Citizenship and Schooling in Manitoba, 1918-1945

Article excerpt

*The author would like to thank Ken Osborne, Tom Mitchell, and Sybil Shack for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

Rosa Bruno-Jofre

Faculty of Education

University of Manitoba

In the last few years there has been a renewed interest in citizenship education and in a reformulation of educational aims in light of some kind of ideal of a polity in a global society. With the exception of Ken Osborne's work, however, there have been few historical studies on citizenship and schooling in Canada. (1) In this paper I examine the official discourse of Canadianization as expounded in The Western School Journal and by the Department of Education in Manitoba, and then analyze examples of the intersection of the official discourse and life experience in school and beyond. I will focus mainly on Manitoba between the end of War I and the end of War II.

By 1918 the impact of immigration had already been felt while large urban workers' and farmers' movements had grown in importance. (2) Education, character formation, and citizenship were both local and national concerns. Anglo-conformity was the central principle permeating the dominant notion of citizenship that sought to make proper members of the national polity. In addition, in the early 1920s there was emphasis on a notion of citizenship mostly based on service to the community, duties, responsibilities, and social integration, while by the end of the decade the dominant discourse was beginning to be influenced by progressive education notions of education and democracy.

The end of World War II (1945) provides a historical breaking point because it brought a new international reality that would in the long run affect Canada's view of herself. The war also led to a questioning of racist and ethnocentric ideas, and theories of cultural relativism emerged which along with internal developments made it imperative to reconstruct the understanding of citizenship formation and its principles.

Through the examination of the official discourse and then the exploration of oral testimonies and case examples such as the public schools in Franco-Manitoban communities, this paper shows that the official discourse was not necessarily taught and learned in schools. It also shows that people often developed a sense of being Canadians in their own terms in an often-contested process of resistance and negotiation.


Public schooling was created as an integral part of the modern state, having as one of its functions the shaping of a moral citizenry. Outside Quebec, the geo-political framework for citizenship education was English Canadian. It neglected French Canada, emphasized loyalty to Britain and the British Empire, and treated the colonization of the First Nations as a matter of fact. The framework had, however, unique connotations given by the situation of Canada within the British Empire, its preoccupation with its place in North America, and the nation-building motif persistent in education. Furthermore, education was and still remains under provincial jurisdiction although schooling for the First Nations had been left as a federal responsibility.

The aim of public schools in English Canada was to create a homogeneous nation based on a common English language, a common culture, identification with the British Empire, and an acceptance of British institutions and practices. The British Empire its values and institutions were seen as an indispensable support for a distinctive Canadianism because of Canada's place in North-America. Thus, before the Citizenship Act of 1947 there were only British subjects resident in Canada; there were no Canadian citizens as such.

At the end of the Great War, as evidenced in Canada's signing the Peace Treaty at Versailles in its own right and in its separate membership in the League of Nations, there was a growing feeling among Canadians that their country was a distinct national entity, but also an important component of the British Empire. …