“The New Canadians' case against us"

HUGH GARNER July 18 1959

“The New Canadians' case against us"

HUGH GARNER July 18 1959

“The New Canadians' case against us"



Living in a province to which half of Canada’s postwar immigrants have come, and in a city that has absorbed nearly one quarter of the total, I am greatly aware of the differences that mark the ethnic boundary between the native Anglo-Saxon and the immigrant. 1 have read many letters in the newspapers from foreign-born people bewailing our discrimination, our coldness, and our erection of barriers against their assimilation as members of the Canadian community. 1 believe the immigrant has a strong case against us. and as a member of the Anglo-Saxon majority 1 would like to assess it for him.

I would like to be able to say that we members of the majority have lost our former feelings toward the foreign-born citizen, but it would be a lie. Some of us have lost our silly pride and arrogance, but too many of us still cling to the crazy belief that we are better than the New Canadian because our parents or grandparents came here from the British Isles, and English is our native tongue. 1 am just as much aware as the immigrant that we members of the majority often treat him with disdain and discriminate against him socially and economically. This brings up two questions: why, and what can we do about it?

Canada has progressed more in the past fifteen years, in tolerance and acceptance of minorities, than she did in the fifty years before that. Having been raised in Anglo-Saxon neighborhoods, and being a member of the ethnic majority all my life. 1 can make comparisons between the feeling against minorities in my boyhood, and the feeling toward them today.

Whether the immigrant feels unwanted or not, or whether he feels discriminated against, is largely a matter of the individual. Certainly today there is no organized movement afoot to bar him from social and economic participation in the affairs of the country. A short time ago 1 read a newspaper interview with a friend of mine, a successful TV drama producer now living in England. Of Bulgarian descent, my friend stated that in Canada he had always felt like an outsider among the AngloSaxons. In my dealings with him here I had not been aware of this feeling on his part, and it came as a surprise to me to discover it.

To those New Canadians who feel that they are outsiders. let me briefiy run

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through things as they used to he during my boyhood in Toronto.

In those days even the French Canadians, whose families had been in Canada three hundred years longer than those of my friends, were looked upon as foreigners. In the Toronto of my boyhood you had to be an Anglo-Saxon to drive a garbage wagon, a Protestant to work at the city hall, and as British as Winston Churchill to become a policeman, a streetcar conductor, or to shovel coal at the gas works.

Roman Catholics, no matter what their racial or national origin, were slightly suspect, and they had an exotic tinge about them even if their accents wrere as cockney as a costermonger’s or as burred as a crofter's from the Hebrides. Jews were an unknown species who lived in their own section of towm, and met us only across their shop counters or when buying old rags and paper at the backyard gate. Members of the Eastern Orthodox persuasions were as unknown as Anabaptists, and Buddhists were heathens whom we hoped to convert to Christianity with our Sunday school pennies.

Members of ethnic minorities, no matter how long they had been in this country, were not known as "New Canadians,” or even looked upon as being Canadians at all. They were simply known as foreigners by those of us w-ho wanted to be polite or charitable in our choice of names. The Sicilians stuck to their fruit stores, the Greeks to their restaurants, the Chinese to their cafés and laundries, the Jew's to retail trade and the clothing industry, and all the other foreigners, known as “hunkies" no matter where they came from, w'orked in foundries, brick quarries and on railroad extra gangs.

Because the foreign immigrant of those days was usually an uneducated laborer he was forced to take the jobs the AngloSaxon spurned, and then was accused of cutting the throat of the "British” workingman. After the depression set in, members of the English-speaking majority wanted the jobs held by the foreignborn, and an economic rivalry was born between them. A great deal of the antiimmigrant bias today stems from those times and is kept alive by fools who can’t see that times have changed.

We members of the majority had a set of nationalistic mores and a burning xenophobia that seems laughable today, yet hasn’t been eradicated. When w'e weren’t downright impolite toward members of a minority we w'ere condescending. Our arrogance sprang from our upbringing and education: some foreigners may have had their points, hut none of them were as favored as we were. Our intolerance ran in inverse ratio to wealth and social position, then as now'. The hater of foreigners could he found more readily at the bottom of the social and educational ladder than at the top. In those days of course the higher you got the fewer foreigners you met.

Though some immigrants will not believe me, the picture has changed considerably since the war. The daily papers give the best indication I know of the changing relationship between the AngloSaxon majority and the foreign - horn minorities. Not only do the papers run columns of "New Canadian" news, hut they give equal space in their news col-

umns to those of foreign extraction. The only foreign names you used to see on the society pages were those of visiting nobility, hut now they bear pictures of Italian, Russian and Hungarian brides, to say nothing of Japanese and Negroes. The spaces once reserved for the latest activities of the ladies of the Order of the Eastern Star or Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire are now more than likely filled with pictures of Hadassah groups and Masaryk clubs.

In a province in which Roman Catholics are fast approaching a numerical par w'ith the Protestants, religious intolerance is fast fading away, and with it racial and national intolerance also. A Jewish friend of mine was telling me the other day that he had been unsuccessful in getting a job with a local newspaper. “I guess I’ll have to become a rabbi first,” he said, a statement that bears a lot of truth. Today the papers vie for rabbinical columnists, and one of our evening papers runs a weekly column written by the Catholic cardinal. Forty years ago a Toronto paper would no more have thought of employing a Catholic archbishop as collumnist than of making the Devil himself its church reporter.

Anglo-Saxon slum

In the 1920s I lived in the biggest Anglo-Saxon slum in North America, Toronto's Cabhagetown. Down there in a maze of little streets, places and lanes lived a few thousand British immigrants, their children and descendants. There were no United Empire Loyalists, as I recall, hut w'e prided ourselves on being as loyally British as any empire builder ever hatched. We were rather an oddity in a continent in which slums were generally reserved for such ethnic minorities as Jew's, Mexicans, Italians, Poles and Negroes. Here w'e were, members of the majority, living in conditions just as bad, if not worse, than the people we rather despised.

Despite our poverty I think it is safe to say that not one of us didn't think he was better, in breeding, culture, and especially cleanliness, than the richest foreigner in town. We had a built-in arrogance that we flaunted all the way to the home relief depot. We actually thought we were much cleaner than any foreigner, and it was only after I grew up that I realized that we Anglo-Saxons are among the dirtiest people living.

Cabhagetown was the first large slum area in the country to be torn down and replaced by modern dwellings and apartments. Today they call it Regent Park, and it is ironic to me that of the two churches left standing in the southern section of the project, one of them is Greek Orthodox.

If anyone had told us in those days that within thirty years our city would have a Jewish mayor. Ukrainian and Polish aldermen and foreign-born policemen, we would have waved them off to the funny farm. And as for a Chinese member of parliament from Vancouver and a Ukrainian minister of labor from Oshawa, that would have been too silly to contemplate.

Today it is almost impossible to go anywhere in my city without coming in contact with the foreign born. They work in our banks, business offices, libraries and department stores. They are cultured

and educated people, and as far removed from the "hunky” of my younger days as I am from the slum kid of thirty years ago. Some of them still isolate themselves in neighborhoods of their own, but largely they are scattered among the AngloSaxons throughout the city and suburbs. This. I believe, has done more to eradicate misunderstanding and intolerance than anything else. It is pretty hard to hate foreigners when they are your nextdoor neighbors, and when you admire them for such virtues as sobriety, thrift, hard work and cleanliness.

I have noticed that the most vociferous xénophobes among my people are those w'ho have dissipated their congenital advantages. They are the ones w'ho refused to take advantage of their educational opportunities, and are jealous now of the success in business and the professions of those foreign born who worked hard to achieve their success. Because we w'ere too lazy or proud to emulate them, many of us denounce the immigrant for his acquiring of a house, car and other material symbols of success. Somehow a lot of us expected these things to come to us automatically. We can’t understand why Tony Greco or Joe Lipchuk has a house and car after only six years in this country, while w'e still live in a flat and go to w'ork on the bus.

Another specious beef we members of the majority have against the foreigners is their joining together in mutual benefit societies, ethnic credit unions and other self-help groups. Because w'e Anglo-Saxons are divided one from the other more than we are from the minority groups, we can’t understand why their self-help organizations work so well. I personally have never heard of an English mutual benefit society, and I doubt if one would work if it were formed. The truth is no two Englishmen would ever get together to help a third, as many immigrants do. What we can’t achieve ourselves, we resent in others.

Most of the charges against us laid by the new immigrant seem to be that we treat him coldly, and do not invite him into our homes. This is probably true, but it is also true of our relationships with other members of the majority group. We of British descent seem to have an ingrowm reserve and we are very slow to thaw to strangers. I don’t apologize for it, but merely state it as a fact.

During World War II there was little persecution of our German minority, and during the Korean War there was no persecution at all of our Chinese-Canadians — not to my knowledge, at any rate. The Japanese - Canadians were discriminated against during the last war, but this was largely due to government blunders and apprehension rather than public antagonism. Certainly the Japanese in my city have moved among us and are looked upon as being creditable citizens.

I think that our present - day attitude toward our minorities is a tremendous improvement over our attitude of even twenty years ago. It shows we are growing up as a nation, and that British jingoism and xenophobia are dying out. I don’t think that education is the answer to any anti-foreigner feelings that still persists among us. These feelings do not spring from the mind but from the emotions, and their cure, though slower than some of us would like, is taking place daily and unobtrusively. Certainly the day will come when we have all lost our hyphenated national titles and have become Canadians. It won’t happen overnight. but I am convinced it will happen while most of us are still alive.

For the sake of all of us, minorities and members of the majority alike, I hope I'm right, jç