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Education and Religion

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Americans/J.m. Bumsted

Americans in Canada have been a relatively well-educated population, with a positive commitment to schooling and especially to the public school system. Illiteracy among the American-born has been generally low, although higher than among the British-born, a fact that Coats and MacLean attributed to the presence among the American-born of those recently arrived from European countries with high illiteracy rates. Certainly in recent years American-born immigrants to Canada have been extremely well educated; for the most part, they have entered highly skilled and professional occupations. In Canada, the American-born outside the separatist religious communities have felt no need for supplementary programs to maintain their ethnic preference. They may marginally (in comparison with the overall Canadian population) have preferred American universities for the education of their children, but most who have remained in Canada have used the Canadian educational system. There are few regional differences among the American-born in terms of education, and women have not for many years been disadvantaged. Indeed, American-born farmers shared the tendency of other people in rural areas to permit female offspring higher levels of education than that accorded to males (the labour of girls was not as important to the farm economy as that of boys, and they would have to make their own way in the world if they did not marry).

In terms of religious life, the New England “Yankees” and the Loyalists brought an evangelical propensity to the Maritimes and assisted the emergence of several new denominations, particularly the Baptists and the Methodists, everywhere in British North America. One group in particular, the Loyalist blacks in Nova Scotia, were responsible for an extraordinary outburst of Christian revivalism that involved both white and black itinerant preachers. Had the early black Loyalists remained in large numbers, their churches might well have become the basis for a powerful Afro-Canadian culture, as happened in the United States after emancipation.

In the period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the mid-nineteenth century, Americans helped support evangelical Protestantism throughout British North America. Their efforts in this regard had a high degree of success, partly because the American-born constituted a relatively large proportion of the colonies’ total population. Yet the American concept of the high wall of separation between church and state – a creation of the revolutionary experience – never gained widespread acceptance in Canada. Different attitudes towards the relationship of church and state continue to distinguish Canadian churches from their American counterparts.

Since the 1840s American-born immigrants have joined Canadian branches of Protestant denominations rather than bringing their own organizations with them. Even among religious communities such as the Mennonites, Canadian-based church organization has prevailed. Perhaps the Mormons and the Christian Scientists are the major exceptions to this rule, the former still retaining a close connection with the mother church in Salt Lake City and the latter with the mother church in Boston. In western Canada, American Protestants may have influenced Canadian church organization in subtle ways, since they were perhaps more willing than other newcomers to merge denominations at the local level. Perhaps not surprisingly, more than 27 percent of the American-born in Canada in 1931 were members of the newly organized United Church of Canada, constructed out of the former Congregational, Methodist, and most Presbyterian congregations in the 1920s. Clergy have always moved back and forth across the border, and in recent years American-born clergy (Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish) have been an important part of the American immigration to Canada. American Catholicism has always been extremely liberal by European or French-Canadian standards, and, aided by the American-born, it has influenced Canadian Catholicism in strongly anglophone areas.

Since the 1840s religion has not been an important ethnic consideration for most Americans. While for Mormons and Mennonites their church relationship is intimately bound up with their identities, most American-born have been quite willing to fit their religious beliefs and worship within prevailing Canadian denominations and standards, maintaining the same low and almost invisible profile that they exhibit in so many other areas of everyday life.