The Delights and Dilemmas of Diversity: The Ethnic Factor in Canadian History
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 31, 1974-75 season
From the beginnings of Canadian history the ethnic factor has been important in explaining both the nature of our society and the cultural crosscurrents affecting our social and political developments. In terms of cultural contact, one can say that Canadian history has gone through three phases. First, there was the contact between the European and the Amerindian cultures. As far as recorded history is concerned, this occurred first between the Vikings and the Skraelings at the end of the tenth and the beginning of the eleventh centuries in Greenland, Labrador and along the Atlantic coastline southwards as far as the still enigmatic Vinland. This contact between Europeans and aboriginal peoples was continued in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, if not earlier, by Basque, Breton, Norman, Bristol and Portuguese fishermen, who initiated barter with the coastal Algonkian tribes, i.e. with tribes who lived along the Atlantic coasts facing the Grand Banks and who themselves fished in the teeming ocean waters. Then, came the French in the mid-sixteenth and especially in the early seventeenth centuries who established a permanent contact with the Amerindians. We shall have occasion to return to the problems of cultural contact at this phase or level in a few moments.
The second major phase of cultural contact in our national history developed out of the British acquisition of Acadia in 1713 and of Canada in 1763. Both of these cessions of territory of New France followed upon bloody and cruel wars, the glossing over in most of our history texts of the brutal realities of eighteenth century warfare, sieges, guerrilla raids, and military occupation notwithstanding. This second phase of cultural contact in our national development was the contact between French and British in the bosom of British North America. French-English relations permeated every aspect of life in these colonies, especially in the sector which the British first called Quebec and later, following the earlier French colonial usage, called Canada - i.e. the St. Lawrence drainage basin and the upper country of the Great Lakes.
The third major phase of cultural contact in our national history came as a result of the immigration of other ethnic groups, or what awkwardly has been called the non-English non-French groups, or what inaccurately has been termed "the third force." I suppose that the first waves of this new component in Canadian society were the arrivals of Negroes in significant numbers in both the Maritimes and Upper Canada and the arrival of Pennsylvania Dutch-the Swiss-origin Mennonites and Amish into Upper Canada. Nor shall one ignore the influx of Orientals into British Columbia in the last half of the nineteenth century. The most significant wave, however, came in 1896 following on the heels of the arrival of the first Dutch-origin Mennonites and Icelanders to Manitoba when the Laurier-Sifton policy of populating the Canadian West and developing our northern mines and forest resources stimulated unprecedented immigration. This firmly established the polyglot and multi-ethnic character of large regions of this country. This period of great immigration, terminated by the outbreak of the First World War, was exceeded however by a still greater wave of immigration following the Second World War. It is this second wave of multi-ethnic immigration that has established the quality of cultural pluralism in so much of Canada, including the formerly Anglo-Celtic Ontario and Maritimes and the formerly Franco-English Montreal. This phase of cultural pluralism is sometimes romanticized as the concept of a Canadian mosaic:
Canadian history can be said, from the viewpoint of cultural contact, to consist of three phases: European-Amerindian relations, English-French relations, and cultural pluralism. What also becomes apparent immediately, if these three comprehensive phases are accepted as defining the principal stages of development, is that, while they appeared in chronological sequence, each has remained an important facet of our national life. In other words, they have to be viewed as layers of an experience, not as successive and detached slices of an experience. It must be evident to all that the great cultural questions of our generation revolve about so-called "white-Indian" relations, English-French relations and the ethno-cultural pluralistic relations.
Politicians are often accused of being peculiarly insensitive to problems of cultural contact, to act in this sphere only after public pressures for a restoration of public peace and tranquility, or (more cynically) to exploit inter-group tensions to their personal and partisan advantages. In no country would such a general appraisal be more inaccurate and unfounded than in Canada. Canada, it would be argued, was created by the politicians and has been kept viable by succeeding generations of politicians. This is not the time and place to go into a long discourse on the political wisdom of the great constitutional statutes - the Quebec Act, the Constitutional Act, the Union Act, the British North America Act, and even the Manitoba Act - but such a study could show that the politicians were not always prodded by public pressure into some constructive legislation, but actually acted as statesmen and nation-builders, and on occasion even led a reluctant public along paths of toleration and national vision. The man whom we remember this evening Sir John A. Macdonald - was of that breed of Canadian politicians. Nor do we need to restrict ourselves to the politicians of the past century. In our day politicians have shown initiative, vision and sensitivity in dealing with problems of cultural contact. The three main aspects of this question, which I have outlined as European-Amerindian relations, French-English relations and cultural pluralism, have each been given recent and significant political attention. The problems attendant upon European-Amerindian relations have been translated into the political concept of aboriginal rights; the problems of French-English relations into the policy of federal and national bilingualism; the problems of ethno-cultural pluralism into the policy of multiculturalism. Thus, aboriginal rights, bilingualism and multiculturalism represent responses to the three phases of cultural contact relations which run through Canadian history like red, white and blue threads, distinguishing us from our multiple mother lands and from our republican neighbours to the south.
No period of our national history, to my mind, has been devoid of a strong ethnic consciousness. The first point to be made is that all people are immigrants in North America. The Amerindians and Eskimos are merely the first immigrants, not autochthonous peoples who were here since the appearance of men on the face of the earth. The majority of them appear to have emigrated from Asia to this continent. Their folklore, legends and oral traditions indicate that they never ceased to be migrants. Indeed, the shifting patterns of tribal habitation and the shifting hunting territories, are clearly recorded in the first European reports of contact with Amerindian cultures. Since we are dealing with stateless, tribal societies and with pre-literate peoples we do not have detailed chronological accounts of inter-tribal relations, of aboriginal warfare and of pre-contact confederacies, alliances and population movements. We have only some vague awareness, for example of the Iroquoian-Aleonkian rivalries as translated into Mohawk-Micmac warfare prior to the European fishing contacts, or as translated into the disappearance of the Laurentian Iroquois sometime between Cartier's contact with them in the 1530s-'40s and Champlain's arrival on the St. Lawrence in 1608.
These earlier events, movements of peoples, changes in power structures among Amerindian peoples were more important to later European contact than is generally supposed. They determined, for example, the fact that the St. Lawrence lowlands, which became the French river-line colony of Canada, the seigneurial tract, was a virtual no-man's-land when French settlers arrived. They also determined the pattern of alliance in whose web Europeans were soon entangled in what the latter construed to be the pursuit of their imperial policies and economic designs. They also indicate the non-European and non-economic motivations behind Five Nations' hostility towards the northern Iroquoian tribes of Hurons, Neutrals and Petuns.
The discovery of the New World can itself be viewed in terms of ethnic rivalries. The Vikings established the first historically documented European contact with aboriginal North American peoples. This contact began in Greenland in the tenth century, roughly at the time that these Northern European "barbarians" adopted Catholicism - a not unimportant event since nearly all we know about this first European migration to North America, at least until the recent archaeological finds, has been preserved through religious sources, i.e. either the sagas recorded by Icelandic monks or the official Vatican correspondence with the bishopric of Gardar. What I wish to stress concerning this initial European-aboriginal contact is the fact that the Skraelings, as the Norsemen called the natives, prevailed in the clash of cultures. It was, in fact, the Vikings who were assimilated in this first meeting of Europeans and North Americans.
Were there any further contacts between Europe and North America between the departure of the Vikings in the thirteenth century and the joint Anglo-Portuguese expeditions out of Bristol of the late fifteenth century? The presence of Newfoundland cod and of Canadian beaver pelts in Western European markets well before the official "discoveries" of Columbus, Cartier or Da Verrazzano confirm there was at least an active international fishery off our Atlantic coats.
What official histories lacked, popular legends and ethnic boasting soon supplied. The Irish advanced their claim to first contact and settlement through St. Brendan and his hermits in the 6th century. It should be noted that although there were Irish monks in Iceland at least a century before the arrival of the Norsemen to that island, no claims were advanced in either the biography of St. Brendan or in the extensive religious literature relating to his miracles and travels to the effect that Brendan or other monks had discovered the New World. It was only five hundred years after Brendan's death, with the appearance of the Navigations of Saint-Brendan at the end of the tenth century, that there was suddenly a flood of imprecise information on his travels to the West. The end of the tenth century and the beginning of the eleventh century was precisely the time when the Norsemen had established settlements in Greenland and Newfoundland and had introduced Catholicism to the New World. Were the Irish, by suddenly recalling the phenomenal exploits of St. Brendan and the early hermits which no one had bothered to record over the centuries, merely attempting to devalue the Viking expansions by asserting that they had both discovered and evangelized the New World centuries earlier?
The Welsh were not to be outdone by the Irish, of course. Their claims, ignoring the Vikings completely, hinged on the exploits of one called Madoc, son of Owain, king of Gwynedd, who founded a colony in North America in 1170, more than 300 years before Columbus' first voyage. So far as I have been able to determine, the first published accounts of this supposed colonization venture were written by John Dee (1578), Sir George Peckham (1583), and David Powell (1584); these assertions were given more credibility when incorporated by Richard Hakluyt in his 1584 edition of Travels. The last reference in this series to Prince Madoc or Owen-Gwynedd's colony appeared in Sir Thomas Herbert's A Relation of some Yeares travaile, published in London in 1634, and located it specifically on "the Gulph of Mexico," i.e. in Spanish America. The obvious question one must ask is why did a journey purported to have occurred in 1170 not receive any publicity before the 1580's? I would suggest that the legend might have been useful in challenging the Spanish claim to discovery and prior possession of the Americas. It could also be useful in explaining some supposedly neo-Christian customs of the Amerindians, and in buttressing a current rumour that the natives of North America spoke Gaelic! By way of explanation for the fact that the Madoc story was not perpetuated in the 17th century, one might surmise that the successful challenge to Spanish claims in North America made it unnecessary.
But I would like to return for a moment to the notion that the Amerindians spoke Gaelic. Perhaps some early Breton fisherman made a passing comment on the resemblance between his Celtic tongue and the Algonkian languages. In any case, in about 1730 there appeared a book called The Turkish Spy which said that in the heart of North America there lived "a tribe of Welsh Indians, the descendants of a colony founded by Prince Madoc in 1170." It was only a few years after this that La Verendrye noted among the Mandans some Welsh characteristics. Indeed, in 1795, James Mackay, fur trader in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, was accompanied by a Welshman, John Evans, who came to identify and Christianize the "Welsh Indians."
If the Irish and Welsh had their claimants, the Scots were not to be excluded. For a long time it was believed that the Zeno brothers, Nicolo and Antonio, who were in the service of a great northern prince called Zichmi, cruised the Atlantic and discovered Nova Scotia in 1398. It has since been established by scholars that Prince Zichmi was in fact Henry Sinclair, first Earl of the Orkneys, who lived from 1350 to 1404. But the Zeno brothers never existed except in active imaginations. The story seemingly originated in the late 1500s, at the same time as the Welsh legend, with the objective of countering Spanish claims. It did have an added merit of being based on 15th century Scandinavian maps.
In considering these ethnic claims to discovery, prior occupation and evangelization-all important aspects of staking a claim to the heathen lands which were to be brought under the jurisdiction of a Christian prince and so into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ - it may have occurred to you that among the Anglo-Celts only the English overlooked the value of a mediaeval landfall. Eventually, as you know, the French claim to North America was made by a Florentine, the English claim by a Venetian, the Dutch claim by a Londoner, and the Hudson's Bay Company claim by a French-Canadian.
So, we come back to the fishery as the next documented link between Europe and North America. This fishery was international, multi-ethnic if you prefer. It engaged large fleets of Bretons, Basques, Bristolmen, Portuguese, Spaniards, Normans and Saintongeois, in addition to the skilled Micmac navigators who were the first on the scene. Recent documentation acquired by the public archives in Ottawa indicates that the Dutch, Flemish and Plymouthmen were also active participants in this harvest of the sea. This fishery initiated the North American fur trade. This fishery also initiated an important European-Amerindian cultural contact.
In the context of our subject, one consequence of that early cultural contact merits our attention. The fishermen introduced all the microscopic parasites of man which had found their way to Europe from various parts of the globe measles, smallpox, whooping cough, influenza, typhoid, diptheria, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, chicken pox, strep infections to name but some of the dreaded "killers"-to the Amerindians. These new diseases, against which the aboriginal peoples had no resistance, quickly took on epidemic and pandemic proportions, decimating the Algonkian coastal communities prior to 1600. The Gaspesian Micmacs, according to the tradition related to the missionary Chrestien LeCercq, sought to protect themselves spiritually from the first waves of infections to hit their shores. They looked first to the sun for protection, but then a "beautiful man" holding a cross revealed himself to them in a dream and instructed them to make crosses for their preservation. This cult of the cross did not afford the tribesmen the protection and immunity they sought therefore they abandoned their veneration of this symbol in time. In other words, the epidemics which accompanied first contact not only undermined their traditional way of life, but in time it brought spiritual collapse and moral disintegration to what might be viewed as a counter-innovative technique, the cult of the cross.
In recent years I have spoken and written much about French-Amerindian contacts, therefore I am inclined to pass quickly over that aspect of our history. Perhaps I could enumerate a few general conclusions about the nature of that contact. It was long believed that the French approached the Amerindians with attitudes and policies markedly different from those of the English or the Spaniards. What needs to be emphasized, I believe, is that the French concepts and policies were not all that different from those of other Europeans whenever the circumstances of contact were similar. However, the French contact experience was unique in several respects. They did not displace native populations in the founding of either Acadia or Canada. Indeed, the reservations by the late seventeenth century represent a settlement of converted Amerindian tribesmen refugees of a kind-within the French seigneurial settlement area. Moreover, the French as a minority over a greatly over-extended, sparsely populated, economically undeveloped continental empire were dependent on the goodwill and cooperation of their Amerindian hosts. The French most in contact with the native peoples were the traders, soldiers and missionaries and these all, to some meaningful extent, adapted to local environment and custom. Furthermore, I have found it particularly rewarding to reconsider the literary sources of this period with a view to reconstructing the Amerindian view of French civilization and presence in North America. Anthropologists constantly remind us that acculturation is a two-way stream. The French experience in North America was, on the whole, one in which Europeans accommodated more to native ways than vice-versa, especially in the hinterland where most of the direct contact occurred.
Traditionally, New France has been represented as a compact, homogeneous, closed society, whose ancestors were mostly of Norman-descent, speaking the same language and holding fiercely to the same Catholic traditions. An examination of the approximately 10,000 immigrants over two centuries from which the French-Canadian population sprang suggests a few qualifications to such a picture of uniformity and homogeneity. The study of the Protestants in New France, for example, provides a few points for reconsideration. Of some 1,000 Protestants who are mentioned in the archival sources of New France, 471 have been identified by name, status and origins. In addition to Huguenots there were at least 152 Protestants from England, 75 from New England, 47 from "Germany," 21 from Switzerland, 19 from Scotland, 12 from Ireland and 10 from Holland. Furthermore, the Sovereign Council at Quebec issued letters of naturalization to at least 130 foreigners, including Spaniards, Italians, Dutch and English, who took up permanent residence in the colony. Indeed, the Bretons, who were well represented, had very recently become Frenchmen. Also, there were over 1,000 New England prisoners-of-war in the colony at various times, of which number at least 231 took up permanent residence. Another 90 unidentified captives, mostly Anglo-Americans redeemed from Amerindian tribes, became assimilated in Canada. In every generation in New France right up to the time of the British Conquest, all the edicts of the state and mandements of the church notwithstanding, there were Protestant residents. Twenty-five of the most prominent merchants in the colony during the Ancien Regime were Protestants; all of these were from France, especially from the La Rochelle and Bordeaux regions, except John Abraham (England), Hugh Cochrane (Scotland), Jean-Chretien Schindler (Germany), and Louis Schmidt (Switzerland). The descendants of a Langlois, therefore, may very well be the descendants of a New England Puritan, commonly referred to in the colony as "l'Anglais" who abjured and was assimilated into the Canadien community. Even among the indentured servants and colonists of that millenialist foundation known as Notre-Dame de Montreal or Ville-Marie there were Protestants. The filles du roi, those carefully selected brides from the hospices of France sent to the colony to help found virtuous Catholic families, harboured at least sixteen Calvinists.
And what could we say about metissage? It has long been the contention of French-Canadians that little "Indian blood," as they said, flowed in their veins. Champlain's initial plan, for it must be recalled that he had been singularly unsuccessful in recruiting colonists, called for extensive miscegenation and the emergence of a new race of Christianized mixed-bloods. It was soon realized that, given the French male preponderance and the Amerindian female preponderance at the time, mixed marriage would almost invariably be between Frenchmen and Amerindian women with the children of such unions being raised by their native mothers. This represented no gain for the policy of Frenchification. Therefore, the encouragement of such marriages was rapidly dropped. Nevertheless, in the "upper country" around the trading and military posts, there was an innumerable illegitimate half-breed population which never figured in the official registers. Thus the French contribution to Amerindian population was never accurately recorded. A closer study of the parish records might indicate that mixed marriages, blessed by the church, did occur in the seigneuries. In fact, the parish register at Boucherville for the first decade of the 18th century indicates there were three sacramental marriages between Amerindian men and French women. Descendants of a Voisin, a Leveille and a Dyon of that seigneury look to Pawnee and Iroquois ancestors. These few observations serve to indicate that the traditional view of a Norman French Catholic homogenous community requires some refinement.
The military campaigns and military occupation that marked the advent of British rule were fraught with "racial" or ethnic implications. The Canadiens were certain that it was in English blood to hate them, to impose their Bostonian Puritanism, their guttural Anglo-Saxon speech, as well as savour their cold, calculating Anglo-Celtic superiority. The British had their own stereotype of the blood-thirsty, improvident, vainglorious, superstitious, fickle French-Canadian. The Montreal school of historians has emphasized the traumatic experience for Canadiens of military conquest and subjugation under foreign rule. To provide some balance we need an account of the traumatic experience for British administrators in trying to cope with non English speaking, non-Protestant foreigners in the Empire at a time when some of their own Anglo-American colonies were becoming very restive. Quebec was never the same again; it should also be said that the British Empire was never the same again.
The American Revolution and the arrival of thousands of Loyalists did much to strengthen the British ties, the conservative flavour and anti-Americanism. Subsequent Scottish immigration lent some substance to the observation that British North America was founded on three conquered and defeated peoples - the French-Canadians, the Loyalists and the Highland Scots-thus accounting for a national inferiority complex!
The Loyalists came into a Canada, or Quebec as it was then called by the British, which was largely French-speaking, Catholic and under French civil law. Naturally, these evicted and persecuted Tories expected to live under British institutions and laws. As a minority, however, they were settled (with the exception of sections of Montreal) outside the seigneurial tract which formed the backbone of a relatively homogeneous French Canada and therefore they looked to some form of dualism in order to assert their cultural rights. In other words, the Loyalists were our first separatists! They got their separate statehood in the Constitutional Act of 1791 which gave them Upper Canada as a province which Simcoe attempted to erect into a model British colony avoiding all the deficiencies that had manifested themselves in the Thirteen Colonies.
Time does not permit us to go into the details of the War of 1812, the troubled period of the Rebellions, the struggle for responsible cabinet government, and the years of the Union. All of these stages in our national development were inextricably concerned with French-English relations. The two nation concept was acknowledged in Lord Durham's Report when he wrote: "I expected to find a contest between a government and a people: I found two nations warring in the bosom of a single state." His solution, if I may put it crudely, was to make temporary "concessions" to the Canadian facts of life while encouraging British immigration in order to swamp the French Canadians and then to assimilate them. Durham's problem was, in part, that he held a racist view of loyalty and that he found it difficult to conceive of British loyalty without English ethnic domination. He condemned the "separatism" of the Constitutional Act of 1791 which had divided Upper and Lower Canada, on the grounds that it was an error to assume "that it was possible to exclude the English race from French Canada."
Several other approaches to the ethnic problem were tried. The union of the two provinces, a kind of equal status between the more populous French speaking sector and the less populous English-speaking sector, was one solution. The appointment of some French-Canadians vendus to high administrative office, in keeping with what has since been called the "Negro king policy," was also practised. The Times (October 18, 1842), to cite but one British expression of this policy, said:
An indication of contemporary attitudes and concepts may be afforded by the current terminology-the English-speaking Canadians spoke of themselves as British and of French-Canadians as Canadians.
The winning of responsible government and the creation of a party system in the Canadas were important elements in ethnic survival. Lord Elgin had said that "the problem of how to govern United Canada would be solved if the French would split into a liberal and conservative party and join the Upper Canadian parties bearing the corresponding names." Representation in government could then be on the basis of party affiliation rather than on an ethnic basis. Elgin feared that the French-Canadians would revive the ancient cry of ethnicity and insist on their right to have a share in the administration "not because the party with which they have chosen to connect themselves is in the ascendant, but because they represent a people of distinct origin." What really emerged from these constitutional and political struggles was that French Canadians came to see that the surest way to guarantee their own ethnic survival in North America was to preserve the British connection. The basis for Canadian unity was strengthened when the French-Canadians agreed that to be British was to guarantee remaining French, and when the English-Canadians conceded that to be British one did not need to become English.
Some years ago this tribune was employed to question the validity of the compact thesis of Confederation and the intent of the Fathers of Confederation that Canada should be bilingual. It would not be fruitful to go over that ground again. It is abundantly clear that the B.N.A. Act provided for official bilingualism in the federal parliament and courts and in the Quebec legislature and courts. Similarly, the Manitoba Act contained guarantees for both the English and French languages and for dual confessional schools. Beyond that suffice it to say that Joseph Howe had said that Nova Scotians would never enter a confederation designed to assist in "anglifying the French Canadians." When Manitoba entered Confederation he insisted on the "spirit of fair play" of the bilingual and school clauses. George Etienne Cartier went even further, and his interpretation was challenged by no one in the opposition, in declaring that the Manitoba Act represented government policy and the pattern for future Western provinces. He said that the legislation disclosed "the policy of the government, for it was evident there was room between Ontario and the Rocky Mountains for several Provinces, and Manitoba was made the model or starting point for the Provinces to be erected to the Pacific Ocean."
These provisions in Manitoba's constitutional act were completely in line with local opinion and wishes as witnessed by the School legislation passed in Winnipeg in 1871 (which in many respects merely gave statutory support to the existing Red River school system). In the debates on the North-West Territories Act in 1875, Alexander Mackenzie agreed to include a clause guaranteeing separate schools to the minority because as Edward Blake suggested "we had better let the people know their fate politically before they settle here."
The bilingualism question, as an aspect of French-English relations, was carefully thought out and the original plan was to give the Western provinces constitutions similar to Manitoba's and Quebec's. But the settlement of the West did not occur as had been conceived with both Ontario and Quebec sending their sons to exploit its agricultural potential. This was not because the West was inhospitable to French-Canadians, or that impediments had been put in the way of their migrating westwards, or (as David Mills said in the 1890 debates opposing Dalton McCarthy's unilingualism proposal) because "they have been put in an inferior position by the legislation on the statute book." The fact was that many Ontarians came West while Quebecois preferred the U.S.A. to the Canadian West. There was also Mennonite and Icelandic immigration into Manitoba. By 1890 Manitoba was no longer a province with a balance of English and French-speaking peoples, the dual confessional school system ill suited demographic realities, and bilingualism was challenged on practical grounds. Manitoba revised her constitutional basis, without at the same time obtaining a revision of the Manitoba Act, and adopted a constitutional pattern similar to Ontario's rather than Quebec's.
The Northwest Territories would thereafter seek provincial status along the same general lines for Saskatchewan and Alberta.
What requires some emphasis is that the acrimonious debates and cultural conflict in the 1890s and early 1900s were "the result not of a recognition of cultural duality but of its denial." There were those who, like Edward Blake, argued that cultural duality made Canada a greater nation than was otherwise possible, that it gave "an opening for the exhibition of still higher and deeper and broader feelings of justice and liberality and tolerance than are permitted to a wholly homogeneous people." On the other hand, there was also a rising tide of Anglo-Saxon racism, which saw the Anglo-Saxons as God's chosen people divinely appointed to rule the world. This was coupled with a stirring of anti-Catholic and anti-foreign feeling.
The arrival of large contingents of Central and Eastern Europeans gave the Prairies their multi-ethnic and polyglot character. Indeed, the compromise "solution" to the Manitoba Schools Question offered in 1897 took cognizance of this Western pluralism, as against Pan-Canadian dualism. There is now little doubt that many European immigrants in Western Canada interpreted the pattern of ethnic bloc settlements or reserves and the bilingual school provisions as guarantees of their ethno-cultural survival. On the other hand, educators like Dr. Bryce made it abundantly clear, at least to their Englishspeaking audiences, that the public school system was an agency for the anglicization, civilization, Christianization and assimilation of the Mennonites, Jews, Germans, Galicians and Ruthenians. By 1901, prominent Protestant clergymen were patiently explaining that the bilingual school system was a device to hasten assimilation, not a means to perpetuate ethnic identity. It has been argued, with much logic, that much of the reform movement (for example, the enforcement of Sunday closing, and the temperance and prohibition drives) derived from a tribal view of sin. This view held that Canada must remain "Christian and British" or it would never succeed as a nation. Among some of the immigrant communities there was growing apprehension that the kinds of pressures for assimilation and uniformity which had been exerted in the Old World might be implemented in the New World.
The First World War was a period when patriotic and racist feelings grew red hot. Bitter controversies raged about conscription, enemy aliens, foreign languages, the ethnic press, Ukrainian nationalism, pacifism, labour unions, and what was termed "Balkanization." As early as November, 1915, the Manitoba Free Press expressed the growing reaction in the host society against hyphenated Canadianism: "We learned much in the last 18 months and many eyes have been opened. If any possibility previously existed of promoting and fostering separate nationalities on Canadian soil, that possibility is now gone." The following year, John W. Dafoe told Free Press readers that the 1897 legislation has been "ill-considered." It had been, in his opinion, designed to heal English-French tensions and "in order to avoid anti-French prejudices in Ontario and elsewhere, the concession as to bilingual teaching was not limited to the French, but was made general to all non-English residents." However, he saw it as a temporary measure to help bridge the gap to unilingual (English) instruction and to facilitate the assimilatory process. This Anglo-conformist view he did not see as applying to the French speaking communities for they had older Canadian roots, nor to the Mennonites who had come under very specific guarantees of cultural independence. He expressed a general concern that the legislation had in fact opened a Pandora's box of multilingualism, had retarded the growth of a Canadian national spirit, and had promoted ghettoism.
The schools were only one area where the struggle for national unity and responsible citizenship was waged. They were, nevertheless, regarded as a key institution. Inspector J.T.M. Anderson told a national education convention in Winnipeg at the close of the war:
In the years that followed the renewed emphasis on integration and assimilation of the "foreign" groups became apparent in the school programme.
I attended a one-roomed school house in rural Saskatchewan in the 1930s. Anderson's programme, though I did not know it then, was very much in evidence. I received my primary schooling at the hands of a British school "marm," under the Union Jack, and was instructed in good English usage, proper civic attitudes and such ancillary matters as personal cleanliness, sound dietary habits, temperance, good sportsmanship and patriotic lore. Picnics, community concerts, rallies and field days brought together the diverse ethnic groups, separated by tongue and creed, to participate in what was called "the Canadian way of doing things." We were even required to plant school gardens as part of our civic indoctrination. I do not know whether the educational experts had sorted out the differences between the sociological models of the melting pot and Anglo-conformity; I do know what they did not want Canada to be.
Perhaps I am still too young to reminisce. The task of the historian is to understand the past, not primarily to pass judgment on it.
What we have done this evening is range very rapidly and very selectively over an entire millennium, to reminisce in a national sense. In every age there have been cultural tensions, a struggle for ethnic expression, a search for identity. The ethnic factor is only a strand or a thread in the warp and woof of our national fabric, but without it the pattern would be very different. It is of primary importance if only because it often takes on emotional overtones and creates cultural stereotypes. If some of the matters we have considered have aided us to understand our past, our efforts have been well rewarded.
We need not be satisfied with merely understanding the past. The past can explain, illuminate and reveal the present. History is relevant to the present. I am optimistic about contemporary Canada. We are able to examine our cultural currents with more sanity and tolerance than many nations today. Both at the level of popular acceptance and at the level of governmental action there is recognition of the three mainstreams of ethnic inter-action. The rights and legitimate aspirations of the native peoples will probably be considered more sympathetically and judiciously than in the past. The acceptance of duality as a social and political reality can only aid in converting this quality into an asset and national advantage. Few countries have the opportunity, for example, to project a Janus-like image - with an English face or French face, as the occasion demands - and we have already reaped dividends of this in Europe and especially in Africa, Latin America and even Asia. Multiculturalism is the logical concommitant of national dualism and federal bilingualism; it is the invitation to all Canadians to cherish and develop the particular or peculiar qualities of their cultural heritage with a view to improving their own life style and that of the entire community. It is more than a mere tolerance of difference; it is a recognition of inherent worth in each form of diversity and of the fraternal imperative to share with others what each cherishes.
Each one of us belongs to an ethnic group; some, naturally, identify more with it than others. The English, Scots, Welsh, Irish and Jersey-men are as truly ethno-cultural communities as the Mennonites, Hungarians or Serbians.
Canada since the seventeenth century has produced its own identifiable ethnic groups. I refer to the Quebecois, the Acadians and the Newfoundlanders. Also, I think we should avoid making an absolute and inflexible identification between language and ethnicity. A language may be employed to express a variety of cultures: French, for example, is the vehicle for expressing the cultures not only of France and Quebec, but also the very different cultures of Senegal, Tahiti, Haiti, also parts of Vietnam, Belgium and Switzerland, to name but a few. English expresses probably more cultures than any other language today. Ethnic groups do not function in watertight compartments because of the constant transcultural interactions and the diversity of "combinations" of ethnic cultures. In this sense, the cultural scene is neither a melting pot nor a mosaic; it is a kaleidoscope.
Situations which reveal the aspirations of our native peoples, the reality of bilingualism at the national and federal level, and the cultural pluralism of the entire nation are not problems. They are instruments for building a better Canada. Recognition of aboriginal rights, of bilingualism and of multiculturalism does not create cultural conflict; rather, cultural conflict is the result of the denial of these claims, the refusal to accept and turn to the common good these social realities of our day.
The recognition of aboriginal rights reflects a coming to terms with the northern character of Canada. Historically, European-Amerindian relations provided us with the first great cultural challenge. It remains that in our day and generation. Bilingualism reflects a coming to terms with the essentially Eastern Canadian qualities of life. And, multiculturalism, I believe, reflects what was originally a coming to terms with the Western Canadian qualities of life. I would like to think that each will contribute to national unity and cultural development in the future. Were that to be so, then not only the sociologists, but also the humanists and political analysts, would have in Canada a model for other communities.
Page revised: 22 May 2010Back to top of page