The Oxford History of the British Empire - Vol. 4

By Alaine Low; Judith M. Brown et al. | Go to book overview

25

Canada, the North Atlantic Triangle, and the Empire

DAVID MACKENZIE

At the beginning of the twentieth century the British Empire had less authority in North America than it had had at any time in the previous 140 years. The growth of the United States and the spread of its influence at the turn of the century produced an American rival to the British Empire, especially in the western hemisphere. Moreover, the consolidation of British North American territory in Canada after 1867 and the Dominion's constitutional shift from colony to autonomous nation further reduced British sway there. In the Victorian Age the British Empire may have reached its apogee, but in North America it could be said that the Imperial sun had already begun to set. Nevertheless, North America continued to be important in the evolution of the British Empire, although British policy became less a matter of defence, expansion, and administration and more a question of how best to further British interests through and with the United States and Canada.

For Canadians, the Imperial connection has always been augmented by the larger, triangular relationship between Britain, the United States, and Canada. This idea of a 'North Atlantic triangle' was first coined by John Bartlet Brebner, a Canadian expatriate teaching at Columbia University, who wrote in 1945 on the 'interplay between the United States and Canada—the Siamese Twins of North America who cannot separate and live'. Brebner broadened the scope of his book to include Britain because, he argued, neither Canada nor the United States could 'eliminate Britain from their courses of action', and, 'since the United States attained nationhood by rebellion against Britain, and Canada by gradual growth within the British Empire, not only were their responses to the mother country usually sharply contrasted, but their understandings of each other were habitually warped.' 1

Of less concern to Brebner and others who followed was just how Canadian this idea of a North Atlantic triangle was. Historians of Britain and America have long studied Anglo-American relations, but their focus has been bilateral rather than

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1
John Bartlet Brebner, North Atlantic Triangle: The Interplay of Canada, The United States, and Great Britain (New Haven, 1945), p. xi.

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