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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Canadians Old and New

I’ll be celebrating my first Canada Day after becoming a Canadian citizen, and in July, I’ll also be completing seven years in Canada. As I’ve done over the last few years, each Canada Day, I browse through the two volumes of History of the Canadian Peoples, and the two volume Canadian Literature in English Text and Contexts.

Reproduced below are two posts that celebrate Canada. The first by Frederick Philip Grove (a Canadian novelist of German origin) describe Canada’s constantly evolving relationship with the immigrant. In many ways the issues that Grove talks about haven’t changed nearly a century later.

The second post is an extract from Susanna Moodie’s classic Roughing it in the Bush, one of the earliest depictions of life and living in Canada.

Happy Canada Day

Canadians Old and New

By Frederick Philip Grove

Like the statues of the ancient Roman deity Janus, this article is going to have two faces, one turned to those who, being born in this country or having lived here long enough to be fully acclimatized, invite through their recognized governmental agencies members of all white nations to come and to make their homes among them; the other, to those who have just arrived in pursuance of that invitation, or who, having arrived some time ago, did not find all they may have expected to find in the way of a welcome…

Firstly, then, Mr. Canadian Citizen, let me tell you a few truths about yourself as well as about your guests; for since you have invited the newcomers, they are plainly your guests, entitled to all the privileges which we commonly accord those whom we thus honour.

What, at the present moment, do you, the average citizen of this country, do in order to make the newcomer feel at home? Anything or nothing? First of all, you call him a ‘foreigner’ – a title of honour, indeed, since it implies that likely he has seen more of the world than you have seen – unless you have traveled. But it is well-known that this title, within the British Isles, has from time immemorial had a sinister sound…

Again, what, Mr. Citizen, do you do in order to welcome the ‘foreigner’ whom you invite? Oh, well you assign him 160 acres of land in the bush or a job in a factory or work on the road-bed of a transportation line, and therefore you leave him icily alone.

He meets with other ‘foreigners’; and if they are farmers there is soon a ‘foreign settlement’; if they are factory hands, there is a ‘foreign quarter’ in some city; if men of the pick and shovel, there is a ‘foreign gang’. The adults in settlement, quarter or gang are very apt to hang on to their vernacular, they have very little opportunity to acquire any other, especially the women. They have no desire for isolation; but it is forced on them…

Often these ‘foreigners’ come from communities with not only a vastly older but a spiritually richer environment than they find among ourselves. It could not be otherwise; our country is young, unfinished, crude. Many of them are readers in their own language – readers, that is, not of silly modern sex novels, but of the great literatures that have been indigenous to their own countries for thousands of years…Yet these very men I have seen treated by a Canadian-born station master who was a dunce, as I they were the scum of the earth because their English accent betrayed their foreign birth…

And now the crucial question. Do you Mr. Canadian, want to assimilate these people? Do you want them to give up what is theirs and to adapt your vaunted ‘high standard of living’ which is only a high standard of waste? Do you want them to eclipse themselves and to drop their good as well their evil? But the question itself is sheer nonsense. It posits as possible what is an impossibility. There is no such thing as one-sided assimilation.

But I must cease and let the other face of the Janus-head speak.

Mr. Newcomer, we invited you to come among us, and you followed the call. We bid you welcome. We are bound by a promise. We wanted you to help us till our soil; to swing the pick in order to release the ore that lies buried in the depth of our rocks; to turn the wheels of our industries. In return we promised you freedom.

We are wasteful, you are thrifty; if you were not, you would not have survived; in that lies your opportunity. Do not become Canadian in this one-point. The wages we pay in this country offer an ample margin over and above the necessities. What you do with that margin is nobody’s business but your own. If you spend it on moving-picture shows, candy, or ‘smart’ clothes, it will not be available to give you a start as an owner of land, a merchant, or a producer of industrial goods…Retain your thrift, and you will prosper.

We offer more. We offer you a partnership in the business of ‘running this country’. Live among us for five years without wilfully destroying your opportunities by coming into flagrant conflict with the law, and we will give you a share in forming that law.

Perhaps you will meet with a man or a woman here and there who will turn away from you because you have betrayed by your accent that you were not born among us. I will give you a piece of confidential advice. Put that man or woman down, in the depth of your heart, as belonging to the riff-raff of this country; you will find such riff-raff wherever you go.

Above all, hold your head high. This country does not claim to be a ‘melting pot’. What it does claim is that in it there ‘are many mansions’ – and one of them, undoubtedly, is the mansion that has been waiting precisely for you.


Source: Canadian Literature in English Text and Contexts Volume II  

Image: http://7-themes.com/data_images/out/68/7003234-maple-leaf-canada.jpg

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