Coming to Canada has never been free from challenges, as told in stories from new book The Land Newly Found.
Governor General Michaëlle Jean travelled to Kandahar on International Women’s Day, March 8, to speak out for Afghan women and rally our troops. Yet, growing up as a Haitian immigrant in Quebec, she saw Canada as a “hostile land,” a country where people saw her skin colour as a “stain on a white landscape.” There are many immigrants who continue to view Canada in similar light, and yet the same environment that seems to persecute them also elevated Jean to the highest office in the country. This, in a nutshell, is the central conundrum of Canada’s immigrant experience.
Norman Hillmer and J. L. Granatstein offer a historical perspective to this conundrum in their book The Land Newly Found: Eyewitness Accounts of the Canadian Immigrant Experience via a collection of 150 different voices that trace the ebb and flow of immigration to Canada. The book, published by Thomas Allen Publishers, is a must read for policymakers, politicians, new arrivals, well-settled immigrants, but, perhaps most importantly, for those who have trouble coming to terms with repeated failure in their new country. After all, this is nothing new and this book is ripe with stories of discrimination against immigrants and the challenges they have faced in their new home.
Take this quotation from the 1920s. Sir Clifford Sifton, then immigration minister, was clearly a cherry-picker: “If they come here they will swell the ranks of the unemployed; they will create slums … we shall have an insoluble problem and festering sore upon our hands which, if the experience of the past is any guide, will remain as long as Canada endures.” He was not referring to Blacks, Chinese or South Asians, but rather to “town dwellers” from Europe.
Another interesting perspective comes from Igor Gouzenko, the Soviet spy who lived in Ottawa and defected in 1945. He writes about how an immigrant’s sense of political empowerment helped him see the light, as it were. The spy’s change-of-heart turned on this response from the immigrant: “No damn chance I vote for Liberals this time — not last time either, not this time sure!”
Gouzenko writes: “Such a statement made while his country was at war and the political party mentioned was in power, left me completely astounded. … This old fruit dealer, an immigrant who had come to Canada some fifteen years ago, showed no fear whatsoever of secret agents. … These are the people, I thought, against whom the Communist Party world domination schemes are now aimed.”
It is a book full of similar vignettes. The best quote, though, comes from an anonymous English traveller who published a 1910 account in the Montreal Star. Responding to griping by his countrymen who had returned home to England, he admonishes, “Canada pays the piper and has a right to call the tune.”
His advice stands to reason, even a century later.