Britishness, Canadianness, Class, and Race: Winnipeg and the British World, 1880s-1910s

By Korneski, Kurt | Journal of Canadian Studies, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Britishness, Canadianness, Class, and Race: Winnipeg and the British World, 1880s-1910s


Korneski, Kurt, Journal of Canadian Studies


Recently historians of the British Empire have argued that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a large number of European-descended Canadians understood themselves as part of a "British world," a transnational community of men and women whose members shared a common set of values and institutions whether they were located in Winnipeg, Sydney, Auckland, or Cape Town. These scholars argue thinking about Canada as a part of this British world is important because it recognizes that they self-consciously acted as part of a broader geopolitics, and because it provides a corrective to imperial historians' tendency over the past several decades to overemphasize subjection, exploitation, and coercion. Placing the history of Canada (and also New Zealand and Australia) at the centre of the story, they suggest, shows that a broad allegiance to the British Crown was the glue that held the empire together. This article critically assesses the British world strategy for bringing the empire back into Canadian history, and for bringing Canada back into imperial history, by considering British identity in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It argues that while British world scholars have identified vitally important, and under-appreciated and understudied aspects of Canadian history, they have also understated the extent to which exploitation, subjugation, and coercion were central to identity and identity formation.

Des historiens de l'Empire britannique ont avancé récemment qu'à la fin du XIXe siècle et au début du XXe siècle, un grand nombre de Canadiens de descendance européenne disaient faire partie d'un « monde britannique » - une communauté transnationale d'hommes et de femmes dont les membres avaient en commun un ensemble de valeurs et d'institutions, qu'ils demeurent à Winnipeg, Sydney, Auckland ou Cape Town. Ces historiens déclarent que le fait de penser que le Canada faisait partie de ce monde britannique est un point important parce qu'il reconnaît que ces gens croyaient consciemment appartenir à une géopolitique plus vaste et parce que ceci corrige la tendance des historiens impériaux au cours des dernières décennies à mettre un accent trop important sur l'asservissement, l'exploitation et la coercition. Le fait de placer l'histoire du Canada (et de la Nouvelle-Zélande et de l'Australie) au centre de l'étude démontre, d'après ces historiens, qu'une allégeance générale à la Couronne britannique est la colle qui faisait tenir l'Empire ensemble. Cet article examine de façon critique la stratégie du monde britannique pour ramener l'Empire dans l'histoire canadienne et ramener le Canada dans l'histoire impériale en étudiant l'identité britannique à Winnipeg (Manitoba). L'article avance que bien que les historiens qui étudient le monde britannique aient identifié des aspects très importants (même si peu appréciés ou étudiés) de l'histoire canadienne, ils ont également sous-estime l'importance de l'asservissement, de l'exploitation et de la coercition dans l'identité et la formation de l'identité des Canadiens.

In 1882, George Bryce, author, Presbyterian minister, and founder of Manitoba College, explained to readers of his then recently published history of Manitoba that "the traveler, on crossing the line at Emerson as he enters Manitoba from Minnesota, is reminded not only by the appearance of the Union Jack that he is again on British soil, but by many other things as well. The dress of the people is more English, [as are] their manners and custom, and speech" (1882, 358). Bryce not only reported the habits and practices of some Manitobans, but himself imagined the Canadian nation as a "British American nation," and in this he was far from unusual (Bryce 1896, 1909, 1910). Whether advocates of imperial federation like lawyer John L. Thompson and prominent reformer Minnie J.B. Campbell (Thomson 1905, 25-26; Campbell 1911, 1-2), autonomists' like Manitoba Free Press editor J. W. Dafoe and lawyer John S. Ewart (Dafoe 1909, 6-8; Ewart 1906, 19), or "progressive" social gospel ministers such as J. …

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