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Manitoba History: Review: Jean Bruce, After the War

by Janet Osborne

Manitoba History, Number 9, Spring 1985

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to

After the War. Jean Bruce. Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry & Whiteside in cooperation with the Multiculturalism Directorate, Secretary of State, 1982. 192 pp., ill., ISBN 0-88902-587-8.

This book is about the people who came to Canada after the Second World War, their good and bad experiences, the kind of society they came to, and why and how they came. There are quotations from many different kinds of people who came, from government officials, and from a booklet put out by the Department of National Defence and other government sources. The book has a “scrapbook” format, with many pictures of people in transit, new arrivals, at work and at home. After the War is arranged into short descriptive passages sandwiched between quotations. The chapters are well organized, and each section of quotations has its own title.

The volume begins by describing the conditions and attitudes in Canada immediately after the war. There is also a small background section on the immigration laws from 1896 to the 1930s, including the racial prejudice which permeated Canadian policy at that time. There is a note about the gap made in the labour force after the war, when conscientious objectors and prisoners of war went home. The point is made that a Department of Labour survey showed that few Canadians were willing to work at tough physical jobs in isolated areas—immigrant labour appeared to be the answer. In Quebec, opposition to postwar immigration surfaced before the war ended, and in 1944 the Quebec National Assembly passed a resolution threatening to boycott any postwar mass immigration schemes.

There is a chapter called “Welcome to Warbrides,” which includes excerpts from Department of National Defence booklets and from the warbrides themselves. Many warbrides knew very little about what kind of life to expect in Canada; one of those quoted did not even realize she was coming to a farm. In any case, the differences between living on a farm in, say, Britain (comparatively small farms, and all with electricity or plumbing by this date) and Canada (vast tracts of land, miles from neighbours or towns, and often without indoor plumbing or electricity), were not understood. Yet most were determined to make the best of whatever they found; many were surprised by the friendliness and generosity of Canadians.

The chapter on “Displaced Persons” is less happy. Some were exploited and badly mistreated. In 1948 an account of “misery and squalor” in a displaced persons’ camp for sugar-beet workers in Emerson, Manitoba, was published in newspapers across Canada. “The most disgusting feature of the whole business is the fact that the men who complained were apparently kept in line by threats of deportation,” said the Edmonton Journal. In 1947, Ludger Dionne, who also happened to be the Liberal member of parliament for St. George de Beauce, imported 500 young women from European refugee camps to work in the Dionne Spinning Mills, and arranged to have them flown to Canada. The press discovered that they were obliged to repay their $300 fare out of an extremely meagre salary. Their two-year contracts specified a starting rate of $0.25 an hour, or $12 for a 48-hour week. Out of that $12, $3 was deducted toward airfare and $6 for room and board. There was also an “understanding” that they would not marry or leave until the airfare had been repaid. Canada had a poor record for accepting the sick, the frail, or the elderly. 10,000 of these were resettled, but Canada accepted less than 200. Canada also was not much interested in the 40,000 former professionals, including doctors, lawyers, engineers, and university professors; educational qualifications and professional skills often had to be hidden from immigration teams recruiting farmers, foresters, miners or construction workers. In 1949, the Ottawa Citizen claimed that this policy was based on pressure from professional associations, and particularly from doctors and teachers. Professionals who did manage to enter Canada found it very difficult, sometimes impossible, to become licensed. Only the Canadian Nurses Association responded positively: in some cases provinces nurses could work for one year as a nurse’s aide and then write the provincial exams.

The chapter entitled “Advertising Postwar Canada” consists mainly of pictures. The government attempted to ensure that the bulk of immigration would come from Britain and northwest Europe, and in 1951 an advertising campaign was launched there by the Immigration Branch. By this time, an abundance of work was available. Filmstrips were made featuring life in Canada. The portrayal of Canadian life leaves no doubt about the kind of people desired: an English expatriate housewife shows off her gleaming new kitchen in Edmonton; ladies in white gloves and picture hats; lawn bowling; afternoon tea being served in Ontario farmhouses. However, the “other Canada” was not completely ignored. The Catholic Women’s League and the Young Women’s Hebrew Association were mentioned, along with the Y.W.C.A., as organizations helpful to newcomers.

The experiences of many new immigrants are described in the chapter “The Old Stock.” In 1951, the Assisted Passage Loan Scheme was introduced. Under this scheme, 32,000 people came from Britain and northwest Europe by 1955. They paid $30 down and the remainder of their fare over two years. It is interesting to compare the upbeat quotations in this short chapter with the “Displaced Persons” chapter.

In the 1950s, as described in “Opening the Door,” the government finally had to admit that immigration from preferred countries was lower than had been anticipated. As a result of necessity more than compassion, annual quotas were established for immigration from, for example, India (150), Pakistan (100), Ceylon (50). For all other Asians, special permission was required. No Japanese were admitted until 1952, and in the following three years only 124 Japanese entered Canada. Theoretically, after the Chinese Immigration Act of 1947, naturalized Chinese were allowed to bring their immediate relatives to Canada, but immigration officials were frequently uncooperative. No quotas at all were established to allow even a token number of blacks into the country. In theory, close relatives of Canadian blacks were allowed in, but in practice they experienced considerable difficulties: Their supposed inability to adapt to Canadian “climatic conditions” was used to justify their exclusion. One such case, involving the Barbadian grand-daughter of a Canadian citizen, was raised in the House of Commons by CCF Member Joseph Noseworthy, and caused so much protest that the phrase “climatic conditions” disappeared from the immigration regulations the following year. In 1955, the demand for domestic servants led to the admission of 150 Caribbean blacks a year.

“On the Job” describes the type of work and working conditions to which immigrants came. The reports range from the very good to the very bad. The Department of Labour and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration were often at loggerheads, the former wanting immigration to vary according to employment available and the latter favouring a more long-term approach. The on-again off-again approach to immigration was known as the “tap theory”; obviously, immigrants recruited during a prosperous period often did not arrive until the urgent demand had slackened, and then, once the tap had been turned off, employers found it took a long time to turn it on again.

“Impressions” describes the first sensations of a broad cross-section of immigrants. “Taking Root” follows in the same vein, and describes some of the problems of “settling in.” The reports in these two chapters are the most interesting part of the book, largely because of the diversity of experience reported.

The book is easy to read, and is interesting. Many of the problems of immigration have not changed, either from the point of view of the present population or of present-day immigrants. The volume is likely to be useful to high school teachers and to teachers of first-year university students because of its easy style, many direct quotations, and liberal supply of pictures. It may not suit scholars who would like more information in between the quotations.

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