Canada, 1900-1950: Un Pays Prend Sa place/A Country Comes of Age

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CANADA, 1900-1950 Un pays prend sa place/A Country Cornes of Age Serge Bernier and John MacFarlane, editors Ottawa: Organization for the History of Canada, 2003. 253pp, $15.00 paper (ISBN 0-9733730-0-8)

The first half of the 20th century, the editors of this volume tell us, was a transitional period in Canada's history, a time when the country was seeking its own modern identity. The papers published here, originally presented at the sixth conference of the Organization for the History of Canada, do not, they acknowledge, cover the period in depth, but they do endeavour to trace Canada's evolution from a colony to a nation of increasing importance on the world scene, especially as a result of the second World War. Both domestic and international subjects are covered; the latter will be of most interest to readers of this journal, but they will find that the former also have value, by establishing some of the broader context for Canadian activities abroad.

That Canada was slow to evolve from colony to nation in terms of the face it showed the world is symbolized for Mane-Josée Therrien by the design of the Canadian legation (now embassy) in Tokyo, completed in the early 1930s. Carried out under the watchful eye of Canada's first minister there, Sir Herbert Marler, this much admired project, Therrien points out, was reflective of Marler's taste as a member of Montreal's haute bourgeoisie and, by adopting the neo-Georgian style, represented his own and Canada's continuing attachment to the British connection. Because it was derivative, Thermen concludes that the legation was of little importance in the development of a distinctive Canadian architecture. One could argue, however, that it had symbolic value for a country new on the diplomatic circuit in Tokyo, by providing a striking presence there in an architectural language familiar to those acquainted with the international community.

Canada's slowness to change was also reflected in immigration policy, which Patricia Roy finds to have been more restrictive in 1950 than in 1900. She does see the beginnings of a change of attitudes around the later year, however, although racial restrictions would not begin to be relaxed until 1962. This suggests that the real transitional years in immigration policy may have been the 1950s, with the explanation to be found in changes during that decade in public opinion and also in the evolution of attitudes in the public service and in the political parties.

According to Patrick Brennan, it was easier to carry out an innovative foreign policy in the early years after the second World War, partly because of the influence of several leading anglophone journalists, including George Ferguson, Grant Dexter, Ken Wilson, Blair Fraser, and Bruce Hutchison. The picture Brennan paints is of a tight little establishment of journalists, officials, and like-minded politicians, one of whose objectives was to spread enlightenment, not only to the general public but also to other politicians whose views were more parochial. It would be interesting also to know about the role of francophone commentators, and to what extent writers from each linguistic community appeared in the media of the other.

The postwar diplomacy that Brennan's journalists supported, according to Norman Hillmer, had more in common with that practised by Mackenzie King than either he or the diplomats of the later 1940s and 1950s might have cared to admit. King, Hillmer argues, accepted an obligation to support Britain if there should be war, but he and his Québec lieutenant, Ernest Lapointe, confused the issue in public. …