Saturday, May 14, 2011

Creating Postwar Canada, 2008

Creating Postwar Canada: Community, Diversity, and Dissent, 1945-1975. Eds. Magda Fahrni and Robert Rutherdale. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2008.

This collection of papers, unlike many of the books examined for this course, is not confined to the decade of the 1960s and is also not confined in its approach to examining all of the country or the country’s entire political, military, economic, or social situation between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1970s. Rather, each of the book’s thirteen contributors offer microstudies and case studies which are representative of the country in their particularity. While not offering a grand, all-encompassing narrative about Canada and the Canadian experience between 1945 and 1975 (a project which has already been attempted and which invariably overlooks many facts about and conceptions of the country), the papers illustrate how the country consisted of a diversity of events and perspectives, and that only by learning about a wide range of such experiences can someone approach an authentic understanding of the country during the years between 1945-1975. Although some of the papers are national in focus, their subject matter is specific. Others are decisively more local in focus. However, they all illustrate how Canadians of the time were responding to topics which affected many Canadians across the country, including Americanization, continentalism, and even the process of Canadianization and the strengthening of the federal state. The essays of the book’s first section all illustrate communities which, while part of North America, were in some way quite different from the continental social and/or political norm. Each of the papers emphasize how Canada of the postwar era consisted of numerous different kinds of communities, some national in scope, some regional, some defined by race and ethnicity, others defined by class or sexuality. All of these communities, however, did not neatly match common conceptions of North American life.

While not using a specific decade to define the book's periodization, the editors do use the same rationale as other authors examined for this course to legitimize the periodization used. They argue that by 2008 enough researchers had enough distance from the 1945-1975 period so as to be able to attempt to study it objectively. Indeed, many of the authors in the volume were no more than children by the time the period in question ended, and were thus not consciously involved with the issues of the time.

Not defined by a decade, the editors nonetheless offer a series of justifications for focusing on the thirty-year period in question. Often referred to in Western Europe as the "thirty glorious years" of economic prosperity and the development of a strong welfare state, Magda Fahrni and Robert Rutherdale the claim that the same label might be applied to Canada between 1945 and 1975. Indeed, they see the country's economic prosperity as being one of the defining factors of the era. This prosperity was not only the result of a strong demand for products from growing Canadian families and the large baby boom generation, but also of the demand by the United States for Canadian resources which fed that country's own economic boom, the rebuilding of Western Europe, and eventually its own economic prosperity. Although all sections of Canadian society did not benefit equally from the post-war economic boom, the social welfare and collective agreements obtained by many unions following the war did afford much of the Canadian working class a lifestyle which was greatly superior to those available to their class predecessors. Yet, the editors point out that, as is shown by papers in the collection, not only were these benefits felt differently in different regions of the country, but they were also tempered by the minor recession of 1957 to 1961, as well as the stagflation experienced in both Canada and the United States which began in the early 1970s.

The second of the six reasons offered by the editors to explain the exceptional nature of the period in question was the significant population growth the country experienced. The addition of more than ten million to population by 1975 was the result of the large post-war baby boom, but also the significant post-war immigration which was required to fulfill the labour requirements of the post-war Canadian economy. The millions of new arrivals, many of whom were not of the traditionally Western-European stock which had formed much of Canada's previous immigration, dramatically changed the ethnic composition of the country. Furthermore, as the baby boom generation challenged the established norms of Canadian society in the 1960s and 1970s, the country's growing population of Canadians who were of neither of British or French descent began to join the baby-boom activists' calls for a more equitable society where the contributions of the "other ethnic groups" would be fully recognized.

The third distinguishing factor of the period noted by the editors was the migration of the country's growing population to Canada's urban centres, as well as to the suburbs which were growing around those centres. While there had existed a movement of urbanization in Canada since the beginning of the century, the rate of urbanization was much more rapid following the Second World War. Furthermore, that movement resulted in a construction boom which both employed large numbers of Canadians and radically transformed the organization of Canadian cities.

The fourth defining element of the post-war period up to the mid-1970s is the development of Canada's social welfare state. Making use of its new powers obtained during the war, Ottawa was able to implement measures including unemployment insurance (1940), family allowances (1945), veterans' benefits (1947), and enhanced old-age pensions (1951). These were followed hospital insurance in 1957 and full medical insurance in 1966. As the editors note, the adoption of all of these social welfare measures illustrated that the federal government was increasingly acknowledging that all Canadians had the right to a certain standard of living, and that it was the job of government to ensure that everyone is at least afforded that minimum standard. Furthermore, this marked an important break from the more classic liberal position which governments had previously taken, where poverty was often the result of the poor's lack of a will to work and where government charity was designed on the premise that a low level of assistance would encourage the poor to better their own situation.

The fifth defining element of the 1945-1975 period is the increasing influence of the United States. That influence was felt not only in Canada's increasingly close military and political ties to the United States following the Second World War and the start of the Cold War, but also in trade and the significant amount of American culture to which Canadians were exposed through all media. While many Canadians did privately and publically resist and resent the growth of American influence, the economic benefits to Canadians, as well as the need for Canada to conform to American political and military demands so as to maintain sovereignty, often meant that American influence upon the lives of Canadians was inevitable. However, part of the reaction to American hegemony and imperialism was an aspect of the final defining element of the era cover by the text. The protest movements of the late 1950s to the 1970s were disparate in focus, including movements for civil rights in the United States, opposition to the American backed war in Vietnam, nationalism in Quebec, expansion of women's rights, the use of drugs, and the redefinition of acceptable sexual norms. Yet, all of these acts of protest shared the common goals of the removal of some form of oppression and the expansion of equality.  

The first article of the collection, by Joan Sangster, examines the image of the North which was offered to Canadians in the postwar period. Resulting from Ottawa's actions to increase the country's presence in the North, which was partly the result of Cold War military necessities, Sangster examines the conceptions of the North which were offered to a Southern readership that was largely ignorant about the Arctic. By examining the travel narratives written by nurses, teachers, the wives of doctors, missionaries, Hudson's Bay Company traders, as well as description of the North offered to readers of The Beaver, Sangster shows how the description offered about the North was presented as being that of educated and rational Southerners who were living amongst the irrational, premodern, and culturally deficient Inuit others.

The second article, by Eric Bédard, examines how in addition to new reforms to the administration of Quebec's government and social services during the 1960s, the Quiet revolution also saw the rise of more extreme demands for recognition of Quebec's distinctiveness. Inspired by other nationalist movements throughout the world, as well as by the countercultural movement and its rejection of all oppression, Bédard claims that nationalism and independence took the place once occupied by the Catholic church in Quebec, inspiring followers with a spiritual sense of their distinctiveness as Quebecers and the notion that that distinctiveness would not be truly realized until separation was achieved. As Joel Belliveau explains in his contribution to the collection, New Brunswick's Acadian community also underwent its own awakening of its distinctiveness and the need to defend it within from being eclipsed by the larger English society of the Maritime region. Initially dedicated to integration into and participation in the provincial and federal political and economic institutions after the war, by the 1960s a neo-nationalist movement had developed in the Acadian community which advocated for separate Acadian institutions rather than simply Acadian integration into the cultural, educational, and political institutions of the larger Maritime and Canadian communities. Such distinct institutions would allow Acadians to both maintain their distinctive communities while also benefiting from and participating in the larger regional and national communities.

Defence of difference was also important to English-Canadians in the post-war years, as is shown through Steven High's paper on Canadian English. Examining the defence of and focus upon differences in pronunciation and spelling during the 1950s and 1960s, High demonstrates how Canadian English was used as a sign of national independence from both Britain and the United States. Defence of national sovereignty is also the focus of Robert Wright's essay on the political thought of Peter C. Newman who had begun his career as a political commentator as a neo-liberal who was in favour of a free-market, conservative economic policy. However, by the 1970s Newman had become a strong defender of Canadian nationalism and protectionist measures. Wright's thesis is that Newman, who never fully gave up his fundamental preference for fiscal conservatism, reflected the country's economic ideological conflicts, where Canadians strove to find a balance between the free-market and a state directed economy. An example of this conflict between economic nationalism, free trade, and the national and international political implications of pursuing one or the other policy is seen in Dimitry Anastakis' paper on the 1965 Auto Pact. He argues that this agreement, which allowed for free-trade in the case of automobile manufacturing, and thus removed the American-Canadian border as a factor for car producers, should be understood as a significant step in the integration of the two markets, as well as other aspects of Canadian society which are affected by interaction with the American economy.

In addition to cars, another product of the postwar decades which is largely seen as an American import that has affected both the Canadian economy and Canadian culture is fast food. Beginning in the 1960s American fast food restaurants began to appear in Canada, fundamentally changing not just what Canadians ate, but the organization of cities and towns, with many such restaurants being situated in shopping malls and new car dominated shopping areas located next to the controlled access highways which had been developed to handle as well as encouraged, the large increase in automobile use following the war. However, as Steve Penfold argues in his paper, this continental, and even international, fast food market, where people all over North America and eventually the world were eating the same foods, did have regional variations. He shows that in its effort to integrate Canadian communities into the monolithic fast food community, some American/international fast food chains were forced in some cases to bow to the tastes of local Canadian communities.

The second section of the collection focuses upon the themes of diversity and dissent. This begins with an examination of debates over shopping regulations in the Vancouver and Victoria areas and how they were affected by Cold War concepts and rhetoric concerning free enterprise, dictatorship, and democracy. In his paper Michael Dawson shows how those ideas were used to further very different ideas concerning when and where the public could shop and that, contrary to received opinion about the Cold War, the evocation of the ideas and rhetoric of the time did not always succeed in stifling debate, but in some cases even fed it. This theme of dissent and diversity is also expressed in Becki Ross' essay on the diversity and interaction of communities of performers and patrons in Vancouver's striptease scene between 1950 and 1975. While focusing primarily upon men, Robert Rutherdale's contribution also deals with diversity in his examination of the role of the male household breadwinner in the postwar ear, and how that role differed according to class, region, and ethnicity. According to Rutherdale, the father of the post-war era was often the link between the family and the outside world, and how a father was able to interact with that world affected family stability, security, and their social status. Family status and stability is also discussed by Karen Dubinsky in her study of the adoption of black babies by white families in Montreal in the 1960s. Are she explains, such adoptions, while fulfilling a couple's desire to raise and care for a child, led to conflicts both within the family as well as within the larger community. Similarly, the challenging of established conceptions of particular groups during the postwar era is discussed by Christabelle Sethna’s paper on how the sexual revolution was expressed through and reacted to in the pages of the University of British Columbia's student newspaper. She shows that regardless of the liberating aspects of the revolution, women were still often portrayed in a sexist manner through the 1960s. It was only when issues and voices of second wave feminism affected the content of the paper that the publication began to regularly describe and discuss women in a non-discriminatory manner. Although also addressing changes in postwar morality, the last paper of the collection by Marcel Martel's, which examines illegal drug use in the 1960s, this paper is extremely similar to another paper by Martel which has already been examined for this course in the collection The Sixties: Passion, Politics, and Style.

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