Changing Canadian Identities in the 20th Century Is Canada a nation or has its control just switched empirical hands? As Professor Hutcheson asked, did Canada go from “Colony to Nation or Empire to Empire? ” This question has greatly influenced Canada’s changing identity since her birth as a British colony with Confederation in 1867 to the present day. The purpose of this essay is to critically analyse the shifting Canadian identities between the years 1890 to 1960.
The objective is to illustrate Canada’s transforming identity by using the novels The Imperialist by Sara Jeanette Duncan, Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan, and Fifth Business by Robertson Davies and to connect the stories of each of these works of fiction to the varying political, economic, and social issues of their times. Each book is written by a prominent author, and portrays an accurate reflection of the demanding political, economic, and social concerns throughout the late nineteen and first half of the twentieth century of Canadian history.
All of the novels reflect Canada’s peripheral view of the world, as opposed to a central point of view, because throughout its history Canada has always been perceived as a secondary player. As George Grant says in his literary piece Lament for a Nation, Canada is “a branch plant society” , meaning Canada is controlled by another power. The essential question is where has Canada’s loyalties traditionally lay and how has this shaped the Canadian identity. The Imperialist by Sara Jeanette Duncan, written in 1904 reflects a very British influenced Canada.
At this time, Canada is still a British colony under British rule, and the people of Canada are very content to consider themselves British. The novel predominately illustrates British and Scottish views through its characters, plot and setting. The Imperialist is a prime example of illustrating Canadian imperialist attitudes before World War I and demonstrates how Canada was greatly influenced politically by the British during this time. During the period before World War I, Canada had its own government, but Canada itself was controlled by British laws and policies.
The Governor General is the symbolic head of the country, because he or she is the direct representative of the reigning British monarch. Today Adrienne Clarkson represents Queen Elizabeth II as the Governor General of Canada and opens parliament. Nevertheless, Canada’s main political views during the Pre-World War I period were shaped by colonialism and imperialism. Accordingly, Canada was a British colony and proud of it: “No flag but the Union Jack will ever wave over Canada. ” Canada’s political policies were imperialistic, meaning they were controlled by the head of the empire and were meant to benefit the leading country.
For instance, Canada exported beaver furs, timber, and cod along with many other of its natural resources to Britain because they lacked resources for their industry. Canadians did this proudly because ” imperialism is intensely and supremely a national affair. ” They believed whatever benefited the mother country would benefit them. Even, imperial economic trade policies proposed free trade within the British Empire to benefit the colonies and prevent American economic take over. Accordingly, Canadian imperialists adopted the British economic hatred of the Americans.
This hatred of the Americans is reproduced in Canadian economic policies especially those concerning trade. Lorne Murchison, the protagonist of The Imperialist, in one of his political speeches in the South Fox County by-election speaks, about the dangers of trade with America and its consequences: “But the alternative before Canada is not a mere choice of markets; we are confronted with a much graver issue. In this matter of dealing with our neighbour our very existence is involved.
If we would preserve ourselves as a nation, it has become our business, not only to reject American overtures in favour of the overtures of our great England, but to keenly watch and actively resist American influence, as it already threatens us through the common channels of life and energy. We have often said that we fear no invasion from the south, but the armies of the south have already crossed the border. American enterprise, American capital” His speech contains a strong pro Britain trade message and a negative American one, which most Canadians shared.
In fact, Canadians tried to separate and distinguish themselves from Americans by highlighting their contrasting natures: “The Americans from the beginning went in a spirit of revolt; the seed of disaffection was in every Puritan bosom. We from the beginning went in a spirit of amity, forgetting nothing, disavowing nothing, to plant the flag with our fortunes. We took our very Constitution, our very chart of national life, from England – her laws, her liberty, her equity were good enough for us.
In this quotation, Lorne illustrates the fact that the Americans rebelled against the English way of life, where instead Canada embraced the English way of life and Constitution. He suggests that Canada would never throw away its British heritage like the Americans did, and that Canadians will stay loyal to the crown. In fact, not only did Canadians adopt the British way of life and Constitution, but some of Britain’s social aspects as well. Socially, Canada tried to imitate Britain.
For example, Canadians fully embraced the British tradition of high tea, the Presbyterian branch of Christendom, and the idea of a hierarchical society. For example, in the town of Elgin there are a few families that have a considerable amount of influence over the others in the town, like the Milburns and Murchisons. Certainly, everything English was considered fashionable. Thus Canada, with arms wide open fully accepted and embraced being British. However, during and after World War I, a shift in Canadian attitudes toward the British Empire started to emerge. This is illustrated in the next novel, Barometer Rising.
Barometer Rising, by Hugh MacLennan, is a novel set in Halifax during World War I, where changing Canadian attitudes towards Britain and a sense of national Canadian identity begins to emerge. Canada’s changing views towards military Britain began to emerge when Britain declared war in Europe; Britain demanded, not asked, for colonial military support. These sentiments were strengthened by the horrors of the war experienced by young Canadian conscripts at the battles at The Somme and Passchendale. The heavy Canadian loses made Canadians begin to challenge why are we fighting this war.
Additionally, victories like Vimy Ridge developed a sense of national pride in Canadian soldiers in the British army. These critical events at a time when Canada was giving its greatest sacrifice to the British war effort started Canadians to think of themselves as a separate entity from Britain: “Merely to have been born in the Western side of the ocean gave a man something for which the traditions of the Old World could never compensate. This Western land was his own country. ” Neil Macrae, the protagonist in Barometer Rising, is one of these Canadians who begin to identify himself as Canadian, not British.
Certainly, during World War I a Canadian identity emerged, but unfortunately, a separate French Canadian identity simultaneously emerged as a result of the World War I conscription crisis. Nonetheless, a true Canadian identity was beginning to bloom, and this in turn began to influence Canada’s political views. Although, Canada was politically still a British colony, imperialism was losing its appeal to Canadians. “The Citadel itself flew the Union Jack in all weathers and war rightly considered a symbol and bastion of the British Empire. ” There were still loyal imperialists but the numbers started to dwindle with World War I.
Canada sent troops over to Europe to fight “five thousand Canadians travelling in bond, going to Europe” , which caused mixed feeling in Canada. Consequently, Canadians started to disagree with fighting this war, and asking what compelled them to fight for the British Empire, not understanding what bound them to England, a “chain bound Canada to England. ” Many Canadian’s disagreed with Canada’s participation in World War I, including the character Neil Macrae: “By reason he disapproved of the war, of Canada’s participation in it, of three quarters of the governments which made the policies for the British Empire.
He was irratated by most Englishmen he met, and liked Americans better. ” In this quote, Neil’s view reflects his growing disapproval of the war and control exercised by the British government over Canada: this also hints at America as a possible replacement and illustrates a realignment of attitudes from a political allegiance to Britain to a new geographical and economic alliance with the United States. Economically, the war was good for Canada, but in all other times, Britain only abused Canada’s natural resources.
Heavy industry was only brought over or smaller Canadian industries were advancing in Canada due to the war, but before that, it was all mainly centred in England. As an example, Halifax harbour was only prosperous during wartimes: “This harbour is the reason for the town’s existence, it is all that matters in Halifax, for the place periodically sleeps between great wars. There had been a good many years since Napoleon, but now it was awake again.
Canada was only economically important enough to allow industry and economic growth when it was in the best interest of the Empire, which upset many Canadian industrialists. Canadians may have been angered by the British political and economic control, but still held fast to British social traditions. Socially, Canada remained proudly British. Canadians still had their high tea, lived in an elitist society, and retained their strong Presbyterian beliefs. For example, in the novel, Barometer Rising, the Wain’s are one of the prominent families in Halifax, and it is mentioned that working on Sunday is not acceptable.
Strong Canadian Protestant religious beliefs including an adopted dislike for Catholics, stemming from England’s reformation and their hatred of the French helped to fuel the conflict between Canadians themselves. Take the case of the Wain family will: “The Wain estates had been passed regularly from father to son, each one’s will containing the proviso that if the heir should marry a Roman Catholic the legacy was forfeit. ” This phrase is an excellent example of British religious prejudices being passed on to Canadians.
Although, Canada held fast and steady to British social traditions, Canada’s national identity was changing due to World War I, which the third novel, Fifth Business continues. Fifth Business, written by Robertson Davies, is a chronological novel of Dunstan Ramsey’s life; it illustrates the transformation of Canada’s national identity between the years 1908 to 1970. At the beginning of the novel, the characters, especially the Ramsey’s are greatly influenced by imperialism: “There was a picture of Queen Victoria hanging in the library, and one look at her would tell you that anybody under her protection was in luck.
This quote highlights imperial loyalty, by having imperial reminders in public places. In addition, the characters have strong social religious Presbyterian beliefs and prejudices (Davies, 9, 16) and British ancestry (Davies, 10). Secondly, in the chapter “I am Born Again”, when Dunstan and Percy go off to fight in World War I, Canada’s identity begins to change from that of a colonial identity to one of Canadian national identity.
Take the case, at the beginning of the war Dunstan was a member of the Second Canadian Division and later a part of the Canadian Corps, which means during the war Canada went from being a part of the British military to a separate Canadian military unit. Additionally, Dunstan fought in the battles of Sanctuary Wood, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele, as previously mentioned these key battles helped forge Canadians sense of pride and regret toward fighting in a war that had nothing politically to do with Canada.
The rest of the novel illustrates how the United States influences the Canadian economic identity; this is symbolised by Boy Staunton’s character. As evidence, Boy is the head of a company called Alpha Corporation, which follows capitalist ideals. Indeed, people even call him a “ca-pittle-ist” making him contemptuous during the 1930’s with the Great Depression caused by Black Tuesday when the stock markets crashed in the US on October 1929. Unfortunately, due to Canada’s growing economic alliance with America, Canadian markets were also greatly affected; the crash of 1929 put Canada into a depression as well.
Ironically, at the end of the novel Boy Staunton is killed by his American ideals, metaphorically speaking when he drowns in his American made Cadillac. Finally, the term “fifth business” itself means to play a supporting or secondary role can be connected to Canada’s national identity. For example, throughout Canada’s history she has always played a secondary or supporting role to either the United Kingdom or the United States, meaning she has always been on the periphery.
Hence, Canada can be called fifth business like Dunstan in the novel Fifth Business (Davies, 230-1). Under these conditions, the novel Fifth Business reflects Canada’s changing political, economic, and social identity between the years of 1908 to 1970. In conclusion, Canada’s national identity is greatly influenced by where her loyalties lie. For instance, in the novel, The Imperialist by Sara Jeanette Duncan, Canada is an imperialist country and her loyalty is to the British Empire, resulting in the Canadian identity being British.
Secondly, in the novel Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan, Canada’s loyalty is still to England, the mother country, but due to World War I resentment created between the two countries, Canada starts to form a separate identity. Finally, in the novel Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, the novel illustrates the transition of Canada’s national identity from being influenced by the United Kingdom to the United States. Therefore, Canada did not go from “colony to nation”, but “empire to empire”, meaning the British Empire to the American Empire.
Therefore always remaining a margin to another country and never a centre in its own right. Definitely, the pivotal point in Canadian history where Canada cuts her imperial ties and leaves herself either open to the United States or starts to become a centre, is the Imperial Conference in 1936. Where Mackenzie King, the Canadian Prime Minster at the time, declared that Canada would not follow Imperial policy, but that Canada would make its own policies. As history shows, Canada took the “American road” and not the national road due to Mackenzie King.
However, Canada might have been able to transform from “colony to nation” and establish a true national identity, if the French Canadian and English Canadian conflict had been resolved at its earliest stages or never have began in the first place. Take the case of the conscription crisis in World War I, if only all French Canadian thought like Talbot Papineau” “we must rather seek to find points of contact and of common interest that point of friction and separation.
We must make concessions and certain sacrifices of our distinct individuality if we mean to live on amicable terms with our fellow citizens or if we expect them to make similar concessions to us. ” Unquestionably, French Canadians would not have formed a resentment for the English Canadians for making them fight in World War I. Equally important, the 1945-6 Dominion-Provincial Conference of Reconstruction were the provinces in support of Canada’s World War II effort, conceded the rights to collect taxes in the fields of personal and corporate income to Ottawa.
If after the war the Federal Government had kept its promise and reinstated the right to collect personnel and corporate taxes to the provinces, Quebec would not have formed the idea of separation. By offering subsidies in lieu of provincial tax collection the divide between English and French Canada deepened. Funding was greatly needed in Quebec; the Federal Government error to restate there privileges result in further resentment against English Canadians. Both these factors only weakened the country.
Hence, if Canada were a strong whole nation, instead of a divide one, maybe we would have a true national identity. Yet, Canada is a mosaic of identities and has no true single national identity, but Canada’s growing multiculturalism in the twentieth century has become her identity. Her achievements whether they be in medicine, United Nations peacekeeping, or sports are her own. Yes, Canada has a national identity, an identity borne of many cultures and in the spirit of cooperation.