Intergroup Relations

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

Americans in Canada have experienced some degree of hostility, ranging from subtle suspicion to outright prejudice. Some of the hostility has come from British newcomers who found American cultural values in newly settled districts different from their own, while more has come from native-born Canadians whose suspicion of the territorial and imperial pretensions of the United States has extended to its citizens. In many cases cultural and political suspicion have been inextricably mixed and combined with senses of Canadian dependency and insecurity relative to the United States. Unlike most immigrants to Canada, who are allowed to become fully committed Canadian citizens upon naturalization, the American immigrant is often unable to escape a residual Canadian belief that his or her naturalization somehow cannot ever overcome American origins. Naturalized Americans are thus less frequently referred to as “new Canadians” than as “ex-Americans.” In its most extreme form, Canadian suspicion of the United States has led to outbreaks of overt anti-Americanism, usually spilling over against Americans resident in Canada. Expressions of Canadian anti-Americanism directed against the United States are not quite identical with expressions of Canadian hostility towards Americans in Canada, but there is usually some ultimate connection.

The first such outbreak of anti-Americanism came in the early years of the nineteenth century in Upper Canada, where, as we have seen, thousands of “late Loyalist” or “post-Loyalist” settlers born in the American colonies or the United States arrived between 1790 and 1810. The Upper Canadian élite were bothered by the political principles of the new American settlers, who were said to exhibit “a spirit of Democracy,” “Republican principles,” and “ideas of equality & insubordination.” Some of the hostility to the Americans was cultural, but most was political. It was feared that they would be of “doubtful loyalty” if an American war (and invasion of Upper Canada) occurred.

With the declaration of war by the United States upon Great Britain on 18 June 1812, the American residents of Upper Canada – like most resident aliens associated with an enemy power in any war – were caught in the middle. An American army under General Isaac Hull invaded Upper Canada only a few weeks later, and a considerable number of American-born inhabitants in the western district joined the invasion. Many other Americans, claiming neutrality, refused to join militia units to fight the invaders; other Americans in the Niagara area behaved similarly when American troops crossed the border near Fort Niagara. Over the next few years, there was considerable evidence of what historian Gerald Craig described as “disaffection, treason, or neutralism” on the part of American settlers in Upper Canada, although whether they merited the treatment they received is another matter. Official attitudes surfaced at the trials at Ancaster in 1814 of nineteen persons for high treason; eight were executed and ultimately thirty had judgments of outlawry entered against them.

Although the bulk of Americans resident in Canada had supported the British cause (many of those who did not fled back across the border), the élite of the province ended the war convinced that American “republicanism” must be suppressed if they were to avoid another war with a “powerful and treacherous” enemy. The government of Upper Canada simultaneously pressed for British immigration and struggled to suppress the resumption of an American influx; the lieutenant governor refused to permit the administration of the oath of allegiance to Americans (which prevented their receiving land titles and made them liable for prosecution under sedition acts); the provincial assembly voted in 1816 to punish residents who had spent the war years in the United States and had returned to Upper Canada; and the province refused to make land allotments to the children of Loyalists unless they could prove that both they and their parents had remained loyal during the late war. Then in 1817 Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst informed the Upper Canadian government that immigrants arriving from the United States were to be treated as aliens until properly naturalized, an instruction which Attorney General John Beverley Robinson interpreted to mean that all American immigrants were aliens. Thus began what has become known as the “Alien Question.” It kept Upper Canada in an uproar until 1827, when the matter was resolved in favour of the American settlers.

This effort legally to eliminate, in effect, most Americans from Upper Canada was an early example of the increasingly prevalent “Loyalist” mentality of nineteenth-century Ontario, which rested on a Messianic vision of the province’s role as an outpost of the British Empire. The sheer virulence of the persecution of Americans after 1815 may well have encouraged in them a sense of community that had not previously existed. But it also served as a substantial barrier to the continued arrival of new American settlers in Upper Canada. Why come to Canada to be marginalized when plenty of good land was on offer in the mid-western states?

After confederation, anti-Americanism was too important a component of both the historic and the newly emergent Canadian identity to disappear. It would resurface in times of economic crisis – as in the later 1870s, when Canada countered American protectionism with tariffs of her own, or in 1911, when Canadians rejected a reciprocity treaty with the United States. Similarly, many Canadians were concerned about the effects upon Canada of the “Americanization” of the west. “The North-West will be American,” prophesied man-of-letters Goldwin Smith in 1903. Smith was a continentalist who did not find the prospect he envisioned particularly frightening, but others did. One Manitoba writer observed in 1909, “The great majority of these American settlers are good citizens but they . . . are first, last and always, Americans.” Canadian immigration official William Duncan Scott in 1914 dismissed such concerns as silly, adding that, if Americanization “means that the progressiveness of the American will be copied by the Canadian, the more rapid Americanization the better.” The very quality admired in the Americans by Canadian immigration officials – their experience with North American agricultural and climatic conditions – often invoked negative responses in some quarters. While Scott insisted that “the people from the United States most readily adapt themselves to Canadian conditions,” British journalist Howard Angus Kennedy countered that the American farmer’s “power of screwing the last ounce of wheat out of his land and the last cent out of his wheat is undoubted; but there his life begins and ends. He may not be a rowdy; but his moral qualities are merely negative. He is a human farming-machine.”

Another round of anti-Americanism occurred in Canada in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Much of Canadian hostility was directed against the government of the United States for its policies in Vietnam, but there were other factors as well. The era was one of rising Canadian nationalism, which always expressed itself in a process of distancing from the United States. One of the major public debates was over American investment (or “ownership”) in Canada. Another concerned the prominence of Americans in the Canadian university system, especially key social science disciplines such as economics, political studies, and sociology. The simultaneous lack of knowledge about Canada on the part of the major American academic organizations did not help in the controversy, since many American groups had difficulty accepting that Canada was, indeed, a foreign country.