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A Nation of Immigrants: Women, Workers, and Communities in Canadian History, l840s-1960s.

A Nation of Immigrants: Women, Workers, and Communities in Canadian History, l840s-1960s. Edited by Franca Iacovetta with Paula Draper and Robert Ventresca (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. xiv plus 513pp. $60.00/cloth $24.95/paperback).

Like the United States, Canada has been an immigrant-receiving society since the seventeenth century. It is therefore not surprising that immigration has long been a topic of interest to both Canadian and American historians. Over the last quarter-century, scholarly focus in both countries has shifted from the celebratory "nation-building" approach to a critical analysis of social and cultural issues that define the immigration experience. This volume draws together seventeen previously published and three original articles to serve as a survey text of Canada's "the new immigrant history." Organized chronologically and by theme, the articles focus on the Irish in the 1840s; African Americans in Canada West (Ontario) prior to the Civil War; Central Europeans (Roumanians and Ukrainians) on the Prairies at the turn of the century; the work of immigrant women and bachelor men in various contexts; labour activism; and society and state responses to immigration. Each section has a brief introduction outlining the c ontext of the topic being explored and a bibliography of suggested readings.

In the preface, Franc Iacovetta explains that the articles have been chosen to reflect "a variety of approaches and methodologies in the field, the diversity of male and female experiences, the richness and complexity of immigrant working-class life, and the gendered and racialized character of immigrant politics and policy." (xi) Approaches range from biography and family history (African American anti-slavery activist Mary Ann Shadd and Roumainian pioneer Veronica Kokotailo) to analyses of censuses (Michael Wayne's article revises significantly downward the number of fugitive slaves moving to Canada West after 1850) and social workers' case files relating to immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s. Although most articles focus on specific immigrant groups, Greg Kealey looks at the big picture, arguing convincingly that class and ideology rather than ethnic tensions fuelled policy decisions during the First World War and for a long time thereafter. Howard Palmer's close analysis of ethnic relations in Alberta dur ing the Second World War reminds us, however, that class and ethnic considerations in immigrant-receiving countries are never mutually exclusive.

Taken together, the articles published here reflect the perspective of a generation of scholars who looked at history "from the bottom up" and portrayed native-born Canadians in general and the state in particular as villains of the piece. There is, of course, much evidence to support such a view (the classic article by Irving Abella and Harold Troper on Canada's shameful response to Jewish refugees during the Depression is included in this volume), but the new direction in immigration history currently being practised recognizes that native-born Canadians, like the immigrants, are a complex and changing reality. This useful insight informs Ruth Compton Brouwer's previously unpublished article which focuses on the role of Protestant missionaries in protesting the treatment of South Asians in British Columbia between 1907 and 1940.

While scholars may quibble over the articles chosen to explore gender, class, and culture in Canadian immigration history, this anthology serves as a useful entry into these topics for students and non-specialists. My quibbles are of a different order. I am puzzled by the choice of subtitle for a book that covers men as well as women, cultural landscapes as well as workers, state processes as well as community formation. And I wish that the editors had covered more in a text that purports to explore "A Nation of Immigrants." The decision to leave out white American and British immigrants (by no means ever a monolithic group), who made up the vast majority of those who flooded into Canada after 1750, narrows our perception of the Canadian immigrant experience and does little to advance what surely must be the next item on the research agenda: a more comparative and comprehensive approach to Canadian immigration studies, one that looks at the eighteenth as well as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the mi ddle as well as the working class; children as well as adults; majority as well as minority group experiences; migrations to Atlantic Canada and Quebec (regions often ignored in Canadian immigration studies) as well as Ontario and the West. Much of this work, of course, remains to be done and this anthology, by gathering together the best of recent scholarship, suggests where the next generation of scholars must put their energy.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Conrad, Margaret
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2000
Words:746
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