Writing shortly after Canadian troops went ashore in Sicily alongside their American and British allies, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and William Lyon Mackenzie King met in Quebec City to discuss Allied strategy, an editorialist in Toronto’s Saturday Night called on Canadians to pursue an agenda of national unity. The writer reasoned that Canada deserved a leading place in the post-war world based on its industrial and military efforts, but that it could not attain such benefits if it remained disunited. At first glance, the writer’s English name – Edward Cecil-Smith – would lead the reader to cynically anticipate the article to either tie Canadian identity to concepts of Christian “British-ness,” or perhaps “non-American-ness,” or maybe even “white-ness.” But he goes down a different and unexpected path.
Cecil-Smith noted, “There is too much ‘racial origin’ talk in Canada.” (For context, it is important to note that the term ‘race’ was used differently in those days, combining identities that today we would consider combinations of ethnicity, religion, and culture. The census, for instance, used ‘Ukrainian,’ ‘English,‘ ‘Jewish’ ‘Scotch,’ ‘Negro,’ ‘Chinese’ et cetera as categories of race.) He continued, “Even of the Ukrainian Canadians, who are among the latest arrivals, 57 per cent were born in this country. ‘New Canadians’ are not really much ‘newer’ than English Canadians, and the only really ‘old’ Canadians are the Indians.” Noting the importance of French Canada, as well, he concluded, “National unity campaigns must be based first and foremost on Canada—and all of Canada.”
Furthermore, he noted that the newspaper recently listed the names of 44 officers promoted in the Royal Canadian Navy. The officers were from every corner of the country, yet almost all had English, Scottish, and sometimes Irish names. Only two had names indicating possible French-Canadian heritage and none had names suggesting that they were ‘New Canadians.’ He concluded, “Without suggesting that these are not the best available men for promotion in the RCN, it can clearly be suggested that something is wrong when our navy – almost entirely of wartime enlistments – does not have representatives of nearly two-thirds of our population.” Cecil-Smith’s numbers were exaggerated – well over half of the Canadian population claimed British ancestry – but the point was no less valid. Today, of course, we know that the war-time RCN had an especially narrow view of what backgrounds made for the “best” naval officers.
The September 1943 editorial is thought-provoking and quaint to the contemporary reader. Continue reading