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Nine: An International Community

The Peoples of the Region

"A man is all sorts of baggage, the most difficult to be transported," wrote Scotland’s Adam Smith in the 18th century. Yet, as history indicates, between 1880 and 1914, millions of people left their homelands in search of greater economic opportunity, freedom and peace. The migration from Europe to North America in that period has been described as "the mightiest movement of people in modem history." Western Canada be-came the destination of several million immigrants, not only from Europe but from other parts of the world, who were attracted by the promises of a better life in the "Last Best West." The result was a unique model of ethno-cultural cooperation without assimilation. As the years passed and the dust from arriving newcomers settled, and after often bitter experiences of adaptation, prejudice and discrimination, a truly international community has developed in the region.

The mosaic analogy is particularly apt for Western Canada because literally dozens of ethnic groups today resemble inlays of differing size, distribution and colour in a larger design. Their diversity of language, dress, culture and custom has created a kaleidoscope in our West and North. The term ‘mosaic’ itself was first applied to Canada by an American writer, Victoria Hayward, who wrote of our Prairies in 1922, "The New Canadians, representing many lands and widely separated sections of Old Europe, have contributed to the prairie provinces a variety in the way of Church architecture. Cupolas and domes distinctly Eastern, almost Turkish, startle one above the tops of Manitoba maples or the bush of the river banks.... Here and there in the corner of a wheat field, at the cross-section of a prairie highway, one sees, as in Quebec, the tall, uplifted Crucifix set up. It is indeed a mosaic of vast dimensions and great breadth, essayed of the Prairie."

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Western Canada has continued to develop its culturally pluralistic, multi-political and multi-religious form. This is partly because no cultural community is numerically dominant; there are several large groups, including the English, German, Ukrainian, Scottish, Irish and French-Canadians. Members of every cultural community, including the larger ones, believe people are of equal worth and that all should have the freedom to choose their own life-style. A pattern of permissive differentiation, whether in religion, political ideology or language, instead of assimilation, emerged early in the West and set very firmly. More than in any other region of Canada, multiculturalism began as an acknowledged reality here and flourished as the decades went by.

The prairie population grew from about 400,000 in 1901 to 2.4 million by 1931. A passenger on a CPR train disembarking in Winnipeg in 1914 would encounter on Main Street languages and people from virtually every corner of the earth. As the historian Gerald Friesen points Out, "almost half of all prairie residents at the start of the First World War had been born in another country, and the proportion was still one in three as late as 1931. Those who were British by ‘origin’ (a census term defined by the ancestral roots of a family’s male line) had similarly declined to about 50% of the prairie total (of this group, half were English, one-quarter Scots) while the various Eastern European groups (Ukrainian, Austro-Hungarian, Polish and Russian) numbered about 20%, and Western Europeans (German, Dutch, French, including French Canadians) also numbered about 20%."

Five separate waves of immigrants swept over Western Canada. The first, resulting from the fur trade, created the French-and English-speaking Métis. The second, occurring during the final years of the nineteenth century after Confederation, consisted mainly of British Canadian families, although there were also Icelanders, Mennonites, Jews and others. The largest wave swept in between 1897 and 1913, bringing roughly equal numbers of settlers from other provinces of Canada, Britain, America and Continental Europe together with a few Chinese and Japanese. The fourth, arriving during the 1920s, was essentially an extension of the third in terms of points of origin. The fifth, persons arriving since World War II, included Europeans displaced by the war and, after 1962, immigrants from Asia and the Pacific Rim nations.

Clifford Sifton and his belief in the potential of the West deserve much credit for the diversity and vigour of the immigrants who came between 1897 and 1930. As immigration minister from 1896 to 1905, he spent large sums of public money attracting farmers from Europe, Britain and America. Although he personally believed in the assimilation of newcomers to Anglo-Canadian norms, no one can fault him for not casting his net to include farm communities virtually everywhere, most notably in Central and Eastern Europe. His successor as immigration minister, Edmonton’s Frank Oliver, reduced recruiting in Europe and increased it in the United Kingdom. In consequence, more British immigrants came after 1905, including an astonishing 80,000 children from English slums whose passages were assisted by British charities. Robert Borden’s Conservative government kept the immigration door open to unskilled English immigrants after 1911 but continued a Laurier regulation measure of 1908 which in practice excluded most Asians and Arabs. In 1925, Prime Minister Mackenzie King allowed the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways again to recruit farmers in Central and Eastern Europe; as a result, almost 370,000 Europeans arrived in Canada during the following six years. Between 1931 and 1941, the immigration gates were all but closed to everyone as a reaction to the huge unemployment created by the Great Depression.

By the time of the 1986 national census, the population mix of the four western provinces was significantly different from that of Canada as a whole. In all three prairie provinces less than forty percent of the residents claim a single country of family origin from Britain or France. British Columbia is slightly over forty percent, whereas in Ontario and all four Atlantic provinces well over forty percent of the residents assert a single family origin from the British Isles. In three of them (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) that proportion is over sixty percent. In the profiles which follow, I will highlight the diversity of Western Canadians through glances at a number of ethnocultural communities. The sketches feature some of those who have arrived relatively recently but are already making a major contribution to the West, along with groups of longer standing. All have had to meet in some measure the challenges of pioneering and all have responded in their own "Western" way.

More than seventy distinct ethno-cultural groups can now be identified’ in Western Canada. To tell their respective stories within a framework of one chapter is thus impossible. While attempting to provide an overview of the almost infinite variety of the region, I am forced to focus on only some representative groups which in my opinion reflect well the essence of the other Western Canadian communities today. The singular history of the Métis people in Western Canada was recorded in an earlier chapter. In addition to the Métis, those groups chosen for discussion here appear to me to capture the pioneering spirit of all the first westbound settlers who came, or are coming, to start their lives anew. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the role of bilingualism in a multicultural region.


Our region is home to almost 80% of all Canadians who claim Scandinavian ancestry: 130,000 Westerners are descended entirely from Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, or Icelanders, while another 380,000 have some Scandinavian forebears. Most Canadian Westerners of Scandinavian origin came to the West as American immigrants between 1893 and 1914, when nearly a hundred thousand moved to the Canadian Prairies. Many of them settled in fertile parts of central Alberta and Saskatchewan, where they became major players in the formation of the dairy industry. From the beginning, Anglo-Westerners viewed all Scandinavians as close cousins. This was encouraged by such familiar images as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Relations between the historical monarchs of Norway and Scotland were so close that Scotland’s Hebrides held the tombs of eight Norwegian kings. And Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales were as dear to Anglo-Canadian children as to Scandinavian ones.

Scandinavians were among the first settlers who ventured into the North-West at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The earliest Norwegians were brought by Lord Selkirk in 1815 to build a portage for his Selkirk colony on the Red River. At the north end of Lake Winnipeg they established Norway House, which remains a commercial centre to this day. One Norwegian, Peter Dahl, stayed to homestead. During the mid-l9th century, the Hudson’s Bay Company continued to recruit boatmen from Norway, but the first large influx came later from the south. Between 1871 and 1895, 660,000 Swedes, 330,000 Norwegians and 160,000 Danes reached the United States. Most of them settled in the Midwest, although many had arrived first in Montreal by steamship.

When the price of American farmland later began to rise, the promise of free homesteads in the Canadian West brought many Scandinavians northwards. The first group were Swedes who settled near Minnedosa, Manitoba, and Stockholm, Saskatchewan, in the 1880s. Norwegians in turn founded Numedal in southern Manitoba, and New Norway, Camrose, Olds, Lacombe, Wetaskiwin, Sundre and other centres in Alberta in the mid-1890s. Calgary’s first major industry, a sawmill run by a predominantly Norwegian crew, was founded in 1886. Another group of Norwegian fisherman founded Hagensborg in 1893 near Bella Coola on the British Columbia coast. Most Scandinavians settled in Saskatchewan during the early twentieth century. Their practical experience in the American Midwest proved an excellent training for success in the age of wheat.

Icelanders began to arrive in Manitoba in the last quarter of the nineteenth century from an island homeland where entire villages had been swept away by volcanoes. In 1875, a group of them chose to settle in Gimli ("paradise") on the shores of Lake Winnipeg for various reasons, including freedom from prairie grasshoppers, an easy waterway to Winnipeg, an abundance of fish in the lake and the availability of a large tract of land. The new settlement, with its own administration and Icelandic law, was called "New Iceland," and about 1,200 people moved there. They founded a school, churches and an Icelandic-language newspaper. A few years later, Governor General Lord Dufferin visited Gimli and in praising the Icelanders noted that each one of the new homes he had entered contained "a library of twenty or thirty volumes; and I am informed that there is scarcely a child amongst you who cannot read and write." In time, many Icelanders moved to Winnipeg; that city and the province of Manitoba remain the centre of their settlement in Canada. By 1986, still about half of all Icelandic Canadians continued to live in Manitoba, and Vancouver attracted a good portion of those who left.

The first Danes in Canada reached Hudson’s Bay in 1619 when their ship captain, Jens Munck, was looking for the Northwest Passage to the Orient. His attempt to found New Denmark at what is now Churchill, Manitoba, expired when 61 crew members died of scurvy, although Munck and two others somehow managed to sail back to Denmark. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Danish settlers reached the Prairies in response to the call of Canadian Pacific Railway land agents and publicity in Denmark by the Canadian government. In 1903, Danish immigration from Nebraska began when two Danes, Jens and Henry Larsen, returned from the Canadian prairies to report rich forests and grazing lands. Danish settlers were equally successful on the Prairies and transposed from Denmark both their system of agricultural cooperation and training in Danish Folk High Schools. In the 1950s, a number of Danish professionals came to settle in Western Canadian cities. Difficulties arose in maintaining the Danish language and culture beyond the first generation because of the scattered nature of the Danish population, intermarriages with other cultural communities, and the fact that so many of them had begun in the United States to adapt to the North American way of life.

Swedish immigration to Central Canada began in the 1850’s because of famines and land shortages in Sweden, but most immigrants soon left for the milder climate and readily available farmland in the United States. Later, many re-crossed the frontier, some to work as miners and lumberjacks and others to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway line westward. Upon the railway’s completion in 1885, Winnipeg became the centre of Swedish immigration for all of Canada. By 1911, however, Alberta also had significant Swedish populations in Strathcona, Red Deer and Medicine Hat. Saskatchewan became the most popular western province for Swedes and by 1931 a quarter of all Swedes in Canada lived in the wheat province. With the outbreak of World War II, many prairie Swedes relocated to British Columbia to work in its war industries. Today 62,000 Canadians with Swedish origins live in British Columbia.

The Norwegian settlement in Western Canada was prompted by mounting debts and a lack of land in the American Midwest. The Canadian Prairies offered a second chance and many thousands moved to Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1912, some of these moved to Alberta’s Peace River district around Valhalla and were later joined by others from further south during the crop failure of the 1930s. Many Norwegian-Canadians on the Prairies remained in farming occupations until much of the prairie topsoil simply blew away in the 1930s. Many were then forced to move to other parts of Canada or to return to Norway. A number moved to the lower mainland of British Columbia, and by the 1986 census, British Columbia had 54,000 part-origin and 20,000 sole-origin Norwegian-Canadians, the highest number for any province in the country.

The Scandinavians of Western Canada adapted readily to their surroundings and quickly became part of rural and later urban Western Canada conditions. Today, they are still playing vital roles in the growth and development of the region.

South Asians

Western Canadian South Asians include people from India; Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, but also many whose families were established, often for generations, in Africa and the Caribbean, though having South Asian roots. According to the 1986 census, Western Canada contains approximately 110,000 sole-origin South Asians and another 21,000 who claim part South Asian family beginnings.

The cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds of these communities are probably even more diverse than the heritage of their fellow residents from Western and Eastern Europe. India alone has fifteen official languages and a hundred or so minor ones, several hundred million Hindus, three times more Muslims than there are Canadians, and millions of Sikhs and Christians.

Until the 1960s, few South Asians lived anywhere in Canada beyond British Columbia. The first to arrive in the lower mainland in 1904 were a group of self-reliant Sikhs from the Punjab in Northern India who had learned of the province from Indian soldiers passing through Canada on their way to the coronation of King Edward VII in Britain. Relying on the then well-established principle that immigration within the British Empire must be unimpeded, other Sikhs attempted to follow. Future prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, at that time deputy minister of labour, quickly devised a way to get around this: his 1908 order-in-council prescribed that any immigrant from India must reach Canada on a "continuous voyage." Since there was at the time no direct steamship connection between Canada and India, Sikh immigration immediately ended.

In 1914, a wealthy British Columbia Sikh, Gurdit Singh, challenged the regulation by chartering the Komagata Maru to bring about 400 Sikhs and Muslim Punjabis to Canada. The ship was forbidden by Canadian officials to land in Vancouver and the passengers were forced to remain on board for two months while the lawyers argued that King’s regulation violated both the Magna Carta and the British North America Act. This effort ultimately failed, and the arrival of a Canadian naval cruiser alongside compelled the would-be immigrants to return to India. The measure would bar virtually all South Asians immigrants to Canada until it was rescinded in 1947.

In 1951, under pressure from newly-independent India, Pakistan and Ceylon, the Louis St Laurent cabinet agreed to some token immigration from each of the three countries. In 1967, under the government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson, the quota system was finally replaced by a point system which admitted newcomers on the basis of skills, education and economic criteria. In consequence, large numbers of South Asian teachers, professors, medical doctors and other professionals settled in major western cities during the 1960s and 1970s.

Strong family, religious and cultural practices remain a distinctive feature for South Asian Westerners regardless of their particular country of origin. Marriages often occur within the same community and partners of both sexes may come from the Indian subcontinent. Most marriages arranged by parents seem to prove remarkably durable and happy. Many South Asian young people in the West have adopted the general lifestyle of other urbanites, but also maintain their traditional culture and worship.

South Asians are the most varied of all ethno-cultural communities in the West. Many are first-generation Canadians and some worry with good reason that discrimination can deny them employment opportunities commensurate with their efforts and abilities. On the optimistic side, the passing of each year provides a larger proportion of South Asian Westerners who arc long-term residents of the region. The immigration policies and practices which kept a talented community tiny for decades are now gone or going. The chain migration of family and friends is growing, and carries with it a range of positive consequences.


According to the 1986 census, almost 300,000 Westerners claimed Scotland as their only place of family origin and another 1.2 million persons included it as one of their origins. Scots are thus, along with the English, Germans, Ukrainians, French-Canadians and Irish, among the largest communities in the West. For the 1971 census, Statistics Canada ignored centuries of distinct Scottish history to group them with the English, Irish and Welsh as "British." But Western Canadians of Scottish origin felt entitled to a separate treatment of their ethnicity, settlement and immigration, largely because of their history of antipathy toward England. True, Scotland finally disappeared as an independent nation in 1707, but few Scots altered their coolness toward London thereafter and many maintained close ties with Europe, most notably France.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, moreover, had not Scottish thinkers such as David Hume and Adam Smith completely reshaped English thought in economics, philosophy, and science? As the Manitoba historian, J.M. Bumsted, puts it, the "English might have had the political power, but Scots dominated the life of the mind." A major reason was the superiority of Scotland’s educational institutions and the insistence of its reformers on achieving both a fully literate population and a curriculum which stressed contemporary needs. Scotland’s most important gift to Western Canada and civilization as a whole was probably the concept of the "democratic intellect" based on ability rather than family financial resources.

Another Scottish gift to the world was hundreds of thousands of "surplus" people from both the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland who helped to populate many corners of the world while romanticizing their former homeland. The first to reach Western Canada arrived in Red River in 1812 through Hudson Bay, under the sponsorship of Lord Selkirk, to lay the foundation of a new colony. It grew until by 1820 it was firmly rooted as the first farming settlement in the West. The Highland clearances at the end of the 18th century by absentee landlords, who concluded that cattle and sheep were more profitable than tenant farmers, produced thousands of immigrants for Canada. Crofters, whose homes had been burned to ensure their departure, responded particularly well to advertisements for free passage, free land on arrival and free provisions for a year.

Once in Central Canada, the Scots quickly established a reputation for mutual support in religion, politics, business and education, and earnestness and honesty in personal conduct. The Scottish presence in the West has been lengthy and highly significant. Scots such as Alexander Mackenzie, Roderick Mackenzie, Simon Fraser and James Macleod tapped the West’s fur resources, explored and mapped waterways, and established many forts and trading posts which later became permanent settlements.

Approximately 240,000 Scots were among the newcomers who arrived in Canada during the first fifteen years of the 20th century. Another 200,000 came to Canada between 1919 and 1930; 147,000 more arrived between 1946 and 1960. Many came directly to farms and cities of the West; some stopped for a generation in Atlantic or Central Canada before moving to Western Canada. Once here, most western Scots gravitated to cities and non-agricultural employment. There has been a good deal of assimilation of Scots within the greater Western Canadian community. The use of Highland Gaelic has all but disappeared; memories of the "old country" have faded for all but the most recently arrived. On the other hand, most Scots in the West today still consider themselves to be a distinctive tile in the western mosaic. Among themselves, perhaps at the annual Robbie Burns suppers, some will even argue they have dominated the economic, cultural and political life of Western Canada. Others will quickly reply that Burns, that most revered of Scots, would mock such vain boasting!


Immigration to the West was largely a movement from Europe -- through the ports of Eastern and Central Canada, but many people came through British Columbia from the nations of the Far East. Among these are numbered the Chinese, a group which has participated in the building of Western Canada since the mid-19th century.

Western Canada in 1986 had approximately 170,000 persons of solely Chinese origin and about 22,000 more of partly Chinese descent. Seven in ten single-origin Chinese Western Canadians live in British Columbia, and fully 100,000 of these reside in the Vancouver area. A little less than half of all Canadians of single Chinese origin live in the four western provinces, the Yukon and Northwest Territories.

Chinese Canadians born outside Canada have come from many countries. The 1981 census shows that in this group 24% were born in Taiwan; 23% in China; 9% in Vietnam; 4% in Malaysia or Singapore; and 34% elsewhere, primarily Hong Kong. Eighty-seven percent of those born outside Canada entered Canada during the 1965-81 period and in recent years approximately 13,000 have entered Canada, many from Hong Kong, as entrepreneurs. The unemployment rate for both Chinese men and women was at the time of the 1981 census less than that for Canadian men and women as a whole. Considerably more Chinese Canadians (28%) than all Canadians (16%) have some university education.

Western Canadians of Chinese origin are part of the huge diaspora of more than eight million "overseas Chinese" who have prospered from South Asia to the Caribbean. As late as the sixteenth century, China had the highest standard of living on earth. During the eighteenth century, its population more than doubled, reaching 430 million by 1850. When Europeans forcibly opened China’s markets in the 19th century, its cottage cloth industry was all but destroyed by machine-made foreign cloth. A migration of young men became necessary to help feed their closely-knit families who were left at home.

The first of these men from China came to British Columbia in 1858, lured by the Fraser River gold rush, and by 1860 approximately 4,000 of them lived in the lower mainland of the colony. Some mined, others sold vegetables or wood, or operated restaurants and laundries. The legal equality in the workplace of those who stayed after the gold rush was removed by the B.C. provincial legislature in 1878 when it unanimously resolved that persons of origin in China could no longer be hired on provincial public works -- a rule which astonishingly remained in effect until after World War II. The franchise was denied to them in 1872.

Nonetheless, as many as 17,000 Chinese came to B.C. between 1881 and 1884 to assume a Herculean part in the completion of the Canadian Pacific rail line between the Fraser Canyon and Vancouver. As the project neared completion, the B.C. provincial government encouraged them to leave the region through such measures as a $10 head tax on all Chinese, banning the removal of dead bodies back to China, denying Chinese the right to buy provincial Crown land, and prohibiting further immigration from China. Prime Minister Macdonald’s government in Ottawa played its part by imposing a $50 head tax on all Chinese entering Canada after 1886. In 1900, Prime Minister Laurier raised the head tax to $100, and in 1904 to $500. In 1923, the government of Mackenzie King barred all Chinese immigration, and it did not begin again until the legislation was finally repealed in 1947.

The combination of legislated and other discrimination against the Chinese in British Columbia and better opportunities to establish small businesses elsewhere in Canada, by 1921 had caused an estimated 40% of the 40,000 Chinese then resident in Canada to move eastward, some as far as Newfoundland. Virtually every prairie town soon had a Chinese restaurant and laundry. The three prairie legislatures proved not immune to anti-Chinese propaganda seeping over the mountains. The Saskatchewan assembly disenfranchised Chinese as early as 1908, which meant in practice that they could not vote in federal elections either or join professions whose associations required members to be registered voters. The prairie fever here reached a sufficiently high temperature that the Saskatchewan and Manitoba governments, even before British Columbia’s, barred Chinese restaurants from hiring white women out of a preposterous fear that they would be introduced to opium and sold into white slavery.

Between 1924 and 1946, only eight Chinese immigrants entered Canada because of Mackenzie King’s Chinese exclusion law of 1923. Many of the Chinese men already resident in Canada thus aged without families in Canada. Ironically, events of World War II helped the Canadian Chinese cause because white Canadian sympathy for China grew markedly as a result of the Japanese aggression there. As the historians Jin Tan and Patricia Roy point out, "[During the war,] racial prejudice be-came unfashionable." The Vancouver Parks Board, for example, repealed its rule that Chinese persons could swim at a public pool only during a specified two-hour period once weekly. The legislature of Saskatchewan restored the franchise in 1944 and in 1945 British Columbia enfranchised everyone who had served in either World War, including the Chinese but not the Japanese. The public on the coast generally welcomed the repeal of Ottawa’s Chinese Immigration Act in 1947.

In fact, many Chinese Westerners continued to face real difficulty in entering Canada after 1947. With the violent events accompanying the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, some quite understandably entered Canada illegally. In 1962, a federal amnesty was offered to illegal immigrants of "good sound character," and by the time the program ended in 1973 more than 12,000 had changed their status. Racial discrimination in immigration officially disappeared in 1967 when new regulations began to screen potential immigrants on a "point system" which reflected their prospective economic contribution to Canada. This put the Chinese on an equal footing with other immigrants. Between 1972 and 1978, almost 80% of our Chinese immigrants came from Hong Kong, most choosing to live in suburbs rather than in Chinatowns. The so-called boat people of 1979 and the early 1980’s included Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians as well as Chinese, and among them, Tan and Roy note, "were urban professionals, both men and women, once-wealthy businessmen and persons of influence in their own countries as well as poor illiterate peasants and fisherfolk." The warm response by Western Canadians and Canadians generally contrasted markedly with that given to Chinese newcomers earlier.

Today, a large number of Western Canadians of Chinese origin are entrepreneurs and professionals. A majority of them are in sales, services and other white-collar work. Most of them think of themselves as Canadians first and Chinese second. Alone among all cultural groups in Canada, however, they know that their families were forced to pay an entry fee (1885-1923) and were effectively barred from immigration by legislation (1923-1947). Attitudes have finally changed throughout Canada and institutionalized racism is gone. No longer do whites expect them or anyone to be "assimilated." They can now preserve and celebrate their cultural identity and remain both Canadian and Chinese in whatever proportion they choose.


The four western provinces hold 300,000, or approximately three quarters, of all Canadians who give their sole origin as Ukrainian and 370,000, or 68% of those who give it as one of their family origins. Most Westerners originating in Ukraine came in one of three waves. The largest by far was the 1891-1914 migration of farmers from Galicia and Bukovina, provinces in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who sought to escape poverty, malnutrition, shrinking landholdings, primitive farming practices and growing indebtedness. Thousands of them took 160-acre homesteads in Western Canada on paying a $10 registration fee. Clifford Sifton was genuinely enthusiastic about immigrants from Ukraine, and most of the estimated 170,000 Ukrainians who came before World War I settled in the Canadian Prairies. By 1921, Manitoba had the largest Ukrainian population in Canada, followed by Saskatchewan and Alberta. The hardships were great: virgin land to break and frequently forests to cut by hand, a new language, few roads or local improvements, mammoth distances and farm isolation, mosquitoes in summer and bitter cold in winter, nonexistent or rare medical and social services. Immigrants from Ukraine were among the first settlers who broke the land and helped lay the foundation of the region’s wealth. Therefore, they are one of our founding peoples, central to the West’s beginnings.

The 1914-1918 period was complicated for Ukrainians in Western Canada because of prejudice and discrimination on the part of the dominant Anglo-Celtic population. The federal government enacted a number of measures to segregate and monitor the activities of immigrants-from enemy countries. Public hostility and official sanctions were directed at Germans and Ukrainians, who were now considered "enemy aliens." The 1914 War Measures Act led to the internment in concentration camps of about 6,000 Austro--Hungarians, the overwhelming majority of whom were Ukrainians. As Vera Lysenko notes in Men In Sheepskin Coats, during World War I, "One repressive measure followed another, directed against bewildered Ukrainians. Thousands of harmless ‘Galicians’ were rounded up by the police and herded into concentration camps.... The slightest criticism on the part of a Ukrainian and he was dragged from home, factory or hotel and placed in an internment camp."

There were other forms of suppression. English-Ukrainian bilingual classrooms on the Prairies were abolished during the war. Some Ukrainian publications were censored or banned. Most outrageous was the Wartime Elections Act of 1917, which disenfranchised every enemy alien naturalized since 1902.

In 1918, an independent Ukrainian state was proclaimed; it survived only until 1920. In 1922, most Ukrainian territory was incorporated into the Soviet Union, with substantial segments of population falling under Polish, Czechoslovakian or Romanian rule.

Almost 68,000 persons came to Canada between the two world wars, most from Galicia and Bukovina as they had earlier. In contrast to the first wave of immigrants, the inter-war Ukrainians were better educated and more nationally conscious. This group had a much easier time in Western Canada because immigrant aid societies of the Ukrainian community already present assisted both financially and morally. Tragically, Ukrainians were dropped to a "non-preferred" status by Ottawa during the 1930s; this may have prevented the escape to Canada of at least some of the estimated seven million who were deliberately starved to death by Stalin during that period. Very few Ukrainians managed to reach this country until after World War II.

During the Great Depression, Ukrainians suffered at least as much as any other group in Canadian society. As jobs became scarce, discrimination against "foreigners" became a fearful reality. The western historian James Gray catches in his Winter Years what many non-Anglo-Saxon Westerners faced during the 1930’s in addition to the Great Depression: "For them [Ukrainians, Poles and Jews] Winnipeg was far from being a city of 250,000 in which they too were free to search for work. As much as two-thirds of it was barred and bolted against them.... Anyone with a Ukrainian or Polish name had almost no chance of employment except rough manual labour. The oil companies, banks, mortgage companies, financial and stock brokers, and most retail and mercantile companies except the Hudson’s Bay Company discriminated against all non-Anglo-Saxons. For the young Ukrainians and Poles there was a possible solution if they could beat the accent handicap. They could change their names. So they changed their names, sometimes formally and legally, but mostly informally and casually."

During World War II, an estimated 40,000 Ukrainians, or more than ten percent of the entire community in Canada, enlisted in the Canadian armed forces despite the fact that one of our allies (the USSR) had oppressed their people for centuries. After the war, many thousands of Ukrainians who had been deported to labour farms, concentration camps or German factories in Western Europe simply refused to return to Ukraine, which was then entirely part of the Soviet Union. A tragic repatriation of many thousands was finally stopped, and the remaining refugees from Ukraine were granted "displaced person" status and resettled abroad. The Ukrainian Canadian Committee urged the King and St. Laurent governments to accept refugees. Between 1947 and 1953, approximately 34,000 Ukrainians came to Canada, many well-educated professionals.

A major problem for Ukrainians in Western Canada since World War II has been the declining use of their language. Between 1951 and 1971, the use of Ukrainian as a mother tongue in the 0-9 age group dropped from 61 to 21 percent. In the 10-19 group, the drop was even worse, from 85 to 30%. Finally, the community pushed successfully to have Ukrainian restored as a language of study in prairie schools. In Alberta this was achieved in 1959; in Manitoba, in 1961. By the 1970s, all three prairie provinces allowed Ukrainian as a language of instruction for up to half of the school day. The community also advocated a multicultural Canada to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in the early 1960s. By 1971, in large measure because of pressure created by Western Canadians of a non-British, non-French background and led by the Ukrainian Canadian Committee, Canada became for the first time a nation with two official languages, but no official culture. A fuller recognition of the culturally diverse nature of Canada is still needed, argue Ukrainian Canadians, who as a group face the possibility of assimilation in Canada and russification in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Canadian Committee, a coalition dedicated to democratic principles, to promoting Ukrainian cultural goals in Canada and to supporting the aspirations of Ukrainians in the USSR, has led the successful campaign to ensure that their community is not assimilated in Canada.

During 1988, Ukrainian communities around the world are celebrating the Millennium of the official adoption of Christianity in Ukraine. In 988, Volodymyr, the Grand Prince of Kievan-Rus (modern day Ukraine) had the inhabitants of Kiev baptised, thus bringing his country into the Christian fold. A thousand years later, Christianity continues to enrich the lives of the people of Ukraine dispersed throughout the world. During the past 300 years, Ukraine lost its independence and there have been difficult periods of government repression in the Soviet Ukraine, but the Ukrainian Church still exists there, although clandestinely.

Having survived against all conceivable odds, Christianity would appear yet to sustain the hopes of the Ukrainian nation and to serve as a source of strength for millions of Ukrainians living abroad. Pope John Paul II observed in a letter to the late Ukrainian Catholic Cardinal Josyf Slipyi: "...When Ukrainian sons and daughters leave their own country, they remain always, even as immigrant settlers, bound with their church, which with its tradition, language and liturgy, is for them a spiritual legacy that continually refreshes and nurtures the soul."


Of the 54,000 Canadians wholly or partly of Japanese origin, 31,000, or about 57%, lived in Western Canada at the time of the 1986 census. Many Japanese Canadians are found in the major western cities, with over 15,000 in Vancouver. This shows a significant dispersal, since in 1941 95% of Canada’s 23,450 Japanese lived in British Columbia.

Immigration from Japan began in 1877, nine years after the Emperor Meiji ascended the Japanese throne. He actively encouraged trade and travel with the West. The first immigrant, Manzo Nagano, settled in British Columbia. By 1896, approximately 1,000 Japanese, mostly males, were working in British Columbia in fishing, mining, logging, railway construction and farming. By 1911, the community had grown to about 9,000.

Active discrimination against Japanese began in 1895 when the British Columbia legislature took away the vote from Japanese Canadians. They remained disenfranchised for over fifty years. In 1907, at Ottawa’s insistence, the Japanese government agreed to limit the number of male immigrants to 400 pen year. In the same year, a mob fired up by anti-Asian agitators who wanted to keep British Columbia white, attacked the Japanese and Chinese parts of Vancouver. In 1928, Japan agreed to reduce the how of immigrants even further to 150 persons yearly. Japanese Canadians, whether immigrants called Issei or Canadian born called Nisei, were also excluded by provincial law from most professions, the provincial public service and teaching. The minimum wage law of the province authorized a substantially smaller wage for Asian Canadians.

British Columbia remained essentially a ghetto for Japanese Canadians throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Even those who had fought for Canada in World War I were denied the vote. Ottawa exacerbated the already poor conditions in the 1920’s, as historian Ann Sunahara points out, "[by limiting] the number of fishing licences to Japanese Canadians, thus denying many Japanese Canadians their traditional livelihood. During the Great Depression, Japanese Canadians received only a fraction of the social assistance that white applicants received and medical facilities were segregated." Second-generation Japanese Canadians with university degrees found themselves unemployable on the coast except as store clerks within the Japanese community or as labourers in sawmills and pulp mills.

The meagre economic gains of Japanese Canadians, won through 40 years of hard labour, vanished swiftly after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour in late 1941. Pushed by the scapegoat-seeking and profoundly racist Ian Mackenzie, British Columbia’s representative in the Mackenzie King cabinet, the federal cabinet twelve weeks later ordered 20,881 Japanese Canadians removed from all locations within 160 kilometers of the Pacific coast. The pretext was "national security." The decision was opposed, as Sunahara puts it, "by Canada’s senior military and police officers and by senior civil servants. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aware that Japanese Canadians were controlled from within by their own leaders, was confident that they presented no danger of sabotage. The military in Ottawa were equally confident, having long recognized the practical impossibility of an invasion of Canada’s Pacific Coast."

First, thousands of women and children, most born in Canada, were held in the barns of Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition while the men were sent to road camps. Later, 12,000 were confined in detention camps in the British Columbia interior. Some kept their families together by volunteering to work as sugar beet labourers in Alberta and Manitoba. In 1943, the cabinet authorized the Custodian of Enemy Property to sell Japanese Canadian farms, homes and fishing boats for fire sale prices, to deduct a disposal fee, and retain from what was left whatever had been paid to the detainees to buy necessities in the camps. In the spring of 1945, the inmates of detention camps were offered a choice by Ottawa: immediate resettlement in Central Canada or repatriation to a then-starving Japan at an unspecified date. In despair, and to keep their poorly paying jobs in the detention camps, almost 7,000 Japanese Canadians over sixteen signed repatriation forms. With their 3,500 dependents they represented 43% of Canada’s citizens of Japanese origin. In November 1945, well after Japan’s surrender and six weeks after refusal by the House of Commons to give the Cabinet the authority to deport any resident of Canada, the King cabinet ordered the deportation of 10,000 Japanese Canadians. While lawyers argued the matter in the courts and the Canadian public strongly protested, 2,000 Japanese with an equal number of dependents despaired of reestablishing themselves in Canada and sailed for Japan. Another 4,700 chose resettlement cast of Alberta. By 1947, when Ottawa finally withdrew the deportation threat, only about 6,800 Japanese Canadians were left in British Columbia. The social and career losses, humiliation and shame could never be removed. Only in 1949 were the remaining restrictions lifted from Japanese Canadians and full voting rights obtained.

Since the Second World War, Japanese Canadians have become Canada’s third most highly educated and prosperous minority after the Jews and the Chinese. Their restraint, perseverance, hard work and educational achievements allowed the Canadian-born Nisei, in the 1950s, to win their rightful place in all fields of Western Canada society. Today they are notable in the professions, trade, businesses and the arts. In 1981, 20% of Japanese Canadians had some university education compared with only 16% of the Canadian population as a whole.

In 1988, after years of lobbying, Japanese Canadians won from the Mulroney government a long overdue apology on behalf of their fellow citizens and a compensation package for internment survivors. One of the worst periods in our national history had finally been addressed.


Approximately 35,000 of the 246,000 Canadians who indicated a solely Jewish origin in the 1986 census live in Western Canada. Virtually all of them live in larger cities, especially Vancouver and Winnipeg. Mother 27,000 of part Jewish origin live in the West. As most demographers define Jewishness as essentially a religious identity, Canadian Jews should probably not be described as an ethno-cultural community at all. Fully a quarter of respondents to the 1961 national census giving Jewish as their religion refused to designate it as their cultural origin as well. On the other hand, most of the Jewish community across Canada today was formed by immigration between 1880 and 1930 of families from Eastern Europe who shared a common orthodox Jewish faith. Later immigrants also shared a fairly homogeneous cultural origin.

Jewish immigration to Western Canada before 1930, when the Great Depression all but ended immigration from anywhere, originated largely in the Pale of Settlement located on the western extremities of the Russian empire. It had been established in the late eighteenth century to prevent Polish and White Russian Jews from moving into the heartland of Russia. Punitive taxation, a system of permanent military conscription for Jewish sons, the sudden expulsion of Jews from Moscow, and the pogroms (attacks on Jewish persons and property) by officials of the Czar left approximately 100,000 Russian Jews homeless in the years 1881-82 alone. World War I and the 1917 Russian Revolution proved even more calamitous because most East European Jews then lived in the Pale at the centre of the German-Russian slaughter. As many as 250,000 Jewish civilians were killed or starved or froze to death between 1914 and 1918.

Between 1933 and 1939, anti-semitism in Ottawa’s political and bureaucratic circles barred all but about 4,000 Jews from entering Canada from Hitler’s Europe. Bernard Vigod, the historian, reminds us that Canada’s performance here "compares most unfavourably with that of other countries in the Western Hemisphere." After 1948, a wave of displaced persons, including Jews who miraculously survived the Holocaust, were allowed into Canada. Nearly 7,000 Hungarian Jews arrived after the 1956 Hungarian uprising and another 8,000 have come from the Soviet Union. Thousands more came during the 1960’s from Islamic countries.

In Western Canada, as Stuart Rosenberg points out in his book, The Jewish Community in Canada, "Western Jews in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia feel themselves to be part of a single, closely knit regional family. No matter where they go or how far from home they wander, these Western Canadian Jews always remain ‘Westerners’.... Canadian Jews in the West usually do not suffer from problems of ‘Jewish identity’."

Their settlement in the West began in 1883 when 1,300 attempted to farm at New Jerusalem near Moosomin, Saskatchewan. It became a nightmare because of bad luck, poor organization and lack of farming experience by the participants. A devastating fire, drought and early frosts finally proved too much for the colony. Later settlements in Saskatchewan and Alberta, notably Hirsch, Edenbridge and Sonnenfeld, were successful, but by the 1920’s most Jewish settlers had become tradesmen and store-keepers in cities and towns. Concern about maintaining their faith in isolated rural communities was another reason why most western Jews moved to larger centres.

In Western Canada today, as for the community at large, Jewish assimilation has fortunately not reached American levels. The influx of new Jewish immigrants since 1948, many of whom are actively religious, provided a new impetus to Jewish life. Vigod and many others, myself included, contend our English-French language duality has provided part of an ideological basis for our cultural heterogeneity which makes it perfectly healthy to wear one’s ethno-cultural identity proudly. A network of educational, cultural, welfare, recreational, community service and religious institutions have provided strong support to the maintenance of Jewish identity even in smaller western centres. In addition, the Universalist notion of the 1950s and 1960s in which modernity implied being "universal" rather than culturally "parochial" has melted away. Finally, six million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust and the determination of Jews everywhere not to provide Hitler any posthumous victories, combined with the generally hostile treatment of Israel in the western media and academic circles since the 1970s, is a major impetus to solidarity among Western Canadian Jews.

A common misconception in Central Canada about Albertans since the advent of James Keegstra is that anti-Semites and other bigots are somehow more numerous in our region than elsewhere in Canada. A study by the Institute for Social Research at Toronto’s York University published in April, 1988, indicates in fact that the lowest levels of anti-Semitic sentiment are found in prairie Canada and British Columbia.

True, the survey also indicates that unacceptable levels of prejudice of all kinds still exist across Canada, but Westerners are showing leadership in the need for tolerance and mutual respect. A 1987 study on anti-semitism by the B’nai Brith suggests an important reason for a national war on illiteracy: "The highest levels of prejudice are found among people who are, by some definition, illiterate."


Early contributions to the Western Canadian mosaic were made by the English, who since the time of the earliest European visits have formed a large proportion of the West’s population. The 1986 census locates within Western Canada approximately 1.4 million persons who gave a single family origin as English. If Westerners claiming part English origin are included in the English group, it comes to another 1.7 million people. Almost three in seven Western Canadians therefore have a little, some, or solely English blood in their veins.

The first English contact with Canada was made through an Italian explorer, Giovanni Caboto, who was hired by authorities in London to find the Northwest Passage to the Orient. His discovery of Newfoundland’s Grand Banks led to much further English exploration in North America. From the standpoint of Western Canada, Henry Hudson’s discovery of Hudson Bay in 1610 was especially important. The incorporation of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670 by Prince Rupert, a cousin of England’s King Charles II, and others became another major catalyst. The travels of English explorers Out of Hudson Bay included Samuel Hearne’s voyage down the Coppermine River to the Arctic Ocean in 1771-72, Henry Kelsey’s wanderings during 1690 across our prairies, and Anthony Henday’s sighting of the Rockies in 1754. In the late 1770’s, the English sea captain, James Cook, explored our western coastline. At Nootka Sound, he traded with Indians and claimed the region for England. George Vancouver, who had accompanied Cook, later returned with more English ships to chart the coast of what became British Columbia and to recapture English property taken earlier by the Spanish.

The influx of English loyalists into Eastern and Central Canada at the time of the American Revolution transformed a sparsely-populated Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Atlantic region into predominantly English communities. This new reality would encourage countless English newcomers to relocate to many parts of Canada, including the West. Between 1815 and 1855, almost a million British emigrants, many of whom were English, landed in British North America. Many of them, or their children, came west once the completion of the railway made homesteads on the Prairies accessible. Many others, fleeing a suffocating English class structure and limited economic opportunities, went directly from Liverpool or London to the "last, best West" in Canada. In 1906 alone, 65,000 mostly English immigrants arrived from Britain; by 1913, the figure had reached 113,000. After World War I, the English government itself assisted another 130,000 of its citizens to settle in Canada.

The English adjustment to frontier life in Western Canada was assisted by the common use of their language in the region, although Canadian usage was often very different from that at home. There were many other new things for the English pioneers to learn as well, such as using western tack for horses, ploughing straight furrows, and wearing denim instead of tweed. Western historian Gerald Friesen states: "Like members of other ethnic groups, the English tended to marry their own, to locate in boarding-houses run by their countrymen, to congregate in certain areas of the cities, and to support their own football teams, music halls, and fish and chip shops. One bastion of their community was the Church of England, the prairie branch of which was dominated by English immigrants after 1900.... They sponsored their own when openings came up in a mine or plant, and they dominated the hiring system in such companies as the T. Eaton Company department stores and the CPR shops."

The English immigrants had a major impact on the West, especially in our cities, where they erected many of the buildings and houses. Their influence on western politics and trade unions was also important because they came from so many walks of life. Their weight was especially felt in Canada’s strong role in both world wars. Howard Palmer’s comment about the English newcomers in Alberta is probably equally true for all four western provinces. The English presence, he notes, was "evident in the creation of a skilled labour force in the urban areas before World War I, and in the early strength of labour unions and socialist parties in the cities, and mining settlements.... The British influence also contributed to the numerical and social prominence of the Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist churches and to the imported class distinctions which some tried to introduce in a city like Calgary before World War I.

In the post-World War II period, more English immigrants, including many war brides, came to Western Canada. In 1957 alone, 75,546 English immigrants arrived in Canada; in our centennial year, more than 43,000, although the numbers have fallen off greatly since. The major English contributions to Western Canada include the common law and court systems used in all four provinces and both northern territories and our system of parliamentary democracy. The Red Cross, Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements all came from England. English influence remains important in many facets of Western Canadian life, from industry and government to commerce, the professions and the performing arts.


In 1986, approximately a seventh of the 100,000 Canadians giving their single or partial family origin as the Arabian Peninsula lived in Western Canada. Alberta ranked third after Ontario and Quebec as their favoured province.

The first Arab immigrant, Abraham Bounadere, reached Montreal in 1882; virtually all those who followed him before World War I came from Syria and what is now Lebanon. Arab immigration in effect stopped altogether in 1908 when the government of Wilfrid Laurier, seeking to terminate immigration from China and Japan, ordered that all newcomers from "Asia" must have at least $200 on arrival in Canada. In an act of blatant bureaucratic racism, immigration officials extended the measure so as to include immigrants arriving from the then mostly destitute Arab world. In 1913, the superintendent of immigration, rebuffing a campaign to establish that Arab nations were not Asian, cited unfavourable comments about Syrians from Strangers Within Our Gates, an astonishingly racist book by the Winnipeg clergyman and superintendent of All Peoples Mission Church, and future CCF national leader, James S. Woodsworth, as a reason neither to change the offensive order-in-council nor to alter his bizarre interpretation of it.

There was little improvement in the prospects for Arabs seeking to come to Canada until Prime Ministers John Diefenbaker in 1962 and Lester Pearson in 1967 reformed our immigration policy. A trickle of less than a thousand Arab immigrants arriving between 1911 and 1961 grew to a flood of many thousands thereafter. Most came from Egypt, but smaller numbers came from Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia and other Arab countries.

The first decade of the twentieth century established the Arab communities in Western Canada. Winnipeg and Edmonton were the most popular population centres, but small groups settled in Vancouver, Calgary and Saskatoon. Others homesteaded near Saskatoon and Swift Current in Saskatchewan, Lac la Biche in Alberta, and in Manitoba. Arab-Canadian institutions were usually founded in larger cities. An exception was Lac La Biche, where the success of a hundred Arab families in fur trading and mink ranching allowed the building of an impressive mosque which continues to astonish visitors. The Al-Rashid Mosque, built in Edmonton in 1938, was the first mosque built in Canada.

Despite early immigration barriers, Canada is now a preferred country of immigration for Arabs. More recent waves of immigrants have included both Muslims and Christians from various lands. Most are highly-educated and skilled. They have achieved prominence in virtually all occupational fields in Western Canada. Preservation of culture and language remains very important for Arab Westerners because many in the community hold strongly to religion and traditional heritage. The earlier assimilation of some young Arabs to more homogeneous Western Canadian values appears to have been offset by a recent large wave of Lebanese immigrants who prefer more traditional linguistic and cultural values.

Baha Abu-Laban, a University of Alberta sociology professor and author of a book on Arabs in Canada, An Olive Branch on the Family Tree, concludes: "Arab Canadians have contributed significantly to the development of this country; this is as much true of the early peddlers as of the skilled labourers, business people, professionals and semi-professionals of today. The names of Arab Canadians who have achieved prominence in their respective occupations are to be found in virtually all fields. In return, Canada has contributed toward the realization of what was a dream for many Arab Canadians of their immigrant forebears: economic well-being and financial security." Western Canadians of Arab origins must now ensure that the olive branch remains an important feature of the regional family tree.


The Polish presence in the West, although originally not great in number or conspicuous in character, dates back to when the region was being opened. There were Poles in Lord Selkirk’s expeditions to Manitoba in 1815 and 1817 to protect Red River settlers. Edwin Brokowski became editor and owner of The Manitoba Gazette in Winnipeg in the 1870s; Karol Horecki conducted geographical studies in the Rocky Mountains at the Peace River watershed and prepared, in the years 1870-1880, the technical documentation of the Peace River region for the CPR.

Today, approximately 83,000 Canadians declaring Poland to be their only place of origin live in Western Canada. This is a little less than forty percent of sole-origin Polish Canadians, whereas about half of all Canadians claiming part Polish origin live in the West. Combining the two groups of Poles produces some impressive numbers in major western cities: Vancouver has 36,000, Edmonton 43,000, Calgary 24,000, Regina 10,000, Saskatoon 10,000, and Winnipeg 46,000.

At one time Poland, in union with Lithuania, was a major Central European power. During the Renaissance, Poland’s most glorious period, the persecution of religious minorities so prevalent in other European nations was largely absent. For example, when Jews were persecuted in Western Europe and were driven out of Spain, Portugal, England and the German principalities, they found shelter in Poland. By the late 1700’s, however, a combination of aggression by close neighbours and various internal problems led to a series of partitions of Poland. These events resulted in considerable emigration. Ottawa’s Dominion Lands Act of 1872, which made easier the founding of prairie homesteads, at first attracted only a few Poles to Western Canada. Only at the turn of the century did Clifford Sifton’s recruitment in Europe attract large numbers of them. An estimated 115,000 Polish settlers came to Canada between 1896 and 1918, mostly from the Austria-dominated province of Galicia. Most of these came west.

Following World War I and the formation of the Polish republic, which established a consulate in Winnipeg, more Polish farmers began to arrive in Western Canada. By 1931, there were 145,000 Poles spread across the nation. Their immigration slowed considerably during the Depression and the Second World War. Only 800 Poles came between 1940 and 1945, mostly engineers and technicians. Afterwards Polish immigration exploded. In 1946, 4,500 Polish ex-servicemen who had fought with the Allies came to Canada under a special order-in-council, and 36,500 displaced Poles were also admitted. Another 14,000 came later, either as normal immigrants or as visitors who were allowed to remain in Canada as immigrants. Many of this group were highly educated, but nonetheless encountered traces of the earlier prejudice against Central Europeans in parts of Canada, including the West.

Between 1953 and 1971, approximately 55,000 Poles came to Canada, many having first moved to the United Kingdom and Western Europe. The Communist regime in Poland in power since 1945 banned emigration until 1956, when a new government allowed the sponsoring of relatives. Polish Canadians were very proud when in 1981 Poland became the first communist country with a free trade union movement (now outlawed). Canadians have become acutely aware that the Poles have shown great political courage fighting a totalitarian regime for their civil rights. A large number of Poles, estimated at 5,036 persons, came to Canada during the period of Solidarity between 1980 and late 1981, and some 33,500 by the end of 1987. Most of these were both highly trained and convinced democrats.

Roman Catholic and other churches helped many Poles in Western Canada to adjust to their new surroundings. Indeed, the earliest families arriving organized themselves around the church. The Oblate fathers founded a number of Polish churches in Western Canada. Later, Polish Westerners formed other cultural, social and economic organizations. Community halls in every major western centre were completed through levies or members’ dances and picnics. Polish credit unions were established across Canada. Much emphasis was also given by Polish parishes to maintaining the language of the motherland among the children of immigrants. Polish history, folk songs, dances and customs were also taught in parish schools. Scouting became a major youth activity and other youth clubs were also founded. Polish ex-service men and women have also ensured that veterans’ organizations serving both sexes have become important parts of community life.

It would appear that the present cohesion of Western Canadian Poles will ensure a vibrant future. Their community possesses an abundance of intellectual and historical resources to resist assimilation even if fewer and fewer of them live outside our major metropolitan centres. As ever before, the Canadians of Polish descent are vitally interested in maintaining their cultural heritage in their new homeland and passing it on to both the younger generation and other Canadians. Westerners of Polish descent have contributed greatly to the West’s prosperity and cultural heritage, first through the toil and sacrifice of the pioneers who helped to conquer the wilderness, clear the land and establish communities, and later through the efforts and achievements of those working in fields such as technology, law, medicine, education and the arts.


In the 1986 census, 556,000 residents of the four western provinces reported only a German origin and another 805,000 indicated Germany figured in their origins. On a single-origin basis, they are thus second only to the English as the largest ethno-cultural group in all four western provinces. Most of them, like German-Canadians generally, immigrated from areas other than Germany itself; from Estonia in the north to the Black Sea in the south, from Alsace on the west to the Caspian Sea on the east. The Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires together provided to Western Canada a wide diversity in German-speaking settlers: Protestants and Roman Catholics, Mennonites and Hutterites, city dwellers and farmers, High and Low German-speaking. This diversity, combined with world political events, appears to have been a major obstacle to establishing a more cohesive German identity across Canada.

The first German-speaking settlers were known to live in the West as early as the 1820s at Red River; however, it was not until the 1870s that a significant wave of German-speaking immigrants flowed into the Canadian West. Between 1874 and 1880, approximately 7,000 Mennonites from Southern Russia were allotted two exclusive tracts of land in southern Manitoba. The growing pan-Slav nationalism of the czars drove them to Western Canada and they would long remain aloof from the godlessness and materialism they found on the Prairies. Villages, not homesteads, became their unit of farm production. The Mennonites prospered, but in 1916 some of them, refusing to accept a Manitoba school measure which made it compulsory for instruction to take place in English, left for Mexico and Paraguay. Their vacated land was in turn taken up by a new wave of Mennonites fleeing the civil war in the Soviet Ukraine. Eventually, as Gerald Friesen notes, their "village agricultural systems and the separate school were things of the past; the language and the faith remained."

In the period from 1880 to 1910, numerous German-speaking immigrants, most fleeing the growing shortage of land in Europe, joined the westward flood and became especially popular as newcomers to the West. By 1914, approximately 35,000 had settled in Manitoba. In Saskatchewan, the number of German residents ballooned from less than 5,000 in 1901 to more than 100,000 in 1911. In British Columbia, the first large-scale German immigration began with the Fraser Valley gold rush in 1858. Few made fortunes in either that gold rush or the later one in the Cariboo Mountains, but most stayed to become successful grocers, farmers, craftsmen, shopkeepers and brewers. By 1911, the German population of British Columbia was about 12,000. Immigration from Germany itself fell sharply between the outbreak of World War! and 1927, when Germany was re-admitted to a "favoured nation" status, but between 1919 and 1935 about 100,000 German-speaking immigrants arrived from the Soviet Union, Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany. Most were farmers who settled on the Prairies.

The First World War marked the end of the first phase of German immigration and the beginning of a period of anti-German sentiment. The reversal in public opinion across Canada about Canadian Germans during World War I was astonishing in both its severity and its speed. A highly-praised community of residents suddenly faced both official and unofficial discrimination. German Canadians lost jobs in the early years of the war. There was also abuse, sometimes physical, at the hands of returned soldiers. More than 8,000 German Canadians and Austm-Hungarians were eventually detained at internment camps located on the Prairies, and in British Columbia and northwestern Ontario. Most were released by 1916 when manpower became short. By 1921 many German-speaking Canadians were even reluctant to admit their German origin. For example, the number of Manitobans indicating a German origin in 1921 had declined by an astonishing 43% since 1911; in British Columbia the percentage drop over the same period was 38%.

In the late 1930s, there was a pitifully small flow of about 5,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany into Canada. A group of 1,000 Sudeten Social Democrats reached Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1939, many settling on abandoned farms in northern Saskatchewan and on uncleared land in north-eastern British Columbia. Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich in fact repelled the vast majority of the German population in Western Canada, as elsewhere in Canada, despite the best efforts of a pro-Hitler German Consul in Winnipeg. Only a small group of recent German immigrants in the West, who were shaken by the stresses of the Depression, were attracted to the Reich. Most of the community remained loyal to their adopted country and many volunteered in the Allied cause during World War II. The community’s financial support for the Allied war effort equalled that of other ethnocultural communities. Most of the 800 German-Canadians interned at the start of the war had been released by 1941. The wartime hostility to German-Canadians was in fact considerably less than during World War I.

At the end of World War II, numerous German-speaking refugees from Romania, Yugoslavia and Austria-Hungary came to Canada, many to the West. When the ban on immigration of German nationals, in force from 1939 to 1950, was finally lifted their numbers increased dramatically. Between 1951 and 1960, an estimated 250,000 German immigrants reached Canada as a whole. By the time of the 1971 census, persons of German origin had become the second largest ethno-cultural group in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. In 1981, almost 95% of those of German origin indicated that English was their daily language.

Canadians of German origin have contributed greatly to all facets of Western Canadian life. For example, few Canadians in the West or elsewhere realize that it was the early German settlers who introduced to Canada the endearing tradition of the lighted Christmas tree. Agriculture, science, business, the arts, politics and the professions have felt the positive impact of the Germ an-Canadian presence.

French and Western Bilingualism

It is often forgotten that French was used in much of Western Canada for most of two centuries. The French and French Canadians were the second founding cultural groups of Western Canada, after the aboriginal peoples: in the 1700s explorers, traders, and canoeists made French the first European language to be spoken on the Canadian Prairies. At Fort Edmonton, so many Hudson’s Bay Company employees were French Canadians and Métis that French was the most commonly spoken language there until as late as the mid- 1800’s. French communities were established and flourished throughout north-central Alberta, in southern Saskatchewan and in British Columbia. In 1818, French Canadians founded St. Boniface, which is now part of metropolitan Winnipeg, and it remains the major focus of French language and culture in the West.

For various reasons, however, most French-speaking Quebeckers with wanderlust just could not be persuaded to move west in large numbers. Some preferred the proximity of Quebec’s own northern frontier on the Canadian shield; others opted for jobs in the factories and mills of nearby New England. By 1900, more than a million French Canadians were living in America. Railway fares to the West were higher for people from Quebec than for newcomers from Europe, who got special rates, and many Quebeckers were also discouraged by reports about Louis Riel’s problems in 1869-70, the acrimonious debates about his amnesty, and the 1885 North-West Rebellion.

Nor was the reported treatment of the French language and Roman Catholicism in the West encouraging. In the North-West Territories Act of 1875, the Canadian Parliament allowed for the use of French in the legislative council and courts, and authorized the right to organize Roman Catholic schools in which French could be the language of instruction. In 1890, the Manitoba legislature, by then dominated by English-speaking Protestants, eliminated both the language and Catholic school rights of its French-speaking minority, restoring them partly in 1897 only to abolish them again in 1916. In 1892, the Assembly of the North-West Territories voted to make English its sole language and later in the same year ordered that French could henceforth be used only in the first two or three years of school for children who spoke no other language. The thousands of Protestant Ontarians arriving in the West after 1890 were for the most part convinced that the region must be made "British."

The perceived lack of congeniality in the West to French-speaking Canadians resulted in there being only 23,000 of them living throughout the Prairies by 1901. The U.S. census of 1900 reported that one-third of all French Canadians on the continent lived south of the Canadian border. One of the great "ifs" of our national history is this: had French Canadian migration gone to Western Canada instead of the United States, might some of our historical language and cultural difficulties never have arisen?

In Western Canada, English as a common linguistic currency became ascendant; by the end of the First World War, legislation and official policy throughout the region had severely suppressed the use of French in official and school spheres. By 1916, there were only 25,000 Albertans of French origin in a total provincial population of about half a million. Newcomers to the West from everywhere, including Quebec, were told bluntly that English was the only language of the region. The strong bilingual origins of Western Canada were thus forgotten by many and never known by many newcomers to the region.

By the 1971 national census, more than forty ethno-cultural communities were identified in the four western provinces. The mother tongue of 79.4% of Westerners in 1986 was English, for two percent it was French, and 14.4% of Western Canadians, or approximately a million persons, spoke a mother tongue other than the two official languages.

Long-stilled language tensions reignited throughout the West during the late 1960s and 1970s as residents became isolated from Central Canada on a range of issues. This was accompanied by a growing conviction that the Trudeau government was preoccupied with Quebec and was ignoring legitimate concerns in the West. The election of the separatist Parti Québécois to office in Quebec City in late 1976 fostered even greater attention in Ottawa circles to Quebeckers.

The implementation of federal official bilingualism following Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (a title which itself bothered many Westerners) in fact awakened Western Canada to its own cultural distinctiveness. How were we to weave official bilingualism into the vibrant multicultural reality present throughout the region? An essentially bicultural federal thrust seemed to collide with western reality.

The notion of two founding peoples never found much support among Westerners. Official bilingualism was seen by some as special treatment afforded by Ottawa to an important linguistic community that was, nonetheless, neither as numerous as nor more concentrated than, say, those of Ukrainian, German, or Scandinavian origin. How could one enhance French language rights within the region on any but a national unity basis? The bilingualism issue in essence was, and remains, a matter of reconciling national obligations with a distinctive regional demography.

Too little effort was made by Ottawa during the 1970s to explain the rationale or political necessity for the Official Languages Act. A good deal of insensitivity by Ottawa officials was demonstrated towards the multicultural character of the West; official bilingualism came to be perceived by many as a policy of, by, and for the benefit of "eastern elites."

"When you call the public affairs branch of the federal transport department in Edmonton," an Albertan told me recently, "the telephone is answered in both languages. When I did the same thing in Montreal, the response was in French only." The widespread awareness in the West that Quebec is now officially unilingual at the provincial level makes such occurrences of federal insensitivity even more annoying to Western Canadians.

The recently passed amendments to the Official Languages Act (Bill C-72) were characterized by some as an anti-western measure because more federal management positions, including some in the West itself, appeared likely to pass out of reach for all but the less than ten percent of Westerners who are functionally bilingual in the two favoured languages. No longer, they argued, would as many of the best qualified candidates for federal positions be able to take language training once in a job because the pool of bilingual people (almost always from outside Western Canada) was now large enough to reduce in practice the number of appointments of unilingual people to bilingual posts.

It should be emphasized that many cultural communities in the West do not feel the Meech Lake accord fully recognizes our multicultural reality. Ihor Broda, a Westerner and vice-president of the Ukrainian Canadian Committee, articulated the concerns of many Western Canadians to the Special Joint Committee of Parliament on the 1987 Constitutional Accord: "We believe that our constitution must reflect the reality of Canada as it is today. [A] major weakness of the accord is its failure to recognize the fact that Canada is both a multicultural and officially bilingual society.... In our view, it is inaccurate to describe Canada just in terms of the two predominant languages spoken."

David Bai, a prairies vice-chairman of the Canadian Multiculturalism Council and one of the authors of the recently-enacted federal Multiculturalism Act, sees cultural pluralism which includes regional and cultural diversity as the West’s true identity. In the absence of greater heritage language rights for all under the Charter of Rights, he believes official bilingualism in practice promotes biculturalism, which is contrary to the intent of both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the principles of multiculturalism. "If we are truly a nation which has two official languages," Bai argues, "yet accepts the principles of a multilingual, multiracial, multicultural society, then we must introduce a Multicultural Act along with an amended Citizenship Act to properly translate the policy mandate as stated by this and former governments."

I agree with Bai that this is ultimately the best way to have the two official languages accepted across the West. The debate sparked by the Saskatchewan and Alberta government language announcements and Bill C-72 has obviously renewed language tensions in the West, at least temporarily. Not a few Westerners challenged the need for extending the Official Languages Act in the region; weary francophone communities in the two prairie provinces protested the repeal of Section 110 of the North-West Territories Act requiring statutes to be translated into French. Francophones in Western Canada would also appear to be anxious to have more say than they do now in the way official bilingualism is implemented by Ottawa in the West.

In my view, federal official bilingualism is essential to our survival as one nation, although I understand completely the anxiety of people who feel pressured by the stupidities of those who administer it. Possibly none of these was worse than the recent attempt to reclassify the court registrar’s position in Vancouver as a bilingual one. Bilingualism will win general acceptance ultimately on its own merits, but attitude cannot be legislated.

In 1981, Stanley Roberts, a former president of the Canada West Foundation, noted, "It is clear that an interesting contradiction has developed in the West : western alienation is increasing while bilingual resistance is decreasing." Following a comprehensive survey of western public opinion, the Foundation concluded during October, 1980, that 53% of those surveyed were in favour of entrenching language rights in the constitution of Canada.

Eight years later, a majority of Canadians in every region appears to support official bilingualism at the federal level. "Our province," says a western educator, "has two competing language visions: those who send their children to French schools and believe in official bilingualism, versus those who want their offspring to speak Ukrainian, Mandarin, or whatever, as well as English." Some in both camps believe official bilingualism is the rock on which multilingualism is also built: remove it, and the political will to nurture languages other than English will be lost. Overall, official bilingualism at the national level as an essential national policy is probably questioned less and less in the West. The large enrolment in French immersion schools in the four provinces reflects this movement.

After three generations of language neglect, western francophone communities are finally receiving better support. In Alberta, French immersion schools were allowed by 1976, and by 1979, forty percent of Alberta children whose mother tongue was French were receiving instruction in either bilingual or immersion schools. The Charter of Rights in effect since 1982 guarantees francophones everywhere "where the number of those children so warrants" the right to attend publicly-supported French schools. Since 1970, most French-speaking Westerners have been able to receive all daily programming from Radio-Canada’s television network in Montreal. Today, with the amendments to the Official Languages Act passed recently by the Mulroney government, the prospect of achieving the same rights for French-speaking Westerners as have long existed for English-speaking Quebeckers is a good deal brighter.

Westerners generally now understand better what happened to our region’s bilingual origins, and French, which was an important part of earlier western history, is being rewoven into the regional tapestry. Given time, intelligence and sensitivity, western attitudes will move further. Extended federal and provincial services to francophone communities across the West will be better accepted by a tolerant population if there is also ample support given to the teaching of other languages. Greater language sensitivity also remains necessary for real success because many Westerners distrust policies imposed on them by legislators or officials in Ottawa.

Westerners, while determined to preserve cultural heritages and our host of languages, are moving to provide a unique western dimension to the concept of an officially bilingual nation within a multicultural environment.

A Concluding Comment

The ethno-cultural profiles in this chapter are a mere sketch of Western Canada’s singular mix of diverse peoples. They are brief of necessity, and thus do not fully reflect any group’s experience of settlement in the West or integration into the society, religion, work, language, politics, culture and community life of the region. All of these aspects are of great importance to understanding how the various peoples settling the West shaped our society and how, in turn, they were affected by complex processes of integration and assimilation. Western Canada’s present mosaic should ensure the survival of ethnic cultures while each group is integrated rather than assimilated into a larger society. "Unity in diversity" acquired new dimensions when applied to western realities.

Social theorists researching problems of ethnicity have identified three major benefits of ethnic group survival for the society. First, ethnic group participation is essential to individual satisfaction and self-development. Second, cultural pluralism is an essential freedom. It favours a social climate in which cultural distinctiveness does not restrict social participation. Third, the preservation of ethnic groups benefits the society as a whole because each culture has a valuable contribution to make to that society. The interaction of diverse groups based on the principles of equality and mutual respect can be a creative and enriching social experience: each group affects the others, yet each maintains its distinct identity.

Western Canada meandered a long way before it awoke to appreciate the benefits of ethno-cultural survival and began to promote multiculturalism actively, not so much as a government policy but as a fact of life.

In the past, some groups struggled for survival as distinct groups in the face of a strong pressure to assimilate within a dominant Anglo-Canadian culture, and also strove for acceptance both as a group and as individuals -- often a painful and uphill battle. History shows that most communities succeeded in maintaining their identity and stamping it upon the character of their new homeland. Today, ethno-cultural groups represented by various multicultural organizations and individuals face even more complex challenges with all their subtle and dynamic forces.

Concerned individuals realize that the future they face will depend on the conscious desire to survive as a distinct group and on the dedicated work of many individuals within each group. They closely follow the policies of both the federal and provincial governments on multiculturalism, education, human rights and immigration, analysing the impact on the future of their respective groups. A large part of their activities today is directed to integration of individuals and the transmission of aspects of their culture to the society, rather than to the preservation of traditional culture as such. Their work concentrates on making their communities fully realize and appreciate the cultural heritage each group carries, reflected in a historic memory of their pioneering contribution to the development of our region. Virtually all communities agree with a thought of Peter Savaryn, a Ukrainian Canadian and former chancellor of the University of Alberta, that our federal government must treat "all minorities and regions equally and justly." He goes on: "The inter-pollination of cultures will make Canada great."


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