What CANADA does to the ENGLISH (and vice versa)
They're everywhere — yet they’re hard to find. They’ve come from an England that’s Mod, not Olde, and live in a country they didn’t expect. They’re part of us — and strangers who can't go home again
OF ALL THE influences that have molded postwar Canada, none has had more effect and less comment than the quiet invasion of the English. Year after year they come, thousand upon thousand, and their presence among us has changed us as profoundly as we have changed them. Their arrival is at once part of a continuous historical process, for after all none of us has been around more than a few generations, and at the same time a special phenomenon of our own time. The Englishman who settled in Canada a hundred years ago may have been just as hopeful and heartsick as the man who steps off today’s boat train, with his wideeyed, fresh-faced children and bravely smiling wife. But in every other respect the pioneer and the newcomer differ as widely as — well, let’s say the English and the Canadians.
Even if the recent Labor victory prompts a new' wave of British emigration to Canada, it’s unlikely that the newcomers will be the old-line Tories we Canadians used to think of as “English." If any of those pillars of Empire still exist, it would take more than the nationalization of steel or rising taxes on income, gasoline and capital gains to budge them from Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells. The current crop of British arrivals are, by and large, a swinging crowd Mrs. Miniver would scarcely recognize.
They come from a rapidly changing island where twin sets are out. Mods arc in and a north-country accent is fashionable in London. They’re more at home in an expresso bar than a tea shop. Some are too young to remember World War II. They won’t sign petitions for the Red Ensign and they think the IODE is hilariously funny. They are astonished to find in Canada enclaves of English people who still sing Hands, Knees And Boonips-a-Daisy, listen to Gracie Fields and George Formby recordings, and reminisce about spivs, firewatching and Queen Mary's hats. An Englishman who came here fifteen years ago may be homesick for a way of life that no longer exists.
Since 1946 more than half a million British people have come to Canada, more than the total number of Italians and Germans who came in the same period. The war brides had scarcely landed when thousands of their fellow citizens followed, uprooted and war - weary, eager to escape from austerity food and utility clothing. In 1947 immigration files listed one hundred and fifty thousand waiting for passage to Canada. The Suez crisis in the autumn of 1956 brought another great wave. That December, Canadian immigration offices in the United Kingdom were giving six thousand medical examinations a week. The tide slowed in the late fifties, when prospective settlers were daunted by the dropping of the Avro Arrow project and other rumors of unemployment. Since 1962 it has been rising again.
Various as they are, the British immigrants melt into the Canadian landscape more quickly and unobtrusively than any others except the Americans. Even though individuals remain unmistakably C ockneys, Yorkshiremen or Highlanders, they don’t congregate in communities as many other immigrants have done. Instead they are so thoroughly assimilated into our national bloodstream that their influence is subtle and incalculable. Some, such as Tommy Douglas, Fred Varley, Thomas Raddall, Hilda Neatby, we have long since appropriated as Canadians. Others have become so
deeply involved in Canadian institutions that we can scarcely imagine the National Ballet without Celia Franca, the Toronto Conservatory of Music without Dr. Boyd Neel, the Stratford Festival without Michael Langham, Lester Pearson without Tom Kent.
By demanding such things as Cooper's marmalade and English sports cars, the postwar arrivals have helped to revive the Canadian market for British products. Harridge’s on Bloor Street in Toronto displays Mod-style English dresses against a paneled background cribbed from Fortnum and Mason and Liberty's. Two years ago one of the directors of Sayvette Ltd., reckoning on a market of at least two hundred thousand British customers in the Toronto area, had the smashing!)' successful idea of introducing the whole range of goods carried by Marks and Spencer, the department store practically every British housewife swears by.
Sayvette advertises on a radio program produced by Ray Sonin, a bulky Englishman seasoned in London showbusiness. Calling All Britons has a following of loyal listeners, at least half British, who flood CFRB with calls asking Sonin to play the latest records he’s fetched from London, or just to check the weather at home in Blackpool. The Red Cross often enlists Sonin's help in tracing British immigrants who haven't written home. When the CBC reschedules the BBC news or Postmark U. K., or threatens to drop a durable serial
called The Archers, the switchboard lights up with calls from indignant fans.
If it’s impossible to measure the effect of British immigrants on Canada, it’s almost as difficult to assess how Canada has changed them. They’ve been comparatively neglected by sociologists in favor of other groups more accessible or more obviously in need of assistance. The International Institute in Toronto, like other organizations that provide services for newcomers, finds that the English are less likely to ask help for themselves than to offer their services as language teachers.
A recent study, made by Dr. Tadeusz Grygier and Dr. John Spencer for the School of Social Work at the University of Toronto, points out the peculiar paradox that distinguishes the British immigrant: he adjusts well to Canada but doesn't feel himself Canadian. Comparing four groups (Hungarians, Italians, British and Germans) in terms of integration, which they defined as partaking in Canadian life, contributing to it and making use of its opportunities, the researchers devised a series of questions to measure integration and added some direct queries asking how their subjects felt about it. They discovered that this subjec-
tive response wasn't necessarily the same as their objective assessment. They found Italians who spoke no English, met only Italian friends and fellow workers and were often laid off seasonal jobs, who declared themselves perfectly at home in Canada. Most British, on the other hand, had C anadian friends, took part in community affairs and made progress in their work, but nevertheless did not consider themselves to be completely and permanently Canadian.
In the past few weeks, conducting my own random and small-scale investigation, I began to suspect why most scientific researchers tend to avoid the British in Canada. First, lacking the flocking instinct and being masters of camouflage, they're hard to single out among the resident fauna. Second, they resist being defined; they dislike being called immigrants ami most of them reject the terms “British" and “United Kingdom." 1 found my questions being narrowed to English experiences because the people I talked to usually framed their answers in these terms. The problems of Scots, Irish and Welsh are complicated by regional factors too mysterious for a native Canadian to fathom. Third, the English are too various and individual to be classified.
Each has his own reason for coming, often seemingly haphazard. One man flipped a sixpence, heads Canada, tails South Africa; another booked passage for Canada and Australia. and the Canadian passage came through first; another went straight to Winnipeg because it was the geographic midpoint of the country. A woman who has lived in Toronto fifteen years said, “We'd be Americans now if a clerk in the U. S. consulate hadn’t misfiled our applications for visas. I came here on my own. meaning to see the country and then go to Australia, and 1 met and married an Englishman. We disliked Toronto then and decided to look for better jobs in the States. While we waited for our final visas things improved, and by the time we checked what had happened w'e'd changed our minds.”
Almost everyone comes in search of more money, more freedom or both. An English friend explained, “With plenty of cash, London would be the finest place in the world to live, but it’s pretty wretched in a bed-sitting room in Earl's Court. You can spend money quickly here but you can save quickly, too.” A journalist said, "England is so cramped, so crowded that it seems to have reached saturation point. Ideas are fixed because everything has been done before. I'm fed up with driving a cart in other people's wheel tracks.”
The young and single come looking for adventure and a grubstake much as a Canadian might spend a year working in Labrador. Girls set out to earn their way round the world as secretaries, nurses or physiotherapists, but many find themselves waylaid in Canada by marriage. A young Englishman told me, “For us, North America is the romantic equivalent of Paris, full of possibilities — Steinbeck and Hemingway country. When I first came I rode three days in a Greyhound bus, eating hamburgers, and this was enormously exciting.”
Unlike some newcomers from Continental countries, British immigrants are seldom forced to work for substandard pay. Ten years ago they often started here in a makeshift job, selling shirts in a department store or encyclopedias door to door, but today they expect to find a job much like the one they left, or better. “In English companies, you still have to
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“Canadians ask, ‘How do you like it here?’ but they don’t listen”
have the right accent or you’re stuck in the same groove forty years,” said a businessman who started his own firm here. “In Canada, it’s not who you know but what you can do that counts.” In corporations they find the initial barrage of psychological testing a bit unnerving, and many feel that the easy camaraderie of the North American organization man masks a degree of ruthlessness unusual in English business.
Partly because the Immigration Branch of the Ontario government functions as an employment agency to hire skilled workers for hundreds of companies within the province, sixty percent of British immigrants go to Ontario. British Columbia, once a lodestar for the English, now draws only fifteen percent. A woman told me, “The mountains are glorious but the job situation’s bad in Vancouver, and it’s a long way home if your parents fall ill. And Victoria, incredible! Everybody told me it was so much like England, but the olde-teashoppe bit drove me up the wall.”
No matter what the Englishman expects, Canada throws him. Prepared for a land of space and silence, he finds narrow grey streets and crowded highways. Braced for chrome and skyscrapers, he is astonished by our rackety streetcars, overhanging wires and shanty-town main streets with level railway crossings. Fortified by memories of freewheeling Canadian servicemen, he is appalled by our earnestness, our dourness, our dismal beverage rooms, our liquor laws. Briefed on the Quebec situation, he may be surprised to find all his neighbors are neither French nor English but Ukrainian. Rejoicing in his escape from a rigid caste system, he gradually discovers that Canada has a peculiar social hierarchy of her own.
Neither wholly strange nor wholly familiar, Canadian customs strike some Englishmen as a distortion of
life in Britain, like the hall of mirrors in a sideshow. “It’s not goat’s milk and red cabbage, but your food seems a bit peculiar at first,” a housewife told me. “Different cuts of meat, overspiced sausages, North American foods like peanut butter and corn on the cob.” The English bride who brings her kitchen scales and her mother’s cookbook finds that none of the recipes work because our flour is different. And some English favorites are seldom served here. “Tripe and kidneys, I’m a glutton for offal,” a Cockney plasterer’s mate complained mournfully. “And I do miss a nice bit of gammon and chips.”
“When are you gonna learn?”
More perilous than the mechanics of North American life is the Englishman’s delicately ambivalent relationship with the natives, as shaded with warmth and suspicion as the kinship of cousins. Canadians who spring to the defense of minority races nevertheless complain openly that they find the English unforthcoming and possessed of a subtle sinister sense of humor. A girl from the Maritimes who married an amiable young Englishman found that her Canadian friends distrusted her husband because they felt he was making fun of them in some private way. An Englishman told me. “There’s something about the way we’re brought up that convinces us we're the salt of the earth, and we start off expecting the colonials to be impressed.”
While a Scottish accent is considered an asset in Canada, an English one is a handicap. Reporting for a new job, a woman from Leeds was startled by a fellow typist’s blunt question, “When are you gonna learn to speak properly?” When Leonard B e r t i n, a distinguished science editor, first came to Canada from London seven years ago, the CBC asked
him to write scripts for someone else to read. Another writer, told by a CBC producer that her English accent might be unacceptable to listeners, called a speech teacher to ask about lessons. Puzzled, the teacher said, “But you speak quite distinctly over the telephone.” The writer explained that she wanted to talk like a Canadian. After a long pause came the reply, “I have taught for twenty-five years and all my pupils have been Canadians who want to speak like you.”
What do the English think of Canadians? An old friend of mine, a woman of great warmth and wit, hesitated before she answered, “It’s not very polite but it’s pretty general. When we came here twelve years ago we found Torontonians unfriendly and bigoted, preoccupied with their families and old school friends. In our first eighteen months only three Canadians asked us to their homes. At the back of our minds we still remember whether people are English or Canadian and some we wouldn’t mix.” Others agreed that, in their first year here, their Canadian friends were few or none at all. A young Englishman said, “Conversation with Canadians is always the same. They ask, ‘How are you? How do you like it here?’ but they don’t listen to the answers. Then they ask where you work and how much money you make, which we find disconcerting. They always sign off with, ‘Come round and see us,’ but they don’t follow through and they’re astonished if you do go round.”
Even more complicated is the relationship of an Englishman to his fellow countrymen. A friend explained, “We’re torn. We came here to get away from other English people but we still feel more comfortable with them.” Another told me, “Your worst enemy in Canada is another Englishman who’s been here a bit
longer. Canadians aren’t aware of the barriers between English people, between classes and between north and south. It’s dreadful when people say, ‘You must meet her, she’s English,’ and push you into a corner with someone you wouldn’t have got on with at home.”
When an Englishman is homesick enough to seek out another Englishman, he sticks to his own kind. On a Saturday night in Toronto he might find half a dozen groups of his countrymen, all mutually exclusive. At the Royal Overseas League, a decorous dance is in progress; the League, most dignified of the local British associations, also sponsors, for its nine hundred members, two cricket teams, eight bowling teams, two table-tennis teams, curling, billiards, bridge, a drama club, a camera club, charter flights, weekend trips and various programs to raise money for charity. The league’s brash rival, Gerald Peters’ Piccadilly Club, folded a year ago after stranding in Britain a group of its members whose charter-flight fares had not been passed on to the airline. Other dances are held at the Britannia Club, the British-Canadian Club, and the Calling All Britons Club (an outgrowth of the Toronto City Soccer Supporters). These are the people who miss professional soccer at Wembley, the pools, the public dance halls where you can dance with respectable girls to the rhythm of a big band.
On Yorkville Street, the latter-day bohemians who lend the district color are likely to be English. More than any other single group, the floating population of young English people, blitz - toughened and resilient, free from roots and responsibility, have given this area its raffish vitality. Inspired by Chelsea, the newcomers have opened coffee houses with such names as the Mousehole and the Village Corner. Most successful is
•John McHugh, a slight bearded man from Brighton who launched the Half Beat and the Penny Farthing.
At the Skyline Hotel out near the airport, the Pub Lounge is packed with people singing Hello Dolly! and Put Another Nickel In (in the Nickelodeon), laced with an occasional chorus of Knees Up Mother Brown, to the accompaniment of the Pearly Kings, two musicians with knowing Cockney faces and an inexorable beat. Sherwood, on traps, explains, “We have to play American songs to make them sing along,” but it’s I Belong To Glasgow that gets them dancing in the aisles. The decorations are synthetic (pewter mugs slung from oak beams, a buffet bearing All Ye Can Eat for 3/6) but the atmosphere is convivial, even sentimental.
At the Clinton Tavern on Bloor Street the rugger clubs, who despise professional singalongs and soccer supporters, are roaring out unaccompanied songs in a crowded upstairs room after the game. The rugger players are a self-sufficient crowd w‘ho don’t go out of their way to meet Canadians. “We sometimes take out Canadian girls but we don’t have much in common,” one told me. “We prefer English girls but the difficulty is that if you see the same crowd you tend to meet the same English girls everywhere you go and this is a bit embarrassing. We don't care much about Canadian law or politics, we don’t feel that your standards are ours, and we sometimes get in a bit of a punchup.”
At the other end of the scale are people, such as novelist Arthur Hailey, who think of themselves as completely North American. He says, “I spent some time in Canada when 1 was in the RAF, and when 1 came back in 1947 I was determined to feel at home. I bought a North American suit to wear job-hunting, and when people called me Art I followed suit and signed myself Art Hailey. When 1 felt I’d been here long enough, I reverted to the 1 mger form which 1 prefer, and I’ve long since ceased to think of myself as an immigrant. When I go back to England I’m saddened by the way they live, but not involved. I’m a foreigner there.”
Arthur Hailey, with his total committment to North America, is luckier than some who cherish a dream of returning to England. Some couples have been shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic for years, pulled back by wives who feel trapped and isolated in Canada. On the whole, men settle here more happily. A Scotsman in plaid shirt and string tie remarked, “They’re pretty slow in Aberdeen. When I was home on vacation I wanted to jump in a car and go to a terrific show in Edinburgh, only a hundred miles away, but my friends were scandalized.” A couple who retired to Surrey after fifteen years in Canada, and jarred their neighbors by painting their brick house, tearing down their old stone wall and installing central heating, woke one morning to find their walls blazoned with GO HOME YANK.
For many who go back, the shock lies in realizing that, along with the American car and push-button splitlevel, they’ve acquired the tastes and
values of what the sociologists call an upward mobile society. A successful designer told me candidly, “It’s terrible to find your own family living in a squalor you’d forgotten, with Dad in his undershirt and braces hunched over the telly, and know you have nothing to say to one another.” Another kind of Englishman in Canada hasn’t stopped complaining, like Mrs. Moodie, that this is an uncivilized country where a thin topsoil of culture masks a bottomless sub-
stratum of ignorance. He has an uncomfortable suspicion that he’s selling his birthright for a Chev and a Chriscraft. Yet if he goes back to England, he often finds himself spending just as much time on material things, keeping his food cold and himself warm without refrigerator or central heating. A young man, telling me why he's still here in spite of his scorn for North American equipment, explained, “These things are important when you have them but
when you haven’t got them they become awfully important.”
“You don't know you've changed till you go back and don’t fit in,” a friend said. “We’re split people. The greatest thing that could happen to us would be to decide one way or the other and stick to it.”
A man who has long since made his decision told me, “We’ll always have some regrets, but our children won’t. They’re our hostages to Canada.” *