Saturday, August 25, 2007

Imperial Sentiment In Early 20th Century Canada

Imperial Sentiment In early 20th century Canada

In order to understand the extent of the influence of the imperial factor in Canada, one can briefly look at the post-war sentiment that existed after the American revolution, where U.S. Citizens immediately and unrelentingly sought to build a national character that permanently severed ties to the motherland. Yet for Canadians, despite a post-confederation moment of crisis - “when Canadians looked inward, fully engrossed with their internal problems,” - the imperial sentiment remained strong.

This is most obvious in the late 1890's, with the rise of the New Imperialism in Canada. With the coming of the Boer War and influenced by Victorian idealism, many in English Canada actively linked Christian missionary activity with the aggressive, secular economic imperialism, therefore obviating any critical response to the excesses of empire; as a result, “British supremacy” was logically seen as “the only route to lasting peace” in Southern Africa. This new imperialism received a boost from Canadian George Parkin, a teacher and lecturer. Parkin published a map of the British Empire that sought to visualize and reinforce the the many ties that existed among the various constituents of that empire.

Others have qualified the imperial sentiment of early 20th century Canada by referring to a “North Atlantic Triangle;” one where the “interrelationships of Canada, the U.S. and Britain has had an important impact on the histories of all these countries...where Canada relied upon British might and prestige to counter American military economic encroachments.” Notwithstanding the American factor, Mackenzie's analysis is in line with the rise of Neo-imperialism during this era. Again, this is not to deny the existence of a Canadian national sentiment and identity: it certainly did exist in literature for example. Indeed, William Arthur deacon would find a rich heritage to build upon for his own work as promoter of Canadian literature.

The Confederation Poets, part of the larger Canada first Movement, produced widely heralded native poetics. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908), Leacock's musings in Sunshine Sketches of a little Town (1912), and poet Emile Nelligan in Quebec all reflected domestic and unique Canadian themes. But the outward imperial sentiment that was operating on a hegemonic level - “an ethical state of mind10” - went a long way in explaining the necessity for someone like Bill Deacon. Even the Canadian nationalists, while rejecting an enforced role “as granary of the empire” by Britain, sought to join the “Mother country in its cosmopolitan intercourse” with the world. Admittedly, Canadian contribution to, or some would say losses in the Great War had a large role in realigning patriotic sentiment inwardly.

Even then, as Philip Buckner has tried to argue, there is no conclusive evidence that a plurality of Canadians demanded an end to the Imperial relationship in the inter war period.

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