Encounters, Contests, and Communities: New Histories of Race and Ethnicity in the Canadian City, Part 2

Article excerpt

The history of Canadian ethnic and racial diversity, we asserted in the introduction to part 1 of this Special Theme Issue, has been deeply and increasingly interwoven with the history of cities. As the articles in part 1 illustrated, attention to questions of race and ethnicity in urban contexts can illuminate the history of urban Aboriginality as well as enhance our understanding of how and at which key transitional moments urban social life was significantly recast by diverse groups of men and women, even as they adapted to the city's built form. Such historical enquiry involves careful attention to the particular ways in which the dynamics produced by white settler colonialism, capitalist hegemony, homeland politics, gendered hierarchies, ethnic group cultural assertion, and the competing political agendas of ethnic and ruling elites played themselves out in a given time and place. We were particularly pleased that collectively the contributions also illustrated the value of viewing Aboriginal and immigrant history as intertwined facets of race relations in urban Canada.

After the Second World War, urban history is ever more interwoven with the story of Canadian diversity. As Canadian immigration gravitated to cities and Aboriginal people became an increasingly visible urban presence, encounters, contests, and community life shaped cities large and small. The contributions in part 2 demonstrate that the history of urban life in Canada can benefit tremendously from a deeper consideration of the relations between urbanism and race and ethnicity. Together, the authors range across the country, examining new arrivals in major cities that, like Toronto, came to define much of what is now meant by Canadian "multiculturalism"; medium-sized but historically "immigrant" cities like Winnipeg, where class conflict and workers' militancy and radicalism was strongly overlaid with ethnicity and, in relation to Aboriginals, race too; and smaller and under-studied towns, like Trail, BC, that attracted earlier waves of immigrants but were affected hardly at all by the renewed large-scale immigration after the Second World War. These authors demonstrate the value of intersectional approaches that pay close attention to class, gender, and other social categories of analysis. While some essays contribute to newer histories, such as the rapidly proliferating work on public spectacles and on anti-Vietnam War Americans in Canada, others contribute new insights into more established literatures, such as women's labour history, or challenge traditional stereotypes of apathetic working-class immigrants forged by earlier social science models. The articles are organized largely chronologically and partly by theme.

We begin with Jodi Giesbrecht's piece on Jewish women workers in the Winnipeg garment industry during the Depression and the Second World War. Women who take to the streets in combative ways attract plenty of public attention, and moments of heightened class conflict, such as strikes, are especially revealing of both specific and broader social, economic, political, and gender dynamics. Giesbrecht provides innovative treatment of unions as sites of Canadianization from "the bottom up" and assesses the relation between union strategies and women's activism. In one of the few Canadian efforts to apply the insights of U.S. labour historian James Barrett, who years ago argued that unions and left parties (as opposed to middle-class gatekeepers) offered an alternative path towards integration, Giesbrecht shows how Jewish women's participation in radical and conservation unions enabled simultaneous resistance and accommodation to the urban mainstream. Such negotiations could facilitate immigrant women's integration into their new society while also encouraging retention of cultural distinctiveness.

A critical tool for writing the histories of marginal groups, oral interviews are an important source of information for many of the contributors. …