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British Parliament proclaimed the British North America Act; with this, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were made into the Dominion of Canada. Ever since this event a number of events and trends have threatened to pull Canada apart, but ultimately held it together. Such a large, varied, and sparsely settled nation resisted any obvious prescriptions of nationalism, and often, it seemed that the differences between the people and cultures that have lived in Canada were all that mattered. Nevertheless, Canada has been threaded together with first, the expansion of the railroad; second, its successful contribution to and advancement from the pressures of World War; and third, its devotion to maintaining a peaceable and pluralistic existence. Superficially, Canada seems to be a haphazardly thrown together nation, in which the land and the people tend to defy any typical characterizations. Yet, it is just this diversity that grants Canada its character: it has become almost synonymous with peaceful harmony and compromise.
The very first Prime Minster of Canada, John A. MacDonald, proposed a "National Policy," which emphasized national unity, progress, and accord. Under his plan, "Tariffs on imports would be raised. A transcontinental railroad would be built. An aggressive immigration policy would be set in motion." (Joyce, 17-18). Additionally, his National Policy facilitated the creation of the Northwest Mounted Police; this would later become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Of all these important strides, the most significant for the latter portion of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century was, perhaps, the completion of Canada's transnational railroad in 1885. More than being an abstract decree or showing of power, the transnational railroad connected the newly formed nation in more tangible and practical ways.
Centrally, the railroad allowed for hundreds of thousands of new citizens to enter Canada from all parts of Europe, Russia, and the United States. This brought additional diversity to the nation, and allowed for the settlement of the Canadian west. The Prairie Provinces became an agricultural and economic stronghold at the same time as they became a hodgepodge of ethnic identities: "Called 'homesteaders,' these new Canadians contributed energy, imagination, and dedication to the settlement of that region, and, because they were encouraged to retain their original ethnic associations, they furnished an exotic cultural mosaic that persists to this day." (Joyce, 18). This form of western expansion contrasts starkly with that of Canada's southern neighbor -- the United States -- in which not only way the settlement of the west exceedingly violent and brutal, but the ideological backing for it encouraged assimilation and strong nationalism. The sweeping notion of "Manifest Destiny" was absent in Canada's spread to the Pacific; accordingly, the national development was more tolerant.
Furthermore, the western migration in Canada, since it occurred late in the nineteenth century, was almost entirely dependent upon the railroad. Unlike in the United States, where already established towns lived or died by where the transcontinental railroad was built, in Canada, the most significant towns followed the building of the railroad. On the surface this seems like a minor difference, but in Canada this meant that homesteaders did not need to wholly rely on themselves for protection and laws -- Mounted Police or other government representatives could arrive where they were needed as fast as the trains could carry them. Essentially, the transnational railroad held the young Canada together in a very physical sense, while simultaneously making its later growth possible.
John A. MacDonald's policy, though never fully successful -- largely due to the events surrounding the Metis rebellion shortly after it was implemented -- left its permanent mark upon Canada. The western Provinces of Canada, as a result of these policies, resisted blanket assimilation in the same way that the more established regions already had: "Though they were settled at the same time, marked out in the same arbitrary manner, and inhabited by the same mixture of peoples, the three Prairie Provinces have come to differ profoundly in their styles of life." (Woodcock, 34). In Winnipeg, for example, industry and business sprouted very early in the twentieth century, whereas cities in other Prairie Provinces failed to develop comparable metropolises until decades later. All of these factors inhibited a definitive creation of a national identity in Canada.
With the outbreak of World War, however, Canada began to gradually take up its position as a nation bursting with agricultural and industrial potential. During the First World War, since Canada was so far from the battlefields, it became a hub of production of war materials and foodstuffs for the allied forces. Although conscription became a significant dispute at home, Canada emerged from the conflict as an economic, laboring, and political force in the world. Also coming out of the First World War was a strong and enduring labor movement in Canada; one that saw no match anywhere in North America. "Out of this particular reform movement emerged massive service and consumer cooperatives -- the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool is an abiding example -- which characterize the prairies to this day." (Joyce, 20). Many Canadian farmers managed to pool their resources in order to gain control of grain elevators and storage depots; this had the effect of sidestepping the railroad monopolies that until then dictated trade.
The Second World War, like elsewhere in the world, was largely responsible for pulling Canada out of the "Dirty Thirties," in which the massive draught had brought farming to a halt and contributed to mass unemployment. Once again, Canada managed to distinguish itself as an industrial and agricultural powerhouse: "Canadians emerged from World War II a more sophisticated people, their industrial capacities enhanced by the war effort, and their horizons extended by virtue of participation in a global conflict." (Joyce, 21). While pulling a fragmented nation together, the trends after the war seemed to only magnify the differences between fellow Canadians and erase the sense of nationalism that the World Wars had created.
Specifically, immigration following World War II made any ethnic affiliations in Canada exceedingly varied and complex. In the decade that followed the war over a million immigrants entered Canada; many of these were refugees from the conflict (Woodcock, 35). Additionally, few of these immigrants were of French or British descent; this further confused a nation that had been historically divided along the lines of French and British influence. Many people believed that this emerging pluralistic characterization of Canada was what prevented it from reaching greatness comparable to that of the United States: "This then for the size and richness of our country. Would that the soul and spirit of its people were commensurate with its greatness. For here as yet we fail. Out politics, our public life and thought, rise not to the level of our opportunity." (Leacock, 7). Yet, it was the unique level of encouragement that ethnic groups were given to perpetuate their own customs as they partook in Canadian life that presented this ideological dilemma. So, while international conflict had established Canada as a prosperous nation with one of the world's highest living standards, the cultural-pluralism that followed left many in a state of nationalistic and political flux.
Canada, which began as a pluralistic nation, seemed to only see this trend become more intense through time: "The pluralizing of the national imagination in Canada is the process through which elements are identified that exceed state territorialization and identification. Race and migration are two key elements in this struggle for pluralization." (Manning, 90). This situation was only complicated by Canada's international relations; particularly, with the United States. The import and export traffic between the neighboring nations was massive. This meant that many United States interests -- particularly business interests -- were being expressed in Canada. Also, this situation was not even close to symmetrical, because in many industries there were serious questions…[continue]
"Post Confederation Canadian History" (2005, August 16) Retrieved December 4, 2016, from http://www.paperdue.com/essay/post-confederation-canadian-history-68132
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