Academic journal article Urban History Review

Twin City Ethnopolitics: Urban Rivalry, Ethnic Radicalism and Assimilation in the Lakehead, 1900-70

Academic journal article Urban History Review

Twin City Ethnopolitics: Urban Rivalry, Ethnic Radicalism and Assimilation in the Lakehead, 1900-70

Article excerpt


Urban politics and ethnicity have been intimately linked in the history of the twin cities, Port Arthur and Fort William, later amalgamated into Thunder Bay in 1970. The historic relatinship between political and urban development and ethnicity may be seen in three distinct phases: (1) the era of ethnic exclusion and factionalism in the period 1900-30, when ethnic groups settled into "foreign" enclaves, or "quarters," and largely stood apart from mainstream political parties, particularly those groups like the Ukrainians and Finns who were active on the radical left; (2) the two decades of radical protest and emergent ethnopolitcal activism from 1930-50, which saw the flowering of city "boss" rule in Port Arthur under Mayor C. W. Cox (1934-49), and federal Liberal dominance by C. D. Howe and Rev. Dan McIvor; (3) the postwar era (1950-70) of ethnic assimilation and broad ethnic assimilation and broad ethnic participation at all levels of civic politics, and among all parties at the provincial and federal levels.


La politique urbaine et l'ethnie on ete intimement liees a l'histoire des villes jumelles de Port Arthur et de Fort William qui, plus tard, ont forme Thunder Bay en 1970. Le rapport historique entre l'expansion politique et urbaine et l'etnhie a pu etre observe sur trois phases distinctes: 1) l'ere de l'exclusion ethnique et du factionnalisme pendant la period de 1900 a 1930, lorsque les groupes ethniques se sont etablis dans des enclaves "etrangeres" ou des "quartiers" et se sont grandement separes des partis politiques populaires, surtout les groupes comme les Ukrainiens et les Finlandais qui prenaient une part active a la gauche radicale; 2) les duex decennies de protestation radicale et d'activisme ethnopolitique emergent de 1930 a 1950, qui ont observe la naissance de la regle municipale de "patron" a Port Arthur sous la direction du maire C. W. Cox (1934-49) et la dominance federale liberale de C. D. Howe et du Rev. Dan McIvor; 3) l'ere d'apres-guerre (1950-70) de l'assimilation ethnique et de la vaste participation ethnique a tous le echelons de la politique municipale et a tous les partis aux echelons provinciaux et federal.


Ethnicity has long been a salient feature of Lakehead politics in the twentieth century. Indeed, the two dominant features of these twin cities have been their working-class and ethnic character. Woven through the political fabric of the two cities of Port Arthur and Fort William have been violent strike actions, radical political parties and movements. Their economy has been based on primary-product refining and transportation, and occasionally secondary manufacturing as during the two world wars; at key intervals, they functioned as a construction depot for transcontinental transportation projects such as the railways and pipelines. In sum, they have been predominantly frontier resource centres with populations which expanded only in the boom period of immigration from 1900-1910, from 6,500 to 38,000, and since then have grown only modestly to slightly over 100,000 after their amalgamation into the City of Thunder Bay in 1970 (see Figure 1). With an ethnic population hovering in the region of 30 to 40 percent of the total (with significant minorities of Finns, Slovaks, Ukrainians, and Italians, and lesser numbers of Poles, Greeks, South Slavs, Swedes, and Chinese), the ethnic social mix in the Lakehead has been both prominent and persistent; but in percentage terms it has been more like Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary than Edmonton, Winnipeg or Kitchener. Yet, its historic reputation for ethnic radicalism has been somewhat outsized, as has its reputation for ethnic participation at all political levels. (1)

Whether ethnic radicalism and participation in the political process in Thunder Bay is above or below average for Canadian urban experience is difficult to determine since we know relatively little of the recent urban political experience--Steve Juba's Winnipeg or Bill Hawrelak's Edmonton in the 1950s--to make adequate historical comparisons. …

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