My Teaching This Week

17 03 2010

HIST 1407  (Canadian History Survey Course)

A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter interviewing two parachute-qualified officers, one from the Royal 22e Régiment, who are part of the First Rotation Leave, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, 8 December 1944.

My lecture on Monday dealt with the history of the media in Canada. I talked about cultural policy as it applied to magazines, radio, television, and feature films. Topics touched on in my lecture included the introduction of Canadian Content regulations for radio stations, the creation of the CBC and CTV, and subsidies for magazines. I also spoke about the history of the media in Quebec. Although my focus was mainly on giving students the basic facts of the case, I supplied a few of my opinions on this issue. I was pretty critical of cultural nationalism/protectionism and pointed that the it involved the diversion of resources into film production, etc., that could otherwise have been put in the hospitals, highway widening, students loans, etc. I also pointed out that some of the movies produced in the Canadian film boom of the early 1980s were total garbage. I think that students could really relate to this lecture.

My lecture on Wednesday was on the history of immigration policy in Canada from 1867 to the present. This is a fun lecture to give because the narrative I present is a fundamentally positive one—Canada used to be a really racist country but it later became a beacon of tolerance and progress in the world beset with ethnic nationalism. It’s fun to tell a story that starts out bad and then has a happy ending! The students seemed really engaged in this topic, although perhaps there is less interest in it than there might be in a major urban centre. I began the lecture by speaking about the constitutional division of responsibility for immigration between Ottawa and the provinces, placing the actual text of the relevant section of the British North America Act on the screen. The then talked about the successive Immigration Acts, the Chinese Head Tax, Clifford Sifton and the development of the Prairies, the voyage of the Komagata Maru, Canada’s shameful response to Jewish refugees in the late 1930s, the enormous changes to Canada’s immigration policy under Diefenbaker and Pearson, the introduction of the points system, and the Cullen-Couture Agreement.


Komagata Maru

West Indian students in Montreal celebrated the anniversary of the West Indies Federation with exhibitions of limbo, voodoo and calypso dances at the Negro Community Centre. Credit: Canada. Dept. of Manpower and Immigration / Library and Archives Canada / C-045104

In the lecture, I showed how the evolution of Canada’s immigration policy was connected to changes in Canada’s identity and the transition from ethnic to civic nationalism. I touched on our declining birthrate and how Canada’s response to this issue has differed from that of other industrialized countries. I also pointed out that for several decades Canada was a country of net-emigration. Many students were surprised to learn that Canada was a net exporter of people for many years. As a way of illustrating this point, I spoke a little bit about the origins of the California town of Ontario and about French Canadian settlement in the factory towns of New England. I usually mention that the author of O Canada died in Boston, although I forgot to say this when I delivered the lecture this year. In the last part of the lecture, I showed how Quebec’s attitudes to immigration are somewhat different from those in English-speaking Canada and I differentiated Quebec’s inter-culturalism from the multiculturalism of the rest of the country. I concluded the lecture on a very positive, upbeat note and stressed that Canada is a global success story when it comes to immigration: an astonishingly high proportion of our population is of foreign birth, yet we have been able to preserve social cohesion in a way that is the envy of other nations. We are so lucky in Canada to have a consensus in favour of multiculturalism, whereas other countries are stuck with Jean-Marie Le Pen, the BNP, and Lou Dobbs.  I pointed out that Australia, Switzerland, and, more recently, the United Kingdom have copied our points system!

HIST 4165

In my 4th-year seminar on British North America in the Confederation era, we heard four students present about their research. One student presented her research on the evolution of abortion law in 19th century British North America. She made some pretty interesting discoveries in the primary sources. The next presentation was on Sir John A. Macdonald and the 1871 Treaty of Washington.

Some good primary source research was presented there. We also heard a fine presentation on the role of evangelical Protestantism in the Sons of Temperance organization. The last presentation to today’s class was on Canadian reactions to 1857 Mutiny in India. This student talked about the formation of a regiment in Canada to help put down the rebellion. The student compared French Canadian and Anglophone reactions to the proposal to dispatch this force to India. I was really impressed with these presentations. After the class the students headed off to the campus pub to drink green beer. They certainly deserve a drink for their hard work this St Patrick’s Day!


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