History They Didn’t Teach Me

The Aryan races will not amalgamate with the Africans or the Asiatics… The cross of those races, like the cross of the dog and the fox, is not successful; it cannot be, and never will be.

— John A. Macdonald, first Prime Minister of Canada

My sainted Mother, at the age of 19, with a teaching certificate from University of Alberta’s Normal School, rode her saddle horse daily to teach in a country school 100 miles south of Edmonton, dealing with 20 kids of Ukrainian immigrant farmers, distributed K-12 (as they say nowadays). She loved basketball, seven-man (or woman) hockey, poetry and Latin. Utah-born, she recalled that her maternal grandfather had trekked west from Illinois with Brigham Young circa 1849, although she never bragged about it.

My father, from Ontario’s United Empire Loyalist stock, was in the trenches in France when he was 18, took a bullet at Vimy Ridge and, after convalescence, flew in the Royal Flying Corps before it became the RAF. Apres la guerre, fitfully but by no means terminally, he was educated at Queens and, after a reprise of his bringing up in New York’s lower east side, he became school principal in a little Alberta town, taught algebra and chemistry to yawning farm kids, could recite great swatches of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and remained a staunch imperialist.

Together, along with my other teachers, they taught me Canadian history. It included something like the following narrative, although they played it straight; they both tended to believe it, although my Mother may have retained a certain American skepticism. Perhaps they both accepted it at least, without the contemporary emphasis, the straight-faced irony, and certainly without the sarcastic punch lines.

White supremacy was more or less accepted when they were young, and tended to be taught both in grade school and beyond until at least mid-20th Century, by which time of course they were too settled in their ways to learn otherwise. Or to pass it on to us.

South of the border, of course, things were no better. Even before Teddy Roosevelt, the assumption of white supremacy was the lynch pin of foreign policy and international trade.

In 1885, John A. Macdonald, in one of his sober moments, announced to the House of Commons that, if the Chinese were not excluded from Canada, “the Aryan character of the future of British America should be destroyed …”

It was more than a manifestation of the historic fact that Sir John was alcoholically challenged. His philosophy permeated several pieces of legislation at the time, notably the Electoral Franchise Act, wherein not only racial chauvinism prevailed but that of total male dominance, the exclusion from the electoral process of any but male property owners. Sir John personally was known to have raised many a glass to his accomplishment in this regard, drinking and testifying to his pride in this landmark legislation as his “greatest achievement.”

Included as an amendment to that historic Bill was the exclusion from voting of any member “of Mongolian or Chinese race.” This began the most vicious period of apartheid in Canadian history, (that is until the truth of the Indian residential schools became known a century later) which together make the American southern states and the South African versions look like Christian Endeavor. Because total exclusion, of course, is more segregationist and imminently evil than grudging inclusion as sub-humans.

“Asian principles, immoralities and eccentricities,” Sir John expounded during his half-sober parliamentary soliloquies, “are abhorrent to the Aryan race and Aryan principles.”

Canada, he said, would be the country that restored a pure Aryan race to the forefront, as in past glories. That is until Adolph Hitler would eventually implement the process and the vision some 70 years later.

But Sir John Barleycorn’s racism was in the extreme even in Parliament and in the country at the time, ascribing to Africans and Asians a difference in species, rather than simply a prejudice against different cultures.

But the temper of the entire country was bad enough. Mme Therese Casgrain, for example, was not successful in gaining the vote for women in Quebec until more than 50 years later, after Macdonald’s landmark electoral legislation.

The notorious Act of 1885 fixed in Canadian law the notion that race could determine voting rights. And once established, it was to continue as a defining principle in citizenship, immigration, jobs and services, lurching forward until the 1940s, ensnaring Japanese Canadians, First Nations, Inuit, Métis, African, Jewish, and Chinese people.

Somnolent Canadians today gasp when reminded of Thérèse Casgrain and the relatively recent achievement of the vote for Quebec women. Status Indians didn’t win that distinction until 1960.

Bill Annett writes four newsletters: The Canadian Shield, American Logo, Beating the Street, and The Oyster World. He can be reached at: hoople84@gmail.com. Read other articles by Bill.