Canadian society today is known for multiculturalism. Canada’s 20th century history is a story of the development of the idea of multiculturalism and the establishment of a multicultural society. Prior to the Second World War, Canada had racist policies and public thoughts that impede equality in the country. Beginning in the 1940s, Canada started to change its policies towards more inclusive regulations which in turn fostered multicultural perspectives in the country’s development. Finally, in the last three decades of the 20th century, the idea of multiculturalism appeared and public thoughts shifted. Although Canadian society had a racist background, discriminatory policies started to change after the Second World War, and people in Canada finally developed into a multicultural society in the last three decades of the 20th century where everyone regardless of origin, race, gender or culture is treated equally and respected; the establishment of multiculturalism was the greatest invention and a remarkable shift of public thinking in Canada in the 20th century, and significantly impacted Canadian society.
In the first 40 years of the 20th century, Canada had racist policies and racism was widespread in society. There were immigration policies that prevented certain groups of people from coming to Canada. In 1908, the federal government passed the Continuous Journey Regulation, requiring immigrants to take one continuous sea journey to come to Canada. However, at that time, there is no such direct steamboat connection between India and Canada, which sufficiently barred Indians from immigrating to Canada (Satzewich 33). An order-in-council was passed in 1911 prohibiting “immigrants belonging to Negro race, which race is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada” (Satzewich 35). The value underpinned in these policies is racism, as they banned or limited people to immigrate to Canada not for what they did, but for their races and origins, and had discrimination against them.
Even Canadians were not treated equally by the government. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Japanese Canadians were interned by the authority in the name of national security, despite the fact that some of them were fighting against the Axis in Europe in the Canadian army (“World War II Experience”). Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their home and put into residential schools, where they faced physical and sexual abuse (Miller 2019). Both the discrimination against Japanese Canadians and the idea that Indigenous culture was not as civilized as the European culture are unacceptable for a multicultural society, and should be considered as racism. Racist thoughts were also widespread in society. After banning Indian immigration, Canadian officials argued that East Asian culture was unsuitable to live in Canada and that banning such immigration was largely for Indian’s own good (Satzewich 33).
In the 1930s and 1940s, signs that read “No Jews or Dogs Allowed” were posted (Goldberg 2019). William Lyon Mackenzie King opposed attending the Evian Conference thinking that Canada’s attendance might be misinterpreted as a willingness of accepting Jewish refugees and argued that “intermixture of foreign strains of blood” might tarnish Canadian society (Goldberg 2019). From the argument of the officials, it is clear that people at that time thought that Canada was a country where certain people are unsuitable to live in. Anti-semitism was widespread and Jewish people in Canada were not treated nicely. All these policies and thoughts contributed negatively to the diversity of Canadian society and formed the racist background of the story of multiculturalism in Canada in the 20th century.
However, the situation started to improve in the 1940s as Canada began to adapt its policies to allow a more diverse and equal society. Racist immigration limitations started to be removed. After the Second World War, discriminatory immigration policies against East Indian immigration started to change(“East Indian – Library and Archives Canada”). On 1 May 1947, limitation on Jewish and Chinese immigration was formally ended (Goldberg 2019).
On 19 January 1962, Ellen Fairclough, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration at that time, cancelled the “White Canada” immigration policy (“Black History Canada – Timeline 1900-Present”). In 1967, the Canadian government dropped the old Immigration Act, the one that barred black immigration (“Black History Canada – Timeline 1900-Present”). People with different cultural backgrounds from all around the world were allowed to come to Canada without discrimination based on their race or origins. Canadian society became more and more diverse since then, which greatly promoted multiculturalism. People with different origins and cultural backgrounds started to enjoy equal rights. On 14 March 1944, Ontario passed the Racial Discrimination Act, the milestone legislation effectively prohibiting public expression of discrimination based on races or origins (“Black History Canada – Timeline 1900-Present”).
Indigenous people gained the right to vote, Inuits in 1950 and First Nations in 1960 (Leslie 2019). The NSAACP united civil rights forces and fought against racial segregation and put an end to it (“Black History Canada – Timeline 1900-Present”). As ethnic groups started to gain equal rights, equality and multiculturalism was promoted and protected. Prohibiting racial discriminatory expressions effectively helped public thoughts to shift toward an equal, discrimination-free and accepting society, which later helped the idea of multiculturalism appear and develop. Those who were minorities in the past started to play a more important role in society. On 25 September 1963, Leonard Braithwaite was elected into the Ontario Provincial Parliament as a Liberal candidate and became the first African Canadian Member of the Provincial Parliament (“Black History Canada – Timeline 1900-Present”).
On 28 July 1967, ten Torontonians with a common West Indian heritage “founded the Caribana cultural festival to display their rich cultural traditions” (“Black History Canada – Timeline 1900-Present”). William Boucher, the first Indigenous Member of Parliament after Louis Riel, was elected in 1948 (“Profile – Boucher, William Albert”). There were more voices from people with different cultural backgrounds both in the government and society as people belonging to ethnic groups started to participate more both politically and culturally. These changes created a society that promoted diversity and equality. Although at that time the idea of multiculturalism had not been formed, Canadian society became more multicultural, and the changes of policies and public thinking have become the basis of the establishment of multiculturalism in the last 30 years of the 20th century.
Since the 1970s, the idea of multiculturalism appeared and a multicultural society was established and developed. Laws were passed to promote and protect multiculturalism. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 stated that the charter “shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians” (Greene 265). The Constitution Act s. 35 guarantees Indigenous people’s aboriginal and treaty rights (Greene 354). On 21 July 1988, the Progressive government of Brian Mulroney passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in an effort to ‘promote the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society” (Burnet and Driedger 2019).
These laws provided legally enforceable equality and outlawed racist policies, which was a great step toward the establishment of a multicultural society. Government departments were created and adapted to promote multiculturalism. The Ministry of Multiculturalism was established in 1973 (Burnet and Driedger 2019). The Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism was created in the same year (Burnet and Driedger 2019). The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration was adapted to help new arrivals to Canada from anywhere in the world (Burnet and Driedger 2019). The Ministry of Multiculturalism and the Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism was established with a purpose of promoting and protecting diversity, recognizing Indigenous rights and supporting the use of Canada’s two official languages, English and French; and together with the adapted Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, multiculturalism was put into Canadian society, and was no longer just on paper. Besides these laws and policies, multiculturalism was shown as ethnic groups were treated equally in society.
In 1971, Harry Jerome, an African-Canadian sprinter, was awarded the Order of Canada medal for ‘excellence in all fields of Canadian life” (“Black History Canada – Timeline 1900-Present”). On 20 September 1985, Lincoln Alexander was sworn in as Ontario’s lieutenant-governor, the first Black person to hold the vice-regal position in Canada (“Black History Canada – Timeline 1900-Present”). As the last residential school in Canada closed in 1996, no policies of limitation or discrimination targeted at the Indigenous population has ever existed since then (Miller 2019). People received equal treatment regardless of their race, origin or cultural background, which is one of the key aspects of multiculturalism. With these changes in policies, government and society, in the last three decades of the 20th century, Canada demonstrated multiculturalism and formed a diverse and multicultural society.
Therefore, Canada’s 20th century history is a story of multiculturalism. Canadian society changed, despite having a racist background, towards being more equal and accepting after the Second World War, and became a beneficial multicultural society in the last three decades of the century. Racist policies and public thoughts existed in Canada prior to the 1940s. Canada adapted its policies to allow a more diverse and multicultural society since the 1940s. The idea of multiculturalism was finally formed and became a part of the Canadian identity in the last 30 years of the 20th century. The establishment of multiculturalism in Canada was a remarkable invention by people in Canada and greatly changed Canadian society. Today, Canada takes pride in its multiculturalism; and it is an age to acknowledge and redress historical wrongs and issues, and to develop multiculturalism into the next stage.