1961 to 1963. Britain’s difficult choice between joining its European neighbours, which in effect meant abandoning the notion of a wider “British world,” led to a crisis of British race patriotism in Australia and elsewhere. Ward suggests that British race patriotism

promoted a sense that Australia’s long-term interests, and ultimate survival as a nation, were organically tied to the fortunes of the ‘British world’ … It is the fate of this core assumption—that the interests of Australia and Great Britain ought ultimately to be reconciled—that holds the key to understanding the demise of British race patriotism in Australian political culture.15

Therefore, the EEC crisis signalled the final realisation among Australians that the two worlds of sentiment and self-interest could not be reconciled. There was finality to this particular decision and Australians realised once and for all that there could be no rushing back to the protective imperial bosom.

James Curran has also explored the problem of Britishness and Australian national identity. Looking at the intellectual lives and political rhetoric of national leaders, he asserts that Australian national identity pre-1960s was based firmly on the fundamental belief that they were a British people. Loyalty to Britain and a commitment to a white Australia were the two pillars of Australian national identity. From the early 1960s, under the weight of changing domestic and international circumstances, including Britain’s resolution to withdraw militarily from the “East of Suez,” this commitment to Britishness had to be completely revised. Almost overnight Australia was defined as a “multicultural community.”16

In Canada too, the question of how a sense of Britishness shaped Canadian identity has been explored. The consensus is that British race patriotism was at the centre of English-speaking Canadian national identity up to the 1960s. Cole claims that a distinction needs to be made between nationalism and patriotism, where “Nationalism is the consciousness of being an ethnically differentiated people and expresses itself as loyalty to an ethnic nation … Patriotism is a loyalty … to a political state and the geographic territory circumscribed by that state.” But Cole acknowledges that problems exist with defining patriotism. English-speaking Canadians did possess a very strong ethnic identity, a nationality. Yet, it was strongly and passionately British, not Canadian. This is best seen as Britannic or pan-Anglo-Saxon (descended from the British Isles) nationalism. At the core of this ideology was a deep sense of British race patriotism and identification with the British race.17 ← 5 | 6 →

Buckner claims that until well after the Second World War, most English-speaking Canadians (and Australians, New Zealanders and English-speaking South Africans) were descended from immigrants from the British Isles and they desired to reconstruct a type of British culture. Buckner asserts, “They saw themselves as both British and Canadian, and they saw the Empire as belonging to them as well as to the British who lived in the mother country.”18 Hence, the two identities were mutually reinforcing, although Britishness had the greatest hold. British sentiment and commitment to the “mother-country” remained strong in English-speaking Canada. There was a dawning realisation, though, from the end of the Second World War that the British world was declining in its power and influence. This was illustrated by the Canadian government’s introduction of a Citizenship Act in 1946. Through this act Canada became the first country in the British Commonwealth to differentiate its people as Canadian citizens as opposed to British subjects, which had previously been the case.19 The Suez Crisis and Britain’s application for entry to the EEC weakened the sense of a shared British identity among many English-speaking Canadians. Buckner argues, “The critical period was the decade from 1956 to 1967, when most English-speaking Canadians were compelled—some very reluctantly—to come to grips with the lingering death of the empire.”20

Other Canadian scholars have also tackled the problem of Britishness in Canada. In The Other Quiet Revolution, Jose Igartua points out that prior to 1960 British symbols were an article of faith for English-speaking Canadians. He maintains “The different angles provided by newspapers, public opinion polls, and history textbooks point to a broad picture … In the postwar period, national identity in English-speaking Canada continued to be represented as resting on British political tradition and culture.”21

C. P. Champion’s recent study The Strange Demise of British Canada looks at the crisis of Britishness between the period 1964 and 1968. However, Champion tends to over-emphasise the cultural differences between Canadians of English, Scottish or Irish (mainly Protestant) descent. But this flies in the face of overwhelming evidence, which shows that despite these differences they nevertheless considered themselves first and foremost as “British” for most of the twentieth century. Moreover, he underestimates the popular nature of Britishness in Canada. While it is true that quite a few prominent English-speaking Canadians studied at Oxford, the ubiquity of Britishness in Canada is perhaps better displayed by the public celebrations on Empire Day or the oaths that schoolchildren took for the British Empire. Champion criticises Igartua for writing “the most recent polemical obituary of British Canada,” which is “tinged with admiration for Pearson and dripping with anti-British schadenfreude.”22 But equally it might be said that ← 6 | 7 → Champion exhibits signs of an anti-Pearson agenda, and therefore plays down the importance of a newer, more robust idea of distinctive Canadian nationalism.

If we turn to the historiography of multiculturalism in Canada and Australia, the tendency of many scholars has been towards comparative studies, which by their very nature have not studied in depth the policies or the context in which they emerged. This book explores both of these. In addition, the general surveys make certain key assumptions. The most prominent among these is that multiculturalism was the only “moral and rational alternative” to assimilation. However, those that would give multiculturalism its own teleology need to be critiqued. The story of this transition is not as natural or inevitable as some would have it. This is an extremely flawed picture of the past and the aim in this study is to look in more detail at the previous period, especially the 1950s and 1960s for Canada and the 1960s and 1970s for Australia.

Louis-Jacques Dorais, Lois Foster and David Stockley have suggested “The evolution of the concept, policy and practice of multiculturalism was, in large part, a response to increasing ethnic and racial diversity, especially in Australia.” Diversity of the population was accelerated in both countries by the introduction of official immigration programmes since 1947.23 As the example of the experience of the US demonstrates, its response to diverse migration has been completely different. New immigrants were (and still are) expected to assimilate and become American citizens as quickly as possible, with no supposed difference between Americans. A policy of monoculturalism, not multiculturalism, prevails.

Alternatively, according to Freda Hawkins, the adoption of multicultural policies in Canada and Australia reflected recognition of the need for the political parties in power to adapt to a changing domestic political environment.24 This was attributed mainly to the fact that migrants formed a large proportion of working-class voters. Yet this argument is surely problematic, since if followed logically it would have made more sense for both the Canadian and Australian governments to introduce policies that appealed to the majority of their electorate, which during the 1970s was still predominantly English-speaking in Canada and of British descent in Australia.

Hawkins argues, “[Multiculturalism] policy was adopted by both Canada and Australia in the early seventies for the same reasons and with the same objectives, but with rather different means of implementation developed over the subsequent years.”25 Though there were some common motivations in the introduction of multiculturalism in the two countries, there were also some prominent differences. The most important is the absence of a competing European founding group: the French-Canadians in Australia, and partly as a consequence of this, ← 7 | 8 → multiculturalism there was considered relevant only to immigrants and their children, as opposed to all groups in theory in Canada. However, in practice Anglo-centric (this was a term used quite widely in Canada to describe Canadians of British descent) culture dominated and still dominates the majority of institutions and media in the country.

Indeed Lois Foster and Paul Bartrop suggest that there are some important differences between Canada and Australia. The presence of two European founding groups, the British and the French, and a large influx of non-British migrants in the early twentieth century to open up settlement of the West in Canada have no parallel in Australia.26 Canada experienced large-scale non-British immigration considerably earlier than Australia in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century (compared to the post–Second World War period in Australia), and thus its periods of assimilation, integration and ultimately multiculturalism took place earlier.

No study of multicultural policy in Canada and Australia has examined this phenomenon in a broader historical continuum. The link between the demise of British race patriotism, the need for a new national identity, and the adoption of multiculturalism is a subject only touched on by previous scholars, but it has not been examined in depth. This book will fill that gap. The vast majority of scholarship on multiculturalism in Canada and Australia has also tended to be sociological in theory and approach. This has resulted in more emphasis on the theoretical foundations of the policy rather than focusing on its historical roots and context.

Mark Lopez’s The Origins of Multiculturalism in Australian Politics27 is the most comprehensive account of the emergence of a policy of multiculturalism in Australia. However, it lacks contextual detail and a developed historical argument. Lopez does not offer broader historical reasons as to why multiculturalism became the dominant discourse in Australian politics in the 1970s. This is precisely what my book will do.

Anna Haebich explores assimilation policy in Australia between 1950 and 1970.28 But her focus is on Aborigines as well as migrants, whereas this book will be studying assimilation policy only in relation to migrants. This is because with very few exceptions Aboriginal policy and migrant policy were always treated separately. Furthermore, when both Canada and Australia introduced official multicultural policies in the 1970s, Aboriginal groups in both countries were very keen to keep their distance, as they did not consider their cultures one of many, but as the first in their respective countries. Haebich argues that assimilation policy lasted until the 1970s and was then replaced by multicultural policy. What follows in the chapters ahead demonstrates that there was an important period of integration from the 1960s to the 1970s, which differed in major ways from ← 8 | 9 → the preceding era of assimilation, and the upcoming one of multiculturalism. Haebich too is not centrally concerned with how this historical problem relates to the broader issue of the changing contours of Australian community following the demise of the British idea.

Eric Richards’s Destination Australia29 surveys the history of Australian immigration from 1901 to the current day. It attempts to explain how Australia changed from a white British nation to a multicultural one. However, Richards’s primary focus is on immigration rather than the problem of national identity. He charts the major different waves of immigration that came to Australia over the course of the twentieth century: British, European and then Asian. Richards makes a distinction between the British race and Australian race. It is the contention of this book that such a distinction is dubious. Australian patriotism reinforced this sense of British identity and was not a competitor. As Meaney has emphasised, nationalism is a jealous god and simply will not allow for competing loyalties.30

This book draws on new archival material in exploring this historical problem. Previous studies of the origins of multiculturalism in Canada and Australia have concentrated too much on the examination of government reports. Personal papers, government documents, parliamentary debates, newspapers, and ethnic and government journals will provide considerable new insight into the questions that this work explores. These sources will be especially useful in illustrating the way in which ideas of national community changed over the course of time. Through the utilisation of this diverse range of sources, national identity, immigration policy and migrant policy can all be explored collectively. This illustrates the benefits of adopting historical methods and approaches compared to per se a strictly political science or sociological one.

The book will compare Canada and Australia because they both have similar political systems and are major immigrant-receiving nations. However, most importantly, English-speaking Canada and Australia both identified themselves as British nations for a large part of their history. Furthermore, this identity came under considerable strain in both countries, a strain that was primarily due to the shock of external events. Secondly, Canada and Australia also adopted discriminatory immigration policies, which aimed to create white, British countries. Moreover, they both also gradually dismantled these practices. Thirdly, Canada and Australia experienced large waves of non-British migration to their shores and had to formulate official migrant policies to deal with them. The French presence in Canada was an important point of difference between that country and Australia. It was an important factor in the Canadian experience of the three main developments earlier. This was something Australia had no comparable experience of. ← 9 | 10 →

Immigration or more precisely “whiteness” is also another integral part of the book. Specifically, both Canada and Australia had White Canada or White Australia policies for a majority of the period under study. Ideas of “whiteness” emerged in the late nineteenth century in the western world. In Britain there was a particular emphasis on the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race above all others. These ideas spread to the British settler societies including Canada and Australia and were heavily influenced by social Darwinism. According to Huttenback, “At the heart of Anglo-Saxonism lay the conviction that the Anglo-Saxon (British) race possessed a special capacity for governing itself (and others) through a constitutional system which combined liberty, justice and efficiency.”31 Whiteness was closely linked with Britishness, as both countries wanted to preserve themselves as white, British nations. However, over time, non-discriminatory immigration policies were adopted in both Canada and Australia and eventually post-White immigration policies were introduced.

This leads to the third overarching theme of the book, which is official migrant policy. As both Canada and Australia received non-British migration, official policy had to be formulated to deal with it. Both countries adopted a policy of assimilation in the first instance. This was replaced by integration and then by a policy of multiculturalism as Canada and Australia’s national identities were transformed as outlined earlier.

This underlines the importance of specifying working definitions of assimilation, integration, and multiculturalism for the book. Assimilation expected migrants to incorporate themselves completely into the dominant Anglo-centric or Anglo-Celtic (this was a uniquely Australian term to describe Australians of British descent) culture in English-speaking Canada and Australia as soon as possible. In this endeavour, learning the official language/s of the country was paramount. Assimilation policy in both Canada and Australia expected nothing less than migrants completely abandoning their former cultures and embracing their adopted one as quickly as possible. On the other hand, integration acknowledged that the incorporation of migrants into the dominant culture actually took time, usually by the second generation, and allowed migrants to retain certain elements of their home cultures, especially languages. However, it has to be recognised that integration meant different things at different times. So, when it was first used in the political lexicon there was more emphasis on the fact that the incorporation of migrants into the Anglo-centric or Anglo-Celtic culture would take time. Later on, this emphasis changed to allow migrants to retain aspects of their home cultures as a means of enriching the host culture. Multicultural policy instead encouraged migrants to retain their cultures. Indeed it saw such retention as a positive thing ← 10 | 11 → and envisaged that a new national culture would emerge. Rhetoric surrounding multicultural policy in both Canada and Australia was that all cultures were equal and contributed to the “national multicultural culture,” although in reality the Anglo-centric and Anglo-Celtic cultures continue to dominate Canada and Australia respectively. Multicultural policy came to mean very different things for Canada and Australia, which will be discussed and explored later in the book.

Change occurred first in Canada for three main reasons. Firstly, in terms of national identity, Britishness was always a problematic concept due to the presence of a competing European founding group in the country: the French. English-speaking Canada’s identification as a British nation was fine so long as French Canada did not have a competing nationalism of its own. But when this began to change in the 1960s it became clear that a new, overarching “Canadian” identity was required to counter French-Canadian separatism.

Secondly, the abandonment of “whiteness” happened earlier in Canada because of the weaker hold the policy had on the national psyche of the country. This was demonstrated by the White Canada policy primarily being centred on the province of British Columbia, compared to the White Australia policy, a national policy that was conceived at the very foundation of the new nation-state. This was a consequence of British Columbia, as it bordered the Pacific Ocean and was the only part of Canada that felt truly threatened by Asia. Australia, on the other hand, was characterised by a much more pervasive fear of Asian “invasion.” Thus, these different geo-political circumstances certainly go a long way towards explaining why Canada was able to dismantle its White Canada policy much earlier than Australia.

Thirdly, Canada adopted official migrant policies considerably earlier than Australia due to it receiving large mass non-British migration around fifty years before Australia received comparable numbers. It had to formulate a way with which to deal with these migrants. It chose assimilation because it identified itself as a British country at this time. Hence, non-British migrants were expected to incorporate themselves into the Anglo-centric culture as soon as possible.

This book is primarily situated in a historical and political perspective. I will not focus on cultural theory in my analysis and the economic dimensions behind the change in policy are not the focus of my book either. In terms of structure the book will be divided into three sections: Canada, Australia and comparisons. In the first and second sections I will explore assimilation, integration and multicultural policies in the two countries in turn, before comparing each of the three policies in the two countries in the third section. ← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →



← 13 | 14 →

← 14 | 15 →



Assimilation Policy in Canada, 1890s–1953

In the late nineteenth century Canada started to receive large waves of non-British migrants for the very first time in its history. These new settlers arrived in a country that very much saw itself as a British society. English-speaking Canadians considered themselves a core part of a worldwide British race. French-Canadians, however, were obviously excluded from this ethnic identity. The maintenance of the country as a white society was also an integral part of English-speaking Canada’s Britishness. Thus, the non-British migrants were required to assimilate into this English-speaking Canadian society without delay. But in the early 1950s the British identity of English-speaking Canada began to decline ever so slowly. The first steps towards the gradual breakdown of the White Canada policy also occurred at this time. This had a corresponding weakening effect on the assimilation policy adopted towards non-British migrants.

Britishness, the French-Canadians, and Whiteness during the 1890s and 1940s

The predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec complicated the British national identity of Canada. The French-Canadian attitude towards British race patriotism was ambiguous. They could not embrace it because it did not apply ← 15 | 16 → to them, and by definition they were excluded from it. Furthermore, they had their own “pre-national” identity centred in the province of Quebec, which was based on the Roman Catholic Church and a French tradition inherited from the Ancien Régime. English-speaking Canada’s pre-national identity was based on patriotism—love of the land.

Nevertheless, in the late nineteenth and for most of the twentieth century, most English-speaking Canadians regarded Canada as a “British” nation and asserted that its culture, society, and legal and political institutions could be appreciated only within the framework of its lengthy past as a British settlement. In their eyes, Canada was the largest and most important Dominion, and formed an integral part of the British world. Although they celebrated their own relationship to the land and their own experience, English-speaking Canadians did not question the basic premise that in some way Canada was a “British country.”1

This powerful identification with Britishness took several forms, and was manifest in school textbooks, cultural traditions and, of course, the celebration of Empire Day, itself a Canadian creation. Speaking on Empire Day 1909, Governor-General Lord Earl Grey gave expression to a deeply inscribed set of beliefs about Canada’s membership of the wider British world:

Empire Day is the festival on which every British subject should reverently remember that the British Empire stands out before the whole world as the fearless champion of freedom, fair play and equal rights; that its watchwords are responsibility, duty, sympathy and self-sacrifice; and that a special responsibility rests with you individually to be true to the traditions and to the mission of your race.2

In his study of school textbooks from this period, Daniel Francis draws a contrast between the education of his generation (born in the 1950s) and that of his parents. For those of his parents’ generation, studies about Great Britain and the Empire were at the forefront of their schooling. The Union Jack was proudly raised above all the schools, as Canada did not have its own flag at this time, and students sang “Rule Britannia” and “Soldiers of the Queen” and pledged allegiance to the monarch. It was through the study of history in particular that British race patriotism was stressed. Two major features of the Canadian history narrative at this time were the gradual evolution of Canadian society to equal partnership in the imperial enterprise and the superiority of the British form of government and way of life. There was a preoccupation in this imperialist version of history with outlining the transition of Canada from a dependent colony to a self-governing Dominion. However, self-government should not be ← 16 | 17 → confused with separatism. Canada’s destiny as a prominent part of the Empire was the image presented in textbooks.3 A common textbook of this mould was A History of Canada for High Schools and Academies by Charles G. D. Roberts, published in 1897.4

Empire Day was an organised celebration of Britishness, introduced as a means by which to encourage nationalism among schoolchildren. The concept originated from Clementine Fessenden, a Hamilton clubwoman, who contacted the Ontario minister of education, George Ross, in 1897, recommending that a special day in the school year be set aside to enable students to participate in organised displays of devotion to Queen and country. As a result of the growth in popular support for this idea, Ross introduced Empire Day in Ontario on 23 May 1899. The date chosen was the last school day before the 24 May holiday for Queen Victoria’s birthday, known as Victoria Day. This was another Canadian creation. It has never been commemorated anywhere else. It started as an annual public holiday in Toronto in 1849 and steadily spread to other urban areas and other provinces until by the close of the century it was treated as the official beginning of summer. Empire Day, however, soon became a national celebration, as support for it spread throughout English-speaking Canadian homes.5

Canadians gave powerful voice to this British identity through the songs that were sung on these occasions. The Maple Leaf Forever was penned by a Toronto schoolteacher, Alexander Muir, on the occasion of Confederation in 1867, and wove the story of Canada into a larger narrative of imperial expansion:

In days of yore, from Britain’s shore,
Wolfe the dauntless hero came,
And planted firm Old England’s flag,
On Canada’s fair domain!
Here may it wave our boast, our pride,
And joined in love together,
The Thistle, Shamrock, Rose entwine,
The Maple Leaf forever!’6

It showed that Empire Day was an unapologetic display of the freedom of the British race, a day on which English-speaking Canadians basked in their inclusion in the greatest empire the world had ever seen.7

R. B. Bennett, a future Conservative prime minister, was a backbencher in Parliament in 1914 when he explained his dream of the imperial ideal at an Empire Day banquet in Toronto: ← 17 | 18 →

We are the only colonizing race that has been able to colonize the great outlying portions of the world and give the people the priceless boon of self-government, and we have educated men year after year until at last those who were once subjects become free, and those who were free become freer, and you and I must carry our portion of that responsibility if we are to be the true Imperialists we should be.8

This reflected the Canadian belief that as the most senior Dominion it was its responsibility to take leadership of the Empire in the future. It is also a more general example of the language of the “white man’s burden.” This was the view that the “white race” had the responsibility to bring civilisation to the “other races” of the world. The actual term originated in a poem by British imperialist writer and poet Rudyard Kipling in McClure’s magazine in February 1899 in the US, and was published in the context of the American take-over of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War.9

The French-Canadians,10 however, adopted an extremely ambivalent position towards the identification of Canada as an integral part of a wider British world. Kenneth McRoberts argues, “At the time of Confederation, most anglophones (English-speaking [Canadians]) saw themselves as members of a British nationality that transcended the boundaries of the new Dominion, whereas most francophones (French-speaking [Canadians]) identified with a canadien nationality that fell considerably short of these boundaries.”11

Along with Britishness, a White Canada policy was also an integral part of English-speaking Canadian national identity. This emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century. Though whiteness was primarily centred on the West Coast province of British Columbia, its importance lies in demonstrating that English-speaking Canada at this time saw itself as not only British, but also white, the extent that it identified with the white Empire. The British Columbian government as well as its representatives in Ottawa was quite successful in persuading the federal government to enact restrictive immigration legislation, which excluded Asian immigration. One of the earliest examples of this was a “Gentleman’s Agreement” with Japan in 1907. The main features of the agreement were that Japan would on its own initiative limit emigration and allow only previous residents, domestic help employed by the Japanese, and contract labourers approved by the Canadian government to depart for Canada. The latter two types of immigrants were restricted to four hundred yearly. Furthermore, in early 1908 all migrants to Canada were banned from entering the country unless they arrived from the nation of their citizenship or birth by “a continuous journey and on ← 18 | 19 → through tickets” obtained in their home country. While the measure was applicable to all migrants to Canada in theory, in practice it was directed solely at East Indians and Japanese who came from Hawaii. As there was no straight steamship route from India, practically all Indian migration was hence ended.12

The idea behind the legislation was based on the long-held belief that cheap Asian labour was “unfair” and built on the understanding that Asians could not assimilate to white Canadian society.13 As British Columbian premier Richard McBride declared to the provincial Conservative convention in 1909, “we stand for a white British Columbia, a white land, and a white Empire.”14 According to Patricia Roy,

Few British Columbians doubted the “right” of white men to “dominate the destiny of this country.” … The question, according to H. H. Stevens, the Conservative M.P. for Vancouver (1911–30), was no longer merely a matter of protecting “the white workmen from cheap Oriental labour, but it was a question of the future of Canada as a nation.”15

The White Canada policy was primarily aimed against the Japanese. While for most of the later nineteenth century Japan had been praised for attempting to embrace Western civilisation, after its defeat of Russia in 1905 it began to be seen as much more ominous: a threat to both geopolitical stability and racial purity. The fact that a European power was defeated by an Asian one for the very first time in modern history brought these fears of Asia to fever pitch. The same fundamental shift in attitudes towards Japan also took place in British Columbia. The image of a militaristic, aggressive Japan was not to be dislodged once fixed in the West Coast mind. These assumptions about Japanese militarism during the 1920s and 1930s persisted in the US and Canada, especially along the Pacific Coast, which obviously was closest to Japan. That Japan had designs upon western North America and also the military strength to achieve them was generally believed.16

The interracial contact, which followed Japanese migration, was the second major source of British Columbia’s Japanese image. Japanese migrants in the province left an even greater impression than Western perceptions of Japan upon the beliefs of British Columbia’s white population. The most durable of all Japanese stereotypes was the view that they imperilled the economic interests of white British Columbia. This impression was quickly fixed in West Coast racial thought soon after the Japanese first arrived in the province. When immigrants from Japan were relatively few during the 1890s, it generally appeared that their competition affected only individuals or small groups of white workingmen. But as they ← 19 | 20 → arrived in growing numbers after the turn of the century, this rivalry began to seem considerably more worrying.17 Another common belief was that aggression was intrinsic to the Japanese character. Evidence of this was the economic activities of the Japanese migrant.

There were two clear features to this mindset. The view of the immigrants as unswerving Japanese nationalists, steadfastly loyal to the Emperor and therefore disloyal to Canada, was one of them. These immigrants could never be woven into the social fabric of the province as they were imbued with the aspirations of modern Japan. Secondly, another common belief was that Japanese land acquisition also threatened the white community. When the first few Japanese immigrants began to purchase land from the early 1900s, the extension of Japanese landholding was a cause of continued concern. White British Columbians were convinced that, as with the Chinese, the Japanese could never be incorporated into West Coast society.18

Fear of the foreigner was one thing. But it was at times of national crisis, particularly when war came, that these wider British loyalties came especially to the fore. Canada’s involvement in the South African War of 1899–1902 is a prime illustration of the strength of Britishness in English-speaking Canada at this time. Though some English-speaking Canadians were reluctant at first to send troops to fight in South Africa despite the justness of the war, any resistance dissipated quickly after the Canadian volunteers set off for the country. The Canadian people also demonstrated their commitment to the imperial war effort through their financial support. The government allocated CAN$2 million for sending the first and second contingents to South Africa, where they were then the responsibility of the Imperial government, but most provinces and local governments also sent generous bonuses to the soldiers. From mid-July 1900, a constant stream of wounded soldiers arrived back in Canada; the local militia, a band, and nearly the whole population of their local community would meet even one solider. All across the nation, local communities raised money to erect plaques, ornamental gates, or more grand monuments to those who died in South Africa. The South African War also led to the formation of the first imperialist organisation in Canada to be run by women. Established in February 1900, and initially named the Federation of British Daughters of the Empire, it became the IODE and established its base in Toronto in October 1901.19

The issue of Canadian trade with its southern neighbour was a recurring thorny issue in Canadian politics. The debate surrounding the Canadian-American Reciprocity Proposals of 1911 in particular demonstrates the prevalence of Britishness in English-speaking Canada during this period. On 26 January 1911 the ← 20 | 21 → Canadian and US governments announced a draft reciprocal trade agreement lowering and removing tariffs on a series of products. There was subsequently a fierce debate in Canada over the benefits of the reciprocity proposals. This was mainly between Western farmers and Eastern manufacturers. However, large parts of the Conservative press responded to the reciprocity plans with strong hostility, accusing the Liberal Laurier government of desiring economic and ultimately political union with the US, consequently betraying Canada’s imperial heritage.20

As the debate in Britain on this issue became increasingly heated, the Canadian government was forced to intervene. Anxious that bad publicity would damage Canadian credit interests in the London money markets, William Fieldings, the minister of finance, made an official statement in the UK aimed at countering criticisms that his government had sold out the Empire. In Canada, the debate over reciprocity ultimately led to the early dissolution of Parliament, a combative period of public campaigning, and a closely fought election that resulted in an unequivocal Conservative victory. Simon Potter asserts, “Reciprocity seemed to show that empire was becoming more, not less, of a force in Canadian affairs.”21

Within the country, English-speaking Canadian and French-Canadian identities came into constant conflict. Firstly, as mentioned earlier at the start of the century the British government requested Canadian troops for the South African War. English-speaking Canadians were supportive, while French-Canadians were vociferously against—fearful of being sucked into a far-off imperial conflict. Secondly, as a result of British pressure, Liberal prime minister Wilfrid Laurier established a small Canadian navy in 1910. English-speaking Canadian Conservative politicians on the one hand criticised it as too small, while French-Canadian nationalists considered it a perilous action that would make involvement in imperial conflicts unavoidable.22

Most importantly, however, during the First World War the federal Conservative ministry of Robert Borden announced its intention to introduce conscription for overseas service, precipitating a swarm of protest in Quebec. During the parliamentary conscription debates French-Canadian MPs, all belonging to the Liberal Party, expressed their opposition to the measure.23 Their position illustrated French-Canadians’ exclusion from British race patriotism, and in direct contrast English-speaking Canadians on the whole expressed strong support for conscription. In mid-1917, Charles Marcil through his opposition to the measure demonstrated the strong patriotism French-Canadians felt towards the country: ← 21 | 22 →

I was born in the province of Quebec. My ancestors came here nearly three centuries ago, and I hope to die and be buried on Canadian soil. I belong to this country and am faithful and loyal to it, and since the outbreak of war I have done everything it was possible for me to do in company with ministers of the Crown and others to stimulate recruiting and bring about the effort which I think Canada should make in the great contest before us.24

Rodolphe Lemieux built upon this and pointed out that the UK had accepted that Canada was under no legal obligation to take part in any conflict outside its own borders, although he was glad that she had joined the Allies:

On this grave issue I stand upon the bedrock of our constitution, and I claim that England has accepted the Canadian contention that there is no constitutional obligation upon us to take part in wars outside of Canada, except for the defence of our territory. I am proud to say that we have taken part in this stupendous struggle for liberty, but it is on the principle of the voluntary system, and it is on that principle that I, as a Canadian, desire that Canada shall continue to the end to be with the Allies.25

Therefore, Lemieux was not opposed to Canada’s involvement in the war as such, but he was adamant that this contribution should be based on the voluntary enlistment of its people, not their conscription. Lemieux along with Marcil argued that if the Conservative government wanted to introduce conscription for military service then it should first secure the support of the people in a referendum. Lemieux maintained that if this took place and the majority of Canadians were supportive of it then the people of his province of Quebec, of whom the vast majority were opposed, would respect the will of the majority and fall into line.26 The major reason why Liberal French-Canadian parliamentarians were so insistent about the need for a referendum was because the government had previously unambiguously promised it would not introduce conscription, a point reinforced by Ernest Lapointe: “This proposal,” he fumed, “is a flagrant and direct violation of all the pledges given by the leaders and public men of this country to the Canadian people since the beginning of the war, upon the strength of which pledges so many sacrifices have been made.”27

However, the government ignored the pressure and introduced the Canadian Military Service Act in 1917. Once that occurred, the majority of English-speaking Canadians were supportive. But attitudes continued to divide along ethnic lines, with nearly all opposition to the issue coming from French-speaking Canada. In the federal election called before enacting the measure, Borden gained only three seats in Quebec. ← 22 | 23 →

In addition to this crisis, the question of French-Canadian minority rights outside Quebec again rose to the political surface. In 1912, just before the war, Ontario introduced Regulation 17, which limited French-language education, and in 1916 Manitoba put an end to its bilingual schools. Hence, it is obvious that in the first fifty years of Confederation English-speaking Canadians and French-Canadians had opposing ideas of their country. For a majority of English-speaking Canadians, Canada was just the North American manifestation of a British nationality. In contrast, the francophones of Quebec carried on regarding Canada in relation to their own identity as French-Canadians or Canadiens. This identity was strongly founded in the political institutions and territory of Quebec.28

The importance of maintaining Canada as a white country continued in the 1920s. The level of anti-Japanese and broader anti-Asian feeling in British Columbia was on show in a public meeting in Penticton, British Columbia. The title of the meeting was “Keep Penticton White.” The meeting was advertised as being aimed at considering “ways and means of making our town unattractive for the Yellow man.”29 It was a clear case of grassroots action to preserve Canada’s whiteness. Provincial politicians picked up on this anti-Asian feeling and did everything within their power to preserve a white British Columbia. One of the most prominent figures was A. M. Manson, the attorney general and the minister of labour. He argued vociferously for the exclusion of Asian migrants during the spring and summer of 1922.30

By the early 1920s provincial efforts towards racial exclusion had largely been exhausted. Attention therefore now turned to Ottawa and the federal government. British Columbian MPs such as Conservative H. H. Stevens and Unionist W. G. McQuarrie were particularly instrumental in this regard. These politicians found allies in the senior levels of the federal Department of Immigration and Colonization, who recognised that current restrictive immigration legislation had in certain ways failed. The Chinese Head Tax in particular had not reduced immigration to the extent desired. Thus, pressure from the government of British Columbia combined with that of its federal MPs encouraged the Department to put its weight behind calls for more extensive Chinese immigration restriction legislation. Hence, in 1923 the Chinese Immigration Act was passed, which effectively ended Chinese migration to Canada. Nonetheless, despite achieving the much-desired aim of Chinese exclusion, white nativists in British Columbia were not content, as the problem of Japanese immigration still remained.31

The nativists carried on arguing their case through the mid 1920s, even though the hostility towards Japanese migration declined in British Columbia. Provincial members of Parliament were most assertive in the cause on this front; ← 23 | 24 → prominent among them was independent A. W. Neill. The Mackenzie King government for its part, considerate of this lobbying and supportive largely of its goals, resumed negotiations with Japan on the issue of immigration in April 1925. The Japanese government in a revised “Gentleman’s Agreement” in late May 1928 agreed to restrict the number of immigrants headed for Canada to 150 per year, and also to stop the movement of picture brides.32

To maintain Canada as a white, British society the White Canada Association was formed in late 1929 in Vancouver. It brought together elements from a wide cross-section of society. This included municipal governments, ratepayers’ associations, farm organizations, businessmen’s groups, and patriotic societies. Its formation highlights the widespread support for the preservation of Canada as a white society. Contrarily, the defence of Asians by whites was very rarely expressed outside the Church. Indeed at no point did the anti-Asian movement face a viable opposition.33

During the Second World War, English-speaking Canadian and French- Canadian conflicting ideas of national identity led to another embittered conflict over conscription for overseas military service. As a 1942 nation-wide referendum unequivocally demonstrated, anglophones were strongly supportive while francophones were against, the latter arguing that they had no responsibility to fight Britain’s battles.34

The conscription issue in the Second World War and the loss of Quebec’s autonomy due to a federal government, which was intent on greater centralisation, led to the rise of the Bloc Populaire Canadien in 1942. This began as a protest against the 1942 referendum that asked Canadians to relieve the federal government of its commitment not to introduce conscription. A plurality of Canadians gave their support, but in Quebec 80 per cent of French Canadians said “non.” The leadership of the Quebec campaign subsequently decided to create a political party to call for Canadian independence, provincial autonomy, English-French equality in Ottawa, and social changes in Quebec.35 Though the Bloc achieved very little political success, it laid the foundations for what would later emerge as French-Canadian neo-nationalism. The Bloc’s policies actually originated from the Action Libérale Nationale of the 1930s. Maxime Raymond, MP for Beauharnois-Laprairie from 1925 and a passionate anti-imperialist in the Bourassa mould, declared on 9 September 1942 the establishment of a new political movement that would contest the traditional parties at the federal as well as provincial level. The Bloc Populaire’s federal platform was a meticulously written combination of old and new nationalist concerns and goals. To English-speaking Canadians, the most important part of the Bloc’s federal platform was its foreign ← 24 | 25 → policy, particularly its vociferous and in some ways antiquated anti-imperialism. A good dose of economic nationalism was added to this political nationalism. The third and possibly most prominent part of the Bloc’s federal platform was the considerably complicated and politically controversial issue of provincial autonomy. At the core of the Bloc’s provincial goals was the continuous reaffirmation that Quebec, and Quebec alone, was the homeland, “la vraie patrie,” of the French-Canadian nation. The Bloc Populaire also strongly encouraged the nationalisation of specific major industries. Michael Behiels asserts, “while paying lip service to the tenets and values of traditional French-Canadian clerical nationalism, the Bloc Populaire was beginning the process of articulating a secular, socio-economic, and state-oriented neo-nationalism.”36

English-speaking Canada’s identification as an integral part of a wider British world continued into the immediate post–Second World War period. The dominance of this British myth in all aspects of English-speaking Canadian society is shown in newspapers, parliamentary debates and political speeches. Perhaps the best expression of this “idea” can be found in the debates surrounding the adoption of the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1946.37 These debates also highlight the problems associated with Britishness as a national idea in Canada, particularly in relation to French-Canadians.

In introducing the Citizenship Bill in early 1946 Paul Martin, the secretary of state for Canada, argued that one of the key motivations behind the legislation was to produce a common denominator for all of the population in the country that would assist to unite them as Canadians.38 In his second reading speech in April 1946 he asserted that the legislation would strengthen Canadian nationhood: “This measure parallels the development of Canada as a nation … The bill arises from the fact of pride, common pride, in the achievements of our country, based upon the great exploits of our people … I would suggest that it symbolises our aspirations as a nation for the future.”39 Canada’s prominent role in the Second World War was certainly a factor in the introduction of the Citizenship Bill. The fact that at the end of the war it had the third largest navy in the world, combined with the industrial and financial contribution it had made to the Allies’ victory, gave it a greater sense of confidence.

However, Martin also made clear that the proposed Citizenship legislation would still incorporate Canadians’ status as British subjects:

Sections 26 and 28 are complementary and provide for the continuation of the common status of British subjects that has always prevailed through the commonwealth. Another provision provides that Canadian citizens are British ← 25 | 26 → subjects, while another provision provides that subjects or citizens of another part of the commonwealth, who are considered to be British subjects under the law of that part, shall be recognised as British subjects in Canada.40

So, although Martin had emphasised the importance of the new Citizenship Bill in terms of nationhood, he still had to acknowledge the prevalence of Britishness in Canada and the importance for many Canadians of maintaining the links to the “mother-country.”

Though supportive of the general principle behind the new Citizenship Bill, future Progressive Conservative41 prime minister John Diefenbaker, who would also emerge as one of the greatest exponents of Britishness in Canada in the late 1950s, was heavily critical of the provisions that British subjects from other parts of the Empire would have to follow the same naturalisation procedures as non-British migrants:

I ask the minister to explain why at this time when we in all parts of the empire are desirous in the interests of our own security to bind still closer the various parts of the empire together, should a British subject coming into Canada and properly entering this country under our immigration law be required to go through the same formalities as persons coming from other parts of the world?42

He believed it would strike at the unity of citizenship in the Empire. Diefenbaker also emphasised the importance of the Canadian action. It would lead to British subjects under a common king and with a common loyalty, when arriving in Canada, being required to go through the same processes as those coming from foreign countries. These processes involved residency requirements, making a declaration of intention to apply for citizenship, and appearing before a magistrate to actually gain citizenship. To hit home his critique that the Citizenship Bill would undermine Canada’s British identity he declared that “Canada to me means more than the ownership of acres; it means a citizenship which maintains in this part of North America the highest heritage of British peoples everywhere in the world.”43

In contrast to Diefenbaker, a Progressive Conservative backbencher, Thomas L. Church, rejected the Bill outright: “I believe it has been asked for by only a few people, almost all of whom are from one province [A veiled reference to Quebec]) … In my view this measure represents a notice to the mother country, that we do not, want any more of them over here, that we have a ‘to let’ sign out, so far as they are concerned.” He argued that the Bill indicated a great lack of appreciation of the value of British citizenship and that being a Canadian and a British subject were the same thing. Church, like Diefenbaker, was strongly opposed to the ← 26 | 27 → provisions regarding the naturalisation of British subjects coming from other parts of the Empire. He took the strong view that the measure was “one of the most untimely, un-needed, mischievous bills introduced into this parliament for a long time … It is separatism in excelsis.”44 As a result of this strong opposition Martin finally relented and agreed to remove the requirement for a British subject to appear before a judge and make a declaration for citizenship.45

On the other hand, Liberal French-Canadian parliamentarians attacked what they perceived to be the dual loyalties of many English-speaking Canadians. Leon-Joseph Raymond, probably one of the most critical of this group, argued that the maintenance of a Canadian citizen as a British subject would result in a dual nationality, which was unacceptable in principle. This would, in addition in his opinion, undermine the principle of nationhood eloquently articulated by Martin during the introduction of the legislation. What is more, he maintained that the granting of Canadian citizenship under the bill would be reserved only for those who were willing to become British subjects. Raymond’s most important objection to the Bill was that it “gives as much importance to British nationality as it does to Canadian nationality … It submerges it in British nationality.”46 This underlines the divergence of views between the majority of English-speaking Canadians and French-Canadians on the issue of the Canadian Citizenship Bill. It would have been unacceptable to the former if it did not include some references to British nationality, whereas this was the very foundation of the criticisms by the latter.

Another French-Canadian parliamentarian, Liguori Lacombe, Liberal member for Laval-Deux Montagnes, while agreeing with many of his compatriots that all references to a British subject should be excised from the Bill, supported the general principle behind the measure of establishing a new Canadian citizenship.47 Raymond did not oppose this. So, despite French-Canadian views towards the retention of British nationality, most of them were willing to compromise as the Citizenship Bill in their opinion represented a step forward in the right direction.

Édouard-Gabriel Rinfret, another Liberal French-Canadian MP, drew attention to what he perceived to be an irreconcilable situation of a citizen of one country at the same time being the subject of the king of another country. He argued that what was required was legislation to change the bifocal mentality of so many Canadians; that is, he wanted English-speaking Canadians to abandon their “Britishness.” Moreover, he encouraged people to think less in terms of the French and British components of the country, but instead to focus on those of non-British and non-French origin, whose proportion of the population was steadily ← 27 | 28 → increasing. This was a unique view at this time, especially for a French-Canadian. In this sense he was one of the earliest advocates of this perspective. He also expressed a view that reflected a broader French-Canadian opinion: “I am at ease … in talking about true Canadians, because I feel that I am a true Canadian … The majority of the population of the province of Quebec feel that we are the true settlers of this country.”48 This was a perspective that suggested that the French tradition of Quebec was the true source of Canadian identity.

Anthony Hlynka, a Social Credit49 MP, expressed the perspective of non-British and non-French Canadians towards the proposed citizenship legislation:

Although we have drawn upon Great Britain for most of what we possess in the way of culture, traditions, history, institutions, our way of life, and centuries of experience in practical statecraft, we nevertheless have now arrived at the stage where we must begin to develop our own distinctive character.50

This showed a Canadian nationalism emerging out of a distinct British heritage.

The continued centrality of Empire Day in expressions of British race patriotism in the post–Second World War period was highlighted in The Globe and Mail in May 1945, in an editorial on Ontario premier George Drew. The newspaper highlighted the fact that Drew was a First World War veteran who had fought for the honourable ideals of the Empire. He now continued his public service as leader of a province, which had fought shoulder to shoulder with other loyal British subjects across the Empire (Ontario was a particular British bastion in Canada), an Empire that consisted of 25 per cent of the world’s population. Hence, the newspaper believed it was very fitting that it was the Ontario Department of Education that took the lead in the establishment of an educational programme to explain to schoolchildren the importance of Empire Day, which had been commemorated in the province for nearly fifty years.51 This demonstrated the government’s commitment to propagate English-speaking Canada’s identification as a British nation. The Second World War undoubtedly played a part in this effort, as it had shown the whole British world fighting together to combat a common enemy.

Solon Earl Low articulated the Social Credit Party’s identification of English-speaking Canada as a British society when he recalled that “When I was a mere boy at school it was impressed upon me that the 23rd of May was a day for special thanksgiving that we were born in Canada, or privileged to live in Canada, under the flag and under the traditions of the great empire of which we form a part.”52 Both of the foregoing references to Empire Day refer to the past. There ← 28 | 29 → is almost a nostalgic quality to them. This implies that things were perhaps not what they once were.

Dominion Day, which took place on 1 July every year and commemorated the Confederation of the majority of the British North American Empire to form the Dominion of Canada in 1867, also offered an opportunity to express sentiments of British race patriotism in English-speaking Canada. On Dominion Day in 1947 Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King affirmed that the Canadian people should take pride in “The extent to which Canada’s voice and influence has come to be felt for good in the many relations of nations; particularly is this true of relations within the British Commonwealth, where Canada’s part in the development and shaping of the Commonwealth and its spirit has been what it has.” This reflected the long-standing Canadian view that as the first British overseas possession to attain self-government within the Empire through evolution not revolution, it was a model to the rest of the present-day Commonwealth. He also emphasised the actual act of Confederation itself as an attempt to solidify future British power in the North American continent:

May I draw attention to the rather unique circumstance that while eighty years ago four provinces were uniting to form confederation and to fulfil the dream that some day there might be a vast power of the combined British communities in the northern half of this continent which would strike across space and time and include all the territory between the waters of the Atlantic and those of the Pacific.53

Along with Britishness, whiteness also continued to be an integral part of English-speaking Canadian identity in the immediate post–Second World War period. In a parliamentary speech on immigration policy Mackenzie King emphasised that Canada was “perfectly within her rights in selecting the persons whom we regard as desirable future citizens.” He claimed that the Canadian people did not want to make a major change in the nature of the population as a result of large-scale immigration. But it was his concluding comments on the issue that unequivocally demonstrated his position that the White Canada policy was here to stay:

I wish to state quite definitely that … the Government has no intention of removing the existing regulations respecting Asiatic immigration unless and until alternative measures of effective control have been worked out. Canada recognizes the right of all other countries to control the entry or non-entry of persons seeking to become permanent residents. We claim precisely the same right for our country.54 ← 29 | 30 →

Nevertheless, a series of amendments to immigration regulations were introduced. Due to complaints of discrimination made by the Chinese government, but more importantly as a consequence of Canada’s new obligations to avoid racial discrimination under the UN charter, in 1947 the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. Furthermore, the wives and unmarried children under eighteen years of age of all Asians who were Canadian citizens were also allowed to enter Canada. It was pointed out, though, that this was mainly directed at the Chinese, as all other Asians were already admissible under the current law.55 These were notable changes, especially the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act. They represented the first major amendments of the White Canada policy.

In September 1948 the Cabinet Committee on Immigration Policy deliberated on representations that Syrians, Armenians and Lebanese were not of “Asiatic race” and thus should not be included within the restrictions against Asian migration.56 But it was not until the middle of the following year that a final decision was reached on the issue. There was some support for the suggestion that they should be excluded from the restrictions against Asians, but there were concerns that this would highlight the position of Turks and Palestinians and would possibly reopen the question of the situation of Indians under the immigration regulations. Instead, it was decided that the provisions of the immigration regulations, which applied to European countries, apart from the UK and France (who received preferential treatment), would be extended to Syria and Lebanon. Armenia was excluded as it was pointed out that it was currently a republic in the USSR and therefore in the context of the Cold War easier immigration terms for it were not possible.57 So, better immigration terms were extended to those “Asian” countries most like European countries.

Mackenzie King’s successor as prime minister, Louis S. St. Laurent, in a national broadcast in early 1949 emphasised national unity and the importance of maintaining both British and French traditions in Canada:

Canada was planned to be one united nation, and we have become one united nation. What is more, we have become an adult nation with a high place and heavy responsibilities for the peace and welfare not only of Canada, but of the free world. To discharge those responsibilities and to keep our high place in the world, we Canadians must realize that our traditions—those of both partners—are worth preserving.58

St. Laurent’s emphasis on the preservation of both the British and French cultures signalled a new focus in issues of national identity compared to the previous Mackenzie King period. St. Laurent did, though, reiterate Mackenzie King’s ← 30 | 31 → comments on Canada’s relationship with the Commonwealth in a Dominion Day address during the same year:

Since 1867 we have become a fully autonomous nation within the Commonwealth and have assumed responsibility for all our own affairs…The development of our independent status did not mean that we were breaking away from our British associates. Canada has valued its membership in the Commonwealth and has helped to bring about the steady development of that association of nations.59

This continued a long-standing theme regarding Canadian conceptions of its position in, and relationship with, the Commonwealth.

Canada had been at the forefront, along with Ireland and South Africa, in pushing for greater Dominion autonomy. The culmination of these efforts was the Balfour Declaration of 1926, which stated that the Dominions were “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any respect of their domestic or external affairs.” Furthermore, the declaration also went on to say that Britain and the Dominions were “united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.”60 The Statute of Westminster built on this and declared the Dominion parliaments of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa to be equal to that of Westminster and provided for as much legal independence as the Dominions desired.61 Although Canada had pushed for greater autonomy it still regarded itself as an integral part of the Commonwealth, and as the most senior member of the organisation after the UK, a model for other countries to follow.

There were also developments in Quebec in the post–Second World War period. These largely related to relations with the federal government. The determined post-war effort of Ottawa to take a more active role as the national government strengthened Québec City in its traditional position as the government of French-Canadians, which had become well established in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century. The most prominent illustration of Quebec’s position as the national government of French Canada was actually an immediate reaction to a federal move. The Massey Commission led the Duplessis ministry in Quebec to in turn establish a Royal Commission on Constitutional Issues, generally known as the Tremblay Commission. This commission’s strongly conservative opinion of French Canada set the tone of the report in general, which was founded on the view that French Canada was an inherently Catholic society in which the position of the state should be confined by the long-standing dependence on private bodies.62 ← 31 | 32 →

Immigration and Assimilation Policy during the 1890s and 1940s

The Canadian Prairies were largely settled between 1901 and 1914. Nonetheless, the initial burst of migrants began after 1896. Between 1880 and 1920 almost 4.5 million migrants were admitted to Canada, predominantly from the US and Europe. In the peak decade of migration (1905–14), almost 2.8 million settlers arrived in Canada, with the figures pretty much shared equally among those from the British Isles, the US, and Central and Eastern Europe.63 This included Britons, Germans and Scandinavians. However, the most important migration programme at this time was that undertaken by Clifford Sifton, the minister of the interior, to move migrants from Central and Eastern Europe to Canada. This consisted notably of Ukrainians, but also Poles, Hungarians, and Russians.64 It was to these latter groups that Clifton’s infamous euphemism of ‘stalwart peasants in sheepskin coats’ referred. Sifton’s successor, Frank Oliver, was constantly criticising his policies, asserting that considerably more attention needed to be paid to the selection of races. Like numerous others at the time he suggested that Sifton’s preference for “Galacians” over British labourers was destroying the national fabric. On the other hand, Sifton was no supporter of a Canada with a multitude of cultures, regardless of his backing of non-British settlers.65 The second main wave of non-French and non-British migrants to Canada began to arrive in the 1920s. While continuing its efforts to secure British migrants, the government of Mackenzie King in September 1925 signed a “Railways Agreement” with the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway that resulted in the arrival of larger numbers of Eastern and Central Europeans.66

As English-speaking Canada’s identity was based on Britishness and whiteness a policy of assimilation was adopted towards these non-British migrants. They arrived in a country that was extremely Anglo-centric and required the migrants to discard the culture and language of their home countries. If the migrants themselves did not assimilate wholly into the English-speaking Canadian dominated culture, then their children would.67 First Nation peoples were isolated on reserves and Asians’ and blacks’ entry was restricted because they were regarded as unassimilable. Europeans from central and southern Europe were grudgingly admitted and were viewed as assimilable, but only with considerable effort.68

Anglo-centeredness required migrants to abandon the traditions and cultures of their homelands and instead adopt the values and behaviour of English-speaking Canadians. Palmer asserts that ← 32 | 33 →

Since at this time the British Empire was at its height, and the belief in “progress” and Anglo-Saxon and white superiority was taken for granted throughout the English-speaking world, a group’s desirability as potential immigrants varied almost directly with its members’ physical and cultural distance from London (England) and the degree to which their skin pigmentation conformed to Anglo-Saxon white.69

The main idea behind Anglo-centeredness was that migrants should assimilate themselves into a British cultural and institutional model, which incorporated the English language and the Protestant faith.70

The social gospel and evangelism were both regarded as a means of incorporating the migrant into Canadian society, and nationalism was hence a prominent collective force in this work. This was in the sense of uniting disparate groups from diverse origins into a national community. Therefore, Britishness offered something all migrants could aspire to and become a part of. It did not matter if they were Hungarians, Russians or even Swedes; in time they could all become Canadians who were part of a wider British world. It was widely accepted that it was crucial for the future wellbeing of the country that migrants should turn into English-speaking Christian Canadians.71 Marilyn Barber cites the report of the Methodist Missionary Society in 1910: “Our objective on behalf of European foreigners should be to assist in making them English-speaking Christian citizens who are clean, educated, and loyal to the Dominion and to Greater Britain.”72

On first appearance the Prairie West seemed to be Protestant and assimilationist programmes were most popular in Protestant circles. Such programmes were aimed at creating an unvaryingly Protestant and English-speaking society, British in its allegiance politically but in its social attitudes resoundingly American.73 The latter was in the sense of not having a rigid class-based society. Yet, this emphasis on a Protestant Canada excluded not only French-Canadians, who were predominantly Catholic, but also Irish-Catholics, who formed a sizeable community in Canada.

The Mennonites provide a useful case study that demonstrates the experience of non-British migrants in Canada at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Mennonites who came to Canada, with some minor exceptions, consisted of an economically poor group in Russia, and they were quite conservative in their beliefs. The rights that they secured from the Canadian government representatives helped them in their goal of preserving their way of life. However, direct interference into Mennonite affairs in Manitoba began in 1907 when the Roblin government declared that the Union Jack flag should be raised over all public school buildings.74 The directive was aimed to “inculcate ← 33 | 34 → feelings of patriotism and materially assist in the blending together of the various nationalities in the province into one common citizenship, irrespective of race and creed.”75 Another danger to Mennonite autonomy came about in 1916 when a Liberal government came into power in Manitoba with educational assimilation as a crucial policy. Their School Act of that same year declared that there would be compulsory education in the province with teaching in English alone.76

Very little had changed by the First World War, and there were attempts to persuade all “New Canadians” that allegiance to the British Empire and the Canadian nation was one and the same.77 During the First World War Britishness was most pronounced. An unfaltering loyalty to the Empire meant that “hyphenated Canadianism” was suspect. All the key secondary sources on immigration written prior to 1920 were based on the assumptions of all newcomers assimilating to Britishness. These included J.S. Woodsworth’s Strangers Within Our Gates (1909),78 J.T.M. Anderson’s The Education of the New-Canadian (1918),79 C.A. Magrath’s Canada’s Growth and Some Problems Affecting It (1910),80 C.B. Sissons’s Bilingual Schools in Canada (1917),81 and W.G. Smith’s A Study in Canadian Immigration (1920).82 Those promoting Anglo-centeredness were not just the conservatives of their day. Protestant Social Gospellers, including J. S. Woodsworth, later one of the founders of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, also played a major part in nearly all the reform movements of the pre–First World War period, including women’s rights, temperance, and labour, farm and penal reform. They also argued that migrants needed to adapt to these Protestant Anglo-Canadian values.83

The following example gives an idea of the more overt and active aims behind the assimilation process:

In 1919, the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE): passed resolutions advocating a ‘Canadianization Campaign’ to ‘propagate British ideals and institutions,’ to ‘banish old world points of view, old world prejudices, old world rivalries and suspicion’ and to make new Canadians ‘one hundred percent British in language, thought, feeling and impulse.’84

So, non-British migrants were expected to abandon their native cultures and completely embrace the Anglo-centric culture as soon as possible.

The assimilation of migrants was also achieved through education. A broad group of civil servants, educators, public health officials, religious leaders and social workers were given the official job of “Canadianizing” the non-British migrant. Robert Harney and Harold Troper maintain that “With rare exceptions, these guardians of the Canadian way worked with but one goal in mind: ← 34 | 35 → to remake the foreigner in their own image.” However, “Canadianization” was not a secret programme of study. Instruction in the “Canadian way of life” was expressed in all aspects of the school’s curriculum. In addition, schools’ assimilation efforts went beyond the official classroom scheme. Students were encouraged to turn to the schools for help with personal difficulties and making future plans.85

Settlement houses took over the role of assimilating children after school. The three Toronto settlement houses carrying out activities in areas of large migrant concentration, St. Christopher House, University Settlement and Central Neighbourhood House, were manned by small groups of qualified social workers, assisted by a committed body of volunteers. Despite each of these Toronto settlement houses being dedicated to the goal of “Canadianization,” they were different from each other in attitude. Most prominently, Central Neighbourhood House, unlike its two sister institutions, was non-sectarian, having no affiliation to any Protestant faith. It walked “a thin philosophic line between forceful assimilation as the best method to ensure the immigrant’s adjustment, and respect for continuity of ethnic identity as to the best method to prevent social breakdown in the New World.” In practice, though, all three settlement houses regarded ultimate and total “Canadianization” as inevitable and desirable. A programme of English-language night school classes for adults was also offered.86 The Toronto Board of Education emphasised the importance of education in the assimilation process in a report in 1913.87 The central role principals and teachers had, in particular in Canadianizing migrant children from Central Europe, was highlighted in a further report in 1928: “The teachers of this school are teaching English to their students, but they are also not losing sight of the broader aim, the Canadianizing of our foreign population.”88

A. D. McRae of the Canadian Club of Toronto made a clear link between assimilation policy and English-speaking Canada’s identification as a British nation in 1921:

It is apparent that the government on account of the large immigration we are to receive, must give very close attention to the education of the masses, not only with the view of developing a Canadian spirit, a love for our country and an appreciation of our system of government, but also so far as possible to inculcate our new citizens with the spirit of the empire. The children of our new immigrants, in the natural course of events, may be expected to become good Canadians, but it will require education if they are to appreciate the advantages of imperial unity so patent to most of us who come from British stock.89 ← 35 | 36 →

So, education was the key in assimilating non-British migrants into the Anglo-centric society as well as developing a love of country. But a distinction was made between migrants and their children, in that the latter were expected to become “good Canadians” as a matter of course. However, they would still need education to appreciate Canada’s membership of a wider British world.

The Conservative prime minister, R. B. Bennett, reaffirmed the government’s commitment to assimilating non-British groups into the dominant Anglo-centric culture in the 1930s: “The people [Continental Europeans] have made excellent settlers … but it cannot be that we must draw upon them to shape our civilization … We must still maintain that measure of British civilization which enables us to assimilate these people to British institutions rather than assimilate our civilization to theirs.”90 Therefore, non-British migrants continued to be expected to incorporate themselves into the Anglo-centric culture. A notable institutional change in the 1930s was the incorporation of the Department of Immigration into the Department of Mines and Resources as a new Immigration Branch. This downgrading was a consequence of the abandonment of the aggressive immigration promotion campaigns of the past in the context of the Great Depression.91

Nonetheless, between 1867 and 1945 the federal government did not adopt an overt assimilation policy, which either gave pre-eminence to English-speaking Canada or fostered a bi-cultural policy of assimilation to the dual European founding elements in Canadian society.92 Due to its biculturalism, Canada had two distinct societies, which in practice meant it had two assimilation policies, one for English-speaking Canada and the other for French Canada.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King called for a revival of mass immigration to Canada in 1947. This had been curtailed during the depression and the Second World War. Mackenzie King stated that “The policy of the government is to foster the growth of the population of Canada by the encouragement of immigration…we cannot ignore the danger that lies in a small population attempting to hold so great a heritage as ours.”93 In King’s opinion, what peoples might best serve Canada’s need to expand its population without causing a fundamental alteration in the character of the country remained remarkably consistent over his long and influential career.94 These were British migrants. Hence, the Canadian government focused its immigration efforts on securing British migrants first and foremost. Like the Australian government, the Canadian government noted the numbers of British migrants its sister Dominion had received.95 This reflected the fact that both countries were competing for the same source of migrants. British migrants were preferred as Canada, like Australia, viewed itself as essentially a British country. For that reason, migrants from the UK would not alter ← 36 | 37 → the fundamental character of the population but would adjust easily to their new environment.

The Canadian government did not immediately conclude an Assisted Passage Agreement with the UK. It eventually introduced a unilateral Assisted Passage Loan scheme, but this was not until the 1950s. However, Ontario in the immediate post–Second World War period took its own initiative in signing an agreement with the British government to transport migrants by air. This was known as the “Drew Plan” after its architect, George Drew, the Conservative premier of Ontario between 1943 and 1948. But this was only a limited provincial scheme. This is partly explained in practical terms, as Britain was physically close to Canada. Consequently, the cost of transport was not overly expensive. On the other hand, it is more a fundamental reflection of the bicultural nature of Canada. The French-Canadians would have been opposed to any Assisted Passage Agreement with the UK, as it would represent preferential treatment for one of the European founding groups over the other. Also, they may have responded with a call for a similar agreement to be concluded with France. The latter, though, would have been unlikely as most French-Canadians did not have a strong affinity with Republican France at this time, as Quebec had been founded before the French Revolution and had an unbroken tradition based largely on the Ancien Régime. Nevertheless, the federal government in September 1948 did, in the hope of countering French-Canadian criticism, put French citizens on an equal basis to British and American nationals in terms of admission into Canada. It was not expected, however, that this would have any large impact on the actual numbers arriving in the country.96 But federal bureaucrats halted the policy in its infancy in any case, claiming that a great number of potential French migrants were either Communists or former Nazi collaborators.97

The policy of assimilation continued to be pursued towards migrants in the post–Second World War period as Britishness and whiteness were still at the core of English-speaking Canadian national identity. The government recognised that there were various stakeholders involved in the successful assimilation of new settlers and so therefore a Committee was established, comprising a representative from each of the Departments of the Secretary of State for Canada, Labour, National Health and Welfare, and Mines and Resources (Immigration), along with a representative from the Canadian Citizenship Council, and the Canadian Welfare Council. The goal of the committee was “to advise the Government on matters pertaining to the establishment of new settlers, their assimilation, and instruction in the responsibilities of citizenship, and to co-ordinate the activities of ← 37 | 38 → the various Departments and organizations engaged in this work.”98 This demonstrated a new, greater organisation in assimilation efforts—a reflection of the large mass non-British migration that Canada received in the post–Second World War period. In contrast to its first experience of mass non-British migration at the end of the nineteenth century, the majority of the migrants were better educated and went to urban areas.

The main instruments of assimilation policy in the post–Second World War period were radio broadcasts and films aimed at migrants. Citizenship radio broadcasts by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation began in 1949.99 The subjects of these radio broadcasts included languages, contracts with employers, money, and adjustment to jobs. Films were also commissioned to assist in the assimilation process of migrants. Fifteen filmstrips were produced on the basis of a published Canadian Citizenship Series. The first three were “Our Land,” “Our History” and “Our Government.” The goal of these was to make Canadian geography, government and history better understood by migrants in night classes.100 However, these provided only general practical information for migrants; they would have been directed at all migrants, not just non-British ones. The lack of information on Canada’s British heritage, institutions and even way of life gives the impression that Canada’s Britishness was perhaps more nuanced and problematic than the official political statements or policies suggested. This was due to the bicultural nature of Canadian society, in that there were two possible models of assimilation for migrants to follow: the English-speaking and French-Canadian. As a result of this, the former could hardly be emphasised at the expense of the latter. The French-Canadians would have been deeply opposed to this. Rather it appears a compromise was reached in that the information migrants received through film and other forms was very general, and not specific to either community. This reflects the delicate balancing act that had to be followed in the country where English-speaking Canadians desired that migrants assimilate into an Anglo-centric culture, while French-Canadians continued to oppose this at the national level.

Britishness, the French-Canadians, and the White Canada Policy during the 1950s

From the early 1950s the first signs of the waning of English-speaking Canada’s identification as a British nation appeared. In a Citizenship Broadcast in May 1950 Prime Minister St. Laurent, who, as pointed out earlier, was of mixed French and British ancestry, placed greater emphasis on the importance of ← 38 | 39 → Canadian patriotism rather than a broader Britannic nationalism on the occasion of Citizenship Day; this replaced Empire Day, which had been celebrated since the late nineteenth century:

Right from the start one of the main purposes of Empire Day was to increase our pride in Canada … The greater Canada becomes and the greater our pride in Canada the greater our value to the Commonwealth. Everything we do to increase our pride in Canada contributes to the importance of our place in the partnership of Commonwealth nations.101

He built upon this in an actual Citizenship Day speech in which he reiterated the importance of the day in educating children about the Empire, but placed greater emphasis on it providing a special opportunity for children to learn more about Canadian citizenship:

In the past fifty years there has been a great change in our status. What was then a colony in an empire is now an independent nation in a commonwealth. We have by act of parliament established our own citizenship. Consequently, … I approached the provincial premiers with the result that they all agreed to have arrangements made to the end that some occasion might be found today in the schools for exercises having in mind, in respect of the position of Canada in the commonwealth, the rights, the privileges, the duties and the responsibilities of Canadian citizenship.102

This shift is noteworthy as the day was now about Canadian citizenship. This reflected quite well the difficult position French-Canadians, particularly national politicians, found themselves in during this period, as they could not relate to British race patriotism and preferred to emphasise home grown symbols. This also highlights the differences between the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties, as the latter, unlike the former, did not really incorporate French-Canadians and hence did not have to be sensitive to their positions.

Drew, now the leader of the Progressive Conservative opposition, in his Citizenship Day address highlighted English-speaking Canada’s membership of a wider British world: “It is appropriate that as we celebrate the wider association of which Canada has formed a part for so many years, and of which we undoubtedly shall continue to form a part throughout the years ahead, we should emphasize the act of citizenship and all that has gone into the making of it.”103 But the reference to Canadian citizenship at the end illustrates how the appeal of Britishness was slowly starting to shift, even in the Progressive Conservative Party, which had been a long-standing bastion of Britishness in English-speaking Canada. ← 39 | 40 →

The Toronto Star while explaining the depth of British race patriotism in Canada at the same time acknowledged that things were slowly shifting:

It is not easy for this generation to understand the love and reverence with which their elders regarded Queen Victoria…Victoria’s reign was a period of extraordinary prosperity and expansion for Britain…The British Empire spread over the earth and became known as the greatest empire in history, one on which the sun never set…Since the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the British nations have passed safely through two crippling word wars. The motherland saved human liberties on both occasions but at terrible cost to herself.104

This is reminiscent of the earlier nostalgic commentary in regard to Empire Day in the immediate post–Second World War period. The Globe and Mail reflected on the changing position towards Britishness in Canada in May 1950, but this time on the occasion of Victoria Day:

Victoria Day is one of Canada’s oldest national holidays, and one of the most popular…But can we claim to be better Canadians because we have abandoned or forgotten the traditional aspects of the day? … Victoria Day should have a community and national purpose in underlining the values of Canadian and British citizenship. It should provide an opportunity to advance and uphold the advantages of our association with the unique family of peoples and nations which owe a common allegiance to the British idea.105

Both of the foregoing editorials demonstrate recognition that there was not the same sense of feeling towards being a part of a wider British world as there had been with previous generations.

St. Laurent returned to his theme of the prevalence of Canadian citizenship over British traditions in an address to the Golden Jubilee of the IODE also in May 1950:

Just as the British Empire of 1900 has been transformed into a Commonwealth of free and equal nations in 1950 without losing anything of its beneficent character for the world, so the I.O.D.E. while striving always to preserve all that is best in our British tradition in Canada, has grasped the great truth that the strength of the Commonwealth depends on the strength of its members and the Order has worked hard and well for a greater and a better Canada and for a growing pride by Canadians—regardless of origin—in their common citizenship.106

It showed St. Laurent presenting his view of Canadian identity to one of the oldest institutions of Britishness in the country. But even as these British ties were ← 40 | 41 → being reinforced, a new language of “nation” was coming to the fore. In a speech to the Canadian Club of Montreal in April 1951 St. Laurent argued that there were “certain basic features, and fundamental Canadian attitudes and sentiments, which are widely and generally held and which justify us in speaking of a Canadian nation.” The most important of these in his opinion was the diverse nature of the Canadian population. He pointed out that “No one knows better than you in Montreal, that in addition to those of the original stocks, thousands of newer Canadians have come to live among us and to make their contributions to our common life.”107 This is a notable statement and clearly shows the extent to which ideas of Canadian identity were beginning to shift.

There was considerable controversy over St. Laurent’s appointment of a Canadian as governor-general for the first time at the beginning of 1952. The issue according to the Victoria Times came down to two questions: Firstly, was the Crown to be dragged into partisan politics? Secondly, did the presence of a Canadian in Rideau Hall weaken the links between Canada and the UK? The newspaper favourably commented on St. Laurent’s remarks that “the nation is growing up but it is not growing away from Britain.”108 The London Free Press asserted that one day it “would like to see an interchange of governors with the other members of the Commonwealth, and again someday a distinguished Englishman come to Canada—it would all help to bind the Commonwealth together.”109 Both of these editorials, from areas of Canada that were bastions of Britishness, illustrate how the shift in identity was a very slow process, with many reluctant to shed their more traditional ideas of national community.

A recurring theme in St. Laurent’s speeches in the early 1950s was the idea of Canada as an “adult nation.” In an address to the Diamond Jubilee of the Association of Canadian Clubs in September 1952 he argued that “The fact that Canada has reached the age of maturity among the family of nations is now of course universally recognized…It should be a matter of pride for us that we have been able to reach adult status.” St. Laurent, though, returned to more traditional messages of national community in his comments on the monarchy: “This rich diversity of local loyalties is blended together in a common loyalty to the Crown, a loyalty which was dramatically and enthusiastically demonstrated by the reception given to our Royal visitors a year ago by Canadian citizens of all provinces and of all ethnic origins.” But the most distinctive feature of Canadian identity in his opinion was the bilingual and bicultural nature of the country: “The men who founded our nation did so on one principle that stands out above all others, the principle that the new nation should enable the English-speaking and French-speaking partners to keep their essential characteristics, their ← 41 | 42 → religion, their language, their culture.”110 This speech encapsulates St. Laurent’s views on Canadian identity: in terms of Canada having matured as a nation; while at the same time paying homage to its British heritage, through the links to the monarchy; but most importantly encouraging its bilingual and bicultural nature.

In a speech to the Canadian Club and Empire Club of Toronto in early 1953 St. Laurent returned to his theme of the development of a Canadian identity strengthening Canada’s links with the Commonwealth:

I am sure…there is no member of the Toronto Canadian Club who does not wish Canada to remain an integral and influential member of the Commonwealth, and I am equally sure there is no member of the Empire Club who does not feel that the strength of the Commonwealth depends upon the strength of its members, and that the greater we make our own country, the more we advance the cause of the Commonwealth.111

This address again demonstrates St. Laurent’s emphasis on a Canadian identity taking precedence over a wider British one. St. Laurent also highlighted the complete transformation of Empire Day to Citizenship Day in a statement about the latter in early 1953:

First observed in 1950, Citizenship Day is set aside as an occasion when the people of Canada are asked to give thought to the responsibilities and privileges of Canadian citizenship. It also provides an opportunity for emphasizing the importance to Canada of its place in the Commonwealth and of its role in the United Nations.112

Now, for the first time, Canadian Citizenship was brought right to the fore, whereas Canada’s relationship to the Commonwealth was grouped together with other links to international organisations such as the UN.

In French Canada the Duplessis government showed in a clear way how the federal government’s attempts to introduce nation-wide schemes could be destabilised by Quebec’s own efforts to establish its own national position. In the 1950s, the Quebec government did not take part in a series of conditional-grant schemes that the federal government offered to the provinces. McRoberts maintains that “The Duplessis government’s refusal to participate in federal programs demonstrated the potential for conflict that lay in the federal government’s post-war assumption of the mantle of national government.” It also clearly highlighted how the view of Canada held by French-Canadian elites contrasted with that of their English-speaking Canadian counterparts. In the ← 42 | 43 → post-war years the federal government contested the long-standing French-Canadian view of Canada as a nation in a way it had never done before. This was in the sense of French-Canadians regarding Canada as a compact of two nations: the French and British, coming together and both being equal. In contrast the federal government in the context of the expanded role it had taken during the Second World War began to emphasise the Canadian nation. It started to form new symbols of a unique Canadian nation; to build a foundation of cultural, economic and social programmes aimed at developing and strengthening the country; and to put in place national guidelines of social services that all Canadians, as Canadians, could demand as an essential right. Unsurprisingly, this meant encroaching on areas, which had traditionally been the preserve of the provinces. While most of English-speaking Canada welcomed these developments, they were resisted in Quebec.113

From the beginning of the 1950s the White Canada policy also began to be gradually broken down. This was mainly due to international developments with the newly independent nations of Asia calling for an end to racially based immigration policies. In 1950 there was a liberalisation of regulations, which broadened the admissible classes of Asians to include the spouses of Canadian citizens and unmarried children up to the age of majority.114 Towards the end of 1950 Lester B. Pearson, the secretary of state for external affairs, reported to the Cabinet that the Indian government had made representations repeating their request for the removal of discrimination in the Canadian immigration regulations against Indians and other Asians. He pointed out that they were not calling for actual immigration entry to be given but solely for the removal of direct discriminatory provisions. Walter Harris, the minister of citizenship and immigration, stated that the problem was “essentially one of amending the provisions so that they appeared to place Asians on the same basis as other persons but without, in fact, extending a right of entry.”115 The following month Lester Pearson suggested it would be a good idea to look into the option that a treaty might be agreeable to the Indian government. He thought it would be a positive step to give the three Asian commonwealth countries a preferential position. The Cabinet agreed to allow the entry into Canada of husbands of Canadian citizens of Asian origin together with unmarried children of a Canadian citizen between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one.116 At the beginning of 1951 agreements were concluded with the governments of India, Pakistan and Ceylon whereby 150 Indians, 100 Pakistanis, and 50 Ceylonese might be admitted to Canada each year, in addition to the wives, husbands, and unmarried children under twenty-one, fathers over sixty-five, and mothers over sixty of Canadian citizens, resident in Canada, of these countries of origin.117 Although the numbers ← 43 | 44 → involved in the 1951 agreements with India, Pakistan and Ceylon were not large, their importance lies in the fact that they represented the first time that Canada had concluded an immigration agreement with an Asian country apart from Japan.

Immigration and Assimilation Policy during the 1950s

Despite the emergence of the first signs of the decline of English-speaking Canada’s Britishness and whiteness, the preference for British migration continued in the 1950s. The Saturday Night publication of Toronto asserted that “British labor is wanted because it is highly skilled, politically acceptable, and easily assimilated.” However, it did acknowledge that “western European farm and factory hands are also in demand.”118 Similarly, the Kingston Whig-Standard, while arguing that British migrants were ideal, did state that “a ban against any race or region on purely racial or regional grounds would result in a loss to Canada.”119 It shows how much the ground was beginning to shift in regard to views towards immigration. On the other hand, the Montreal Gazette suggested introducing assisted passages for British migrants to increase their number in the immigrant intake. Otherwise it warned of the steady decline of the British proportion of the population, which it felt should be avoided at all costs.120 According to The Globe and Mail the reason the government was not actively encouraging British immigration was because of sensitivities to French-Canadian opinion in Quebec. It summed up the basic premise behind the French-Canadian view:

It is the declared policy of the present Government at Ottawa not to disturb or alter the fundamental character of the Canadian population. As this is understood in some circles in Quebec, it means that the French-Canadians must continue to form a substantial fraction of the nation and must not be submerged by a heavy influx of English-speaking people.121

This would have been compatible with an active immigration policy from both the UK and France, if migrants could be encouraged to come from the latter. But the problem was France did not have population pressures and its birth rate was actually low. Contrarily, large numbers of British people were ready and willing to migrate to Canada. The newspaper argued that French-Canadians should not be worried about the possible effects of a large influx of British migrants into the country as “Quebec would be just as secure in its ways and its local autonomy as it is now.”122 ← 44 | 45 →

The value of British migration was displayed in a letter by the IODE to Harris in 1952. Against the background that the percentage of British migrants as a part of total immigration had decreased considerably, and the view that this should be considered an issue of national concern, the organisation urged, “‘Therefore be it resolved that the National Chapter of Canada, Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, urge the Dominion Government to encourage and assist British immigration to Canada by whatever means will prove most effective.’”123 Harris attempted to defend the government’s record on British migration: “It has been the consistent policy of the Government to encourage immigration from the United Kingdom…The Immigration Branch maintains a substantial and active immigrant recruiting service in the United Kingdom.”124

Assimilation policy towards non-British migrants also continued into the early 1950s, though changes were beginning to emerge. St. Laurent in an address to the Canadian Club of Montreal in April 1951 maintained that Canadians “had to learn to accommodate themselves to views, often strongly held, of other Canadians whose culture, language, religion and outlook may be quite different from their own.”125 This is another remarkable statement and illustrates the shifts in assimilation policy that were taking place.

In an explanatory memorandum submitted to the Cabinet at the start of 1953 on Citizenship Classes, Harris outlined the main features of assimilation policy as he saw them: “Knowledge of the English or the French language, and of the facts of Canadian life is essential to the smooth and full adaptation of the newcomer to [the] Canadian environment…It enhances the value of his personal contribution to the development of this country.” He went on to elaborate on the efforts of the Citizenship Branch, in conjunction with certain provincial governments, universities, local school boards, and benevolent societies, to promote the holding of citizenship classes where French or English was being taught.126 Hence, the continuing importance of language in the assimilation process was stressed.

So, between the 1890s and 1950s Britishness formed the foundation of English-speaking Canadian national identity. This was a belief that Canada was an integral part of a wider British world that had the UK at its heart. Examples of this include Canada’s support for the Boer War, its contribution to the First and Second World Wars, the prevalence of Empire Day celebrations across the country and public pronouncements by leaders across the political spectrum. However, from the beginning French-Canadians were not a part of this self-identification, and were in actual fact excluded from it. This made Britishness problematic in ← 45 | 46 → Canada, especially for national leaders of French descent. Instances of where this came to the fore include the debate over the creation of a Royal Canadian Navy in the early 1900s and the conscription debates during the First and Second World Wars. But from the early 1950s the first signs of the unravelling of this Britannic identity began to emerge. This was epitomised by speeches by Prime Minister St. Laurent where he sought to emphasise a new Canadian patriotism with a focus on the recently created Canadian citizenship.

A closely related capillary to this British-centred identity was the White Canada policy. This aimed at primarily excluding Asian immigration to the country. Although its main advocate was the province of British Columbia on the West Coast of Canada, it was a national policy as immigration was under the control of the federal government. The main instruments of the White Canada policy were a Continuous Journey provision, which effectively ended Indian migration to Canada, the Chinese Head Tax and a Chinese Immigration Exclusion Act, and two Gentleman’s Agreements with Japan. Similarly with Britishness the first signs of the reform of the White Canada policy emerged in the early 1950s. This included the admission of quotas of migrants from India, Pakistan and Ceylon.

Due to English-speaking Canadian national identity being based on Britishness and whiteness an assimilation policy was adopted towards non-British migrants who arrived in Canada from the late nineteenth century onwards. The first large wave arrived in the early 1900s, and was followed by a subsequent wave in the 1920s, and a third after the Second World War. These migrants were expected to assimilate into the dominant Anglo-centric culture as quickly as possible, adopting the English-language and becoming British subjects in heart and mind. However, with the first signs of the unravelling of Britishness and whiteness in the early 1950s assimilation policy also began to slowly shift, although the emphasis was still on migrants to incorporate themselves into their new host society.

From the late nineteenth century Canada identified itself as an integral part of a wider British world. This of course excluded the French-Canadians. The White Canada policy also reinforced this idea of Britishness. Therefore, the large numbers of non-British migrants Canada received at the turn of the century were expected to incorporate themselves into this English-speaking Canadian society. These new settlers had to abandon their home cultures and become as close to English-speaking Canadians as quickly as possible. However, from the early 1950s the first indications of the slow unravelling of British race patriotism ← 46 | 47 → in English-speaking Canada began to appear. At the same time the initial steps towards the dismantlement of whiteness also took place. This resulted in subtle shifts in the policy of assimilation towards non-British migrants. In the 1950s in Canada official government policy began to shift from assimilation to integration, which is the subject of the next chapter. ← 47 | 48 →

← 48 | 49 →



Integration Policy in Canada, 1953–1963

As the foundation of English-speaking Canadian national identity began to unravel and break down, integration replaced assimilation as official government policy in dealing with migrants in Canada. Integration encouraged migrants to retain their own cultures as well as incorporate themselves into the Canadian one. The culmination in the demise of the belief in Canada as an integral part of a wider British world was the UK’s decision to seek membership in the EEC. Growing US dominance and the Quiet Revolution in Quebec added to these pressures.

The Demise of Britishness, the French-Canadians, and the Unravelling of the White Canada Policy

Ready, aye, ready no more1

The foregoing quote by Pearson, the minister for external affairs during the Suez Crisis of 1956, famously marked the end of Canada’s automatic loyalty to the British Empire. Alongside the unravelling of Britishness, whiteness was also slowly broken down. Building on the 1950 reforms, which allowed limited numbers of Indian, Pakistani, and Ceylonese citizens to migrate to Canada, and the 1952 Immigration ← 49 | 50 → Act, the government continued to gradually dismantle the racial assumptions behind the White Canada immigration policy. However, this was very much a slow process, and more traditional pronouncements continued to be made. For instance, in late 1954 Jack Pickersgill, the minister of citizenship and immigration, made clear that while the government did not discriminate against any single person due to his race, it was not going to allow any “major” movement of British West Indian or Asian people into the country. When prompted as to why the government took this position he recalled a statement made by the late former prime minister Mackenzie King in 1948 in which he had stated, “‘We don’t want immigration to change the character of our population.’” Pickersgill talked about the arrival of large numbers of Europeans of non-British or non-French descent into Canada after the Second World War. However, their traditions were very similar to those of the Canadians and after very little time in the country they had become indistinguishable from “native” Canadians (I am not referring to First Nation, Inuit or Métis (Aboriginal) Canadians here, but Canadians of British or French descent).2 So, the difference in the assimilability of Europeans and non-Europeans was emphasised. The Victoria Times wholeheartedly supported Pickersgill’s desire to maintain Canada’s character, through a racial preference. It approved of his plan to seek migrants who would fit most easily into Canadian life and take up the duties and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship.3 This is hardly surprising as the newspaper was from a particular British bastion in Canada.

In the mid-1950s British race patriotism began to unravel as the core of the national identity of English-speaking Canada. In a speech in London in early 1955 on the occasion of his receiving the freedom of the city, St. Laurent made reference to the long-standing French-Canadian belief that they were the original pioneers of Canada. However, his most notable comments concerned the heritage Canada and other Commonwealth countries had received from the UK:

In a sense, you in this City and these islands, are trustees for a larger generation than your own descendants. All of us in the Commonwealth overseas—and in the United States of America—share in degree in your inheritance of ways of governing yourselves, of ways of transacting fair and honest business, and of traditions of tolerance and good faith.4

This reflected the changing English-speaking Canadian perspective towards Britishness. They were now no longer seeing themselves as British per se, but possessing a heritage of British democracy, institutions and values, one that was confined to not only the Commonwealth, but also the US. ← 50 | 51 →

The decline of British race patriotism was also illustrated by a growing lack of observance of traditional celebrations, such as Victoria Day. This had been an important anniversary for English-speaking Canadians to express their pride in membership of a wider British world. But now newspapers reported that on Victoria Day in Toronto in 1955, one of the quietest parts of the city was at the Queen Victoria statue in Queen’s Park. They lamented that a few strollers stopped to inspect it but there were no wreaths or any official commemorations.5 Therefore, the day had changed from being an expression of Canada’s integral membership of a wider British world to just another public holiday.

On this same day the identification of English-speaking Canada as a British country erupted as a contentious issue between the two major political parties. The Liberals had traditionally adopted a nuanced position towards Britishness mainly due to their large French-Canadian constituency. They very often stressed patriotism to Canada rather than any nationalism towards the British race. The Progressive Conservatives, by contrast, were a bastion of British race patriotism in English-speaking Canada. In Parliament Liberal prime minister St. Laurent, himself of mixed French and British ancestry, designated “God Save the Queen”, as the “royal anthem” and by extension “O Canada” as the new national anthem.6 The anthem issue had been a long-running controversy, which had erupted sporadically over the decades. French-Canadians were generally in favour of “O Canada” and most English-speaking Canadians preferred “God Save the Queen”.

The Progressive Conservative leader of the opposition, George Drew, objected to what the prime minister had done. He reported that St. Laurent had approached him informally to ask whether he supported the singing of “God Save the Queen” on the occasion of Victoria Day. Drew agreed but was then surprised that St. Laurent referred to it as the “royal anthem” with the implication that it was no longer the national anthem. He asked the prime minister directly “what was the significance of the words ‘royal anthem’ used on this occasion.”7 Diefenbaker, who was to become Progressive Conservative prime minister, asked St. Laurent if “God Save the Queen” was not in actual fact the national anthem.8 St. Laurent defended his position, saying, “‘God Save the Queen’ has never to my knowledge been adopted by any act of parliament or any resolution or any proclamation … Whether it should be called a national anthem or whether it should be called a national prayer, I really do not know.”9 Thus, St. Laurent was highlighting the fact that the usage of “God Save the Queen” as the national anthem had never been legislatively enshrined; instead it had emerged through precedent.

The Globe and Mail believed that this was the first time that what had previously been considered the national anthem had been so classified. The newspaper ← 51 | 52 → drew out the implications of the parliamentary debate more clearly than the prime minister had: “If Mr. St. Laurent was intentionally leading the way out of a long-standing controversy, then by elimination O Canada has become by default the National Anthem and God Save the Queen will be reserved for occasions when it is required to sing the ‘Royal Anthem.’”10 By the end of 1955 St. Laurent was reported as saying that he believed “O Canada” was becoming the national anthem by general acceptance and did not need to be designated by legislation, as the case had been with “God Save the Queen”. He also told the TLC that he would be happy if someone could suggest a national flag that would be accepted by an overwhelming majority of Canadians. The prime minister addressed the TLC’s annual legislative delegation, which had asked for legislation to designate “O Canada” as the national anthem and to approve a national flag. With regards to the flag, he stated that it would not be a good idea to divide the Canadian people by picking a flag that some of them might be against.11 This was primarily a reference to French-Canadians who were strongly opposed to any new flag that retained the Union Jack in any part of it.

The first major step in the breakdown of whiteness in Canada at this time was a joint memorandum by Pickersgill and M. F. Gregg, the minister of labour, to Cabinet in mid-1955, recommending the admission of one hundred domestic workers from the British West Indies on an experimental basis. The impetus for the scheme, however, came from representations made by the governments of Jamaica and Barbados to the Canadian government. Concerns over trade with the Caribbean led to the consideration of the issue.12 The Cabinet approved the recommendation the following month. It was agreed that seventy-five female migrants would be admitted from Jamaica and twenty-five from Barbados. The effectiveness of the plan would be reviewed a year later.13 The West Indian domestic worker scheme was extremely important, as, though the numbers involved were relatively small, it represented the first government-sanctioned and sponsored movement of non-white migrants into the country.

Some Canadian newspapers began to question the White Canada policy and whether it was sustainable or even relevant in the current world. The issue was regarded as particularly topical as the level of immigration to Canada from long-standing source countries was beginning to decline. A majority of the newspapers understood the need for limits on immigration but felt that the government’s regulations were excessive and inflexible. Examples of Asian students who had successfully settled into the country being deported, a British Guianese girl who had been adopted by a Canadian couple being sent home because she may have had Indian ancestry, and the lengths the Chinese Benevolent Association ← 52 | 53 → of Vancouver had to go to get a small number of refugees admitted from Hong Kong were commonly cited.14 Therefore, with the use of these examples Canadian newspapers attempted to draw attention to the human effects and injustices of the White Canada policy.

In early 1956 Pickersgill and Gregg reported to the Cabinet that the experimental West Indian domestic worker scheme had proved highly successful. This had been determined from a survey that had been carried out to “determine the success of the experiment from the standpoint of suitability, adaptability and integration.” All of the one hundred women and all but nine of the employers were interviewed. On the basis of this success both ministers suggested not only the continuation of the scheme for another year, but also a doubling of numbers, from one hundred to two hundred. Furthermore, they recommended that the source countries should be extended to include British Guiana and Trinidad alongside Jamaica and Barbados.15 However, when the issue was discussed in the Cabinet the following week Pickersgill did express concerns over the potential creation of a “coloured problem” for the future. But for the sake of bettering relations with the West Indies, especially in terms of trade, he felt it best to proceed with the proposal. The Cabinet approved the recommendations. The scheme would be continued but with two hundred migrants to be admitted. This was divided between one hundred domestics from Jamaica, forty from Barbados, thirty from Trinidad and thirty from British Guiana.16 The West Indian domestic worker scheme demonstrates how diplomatic considerations, especially trade concerns, were starting to take precedence over the racial foundations of the White Canada policy. The Globe and Mail praised the government’s scheme. However, it did question whether male as well as female domestic workers should be brought into the country to provide a better balance of migrants.17 This illustrated the limitations of the government’s new policy in that it was willing to allow female domestic workers to migrate, but not potential families.

Yet another symbol of the decline of Britishness in English-speaking Canada was the official replacement of Empire Day with Citizenship Day in mid-1956. Pickersgill had submitted a memorandum to the Cabinet the previous month in which he suggested that a proclamation be made that the last school day before Victoria Day should be fixed as Citizenship Day (this had previously been celebrated as Empire Day). He stressed that the day would not be a holiday, but would afford “private citizens, public bodies, school authorities and voluntary organizations across Canada the opportunity to hold special ceremonies, educational exercises and other observances with a view to stressing the value of Canadian citizenship.”18 Although in practice this had already been taking place ← 53 | 54 → for a few years, the minister decided to take the step to make it official. The Cabinet approved the minister’s recommendation.19 Hence, Citizenship Day officially and completely eclipsed Empire Day. The day was now all about Canadian citizenship; there was not even any mention of Canada’s links to the Commonwealth.

The political skirmish over the national anthem by the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives the previous year was but a preparation for their disagreement over the Suez Crisis in July 1956. This was a crisis precipitated by the nationalisation of the Suez Canal by Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser in July 1956, which in turn led to the UK and France, who had substantial commercial interests in the canal, entering into a clandestine agreement with Israel to invade Egypt in October 1956, thus giving the two powers the opportunity to in turn send troops into the canal zone on the pretext of “separating the warring parties.” The Liberal government did not support the Anglo-French action. Though St. Laurent saw Nasser as a dictator, he believed that to respond to aggression with aggression, except under the auspices of the UN, would lead to an estrangement in relations with neutral nations such as India, and would offer the Soviet Union an excuse to interfere even more in the Middle East.20 The US was also firmly opposed to the Anglo-French action, partly for the same reason. This consequently also influenced the Canadian government’s position as Canada was a core ally of the Americans in the context of the Cold War and the threat of communism.21 In contrast Diefenbaker, now the Progressive Conservative spokesman on external affairs, expressed his party’s position of being solidly behind the UK on the issue. He called on the St. Laurent government to support the UK in criticising Nasser’s action as the abrogation of an international contract.22

After the British and French had invaded Egypt, the position of the Canadian government shifted from lack of support for the Anglo-French action to open criticism and condemnation of it. But the Progressive Conservative shadow minister for foreign affairs, Howard Green, scathingly maintained that “The United States would have far more admiration for Canada … if this government stopped being the United States chore boy … Now this government, by its actions in the Suez Crisis, has made this month of November, 1956, the most disgraceful period for Canada in the history of this nation.”23 The Progressive Conservatives hence argued that the Liberal government was taking such a firm line against the Anglo-French action in Suez because it was keen to be seen as following the US position; they instead believed that Canada should support the UK one hundred per cent.

The English language press, usually loyal to Britain, was now divided. A survey of the twenty-six English-language dailies displayed a fifty-fifty split ← 54 | 55 → between those who agreed with the government and those who supported the Anglo-French intervention. The positions of the two parties were polarised even further when Canada took a leading role in the United Nations Emergency Force (which the US sponsored) into Egypt, which signalled an embarrassing retreat for the UK and France, and symbolised to the whole world that they were no longer global superpowers.24 To the Progressive Conservatives it appeared to be only yet another instance of the Liberal government’s readiness to follow American policy, but once they themselves were in power they came to realise that the ties with the “mother-country” were not as strong as they once were.25

During this period the White Canada policy also continued to be slowly reformed. In a Cabinet meeting in August 1956 Pickersgill suggested that the quota for migrants from India be increased. He argued that “as a result of the recent revision of the regulations, East Indians had come to feel that there was discrimination in favour of people from certain Middle East countries compared with people from India, Pakistan, and Ceylon.” Pickersgill maintained that the entire East Indian group was not excessive and India always took up its quota. Moreover, the Indian quota was small in comparison to Pakistan’s when the huge difference in population was taken into consideration. The Cabinet agreed that negotiations should take place with the Indian government regarding enlarging the quota of Indian migrants.26 In the second review of the West Indian domestic worker migration scheme in early 1957 a positive appraisal was again given. Pickersgill and Gregg asked for the programme to be continued for another year and a further thirty domestic workers to be admitted from the West Indies on top of the current number of two hundred. The governments of both St. Lucia and St. Vincent had made strong representations to be included in the scheme. Pickersgill and Gregg therefore suggested that both be added to the source countries, and they receive an entitlement of fifteen domestic worker migrants each.27 Although the Cabinet agreed with these suggestions, it did point out that once the West Indies Federation was a reality it was hoped that the programme would be abandoned and an immigration quota instead established, as in the case of the South Asian members of the Commonwealth.28 This demonstrates how much the White Canada policy was changing; it had moved from restricting non-Europeans from entering the country to actually establishing an increasing number of quotas for these people to migrate.

In April 1957 Roch Pinard, acting secretary of state for external affairs, reported that as per the Cabinet’s decision the previous year the Canadian High Commissioner in New Delhi had conducted negotiations with the Indian government to increase the quota of Indians to be admitted into Canada. They had ← 55 | 56 → agreed on a figure of 300 Indians a year, which would double the current number of 150. In addition, Pinard pointed out that in an attempt to counter accusations by East Indian groups in Canada and the Indian government that they would not be allowed to bring in as many relatives to Canada as Europeans, Americans, Turks, Lebanese, Israelis, and Egyptians (who were in a separate and more privileged category), the agreement would be drafted so as to actually allow them to bring in the same type of relatives. He requested the Cabinet’s permission to finalise the agreement through an Exchange of Notes with the Indian government.29 The Cabinet approved all of the suggestions. They were particularly concerned about removing any “appearances of discrimination.”30 This continued efforts that had begun in the late 1940s and early 1950s to remove the most offensive aspects of the White Canada policy.

There were also some developments in French Canada between the early and mid-1950s. Maurice Duplessis continued to be premier of Quebec under a Union Nationale government. But in his second term of 1944–59 he strengthened his three-pillar power base (the church, big business, and the farmers), expanded the patronage system (this involved the government making political appointments and giving economic contracts to those who supported its position), and maintained an almost complete dominance of Quebec nationalism. Though the government’s description of Quebec as “the new industrial giant” was overstated, the period 1944–59 certainly witnessed consistent expansion. Annual mining-generated production grew in wealth from CAN$90 million to CAN$480 million; iron-ore extraction itself increased from nil to 11,500,000 tonnes per year.31

According to Behiels, “The image most often associated with Quebec’s French-Canadian people during the 1940s and 1950s was that of a church-ridden, agricultural society outside the mainstream of the urban-industrial North American way of life.” Neo-nationalism emerged after the Second World War to contest the long-standing position of traditional French-Canadian nationalism over the secular and clerical elites. However, neo-nationalism was the result of ideological and socio-economic changes that had taken place in Quebec since the First World War. This transformation of French-Canadian nationalism had its beginnings in the Bloc Populaire Canadien movement, 1942–48, that was unsuccessful in accommodating the conflict between the older, established group of federally focused and socially conservative nationalists and a younger group of liberal-centred, secular Québécois nationalists. Pushed into action by the sudden socio-economic evolution of Quebec and the rise of a “new federalism,” a younger group of urban-centred, well-educated French-Canadian nationalists began to ← 56 | 57 → question the fundamental premises of the old nationalism, considering them to be ineffective and lacking.32

The neo-nationalists advocated the increased democratisation and secularisation required of a modern urban-industrial social system. The working-class was the largest social class in modern Quebec; insistent that this class would continue to be francophone in culture and language, the neo-nationalists turned into powerful supporters of an improved deal for the “fourth estate.” But neo-nationalists did not envisage the emergence of a social democratic society in Quebec. Instead, they believed that the Quebec economy should become a mixed economy within a growing francophone-majority private sector working together with an active state.33 So, Britishness was declining in English-speaking Canada at the very same time that a French-Canadian nationalism was being defined.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s the belief that English-speaking Canada was an integral part of a wider British world began to unravel even further. Nonetheless, the election of the Diefenbaker Progressive Conservative government in 1957, the first Progressive Conservative ministry after over two decades of uninterrupted Liberal rule initially promised a strengthening of links between Canada and the UK, as the Progressive Conservatives had always been considered the protectors of the British tradition in Canada and Diefenbaker was a renowned Anglophile. This was demonstrated by Diefenbaker’s joy at attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in 1957. According to Jack Granatstein, “To be in London as the first Conservative prime minister of Canada since 1935 was the fulfilment of long-held dreams.”34

Diefenbaker’s belief in English-speaking Canada as an integral part of a wider British world was demonstrated during the same visit in a Dominion Day Address to the Canada Club in London:

I am happy to be here in London, at the heart and fountain head of the Commonwealth of Nations, to meet here in the shadow of the Mother of Parliaments other creators and guardians of those traditions of freedom which are based on the recognition of the concept of the dignity of the human person, the respect for the rule of Law and all those things which under Her Majesty the Queen unite us together in whatever part of this Commonwealth that is our home and habitation.35

He went on to elaborate upon Canada’s place in the Commonwealth. Diefenbaker argued that the reason Canada placed so much importance on the Commonwealth was partly due to sentiment. But it was more a result of the fact that Canada was the first in the association to make the transition to nationhood, ← 57 | 58 → slowly and consciously, by evolution, not revolution.36 This last comment is reminiscent of the speeches of Diefenbaker’s predecessor, former prime minister St. Laurent, on the subject, and continued a long trend in Canada’s thinking towards its place in the Commonwealth.

Diefenbaker also reflected on discussions he had with Asian and African representatives at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference on Canada’s immigration policy:

He had got the impression that the coloured members of the Commonwealth would not press for wholesale admission of their nationals to Canada, provided Canada restricted immigration from these countries on the grounds that these people could not readily be assimilated into the Canadian economy and way of life and not on grounds that they were coloured people.37

So, Asian and African countries would not oppose restrictions on their admission into Canada as long as they were not based on race. This appeared to justify the efforts that had been made in the past decade to remove the most offensive aspects of the White Canada policy.

The focus on Canada becoming a nation in its own right was illustrated in an article by Diefenbaker entitled “Canada Within the Commonwealth” in 1957. He maintained that recently Canada had gone back to marking the 24 May as the Queen’s birthday, not the official commemoration of Queen Victoria’s birthday, but of Queen Elizabeth II. This was now a celebration of the birthday not of the Queen of England and the Empire, but of the birthday of the Queen of Canada.38 This was an illustration of localising what had previously been an imperial symbol and of establishing a more mature, direct relationship between the monarchy and the Canadian people.

Further steps in the breakdown of the White Canada policy took place a few months later. Ellen Fairclough, the minister for Citizenship and Immigration, submitted a memorandum to the Cabinet in which she recommended that an additional 398 Indian migrants be admitted into Canada that year on top of the existing quota of 300. This additional number consisted of applications from relatives of Indians who were Canadian citizens from the past several years. They had made repeated representations to the government that their relatives should be allowed into the country. Their criticisms were hard to refute as they quite rightly pointed out that migrants from non-Commonwealth countries had an easier time bringing their relatives into Canada than Indian settlers. Therefore, Fairclough thought the admittance of the outstanding 398 migrants would be a goodwill gesture. However, she emphasised that this was an exceptional case and would not be ← 58 | 59 → repeated, and the current quota of three hundred Indian migrants would be maintained from then onwards. The Cabinet approved Fairclough’s plan in late 1958.39 This episode, though, was noteworthy in that it showed the Canadian government acknowledging how Canadians of East Indian descent might feel discriminated against in contrast to some of their counterparts of non-Commonwealth descent.

When Diefenbaker was about to go on an international tour towards the end of the year the issue of whether “God Save the Queen” or “O Canada” or both should be played on his visits arose in the Cabinet. It had been recommended by some ministers that the latter alone should be played in France, Germany and Italy. However, Diefenbaker was adamant that “God Save the Queen” should also be played. In the end the Cabinet agreed on a very complicated programme: In the UK for obvious reasons “God Save the Queen” would be played; “O Canada” and “God Save the Queen” would be played in France, Germany and Italy; in Ceylon, India, Pakistan and the Malay Federation “O Canada” alone would be played; and lastly “God Save the Queen” would of course also be played only in Australia and New Zealand.40 This illustrated the Progressive Conservative government’s grudging acceptance that things were starting to change when it came to English-speaking Canada’s British identity; but it also showed certain sensitivity to Canada’s image in the eyes of the world.

In April 1959 Fairclough submitted a memorandum to the Cabinet on Immigration from the West Indies. She outlined that immigration from the region to Canada had steadily been increasing since 1949. This was a combination of Canadian citizens of West Indian origin being allowed to bring in immediate relatives, the domestic worker programme initiated in 1955 and meritorious cases. Fairclough recommended that the domestic worker programme continue for the time being, with 250 migrants in total from the West Indies Federation and 30 from British Guiana being allowed into the country. However, she did suggest that Canada enter into discussions with the West Indies Federation as soon as possible to negotiate an immigration agreement along similar lines as the one with India.41 The Cabinet approved all of Fairclough’s recommendations the following month.42 This again highlights the important changes in the White Canada policy. The Canadian government was actually very keen to negotiate an immigration agreement with the West Indies Federation; its policy had certainly moved a great deal from just allowing Canadians of West Indian descent to bring in a limited range of relatives.

Anxiety over growing US interference in Canada was reflected in the Vancouver Sun around Dominion Day in 1960. It commented that national days were an opportunity to take stock. However, the fundamental perennial Canadian problem ← 59 | 60 → remained: the avoidance of absorption by its massive Southern neighbour. The primary motivation behind Confederation was a determination not to be swallowed up by the expansionist republic to the South. Managing Canada’s relationship with the US was the most important feature of the political careers of notable former prime ministers Macdonald, Laurier, Borden, King and St. Laurent.43

The Vancouver Sun maintained that Canadian nationalism was the primary cause of Diefenbaker’s victory; he had campaigned on a more assertive position towards the US. Diefenbaker specifically committed to the diversion of one-fifth of Canada’s imports to the UK. But ironically according to the newspaper there had been no greater level of Americanisation in Canadian history than there had been under the Diefenbaker government since 1957. Canada’s signing of the North American Air Defence Command agreement with the US was particularly criticised. This put Canadian air forces in Canada under the direct command of American generals in the US. The scrapping of the Avro Arrow project44 and instead a reliance on the US to provide for the air defence of Canada, as Canadian air forces were tied down in Germany, were also highlighted. The newspaper ended with the stern warning that “Time is running out for the Canadian nation…Unless Canadians call a halt to the deliberate dribbling away of our national sovereignty in the name of continental defence we won’t have many more birthdays to celebrate.”45 There is almost an alarming tone to this editorial. This reflected the long-standing Canadian fear of being swallowed up by its much larger Southern neighbour. There was a definite increase in US economic investment in Canada during the post–Second World War resource boom. In contrast, in earlier times, foreign investment had come from more varied sources, and a large part was British portfolio investment, which English-speaking Canadians did not view as “foreign.”46 So, Canada was becoming increasingly integrated with the US, economically, and strategically.

Nevertheless, Diefenbaker continued to pay homage to the British heritage and its role in the making of modern Canada in a speech to the St. George’s Society Dinner in Toronto in April 1961:

As one who has no English blood in his veins (Diefenbaker was of mixed German and Scottish heritage) that does not deny me to standing humble tribute to the greatness of the English people and the imperishable heritage which they have given to the world…The genius of British political institutions is that they have maintained tradition with the necessary flexibility…The Commonwealth comprises nations which have been raised in the English family, and have emerged as free and independent states desiring to retain a voluntary political association with one another and with the Mother Country.47 ← 60 | 61 →

Diefenbaker was emphasising the importance of the Commonwealth here. There is no talk of Canada being a British country, however. This illustrates that despite his own personal feelings Diefenbaker realised that Canada’s relationship with the UK was not what it once was. Rather he was now stressing a more liberal view of the British Commonwealth, one that extended the genius of British institutions to all regardless of race or colour.

In the context of concerns over US dominance in Canada, the UK’s decision to seek membership in the EEC that same year was a deathblow to British race patriotism in English-speaking Canada. British prime minister Harold Macmillan’s European ambitions were in no way the first disagreement between the UK and Canadian governments in terms of their own interests. However, it represented a clash of interests in a completely different league from those that had affected the harmony of the Commonwealth in the past. As Andrea Benvenuti and Stuart Ward make clear “The prospect of British adoption of a European common tariff, and the long-term political implications of European unity, raised fundamental questions about the material and ideological foundations of a ‘Greater Britain.’”48 The Macmillan government’s justification for directing its energies to Europe has been well studied.49 The decision to seek membership in the EEC essentially came down to a belief that the UK’s future outside of Europe would involve an ever-declining world position, both economically and politically. Most importantly, Macmillan believed it necessary to maintain publicly the facade that the UK would never ascend to the EEC under conditions that were detrimental to the economic interests of the Commonwealth. Hence, before proclaiming any formal decision to seek membership, the Macmillan government believed it necessary to make some moves towards “consulting” Commonwealth governments. In late June 1961 it was decided that senior ministers should be sent to the far ends of the Commonwealth to explain Britain’s situation. Unsurprisingly, Duncan Sandys, the secretary of state for the colonies and commonwealth relations, met with a cool reaction in Ottawa, and evidently failed to persuade the Diefenbaker government. Regardless of his reassurances that the UK cabinet had not yet made a firm decision to seek membership in the EEC, the Canadian ministers got the general view that the UK had in fact already decided to open negotiations.50

Canadian irritation with British methods arose more clearly a few months later at the Commonwealth Economic Conference in Accra, when Canada’s Finance Minister Donald Fleming and Trade Minister George Hees carried out a direct attack on the UK’s promises to the Commonwealth, made openly over several years, which they argued were plainly set to be broken. But the Canadian ← 61 | 62 → ministers were in no way met with unflagging praise at home for their strong advocacy of Canadian concerns. In contrast, there was an apparently endless stock of faith in the promises of the UK government that crucial Commonwealth interests would be defended. The Liberal opposition, headed by Pearson, accused the government of leading the criticism of the UK, and announced their unqualified backing for the UK’s EEC membership application. However, Pearson’s position was nuanced as he added that Canada should in some undefined way be “associated” with the British action. In this uncomfortable political atmosphere, Fleming was made to openly refute the view that Canada had acted in an aggressive way against the UK.51 He justified his government’s reaction to the EEC question in an address at Winnipeg: “Like all families, we have had our differences; like all human associations ours is not a perfect one, but by and large our aims have been common, and where they have diverged we have brought our differences to the conference table and discussed them as members of a family.”52 The language used by Fleming illustrates how Britishness still had some resonance in English-speaking Canadian society.

It is very clear though that the British government’s resolve to enter the EEC resulted in a philosophical and resigned view in Canada. The majority of the press started to stress the uselessness of believing British guarantees and the necessity of a different strategy. It was about this time that the Canadian government started to realise the unavoidability of the sacrificing of Canadian trade interests in the discussions at Brussels. This highlighted the political difficulty of the manner in which Canada could go along with Britain’s EEC entry without laying itself open to the criticism of conceding Canadian economic interests. In an astonishing act of political pragmatism, the Canadians agreed to be less vocal publicly in their criticisms, in exchange for British assistance in turning the EEC into a mute factor in Canadian electoral politics.53 Though Diefenbaker had agreed to not officially attack the British government publicly, he did, however, take the chance to express his worries to Macmillan privately. One such opportunity arose when Macmillan visited Ottawa in April 1962. On this visit Diefenbaker emphasised the impact of trade preferences “in maintaining the cohesion of the Commonwealth” in its entirety, and for Canada specifically “as a means of staving off United States domination.” He stressed that the Canadian government “was keenly concerned with the preservation of the Commonwealth and feared that its future would be endangered by the political implications of United Kingdom entry.”54

By the conclusion of July 1962, the Macmillan government had officially given up any chance that Commonwealth trading schemes might be maintained in an expanded EEC. Sandys wrote to all three Dominion prime ministers that ← 62 | 63 → the British were grudgingly made to see that there was no real chance of keeping the current Commonwealth preferences after the intermediary period and that they should most likely have to acknowledge that they would be finished by 1970. The last obstacle for the Macmillan government in gaining Commonwealth acceptance of its decision to seek membership in the EEC was the Prime Ministers’ Conference a few months later. In the weeks before the conference, the Cabinet gave Diefenbaker free rein to use his own judgement in arguing Canada’s position. Diefenbaker gave some fiery speeches at the Conference, but was reluctant to ruin British entry entirely. British officials were glad to discover that when it came to drafting the final communiqué for the conference, Diefenbaker did not put up much of a fight and in particular declared that he would not insist on the insertion of his earlier suggestion for another conference of prime ministers. In other words he too, despite himself, accepted the reality. Though the UK government achieved its major goals in terms of the EEC negotiations, this came at an immense cost to the future success and even integrity of the Commonwealth organisation. In this changing atmosphere, the debate about crucial Commonwealth concerns and the importance of British promises changed to a far-reaching sense of resignation.55

Nevertheless, Diefenbaker still elaborated upon the genius of the British race in an article in 1962:

We in Canada are heirs of a great tradition and a great body of common law that comes from Great Britain, or from England, which that great orator, John Bright, described as the Mother of Parliaments. If we look at the growth of political organizations in the last few centuries, we will find that the British model of democratic government was uppermost in the minds of all those who framed political institutions of the modern states.56

But his emphasis here was on Canada’s British heritage rather than on Canada being a British country. This clearly demonstrates the uncertainty that Canada was experiencing in terms of its national identity at this time and its difficulty in trying to define a sense of national community without the unifying British race idea.

At the same time as the unravelling of Britishness, whiteness also continued to be dismantled. A notable achievement of the Diefenbaker government in terms of immigration policy was the virtual abolishment of the White Canada policy. But this was presaged by the Bill of Rights that Diefenbaker announced with considerable pride in 1960. The Bill abandoned prejudice in terms of national origin, ethnicity, religion or gender. The government could therefore hardly defend selecting migrants in terms of national origin or ethnicity. One of the key figures ← 63 | 64 → responsible for the changes in immigration policy was Dr. George Davidson, the deputy minister of citizenship and immigration and previously executive director of the Canadian Welfare Council. Recognising that Canada’s prejudiced immigration policies hindered her actions in the UN and the multiracial Commonwealth, he and other prominent Canadian officials called for their abandonment. The decision to introduce the new immigration position in the form of rules instead of statutes was determined by political pragmatism, as rules could be put into practice quickly, whereas a new complicated immigration act—one incidentally assured on many occasions by the Progressive Conservatives—needed time to guide through Parliament.57

Fairclough submitted a memorandum to the Cabinet on the Immigration Regulations in September 1961. She emphasised that the main objective behind revising the regulations was the “elimination of any valid grounds for arguing that they contain any restrictions or controls based on racial, ethnic or colour discrimination.”58 Specifically Fairclough pointed out that the current literacy test was no longer acceptable and therefore would be removed from the regulations.59 Regulation 20 was the key rule to be revised:

The new Regulation 20(a) lays primary stress on selectivity based on skills and qualifications as the main conditions of admissibility, without regard to any other factor … Likewise, if a person has the requisite skills and potential ability to establish himself in Canada, he (or she) may also be sponsored by a parent, parent-in-law, or fiancée already in Canada, provided the sponsor is a Canadian citizen.60

On the surface this appears to be quite a technical change. However, it was extremely important as the whole basis of immigration policy shifted from limiting the number of non-Europeans allowed into Canada, to admitting all people on the basis of the skills they possessed. According to Fairclough, the main effects of the revision of the regulations were:

To eliminate all grounds for charges of discrimination; to treat Chinese, Japanese, Indians and other Asians, Africans and nationals of the Middle Eastern countries somewhat more generously than at present; to treat Italians, Portuguese and Greeks, in particular, somewhat less generously; to make it more difficult for persons in Canada to bring to this country a wide range of unskilled relatives; and to place the major emphasis henceforth on the skills, ability and training of the prospective immigrant himself, and on his ability to establish himself successfully in Canada.61 ← 64 | 65 →

So, the emphasis of the new regulations was very much on the skills that migrants possessed. Unskilled migration, mainly through the sponsorship of relatives, was starting to be seen as very problematic. The Cabinet agreed the following month that the proposed Immigration Regulations be sent to the Department of Justice to be put into proper legal form.62

The primary aims of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration were made relatively apparent in an internal memorandum by Davidson, produced on 3 January 1962—two weeks before the new rules were announced in the House of Commons:

Our prime objective in the proposed revision is to eliminate all discrimination based on colour, race or creed. This means that, if we continue to allow Greeks, Poles, Italians, Portuguese and other Europeans to bring in the wide range of relatives presently admissible, we will have to do the same for Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, persons from the Arab world, the West Indies and so forth.63

The two different ways in which this goal could be achieved were also outlined:

(1) By opening the doors to close relatives from the “coloured” parts of the world to the present level accorded to Europeans. This will greatly increase (probably double within a very few years) the influx of unskilled persons as close relatives: or (2) By a compromise, as proposed in the Draft Regulations, reducing to some extent the categories of European close relatives who can be admitted, regardless of skills, and then raising the ‘coloured’ countries to a level of equality with the European.64

The government decided to go with the latter of the two options. Through these new regulations European and non-European migrants were treated on an equal basis for the very first time in terms of selection.

Shortly after Fairclough submitted another memorandum to the Cabinet on the Draft Immigration Regulations approved from the Justice Department. The main difference between the draft and the previous proposals was the restoration of preferential treatment to Europeans, Turks, Egyptians, Israelis and Lebanese in terms of the sponsorship of relatives; they were still allowed to sponsor a broader range of relatives compared to other migrants.65 This change most likely came about after concerns over the potential backlash from Italian-Canadians especially, who were now a notable proportion of the population. In the Cabinet discussion a few days later some ministers expressed their displeasure at this preferential treatment. However, others warned of the greater electoral risk of removing it. The Cabinet ← 65 | 66 → ultimately approved the draft regulations in their current form.66 The government was forced to compromise on the restriction of the sponsorship of relatives, who were mainly unskilled migrants. Consequently older and larger migrant groups continued to receive preferential treatment over their newer and smaller counterparts.

So, on 19 January 1962 Fairclough announced new rules in the House of Commons that removed racial prejudice as a main component of Canada’s immigration policy. From then onwards any unsponsored settler who could convince the Department of Citizenship and Immigration that they possessed the adequate education, skills or other qualifications, regardless of colour, national origin or race, was to be regarded as appropriate for migration, as long as they could maintain themselves until they secured employment, or were arriving to take on a particular job.67 This was a fundamental step and represented the all but complete abandonment of the White Canada policy. Once the new rules were put into place on 1 February 1962, Canada became the first of the three large immigrant receiving countries—the others being Australia and the US—to abandon her discriminatory immigration policy.68

At the same time as these changes, major developments were taking place in Quebec. The Quiet Revolution took place from the early 1960s onwards, and involved the mass modernisation of Quebec, economically, politically and socially. Thus, it put into effect the major aims and goals of the neo-nationalists that had emerged in Quebec in the late 1950s. Quebec transformed from a society that was dominated by anglophone Canadian and American big business interests economically; the Liberal Party for much of its history politically; and the Roman-Catholic Church socially, to one that embraced nationalisation of major industries, with greater access to and representation by francophone Canadians; the rise of a more assertive French-Canadian nationalism; and secularisation of the education system and society generally.

The deaths of Premier Duplessis in September 1959 and Paul Sauvé, his successor, in January 1960 were actually regarded by many English-speaking Canadians as the final nails in the coffin of French-Canadian nationalism. The triumph of Jean Lesage’s Liberal party was signalled as the end of the Ancien Régime and the start of the Quiet Revolution, in which Quebec’s out of date and antiquated political and socioeconomic institutions would be completely modernised. On the other hand, the Quiet Revolution meant something very different to French-Canadians. During the 1950s and early 1960s French-Canadian elites and intellectuals viewed the Duplessis regime as the era of “la grande noirceur” (great darkness), a period marked by political and social subjugation, and growing foreign control of Quebec’s economy.69 ← 66 | 67 →

The Quiet Revolution gained impetus under the leadership of the Liberal team led by neo-nationalists like Premier Lesage, Georges-Émile Lapalme, René Lévesque, and Paul Gérin-Lajoie, to mention but some. Extensive reforms took place in education, health care, social welfare and crucial services like hydro-electricity.70 Some scholars have viewed the Quiet Revolution largely as a change in attitudes and values among French-Canadians in Quebec. Jean Lesage and the majority of his inner circle did not oppose the foundations of their society, but they did criticise some views and practices, which they considered old-fashioned and detrimental. One such practice was the political patronage system; another was the reactive, often unproductive view of federal-provincial relations taken by the Duplessis government.71

One of the most famous slogans associated with the Quiet Revolution is “maîtres chez nous,” which means “masters in our own house.”72 This largely encapsulated the view of the Lesage government. Economically, this was illustrated by the state nationalisation drives the government initiated, especially of the hydro-electricity industry. Politically, Quebec became much more assertive in advancing its own interests in relations with the federal government. In contrast to the previous Duplessis regime it took the initiative in this regard, rather than just reacting to the federal government. But the greatest change in Quebec was social: the Roman Catholic Church, once dominant in all aspects of many French-Canadian lives, was now relegated to the margins.73

By 1963 the “other Quiet Revolution” had established itself firmly, weakening the hold of Britishness in Canadian political culture. But Benvenuti and Ward argue that “Unlike the ‘Quiet Revolution’ in Quebec, it did not entail any assertive cultural revival, self-consciously shedding the trappings of an alien Britishness in favour of a new, more localized Canadian nationalism.”74 Therefore, English-speaking Canadians were experiencing difficulty in defining who they were at the exact same time as French-Canadians were distinguishing themselves as a distinct people. This is a fundamental point and goes a long way towards explaining the rise of the “new nationalism” in Canada in the early 1960s. The federal government was concerned enough to develop a locally based nationalism so as to counter the growing separatist tendencies emerging from certain quarters in Quebec. However, this took place during the subsequent Pearson government, which will be explored in the next chapter.

In light of the foregoing developments in the early 1960s there was a national debate over unity and national identity in Canada. Pearson in a parliamentary speech at the close of 1962 commented on the fact that Canada was becoming increasingly reliant on the US culturally, economically and even politically, and ← 67 | 68 → that this understandably concerned Canadians. However, his major comments were reserved for the relationship between British and French Canada. Pearson maintained that “Confederation may not have been technically a treaty between states, but it was an understanding, a settlement, between the two founding races of Canada made on the basis of an acceptable and equal partnership.” Confederation formed a bicultural and bilingual nation to French-Canadians. Contrarily, in the view of English-speaking Canadians, the Confederation agreement preserved the rights of French-Canadians in Quebec, the federal parliament and courts. Consequently Pearson believed that “we have now reached the stage where we should seriously and collectively review the bicultural and bilingual situation in our country; our experiences in the teaching of English and French and in the relations existing generally between our two main racial groups.” He asserted that a joint enquiry of this type should also look at the contribution to Canada by those of other than British or French descent. Pearson ended with the statement that these New Canadians had added vitality, colour and strength to Canadian national life from very old cultures.75 This formed the basis of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism that Pearson established when he came to power in April 1963, which will be explored in the next chapter.

Immigration and Integration Policy during the 1950s and 1960s

In the early to late 1950s, Canada still focused on securing British migrants compared to any other source. Consequently, the UK and also the US carried on supplying large numbers of settlers. On the other hand, they ceased to be the major source of migrants in practice. The majority of Canada’s new settlers were now provided by mainland Europe, particularly Germany, Italy and The Netherlands.76 However, the desire for British migrants first and foremost reflected the hold that Britishness still had on the national psyche. The Globe and Mail in July 1956 commented on the fact that about six thousand British automobile workers had been made redundant. It argued that these workers possessed skills that could be utilised in Canada. The newspaper maintained that this would not weaken the UK as it was overpopulated, in contrast to Canada, which was underpopulated. It suggested that a large number of British people should be relocated from the UK to Dominions like Canada and Australia.77

The Financial Post expressed concern over the declining level of British migration to Canada in terms of the British proportion of the population: ← 68 | 69 →

Canada has not.… had enough people from the U.K. to maintain the existing proportion of its population who are of British stock. On the present trends, the percentage of British stock in Canada will have fallen from 47% to 32% by the end of the century; in the postwar years only some 33% of all immigrants have come from the U.K.78

The Toronto Star was unambiguous in its support for greater British migration: “Those Britons who choose Canada as their new home will be warmly welcomed … We have room for them, we need them, we want them.”79 The Vancouver Province explained the motivation behind the desire for greater British migration to Canada at the start of 1957: “Many Canadians want to see a good balance of British stock maintained in this country … Most of our ideas of law and government are an inheritance from the British system, and many of the people who established our pattern of life were of British stock.”80 The Halifax Chronicle-Herald also expressed strong support for greater British migration to the country.81 Therefore, there was considerable support in the Canadian press for continued British migration and thus maintaining the British proportion of the population. The Toronto Star building on its earlier support expressed unabashed admiration for British migrants:

The British are among the best kind of immigrants for Canada. They speak one of our two official languages (just as naturally as if it were their own!); they are imbued with parliamentary democratic traditions; their standards of education are high; their codes of conduct are good; they are the kinsmen of 60 percent of all Canadians. Let us fling wide the gates to British people wishing to come here—and roll out a carpet or two.82

Hence, British migrants were preferred because they were most like the largest proportion of the Canadian population, who was of British descent.

Integration policy also replaced assimilation as the government’s approach to migrants. This represented a prominent turning point both in the way in which governments considered settlers, and in the perception of what it meant to be Canadian. One of the earliest indications of the new direction in policy was given by a government review undertaken of the foreign language press in Canada in 1953, for the purposes of determining how it could be employed in furthering the integration of migrants. It was decided that the report of the review would be distributed to the heads of voluntary organisations, social workers and others who dealt with the integration of migrants, and who could consequently take advantage of the knowledge on ethnic associations and the activities in their field.83 Its author Eugene Bussiere even recommended that relevant articles collected from ← 69 | 70 → the foreign language press could be included in the government journal Citizen.84 This was a shift from the previous policy of assimilation. Under that policy the foreign language press was considered a hindrance to the successful incorporation of migrants into the Anglo-centric culture.

Another example of the shift in policy from assimilation to integration was a speech by St. Laurent in May 1954 to the National Convention of the Young Liberal Federation: “We Canadians can be proud of a citizenship which does not require us to forget our racial origins, and the ancestral traditions which link us to the past.”85 This was certainly a change in rhetoric from the assimilation period in which migrants were expected to abandon their ancestral cultures. In the Handbook for Newcomers86 in 1954 the importance of voluntary organisations in the integration process was emphasised to migrants. Particular attention was drawn to the Citizenship Councils and Citizenship Committees.87

Pickersgill, the minister of citizenship and immigration, encapsulated the essence of integration policy that same year: “I think most of us would agree we want the newcomers to be integrated, not merely into our economy, but into our society as quickly as possible and that this will happen more quickly if we respect and appreciate the background of the newcomers.”88 So, Canadian officials were tentatively grappling for a new basis to migrant policy. Pickersgill went on to outline the government’s position towards migrant clubs in his comments on German migrants in early 1955: “I understand and sympathize fully with the desire and the need of newcomers in a strange land for the companionship of those who can speak their own language and who have shared their own past associations.” He added that he believed that the majority of Canadians desired new settlers to maintain their heritage of culture to contribute something new and unique to Canadian society. But Pickersgill did qualify his comments with “Of course you want to preserve your traditions but I trust your primary objective will not be the preservation of the links with the old country but the creation of links with the new homeland.”89 Therefore, although there was a shift in rhetoric regarding maintaining migrant cultures and these adding to the Anglo-centric culture, the emphasis was still on migrants first and foremost becoming a part of their adopted society.

However, Pickersgill illustrated the distinction between assimilation and integration policy in a speech to the Ontario Canadian Club in London in March 1955. In his remarks he emphasised that there was no plan to make Englishmen, Irishmen or Scots out of the many migrants that had arrived, but instead to make them good Canadians, “attached to our British political institutions.” So, again there was a move from expecting migrants to assimilate into an Anglo-centric ← 70 | 71 → society to now integrating into a “Canadian” culture, based on British institutions. But he did concede that “it is these British institutions and British traditions that we have naturalized here in Canada, that have become part of our environment, that we want all Canadians wherever they come from to cherish.” Thus, British ideas and traditions had been localised to create a unique “Canadian” identity. The closest Pickersgill came to actually elaborating what this new Canadian identity entailed was that Canada was a bilingual country with two official languages, with an acceptance for all faiths and a willingness to admit people irrespective of their origins. This he believed gave Canadians a distinctive character.90

Pickersgill discussed the rise of a distinct Canadian nationality in July 1955 in a Dominion Day speech to the Kiwanis Club of Montreal. He argued that New Canadians had to adapt themselves to the Canadian nation if they wanted to become citizens. His most prescient point, however, was: “The mere fact that a collection of human beings of widely varied origins live together in a particular country does not make a nation.”91 But he did qualify his remarks by saying that “We are learning more and more every year that these newcomers of many races, from many lands, are enriching our national life.”92 Pickersgill’s speech reflected the concern that the government had towards uniting so many disparate groups into one cohesive society.

The role of over-arching organisations in coordinating the activities of voluntary groups engaged in integration was illustrated in Citizen a few months later. It discussed the establishment of the New Canadians Service Association of Ontario a few years previously, with its base in Toronto, to assist migrants with putting down roots in the country and to speed up their integration into Canadian society. Close cooperation between old and New Canadians could best secure these aims. The many ethnic groups of Canada were represented in both the voluntary and paid members of staff of the association.93 This demonstrated the contrast between assimilation policy and integration, in that under the former ethnic groups would not have been a part of the organisation of voluntary bodies whose goal was to incorporate migrants into Canadian society.

The importance of being a Canadian first and foremost was stressed by St. Laurent in a speech in Regina, Saskatchewan, on the occasion of that province’s Golden Jubilee in September 1955: “The majority of you are migrants or the descendants of migrants from other lands…Yet I know that each of you thinks of himself first and foremost as a Canadian.”94 This highlights the concern with maintaining national cohesion during this period.

The Canadian Citizenship Branch defined integration as a belief that combined unity and diversity in a report on the integration of migrants in Canada ← 71 | 72 → at the beginning of 1956. This was the section of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration that was responsible for migrant integration. This was a remarkable statement for this time as it was much later that “unity through diversity” became a catchphrase of multiculturalism. Migrants were unrestricted in adhering to religious customs and cultural and social norms. Hence, integration was based upon the mutual acceptance of both Canadians and settlers of the core values of participation, loyalty, tolerance and sympathy in their relations with one another. In addition, voluntary organisations in Canada carried out a large proportion of the educational and charitable work of integration, which in many other countries was the responsibility of governments. Australia was a chief example. The important role of ethnic group associations in the integration process was also emphasised.95 This marked a direct contrast to the preceding period of assimilation, where ethnic group organisations were not envisaged as having any role in dealing with migrants.

A case study of the integration of a prominent migrant community was explored by Eugene Bussiere, director of the Canadian Citizenship Branch, in a departmental memorandum in early 1956 on Italian Associations of Montreal. He highlighted how one particular development had been the setting up of Italian branches of large non-ethnic organisations that went beyond the local community. This development reflected a move in the direction of a new kind of integration with the rest of Canadian society. A distinction was also made between organisations set up by newer Italian migrants and longer-established ones. The organisations set up by newer Italian migrants to a large extent strengthened the difference between pre- and post-war migrants. A notable example of a group established by longer-established Italian settlers, though, was the Italo-Canadian Businessman’s Association. This was a lot more “Canadianized,” in that a large proportion of its members were born in Canada. The policies of this organisation were aimed at integrating Italians into Canadian society by lobbying for Italian representation at all levels of administration and government.96 It was organisations such as these that the Canadian government held up as a model for others to follow, as their primary focus was actively integrating their members into Canadian society as much as possible, as opposed to just wanting to preserve their cultural traditions.

A further example of integration in practice in April 1956 was “Canadians Unlimited,” a community project of the Edmonton YMCA. It was then in its third year. Canadians Unlimited was a scheme aimed at greeting and integrating the new settler into the community. It had expanded into an association incorporating hundreds of volunteers, with a dedicated efficient organisation. Like other ← 72 | 73 → Canadian cities, Edmonton had witnessed a steady flow of settlers from Europe arrive from 1946, settlers who knew little English, who had few friends, and who were not used to Canadian customs and way of life. A usual Sunday afternoon’s events included a Spanish baritone singing songs from their original homeland, followed by two short films, “Eskimo Summer,” and “Niagara Frontier.” The basic idea behind the Sunday afternoon programmes was to help the new settler understand the “Canadian way of life,” and to become accustomed to the country he was in.97 The meaning of the “Canadian way of life” was not elaborated upon, however. This was because with the decline of Britishness there was considerable questioning and uncertainty over who the Canadians were as a people.

Official government integration policy was outlined by Bussiere in a report in May 1956 on the United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organisation Conference on the Cultural Integration of Immigrants held in Havana: “From a Canadian viewpoint, it presented an opportunity for us to outline our approach to the problems of immigrants and to present to the Conference our views on the question of integration as opposed to assimilation.” The complete integration of settlers did not happen overnight, but actually took time, in some situations even generations. This was in direct contrast to the preceding period of assimilation, in which migrants were expected to abandon their home cultures and assimilate into the Anglo-centric culture immediately. The idea of assimilation, which was understood to mean the absolute absorption of the people of one culture by a more powerful one, was no longer the goal of the Canadian government. Instead, Bussiere asserted, “The concept of integration, as defined and practised by Canada, was considered a more realistic and desirable approach, as it recognizes the benefit derived from cultural pluralism for both the immigrants and the receiving country.”98 (This reference to “cultural pluralism” should be noted, particularly at this time, as it was actually in the 1960s that cultural pluralism became a dominant concept in policy.)

An approach such as this suggested the realisation and acknowledgement of differences between old (I am not referring to aged Canadians here but Canadians of British or French descent) and New Canadians, the right to be different, however, only as long as national unity was maintained and the cultural customs of both old and New Canadians were not conflicting. Settlers were expected to adhere to the social, political, economic, and legal system. It was emphasised that immigrant-receiving countries had the right to maintain their political and social customs, as well as the essential nature of their populations. On the other hand, the cultural integration of migrants was a long and complicated process, which could not be managed by the state alone, but instead needed the assistance of both ← 73 | 74 → New and old Canadians alike.99 So, differences between migrants and Canadians were accepted, but the emphasis was above all on national cohesion.

Integration policy at the grassroots level in Quebec was also explored through a survey of the activities of the New Canadian Service Association of Montreal in mid-1956. The arrival of a large number of settlers into a society did not happen without numerous problems. Firstly, the overarching aim of the Catholic School Commission, which was a member of the association, was to help migrants as painlessly as possible to settle into the educational, religious, and social life of the society. The church’s responsibility for education at this time reflected its long-standing dominant position, power, and influence in Quebec society. However, another organisation, the Service des neo-Canadiens, was responsible for actually meeting new settlers at the railway stations and ports, where interpreters welcomed them and information booklets produced in ten languages promoting their services were handed out. But the most important task of the Service was the organisation of evening courses that had been occurring for nearly a decade in all sections of the city. Thus, in Quebec there was a division of responsibilities between Catholic organisations which handled the long-term integration of migrants and other associations which dealt with more practical, short-term migrant issues; particularly their arrival in the country. What is more, the distinction between assimilation and integration was illustrated: “The ‘Service’ is convinced that newcomers will contribute all the more to the enrichment of their adopted country if they develop their own aptitudes and cultural values at the same time as they become more conscious of the ‘Canadian way of life.’”100 Again, what the latter consisted of was not defined.

In an address to the Canadian Jewish Congress in late 1956 St. Laurent discussed the positive impact that migrant cultures were having on Canada:

So long as we, as individual citizens or ethnic groups, maintain our vigilance towards the exercise of these prime elements of co-operation, mutual respect, understanding and moderation we can be justifiably proud that our Canadian citizenship is not one that forces us into a single mould, is not a citizenship which requires us to forget our racial origins and the ancestral traditions which link us to the past and which, at the same time, through their diversity each add to and enrich that composite heritage which is the joint patrimony of the whole nation.101

This illustrates the new emphasis of integration on the incorporation of migrant cultures into the Canadian one to create a new and distinctive identity. St. Laurent also expressed his gratitude to the Jewish community in Canada for its role in ← 74 | 75 → immigration that had led to the “most efficient reception, settlement, adjustment and integration of new arrivals in this land of ours.”102 This highlighted the reliance of the Canadian government on voluntary organisations in the integration process.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s heavy Italian migration to Canada continued, primarily through the sponsorship programme. The sources of settlers also broadened to include Egypt, South America, Lebanon, and Turkey. But the Diefenbaker government did attempt to curb the large numbers of largely unskilled migrants arriving through the sponsorship scheme. However, a fierce backlash, mainly from Italian-Canadians, forced the government to backtrack. Consequently, by 1962 Italian migration outstripped that from the UK.103

Integration also continued as the main focus of government policy in dealing with migrants, as well as shifting the way in which Canadians perceived themselves. Over this period the policy was developed further. Initially though, there was still very much an emphasis on more traditional messages. In a notice to prospective migrants produced by the Immigration Branch of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in 1958, it was argued that if migrants adapted themselves to the Canadian way of life they would make a success of themselves in Canada.104 Nonetheless, again what the “Canadian way of life” consisted of was not explained.

An example of integration at the grassroots level was a pilot project undertaken by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in the Ottawa Valley early that same year, whereby New Canadians were put in Canadian homes.105 The aim of the project was to assist with the integration of migrants into Canadian society.106 The basic ideas behind the scheme was that New Canadians would pick up Canadian customs more easily through living with old Canadians, and also gain a daily source of knowledge and be assisted.

The Department of Citizenship and Immigration also produced a series of publications to assist in migrant integration. The Canadian Scene provided short descriptions of Canadian geography, government, history, public services, and other aspects of Canadian society. There was also the Canadian Citizenship Series. The pamphlets in this collection gave basic knowledge for new settlers on the topics suggested by the titles: Our Land, Our Systems of Government, Our Resources, and The Arts in Canada. There were editions in English and French and they were obtainable for no charge to new settlers and to voluntary associations for use in planned discussion and study groups.107 This continued methods employed during assimilation in which printed material would be distributed to ← 75 | 76 → voluntary organisations (and migrants themselves) involved in the incorporation of migrants into Canadian society.

The role of the foreign language press in migrant integration was revisited in late 1958. It was maintained that to explore the part played by the foreign language press it would be useful to undertake a brief study of the importance and role of ethnic organisations in the life of the new settlers and their experience of integration. It had been found that when migrants arrived in their new nation they tended to turn to their own ethnic group for assistance. It was asserted, “The foreign language press in helping to overcome the isolation of newcomers, and particularly of those who are having difficulty in learning English or French, plays a similar role [to ethnic organisations] and one that is important both to the immigrants and to the country in which they have settled.” It was acknowledged that all foreign language publications, while they aimed to educate new settlers about life in Canada, were also concerned about maintaining the ethnic cultures of their audience. The large readership of the foreign language press, which was over a million people, was also recognised, and for this reason it was believed that their editors had a critical role to play in the “Canadian nation.”108 This was in marked contrast to the preceding period of assimilation in which the foreign press was frowned upon. It was certainly not regarded as having a useful role to play in the settlement of migrants into Canadian society as it was now.

What integration actually meant in practice was explored by John P. Kidd, the executive director of the Canadian Citizenship Council, in a publication called New Roots in Canadian Soil towards the end of 1958. The overarching theme of the booklet was how to help migrants become whole-hearted members of the Canadian community. The first section presented an image of the migrants, their background, arrival in Canada and contribution to the cultural and economic life of the nation. But most importantly the author drew attention to the fact that integration was a two-way process of “‘immigrants adjusting to Canadian society and Canadian society adjusting, to some extent at least, to the immigrants and accepting some of the colour, flavour and customs, as well as ideas and skills, the immigrants have brought with them.’” This was a prominent break with the previous policy of assimilation. Nevertheless, there was still more emphasis placed on migrants integrating into their adopted country rather than the other way round. Furthermore, the entire community was in charge of assisting the new settlers become integrated, and it was asserted that every concerned group and individual should have the chance to shoulder part of the responsibility and work.109 This demonstrated the Canadian government’s realisation that it could not ensure the integration of migrants into Canadian society on its own. ← 76 | 77 →

A definition of integration in this period was given in mid-1959:

By this policy [integration], minority groups are encouraged to retain their cultural traditions. It is believed that all groups have something to contribute to society and that in a new country like Canada, the resulting culture will be enriched through diversification and freedom of expression. All groups share, of course, a common allegiance to the nation and must obey the laws.110

So, integration combined English-speaking Canada’s British institutions with migrant cultures to form a new distinctive Canadian culture.

A further picture of integration in practice at a local level was given through a study of settlement houses at the end of 1959. In the major Canadian cities where thousands of migrants had settled, local settlement houses had given a congenial welcome and had initiated citizenship schemes for the new settlers. At St. Christopher House, Toronto, there was a focus on the social elements of integration throughout the adult scheme. A council made up of one representative from each of the groups of new settlers met weekly to organise and offer collective activities such as camping trips, dances, dinners, excursions to places of interest and parties. Moreover, the Board had a special New Canadian Committee that made decisions about the direction of the scheme.111 Hence, New Canadians were not only continuing to participate in organising integration activities, but also now taking on responsibility for the direction of policy in the organisations.

Fairclough, the minister of citizenship and immigration, gave further expression to integration policy when speaking at the opening of International House in London, Ontario, at the beginning of 1960. She reaffirmed that there was nothing more important than facilitating constructive communication between old and New Canadians, by group and dedicated facilities that helped migrants turn into content citizens. Their acceptance by fellow citizens and membership in the community were prominent goals in new settlers’ lives. In the course of time, individuals faded into the background and were no longer recognisable as migrants. This certainly highlights the distinction between integration and what would later emerge as multiculturalism. However, Fairclough ended with pointing out the mutual benefits of integration, posing it as a question to give it more emphasis: “As we look around our country and see the scores of new industries that immigrants have brought us, at the hundreds of once-idle farms they are tilling, and realize the great cultural contribution they have made to our nation, we may well ask ourselves: ‘Are we indeed their benefactors—or their beneficiaries?’”112 This was a noteworthy statement, despite the comments that preceded it, as it encapsulates the change in ← 77 | 78 → rhetoric towards migrant cultures. This is but one in a series of references to the “Canadian nation” during this period. With the rise of an increasingly assertive French-Canadian nationalism the federal government became concerned about preserving the unity of the country and constantly reminded new migrants that they were a part of one Canadian nation. Through the unravelling of Britishnesss during this period, English-speaking Canadians found themselves in the unfamiliar position of not having a real sense of identity at the very same time as French-Canadians were beginning to form a distinctive national identity of their own.

Another example of integration at the local level was given by a survey of the Windsor, Ontario YM-YWCA in late 1960: “Practising the language, learning about Canada and the mingling of new and ‘old’ Canadians—these are the ingredients that have combined to make the New Canadian Program of the Windsor YM-YWCA a notable success.” Every Thursday evening, throughout the year, some thirty or more new settlers to Canada went to the YM-YWCA at Windsor for an evening of English conversation and a programme of cultural, educational, recreational or social activities followed by refreshments. It was not only the New Canadians who found the evenings useful, but also old Canadians. The conversation classes were in addition to the official language classes for new settlers that took place in the schools. A “conversation sheet” was produced beforehand by the staff of the YM-YWCA, to act as a manual for the groups. The conversation groups lasted for ninety minutes. Special days were also organised occasionally. At Christmas, for instance, new settlers brought cakes that were popular in their native countries for a special gift-exchange party.113 So, the main features of integration were the intermingling of old and New Canadians, understanding of the official languages, and sharing elements of migrant cultures.

So, the 1950s and 1960s witnessed the further unravelling of Britishness in English-speaking Canada. The Suez Crisis of 1956 marked a major point in the process, while Britain’s decision to enter the EEC in 1961 was the nail in the coffin. The election of the Diefenbaker Progressive Conservative government in between these two points appeared to offer an opportunity to break the demise of Britishness. However, even Diefenbaker realised on coming to power that the ties with the “mother-country” were not once what they were. The early 1960s also saw the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, which transformed the province economically, politically, and most importantly socially. A strident French-Canadian neo-nationalism was the major force behind the revolution. This took place at the same time as English-speaking Canadians were struggling to define themselves as a people in the wake of the demise of Britishness in the country. ← 78 | 79 →

The closely related capillary to Britishness of whiteness also shared the same fate. The reforms of the early 1950s were built upon over the course of the following decade, culminating in the introduction of new immigration rules, which essentially abandoned the White Canada policy. The main cause of change was a changing international situation with newly independent countries in Asia and Africa joining the international stage and openly criticising countries like Canada at the UN for their discriminatory immigration policies. This combined with domestic pressure, which argued that Canada was losing out economically, as well as culturally and socially, from barring certain types of groups from immigrating to the country.

The demise of Britishness and whiteness in Canada resulted in the replacement of assimilation with integration policy. By this migrants were not now expected to abandon their ancestral cultures immediately as had been the case with assimilation. Instead there was a new emphasis on meeting the migrant halfway. Towards the end of the period migrant cultures were actually seen as contributing to a new distinctive “Canadian” culture, although what the latter consisted of was not made clear. On a practical level migrants were now actually encouraged to join organisations and committees which were responsible for their integration and therefore have an active role in the process.

Integration replaced assimilation policy towards settlers because Britishness and the White Canada policy that had been the basis of English-speaking Canadian national identity were unravelling and breaking down. This led to an intense period of questioning and uncertainty between the early and late 1950s. Added to these pressures in the late 1950s and early 1960s were the growth of US dominance in Canada, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, and the UK’s decision to seek membership in the EEC. This led to English-speaking Canada struggling to define its national identity without the unifying British race idea. The next chapter will turn to multicultural policy in Canada. ← 79 | 80 →


XVI, 340
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2016 (August)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XVI, 340 pp.

Biographical notes

Jatinder Mann (Author)

Jatinder Mann is a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. He has published numerous articles in front-ranking, interdisciplinary journals and is co-editor of Documents on Australian Foreign Policy on War and Peace, 1914–1919 , which will be published in 2017. Mann was awarded his doctorate in history at the University of Sydney. He was also a recipient of the prestigious Endeavour International Postgraduate Research Scholarship by the Australian Government and an International Postgraduate Award by the University of Sydney for his doctoral research.


Title: The Search for a New National Identity