AMERICANS, or as some Canadians choose to call them, Usonians, are sometimes surprised when they come to visit or to live in Canada that Canadians are so different from themselves. They expect French Canadians to be foreign. But English Canadians? They look like Americans, they speak English much as they do, but they neither act nor think in precisely the same way. Why not? There are good historical and contemporary reasons. Those same reasons occasionally lead to differences in domestic and foreign policy which astonish and even irritate Americans.
For one thing, Canada is a country that cherishes diversity, not conformity. It contains a great variety of people, very few of whom are Indians or Nelson Eddys in red coats. Canada applies far less pressure on people to live like their neighbors than does American society, probably because it has been divided from the start between two big national groups, and there has been room in the interstices for other groups like the Gaels of Cape Breton, the Jerseymen of the Gaspé, the Ukrainians of Saskatchewan and the native Indians to retain something of their original characteristics. The circumstance that there are many kinds of Canadian is not a barrier to nationhood, but an enrichment of it. In the next ten years Canada expects to take in 2,000,000 immigrants, who will help build a new nation.
The factors that have gone to shape Canada vary in importance from province to province, but they operate to some extent in all. First comes the French struggle for recognition as an equal partner within a bi-national state, equal in language rights, in wages, in political power. There is the English tradition of law and order, of civil rights, of loyalty to the Crown without subservience. There is the frontier to the north, forbidding yet tempting to the adventurous and greedy. And there is the presence of another nation with far greater wealth and power along 3,000 miles of boundary. No such influences permeate the United States. Indeed it is remarkable that Canadians are as much like Americans as they are, that they understand so well even the traits they don't like in their neighbors.
French Canada is far more than Quebec. Its third of the population may soon be a half, for it includes more young people who will have children than does English Canada. Soon there may be a French majority in New Brunswick, not to be denied its political power. There are strong French minorities in Nova Scotia (Acadians) and in eastern Ontario where they have spread over the border from Quebec. St. Boniface in Manitoba is a center of French culture, and all the western provinces are plagued by the separate school agitation, the appeal for state-supported French Catholic schools. Everywhere the French carry with them their Latin, Roman Catholic culture, shaped by the Church and by rebellion against it. Yet it is a Latin culture modified by its North American environment, in language, art, music, cuisine, behavior. French Canadians are no alien, immigrant group. They are older, more rooted in Canada, more severed from their motherland, than the English. Canada is, because of them, an older nation in some ways than the United States, with a more continuous culture. Montreal had theater and literature when Chicago was a swamp. The French effect on Canadian politics has been to make all provincial governments more independent of the federal power than American state governments, because Quebec regards itself as a nation. In external policies, all French Canada drives vehemently toward an independent Canada, independent first of Britain and then of the United States. English Canadians may dislike and distrust their French brethren, but they are Siamese twins; they have to reckon with each other, and seek unity against any pressure from without.
The backbone of English Canada is Scottish, dour, thrifty, law-abiding, with a streak of sentimentality and a love for song. Religion and soldiering are part of their tradition, along with the security of the common law. English Canadians regard a professional army career or one in the Church as a more natural destiny for a youth than Americans do, or did until recently. In the States the churches have influence, in Canada they have power. Anglican and United (Methodist and Baptist) Churches as well as Catholic hold much property and expect to have their say in all public matters. There is little revivalism; the Churches are literally established bodies. They are represented on school commissions and concerned with education. Premiers of two provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan, are clergymen. As for the Army, officers are prevalent in politics, and social gatherings shine with uniforms, regimental armories are centers of amusement in peacetime, high-schools and colleges stress military drill. All this is part of the heritage of empire. Canadians turn out by the million for a royal tour, and display their devotion to the young Queen, while being notably hardheaded about loans to her Government. And as for hardheadedness, there is far more of hard steady drinking and less of drunkenness than in parallel social circles below the border.
The firm English Canadian grounding in civil rights is basic. It does not always prevail in practice, but it is latent in mind. When it pops out in private life, it can be disconcerting. Once when I was standing in line to buy concert tickets, I saw a man I knew far ahead of me. I dashed over and asked if he would buy my ticket. "Why, no," he said, "that wouldn't be fair to the others!" After some peevish reflection, I concluded he was quite right, and just being Canadian.
Canada has no Bill of Rights, though Tory M.P.'s have vigorously urged passage of one. The Liberals refuse it, claiming it is unnecessary. During the 1946 spy arrests, very conservative journals found bitter fault with violations of civil rights committed by the Minister of Justice, who is now Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent. Toronto Saturday Night, favorite reading of Canadian business, calls for the defeat of the so-called Garson amendments to the Criminal Code. (Mr. Garson is Minister of Justice in the present Liberal Government.) It says they were drafted too hurriedly at the instance of the State Department, that they could be interpreted to make it treasonable to refuse obedience to an R.C.M.P. officer, and to make treason punishable by death. It is this stubborn clutch on the tradition of English common law that impels Minister of External Affairs Pearson to say there is no law under which Dr. James Endicott, head of the Canadian Peace Congress, can be prosecuted for accusing U.N. troops of waging germ warfare. So, because there is no law, he won't ask the Justice Department to act. His own wishes are irrelevant.
As a rule, except for a few mayors and gold-mine magnates, who are jubilant examples of free expression, English Canadians are quiet folk. They have a vast tolerance and even enjoyment of the flamboyant individuals who crop up among them, but they seldom emulate them. Women are apt to express few opinions outside the topics of babies and housekeeping, which doesn't mean they don't hold them. The farther west you go, the more women you find working in politics, in unions, taking an interest in world affairs and ready to talk on them. Canadians call themselves stodgy, and perhaps they are, but well-balanced is a prettier word, and quite as accurate.
One reason why they have not developed a national literature, while French Canadians have the brilliant beginning of one, is perhaps the same moderation. Another is that they formerly looked too faithfully to English example and approval, and now do to American. They failed to follow the one or gain the other, for their writing is never more than good second-rate. The one effulgent exception, Stephen Leacock, flared up in his young manhood and then slumped into comfortable conventionality in his chair of economics at McGill. Canadians have an uneasy sense that they ought to have more culture, so instead of paying their writers and painters enough to live on, they set up a Royal Commission to wander up and down the land finding out why they haven't one. All the time it is there, growing, timidly and crudely.
The west in Canada was never such a frontier as it was in the United States. It never meant to Canada a gradual surging conquest by pioneers, a mass movement of settlers into wilderness, year by year. Canada had no Oregon Trail; its Rocky Mountain rampart was too harsh a barrier, its winters too icy. Canada's gold rush came much later than California's; it drove to the Yukon, with little residue of settlement. The west was opened first by the fur companies, dotting down their isolated posts, anxious to cultivate the Indians for trade, not to wipe them out to make room for farms. Settlers were discouraged. It is less than a century since the railroads pushed through, dragging after them settlers to supply freight for them to carry. Except in the Peace River Valley, settlement was all organized by one big company or another. There were no Indian wars; the worst fights were with Louis Riel's Metis, the halfbreeds, long after the American West was carved into peaceful states. The Metis fought the railway and the Scots who threatened their ranges, but not the white man as such. So the Canadian West still has big open spaces, and its settlers--mostly Slavic--came from a later tide of immigration than Nebraska's. Nor has it any smoldering embers of Indian wars.
Canada's present frontier is the Yellowknife and the Mackenzie, Ungava and the caribou barrens. It is a chance for a lonely job with some big company, or a gamble with miserable death to make a fortune. Now it is becoming a source of great wealth, but only for those with capital to invest in exploration and development. It is a treasure to be guarded, but not yet a place for a man to make a home. Canadians look with misgiving on the way the United States has stripped its own mines and forests. They now have a government committee, appointed without fanfare, to see to preserving theirs and advise on civil and military use.
Three-quarters of Canada's population lives in a hundred-mile-wide strip along its southern edge, a strip broken by several stretches of wild country. A traveller has to dip into the States at least twice on a drive from Halifax to Vancouver. One looks at these gaps and wonders what does hold this sprawling country together. American influence is intense, through books, movies, magazines, tourists, investment. The only magazine circulating all across Canada in both languages is Reader's Digest (Selections). Time and Life are in every doctor's office. Sunday papers claim it is of no use to print book reviews, because anyone who wants to read them will buy the New York Sunday editions, printed on Canadian spruce, and skinning more acres each week. The movie houses in downtown locations are part of American chains. Importation of crime and sex comics is forbidden, but they pop up illegally or in Canadian editions from American plates. French Canadian writers complained to the Massey Commission on Arts and Letters that American syndicated short stories are used in translation by Quebec newspapers instead of original work by local authors. "The Americans even want to teach us about l'amour," they mourned. Labor unions, except Quebec's Catholic Syndicates, are affiliated to the A. F. of L. or the C.I.O. American investment comes to more than 6 billion dollars, in branches of American firms, in whole Canadian companies owned in New York, in American stockholding in Canadian-run firms. The Hudson Bay Company set up regulations to keep out the flood, and keep itself British. There is an obvious question whether a nation of 15,000,000 persons living cheek by jowl with one ten times its size can maintain its individuality. Switzerland, faced with the same problem, has succeeded. Canadians mean to try.
What does make Canada a nation? A lingering faith in the Commonwealth, even among French Canadians, who prefer slow steps toward independence within the wonted bonds to a swift slide into dependence on the United States; a liking for government action when necessary, such as the baby bonuses and the old-age pensions, which seem to Canadians the merest common sense, not creeping Socialism; a grudging but growing, almost incredulous belief in their ability to make a life of their own, shaped to their desires. The decision to dig their own Seaway was a tremendous thrill to all Canada. The United States has now joined in, but the initiative was Canada's. It is no accident that the Minister of Transport who has been determined that Canada should go it alone is a French Canadian.
In a physical sense, the railroads and the airlines, not the highways, tie Canada together. On them you can go from Atlantic to Pacific with no change at a halfway point, as in Chicago. The Canadian Pacific was a British enterprise, and still has headquarters in London, though nearly half its stock is now in American hands. The Canadian National is plain Canadian, the remarkable product of national necessity, the longest railroad in the world, serving every province. It started corporate existence as a ramshackle hodgepodge of bankrupt lines which the government of the day reluctantly took over. Other small lines have gone broke and been loaded on its tottering back, like the Temiscuata in Quebec; when Newfoundland joined Confederation, the Canadian National Railways found itself endowed with that narrow-gauge line, which wanders like the Toonerville trolley through that bleak land. In earlier days when new prairie land was to be opened up, when a mine wanted a branch to cart out ore, the C.N.R. would be told to send out a line, until it now looks like a spiderweb all over the West. Nobody dreamed of making it show a profit, or of seeing its trains run on time. The Government paid the deficit each year, and the inherited financing was as intricate as the branch lines.
But four years ago the Government handed Donald Gordon, its universal choreboy, the job of running the C.N.R. And lo, by dint of a lot of small changes, by a sort of inspired horsesense financing, the railway has come up with a profit, little but astounding. More than that, Canadians begin to feel proud of it. New stations, new hotels, new diesel engines, new uniforms on the personnel, plain talk to the public about its own railroad, add up to making the system a Canadian asset. So is Trans-Canada Airlines, and Canadians grinned very cheerfully when their Government stood up to the United States authorities and won out in a squabble over running a through line to Mexico City by way of Tampa. All these things give an increment of national pride, a feeling of individuality to the "man in the street."
In daily life, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is the most conspicuous and omnipresent of the agencies which make for unity. For 16 years it has presented a unique Canadian compromise between state and private radio. A separate organization reporting to Parliament, not to the Cabinet, it is government-supported except for some advertising revenue, and is run by a Board of Governors appointed by the Government from the various provinces. Its news broadcasts, political talks by party representatives, service programs such as the farm broadcasts, and B.B.C. transcriptions, are unsponsored. Its relay stations reach the most remote villages. Twice a day the man in British Columbia and the man in Newfoundland listen to the same news bulletin, as factual and unslanted as the Canadian Broadcasting Company can make it. On Wednesday nights all Canada can, if it pleases, hear an evening of classical music and drama, free of any commercial. The C.B.C. is often excoriated for its sins, accused of being dictatorial, highbrow, pettifogging. But it makes Canada what it is, and Canadians have that kind of radio because that is the kind of radio they want. The Gallup Poll recently gave it majority approval.
No television was allowed in Canada until, after three years' study, the Canadian Broadcasting Company was ready to put it on, in spite of the anguished howls of the private stations which think they could make more money if it would get out of their way. Canadian TV for Canadians, the C.B.C. decreed, and it decides not only what programs it will produce, but which American ones it will buy.
Three evenings a week for half an hour a young man from Nova Scotia plays records and talks over this radio in a gruff voice, referring to himself as Old Rawhide. He has built a national following by making fun of anything he chose, including top government officials and the C.B.C. itself. When it was rumored he might be taken off the air, letters inundated the station. One of Rawhide's favorite targets is Kate Aitken, who shares radio distinction with him. In that curious profession of women's commentator, which radio has created and passed on to television, she rushes off by air for five days in Japan or New Guinea, and rushes back to tell Canadians all about them. Coast to coast, Canadian women get the same daily dose of cooking directions, travel, beauty hints, and advice on love. They like her, but her approach would not please Americans.
The C.B.C. makes for one kind of unity, the railroads for another. But the political framework, which Quebec says is a pact between equal sovereignties, while English Canada calls it a union, has been slow in assuming its full rôle. Taking from England the theory and practice of ministers' responsibility to Parliament, it gradually learned under Mackenzie King to think nationally, to balance interests from Cape Breton to Vancouver. The Prime Minister governs only by virtue of being the leader of his party. Louis St. Laurent, as a French Canadian who has won popularity in the West, has carried forward possible understanding between the halves of his country. When he is opposed, it is not for being French.
The Right Honorable Vincent Massey is the first Canadian to represent the Crown as Governor-General. All but the most intransigent Tories (they wanted another Englishman to succeed Alexander) were pleased by his appointment, since it marked a stage in the attainment of independence from England. Adoption of a Canadian flag is expected to come next. Mr. Massey is a very rich (farm machinery), very intelligent, very solemn man, who takes his functions with the greatest seriousness and never looks as if he felt in the least absurd in the fancy hat and gold lace he wears to make his ceremonial visits to cities and receive dignitaries. Some of his older friends are said to have been taken aback when in reply to letters beginning, "Dear Vince--," they received a screed opening, "His Excellency the Governor-General commands me--." But Canadians rather expect their Governor-General to be like that; they like some ceremony in public life, and Mr. Massey is secure and at home in Canada. Besides, he speaks beautiful, polished, fluent French, and to French Canada his formality seems appropriate.
The provincial premiers of Canada are more striking figures and, as a rule, better known than the governors of states. Besides Tom Dewey and maybe Shivers of Texas, how many governors outside your own state do you know? Most Canadians could name at once Joe Smallwood of Newfoundland, Duplessis of Quebec, Manning of Social Credit of Alberta, and Douglas of C.C.F. Saskatchewan. They could not only name them, but associate them with particular policies. Canadians see nothing undesirable about keeping a man in office for many years, if they like him and he is doing a good job. So premiers and mayors are apt to last a long time. They have a chance to see projects through, to impress themselves on their bailiwicks and on the whole country.
This stability, this liking for protocol, this reluctance to abandon the well-tried for the experimental, combined with a willingness to experiment boldly in certain fields of social welfare, sometimes exasperate Americans. Yet they are valuable traits in present North America. Living with them leads to appreciation.
But few Americans know Canada well enough to reach that stage of understanding. In fact many don't know it at all. A group of college seniors from upper New York State came to Montreal last spring on an exchange visit. They were asked a few questions about Canada. Only four out of 32 knew the name of the Prime Minister; estimates of the population varied from 2,000,000 to 100,000,000; nobody at all got Premier Duplessis' name right. How, then, could they be expected to grasp the causes and effects of Canadian attitudes on such matters as NATO or the recognition of Communist China--mere trifles on which their lives and the lives of their children might some day depend?
Newspapers give more and more data about Canada, but little basis on which to evaluate their meaning. Yet Canada's divergencies from the United States are too important to be ignored, or blithely brushed aside. Scottish stubbornness and French pride might one day join in a resentful blend. Those who judge only from the headlines and expect Canada to follow blindly on whatever path the United States chooses are doomed to bewilderment, if not disappointment. Without any doubt, there is friendship in Canada toward the United States, but friendship is not always best shown by a submissive dogging of footsteps. Nor will Canada's be so shown.