The Myths of Immigration
- Ninette Kelley (Author) and Michael Trebilcock (Author)
The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy. University of Toronto Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Norman Ravvin
Though the title may not entice non-specialists, the authors of this volume have applied their combined expertise, as specialists in law, economics, and Canadian immigration, so that their study addresses broad issues related to Canadian national culture. The introduction to The Making of the Mosaic states its focus as the "history of immigration policy, not the social or cultural histories of various immigrant groups who have settled in Canada." Yet the authors are quick to set this focus against the backdrop of questions that interest us all: "how and why did our perceptions of ourselves as a community change over time, and what shifts in the configuration of ideas or interests best explain these changes? How has our contemporary communal self-definition been shaped by the lessons of history? As Canadians continue to grapple with immigration issues in the future, what do the lessons of history suggest that we might aspire to become?"
The most surprising outcome of the research present in this book is that Canadian immigration policy has not been driven by any paramount cultural values, nor has it taken any reliable, steady course. Instead, the authors argue, immigration has been used as a tool of nation-building as often as it has become the focus of racist or protectionist rants.
The authors set out to map the "major epochs or episodes" in immigration policy, and also to examine how each episode affected the pattern of Canadian communities. The earliest episodes under discussion include the first centuries of English and French colonization, during which the most dramatic effects of European immigration included the destruction of First-Nations society, and the hardening of competition between French and English colonists to affirm the ascendancy of their respective culture. A substantial change in the status quo took place following the American War of Independence, when Loyalists began to arrive in large numbers. A further influx of British immigrants began in the 1850s, with the "pauper" immigration created by the Irish potato famine.
Following Confederation, the new dominion’s government saw immigration and settlement as a necessity, to support economic growth, supply cheap labour, and provide an obstacle to American claims on the Canadian west. As few restrictions were placed on immigrants in these early decades, a vast number of newcomers arrived following the turn of the century, establishing "urban ethnic ghettoes" in major centres. One can see, with hindsight, how the country is still marked by this influx, by the transformation of the downtowns of Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg into neighbourhoods capable of receiving and nurturing communities of great cultural variety.
It was only with the failure of world economies, and Canada’s, in 1929, that the doors began to close on those wishing to enter the country. And much to the country’s shame, the following years would include a betrayal of its Japanese citizens, through internment and an attempt to deport established citizens. At the same time, Canada proved to be one of the least willing recipients of Jews fleeing German-occupied Europe.
The Making of the Mosaic reveals how unpredictable an immigrant’s likelihood of reaching these shores has been, based on economic cycles, political developments abroad, and the whims of particular xenophobic authorities. A further complication is the fact that many who have immigrated to Canada have traditionally moved on to the United States, their preferred site of resettlement. This process began with the return of many Loyalists in the 1780s and 90s, and continued at periods of high immigration to Canada. As a nation that prides itself on being the envy of others abroad, it is interesting to note that for "most of Canada’s history, the net migration rate (immigration less migration) has been either negative or only marginally positive."
The book concludes with an excellent summary of the "myths and facts" connected with immigration policy in Canada. The effect of this summary is the sense that the role of immigration in Canadian society and government policy is largely misunderstood and often misrepresented.
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MLA: Ravvin, Norman. The Myths of Immigration. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #170-171 (Autumn/Winter 2001), Nature / Culture. (pg. 226 - 227)
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