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“Now Then, All Together!”
Assimilation, the Book, and the Educations of New Canadians 1896-1918

Paper Presented to the History of the Book in Canada’s Open Conference
for Volume II (1840-1918) by Paul Hjartson
Department of English, University of Alberta


. . and from my personal contact with Ruthenian students for the past five years, I have come to the conclusion that in the years to come the Ruthenian people will do their share in making Canada a great nation, and will say as Britishers, “One King, one Empire, one Race, and one Flag.”

(J.T. Cressey, Principal, Ruthenian Training School, 1909)

In Canada, as in most settler-invader colonies, (1) cultural representations of the immigrant are central to the national imaginary. As a settler-invader colony, Canada has historically conceived itself as “a nation of immigrants”: the immigrant has been regarded as the source of the nation’s identity, prosperity and growth. At the same time, immigrants have been viewed as the object both of the nation’s anxieties and of its anger: “Anti-Chinese sentiments were widespread in British Columbia in the nineteenth century,” as Peter Li points out, and a head tax was collected federally only on Chinese immigrants (5); “foreign” workers, it was believed, were the cause of the Winnipeg General Strike in1919; Japanese Canadians were displaced and interned as “enemy aliens” during the Second World War, and so on. With the rapid influx of immigrants to western Canada at the end of the nineteenth century, and with the realization, in the first decade of the new century, that an immigration boom was in full swing, Canadians’ anxiety about, and fear of, immigrants grew proportionally. The concern was assimilation. How was the colony to integrate the “flood” of immigrants to Canadian-that is, British--institutions and civilization? How was the colony to transform foreigners, an increasing number of whom could not speak English (or French), into good British subjects? A cartoon from Canada: The Granary of the World (1903) suggests the dimensions of the problem: a Mountie, armed with a baton, attempts to conduct a choir of Germans, Icelanders, Scotsmen, Belgians, Englishmen, Russians, Americans, Austrians, Irishmen, Frenchmen, and Scandinavians who stand knee-deep in a field of grain. The Englishman and the American hold V2Hjartarson-Image1.gif - 83275 Bytes the songbook; the song is, not surprisingly, “The Maple Leaf Forever.” (The choir, you will note, has been restricted to selected Europeans and white Americans; east-central European, Afro-American and Asian immigrants apparently need not apply.) The caption reads: “Now then, all together!” But how do you direct this choir, these “new Canadians,” to sing from the same songbook when they cannot speak the same language? In this paper I focus on the role of the book and of “English” in the assimilation of non-English speaking immigrants to western Canada in the period from 1896 to 1918. To make that topic manageable within the compass of a conference presentation, I shall focus on the assimilation of one group of non-English-speaking immigrants, variously referred to at the time as Ruthenians, Galacians, Bukovinians, Russians, and Austrians and now known as Ukrainians, and on a single series of texts, The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers. That series, which consists of two readers, was developed by Manitoba for the province’s Ukrainian bilingual schools (2); they were published by Thomas Nelson and Sons in England in 1913 and used in theV2-Hjartarson-Image2.gif - 56667 Bytes province (and elsewhere on the prairies) until Manitoba ended its bilingual program in 1916, closed its Ruthenian Training School in Brandon, and destroyed all copies of the readers in its possession.

Almost twenty years ago, in an article titled “What is the History of Books?”, Robert Darnton proposed a “general model for analyzing the way books come into being and spread through society.” A general model is needed, he argued, because the history of books is has become “so crowded with ancillary disciplines that one can no longer see its general contours” (110). According to Darnton book history is a communications circuit that runs from the author to the publisher (if the bookseller does not assume that role), the printer, the shipper, the bookseller, and the reader. . . . It transmits messages, transforming them en route, as they pass from thought to writing to printed characters and back to thought again. Book history concerns each phase of this process and the process as a whole, in all its variations over space and time and in all its relations with other systems, economic, social, political, and cultural, in the surrounding environment. (111)

Because the field is so large and involves so many disciplines, most book historians, he notes, focus on “one segment of the communications circuit and analyse it according to the procedures for a single discipline” (111). While this strategy makes sense, Darnton argues that “some holistic view of the book as a means of communication seems necessary if book history is to avoid being fragmented into esoteric specializations cut off from each other by arcane techniques and mutual misunderstanding” (111). Although twenty years have passed since Darnton penned “What is the History of Books?”, I find his arguments persuasive. (3) I share both Darnton’s understanding of book history as a communications circuit and his concern that it should not be fragmented into “esoteric specializations.” To study the communication circuits is to realize, as Darnton argues, that “books do not merely recount history; they make it” (135). Since its inception, the printing press has been an agent of social change and printed books themselves have repeatedly become the contested site of struggles over values and beliefs. The history of the book in Canada needs to bear witness to these struggles, to examine the fact that book history in this country is inextricably bound up in, among other things, the expansion of British imperialism, the spread of Christianity and of Eurocentric beliefs generally, and the colonization of the First Nations and of the Metis people.

In outlining his general model of book history, Darnton identifies six key elements: the author, the publisher, the printer, the shipper, the bookseller, and the reader. He advocates taking up the communications circuit “phase by phase,”showing how each phase is related to (1) other activities that a given person has underway at a given point in the circuit, (2) other persons at the time point in other circuits, (3) other persons at other points in the same circuit, and (4) other elements in society. (113)

Concerning his fourth point, “other elements in society,” Darnton notes that the factors “could vary endlessly.” In the accompanying diagram he reduces those elements to three general categories: “intellectual influences and publicity,” “economic and social conjuncture,” and “political and legal sanctions.” In offering this model, Darnton is not arguing “that book history should be written according to a standard formula"; he is, however, trying to show “how its disparate segments can be brought together within a single conceptual scheme” (124). As he points out, one could study the circuit of a book’s transmission at any point, from its composition to its perusal by readers. I want to focus my history of The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers on the role of the author which, in this case, is as much the Manitoba Department of Education as the man who actually edited the readers. Whatever point of entry I choose, however, I am confronted by the fact that the history of public school texts differs significantly from those published for the general trade: with public school texts, as with government publications, the author function is often filled by government itself; distribution tends to be through the provincial Departments of Education rather than through booksellers; and the readership is, in effect, a captive audience. In short, to understand the history of a public school text it is necessarily to consider how the state uses the book to construct its citizens. At the end of the nineteenth century, Canada, like other New World colonies, was competing for immigrants and for the development, including the school-aged citizens, that would result. In what follows, I want to examine the history of The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers according to Darnton’s general model; that involves taking up the communications circuit phase by phase under the points of analysis Darnton sets forth.

Before I can proceed to that examination, however, some background information is necessary. Between 1901 and 1921 the population of the Canadian prairies increased fivefold, from 400,000 to 2 million. While that increase can be attributed to various factors, historians usually single out the work of Clifford Sifton. Following his appointment in 1896 as the federal Minister of the Interior in Wilfrid Laurier’s government, Sifton made immigration to the Northwest Territories a high priority. He developed a vigorous campaign to attract settlers from the United States, Britain and-despite considerable opposition-east-central Europe. Sifton, you will remember, preferred agricultural immigrants and staunchly defended the “stalwart peasants in sheepskin coats” who came from the Ukraine. You may also remember that Sifton resigned in 1905 following a dispute with Laurier over school policy for Saskatchewan and Alberta. In Ukrainians in Canada: The Formative Period, 1891-1924 Orest T. Martynowych notes that “Sifton’s policies changed the character of Canadian immigration, and the proportion of Americans and continental Europeans swelled dramatically.” While the increase in American immigration was significant, the most remarkable developments involved the continental Europeans. As Martynowych points out:Before 1896 [continental Europeans] rarely numbered more than 5,000 in any year or represented more than 5 or 6 per cent of all arrivals. From less that 5,000 in 1897, they grew to almost 22,000 in 1899 and to over 37,000 in 1903 and 45,000 in 1906. Indeed, between 1897 and 1905 about 170,000 or 26.5 per cent of the 644,000 immigrants who arrived in Canada came from continental Europe. They included 72,500 immigrants who arrived from Austria-Hungary (of whom 60,000 were Ukrainians), 28,000 from Russia, 23,000 from Scandinavia, 20,000 from Italy and about 12,500 from Germany. (43)

While the arrival of so many non-English speaking immigrants created a nativist blacklash, the majority belief prior to 1905 was that these “foreigners” could be assimilated. An editorial published in the Winnipeg Free Press on July 8, 1898 reflects that optimism: “Canada,” the editorial declares, “is Anglo-Saxon and will remain Anglo-Saxon. Foreigners may come in their thousands, and they, too, if not in the first, then in the second generation, will also be Anglo-Saxon” (Barber, Introduction, xvi-xvii).

If the Winnipeg Free Press editorial reflects the colony’s belief in its ability to assimilate the non-English immigrants, it also reflects its recognition that the assimilative work was more likely to be accomplished among the second generation than the first, that is, among the immigrant’s children rather than among the immigrants themselves. The work of assimilation focussed on the children; its primary setting was the public school; and its medium was instruction in the English language. The Ukrainians began arriving in Manitoba in large numbers just when the new federal government in Ottawa, under the leadership of Wilfrid Laurier, sought and won a compromise on the “Manitoba School Question.” Here is how Marilyn Barber characterizes that issue:In the 1890s the English-speaking majority, becoming more dominant in the province and encouraged by Ontario, demanded that the existing system of Protestant and Roman Catholic schooling be replaced by a uniform national school system with no special rights for Roman Catholics and with English as the language of instruction. The Roman Catholic minority predominantly French-speaking, led by Archbishop Taché and his successor Archbishop Langevin and supported by Quebec, fought to retain the separate official status of the Roman Catholic schools. The resulting compromise in 1897, known as the Laurier-Greenway Agreement, satisfied neither group. In response to the will of the majority, a uniform nondenominational system was imposed. However, the minority won on the language issue as a bilingual system of education was made mandatory if requested by the parents of ten pupils in a school who spoke French or any language other than English. (287; emphasis added)

The Ukrainians who arrived in Canada at the turn of the century came with the belief that they could retain their language and customs. That belief, as Cornelius Jaenen notes, was reinforced both by “the reservation of bloc settlement areas for ethnic groups”(517) and by the subsequent development of bilingual public schools, as Ukrainian immigrants exercised their right under the Manitoba School Act of 1897, which institutionalized the provision for bilingual schools. The Ukrainian settlers’ belief that they could retain their language and customs was further reinforced when the provincial government established the Ruthenian Training School for bilingual Ukrainian teachers in 1905.

When Manitoba commissioned the Ruthenian-English readers, the Ukrainian immigrant community and the government were, in effect, working at cross purposes. The Ukrainian immigrant community saw bilingual schools as a means of retaining their language and culture. The provincial V2-Hjartarson-Image3.gif - 78563 Bytes government and the English majority saw the bilingual schools simply “as a transitional stage leading to unilingual English education” (Barber, Canadianization, 287), that is, as a stage in the assimilation of the immigrants. The following statement by a Manitoba school inspector, written in 1906, reflects the majority view:

The great work of the public school in Canada is the formation and development of a high type of national life. This is particularly true in Western Canada, with its heterogeneous population. Here are to be found people of all countries, from the keen, clever American, with highly developed national ideals, equal to but perhaps somewhat antagonistic to our own, to the ignorant peasantry of central and Eastern Europe and Asia. These incongruous elements have to be assimilated, have to be welded into one harmonious whole if Canada is to attain the position that we, who belong here by right of birth and blood, claim for her. The chief instrument in this process of assimilation is the public school. (Maguire 31)

In these comments, the peasantry of central and eastern Europe-with the Ukrainians typically viewed as the lowest of the low-are grouped with the “peasants” of Asia. This categorization is telling. In the early decades of this century the federal government used several measures, including a head tax and legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act to bar Asian immigrants to Canada; they were considered unassimilable and a threat to the dominion. Like the Chinese, the Ukrainians were, on the one hand, valued for their labour and, on the other, viewed with distrust and fear; unlike the Chinese, however, they were thought to be assimilable. Both the fear and the threat were intensified by the fact that the Ukrainians had entered western Canada under the block settlement plan. Here is J.T. Cressey, the principal of the Ruthenian Training School, essentially a normal school for Ukrainian bilingual teachers, speaking in 1908:As the Ruthenians and Poles have been place in large communities by themselves, where, if allowed to grow up in ignorance, they would eventually become a menace to the state, therefore it seems to me that the state must educate these people for its own self-preservation. (Cressey, 1908, 107)

By “educate” Cressey means “assimilate.” The locus of that assimilation was to be the public school and the primary instrument was understood as the English language itself. “Teach the children to speak, to read, and to write English,” declares another [Saskatchewan] school inspector in 1913, “-this is our first and great educational commandment. Our second commandment is like unto the first-through the common medium of English, within our schools [to] build up a national character” (cited in Barber, Canadianization 283). The government viewed the bilingual Ruthenian-English readers as one step in that process.

With this information in place, it is possible to sketch out the history of The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers according to Darnton’s general model. When the Ukrainian bilingual schools began operations, the teachers found themselves without suitable texts; some used school texts imported from the Ukraine. At the founding Ukrainian teachers’ association conference held in Winnipeg in 1907, the teachers petitioned the provincial government to publish bilingual readers. The readers finally appeared in 1913. No editor is listed on the title page of either text and neither includes an introduction or preface. According to Jaenen, both readers were edited by Michael Stechishin, himself a graduate of the Ruthenian Training School, who taught in schools in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and who entered law school at the University of Saskatchewan in 1916 (524). As the absence of Stechishin’s name on the title page suggests, however, the author of this text is less Stechishin than the government of Manitoba itself, which prescribed its contents and authorized the books for use in the public schools. Understood in this way, The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers are government documents and the history of these texts needs to be examined with that in mind. Robert Darnton’s first point of analysis concerns the relation between the authoring of this text “and the other activities that a given person has underway at a given point in the circuit.” Viewed in this way, Darnton’s question is not just about Stechishin’s other activities as an author but about the Manitoba government’s own activities as an author of school texts, particularly school texts designed for its minorities. To analyse the history of The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers under this heading is to consider the readers developed for use in the other bilingual schools, including the French, the German and the Polish schools and other book-related activities, including libraries, that centered on the public schools. That analysis also involves a study of the government’s attempts to make inroads in communities, such as the Mennonite settlements, which had negotiated the right to educate their own children as part of their immigration agreement.

Darnton’s second point of analysis concerns the activities of other authors at the time The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers were published. If we view the author as both Michael Stechishin and the Manitoba Department of Education, this becomes a very interesting analysis, on the one hand, of the writing undertaken and published by Ukrainian-Canadian teachers and intellectuals in the year prior to WWI; and, on the other, of the activities of other prairie Departments of Education to educate-that is, assimilate-the non-English-speaking “strangers” within their midst. The English-Canadian characterisation of Ukrainian immigration to western Canada as made up almost entirely of peasants is called into question by the vigorous and rich intellectual work published at this time and by the vitality of the Ukrainian-Canadian press. The activities of the Saskatchewan and Alberta Department of Education are of considerable interest to the history of The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers. Although Saskatchewan had no statutory provision for bilingual schools, “there were departmental regulations permitting French as a language of instruction in the primary grades, and foreign languages to be taught between three and four o’clock each afternoon” (Jaenen 527). Between 1908 and 1916 Saskatchewan developed much of its schooling on the Manitoba model; in 1909 it opened the Training School for Teachers for Foreign-Speaking Communities in Regina. The history of that school, however, was much more troubled than its Manitoba counterpart and there is some evidence that Manitoba-trained teachers taught in the Saskatchewan schools and that they made use of the Manitoba readers. The arrival of Manitoba-trained, Ukrainian bilingual teachers in Alberta in 1913, the year the Manitoba readers were published, caused the so-called “Great Ruthenian School Revolt” in which Ukrainian school trustees “in at least twelve school districts” insisted on hiring the Manitoba-trained, Ukrainian-speaking , bilingual teachers--who did not qualify for a teaching licence in Alberta--rather than unilingual English teachers.

Darnton’s third point of analysis concerns how the author’s activities “fit into the other stages in the life cycle of” (119) The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers. I am concerned here about my ability to document the various stages in the life cycle of the readers but government records, including both the published annual reports of the Manitoba Department of Education and the unpublished ministry correspondence, offers a wealth of information and may offset what I fear could prove a relative paucity of information in the publisher’s files. Government records permit me to document not only the details of publication but the arrangements for distribution and for the use of the readers in the classroom. The life cycle of The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers came to an abrupt end in 1916 with the provincial government’s decision to halt all bilingual language instruction in the province and to dispose of all copies of the bilingual readers in its possession. Government records may enable me to confirm or discount published claims that copies of the Ruthenian-English readers were burned on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature.

Darnton’s fourth and final point of analysis concerns the relation between the texts and “other elements in society.” As Darnton himself acknowledges, these other elements could be numerous. I want briefly to mention three. The first was the reform movement in education which began in the United States and which had its counterpart on the prairies. That movement was gaining force in the year The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers were published. Ukrainian immigrants wanted their children taught both English and the children’s mother tongue; what is more, they argued that the students were best taught English by teachers who knew the students’ mother tongue. The reform movement in Canada, however, advanced the view that immigrant children learned English best when only that language was used in schools. This argument is forcefully advanced in Norman F. Black’s English for the Non-English published in Regina in 1913, the same year in which The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers appeared. As you can well imagine, Black’s conclusion that English is best taught to beginners through the exclusive use of that language in the classroom pleased, and was frequently cited by, those who opposed bilingual education and who insisted that the non-English should give up their foreign ways and learn “to talk Canadian.” The backlash against bilingual education gained even more strength in the following year, that is, in 1914, when Britain, and hence Canada, entered World War I and Ukrainians, along with other central and eastern Europeans, were declared “enemy aliens.” As the war progressed, the movement against bilingual schools became unstoppable: the bilingual program in Manitoba was halted; the Ruthenian Training School was closed; and permanent teaching certificates were limited to British subjects. Increasingly, the Ukrainian press was censored and, in an ironic twist, government authorities required Ukrainian newspapers and journals to publish everything in Ukrainian and in English translation. The success of the Bolshevik revolution further heightened Anglo-Canadian fears. Ukrainian men naturalized after 1902 were deprived of the vote and many Ukrainians, including some teachers, were interned.

States establish national identities, in large measure, through exclusion, that is, by determining who does not belong as well as who does. The 1903 cartoon, “Now, Then, All Together!,” indirectly suggests that, if the colony wanted to maintain its Anglo-Saxon character, it needed to transform the immigrants arriving in the western provinces at the turn of the century. Valued for their labour, Ukrainian-speaking immigrants were not excluded from the nation; they were, however, thought to need radical transformation. The importance of public education and of print culture in forming citizens for the modern western state cannot be overestimated. The history of the book in Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is inextricably linked with “nation-building” and the race, class and gender politics that involved. Darnton argues that the communication circuit “transmits messages, transforming them en route, as they pass from thought to writing to printed characters and back to thought again” (111). That act of communication, however, like others, is shaped and traversed by a great many forces. As this brief history of The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers suggests, all communication circuits are not equal; all agents in those circuits are not equal; and, in the final analysis, not all messages are heard. As the history of the book in Canada, this federally funded project not only studies the communication circuits but participates in building the nation-in its two official languages-and in legislating who and what gets included and excluded. In this political scenario, the History of the Book in Canada/ Histoire du livre et de l’imprimé au Canada is not unlike the mountie intent on conducting a motley choir of Canadians who seldom sing from the same songbook. It is a sobering task. While that history cannot include everyone and every printed text, it needs to be as self-reflexive as it can about the task at hand and it needs to represent as fully as possible the struggles that have shaped Canadian print culture.

Works Cited

Adams, Thomas R. and Nicolas Barker. “A New Model of the History of the Book.” A Potencie Of Life: Books in Society. Ed. Nicolas Barker. London: The British Library, 1993. 5-43.

Barber, Marilyn. Introduction. Strangers Within Our Gates; Or Coming Canadians. Toronto: UTP, 1972. vii-xxiii.

“Canadianization Through the Schools of the Prairie Provinces Before World War I: The Attitudes and Aims of the English-Speaking Majority.” Ethnic Canadians: Culture and Education. Ed. Martin L. Kovacs. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Centre, 1978. 281-94.

Canada: The Granary of the World. Ottawa: Department of the Interior, 1903.

Cressey, J.T. “Ruthenian Training School-J.T. Cressey’s Report.” Manitoba, Report of the Department of Education, 1908. 106-07

“Ruthenian Training School-J.T. Cressey’s Report.” Manitoba, Report of the Department of Education, 1909. 114-5.

Darnton, Robert. “What is the History of Books?”Daedalus, 111.3 (1982); rpt. The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History. London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990. 107-35.

Jaenen, Cornelius J. “Ruthenian Schools in Western Canada 1897-1919." Pedagogica Historica 10.3 (1970): 517-41.

Lawson, Alan. “Postcolonial Theory and the ’Settler’ Subject.” Testing the Limits: Postcolonial Theories and the Canadian Literatures. Essays on Canadian Writing 56 (1995): 20-36.

Lawson, Alan and Anna Johnston. “Settler Colonies.” A Companion to Postcolonial Studies. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. Pp. 360-76.

Li, Peter. The Chinese in Canada. Second Edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Maguire, T.M. “North Central Inspectoral Division-T.M. Maguire’s Report.” Manitoba, Report of the Department of Education, 1906. 29-32.

The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers. First Reader. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, [1913].

The Manitoba Ruthenian-English Readers. Second Reader. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, [1913].

Martynowych, Orest T. Ukrainians in Canada: The Formative Period, 1891-1924. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 1991.

Slemon, Stephen. “Unsettling the Empire: Resistance Theory for the Second World.” World Literature Written in English 30.2 (1990): 30-41.


1Both the definition of settler colonies and the place of those colonies in postcolonial critique are contentious issues. See the articles by Lawson, Lawson and Johnston, and Slemon. Although Lawson employs the term “settler-invader,” he more frequently speaks simply of “settlers.” (In “Settler Colonies” he offers a rationale for using “settlers” as shorthand for “settler-invader.”) Not wanting to risk the loss of “invader,” I have retained it here.

2According to Jaenen, by 1914 there were 132 Ruthenian and Polish schools in the province (524).

3For a critique of Darnton’s model, see Adams and Barker.

Paul Hjartarson
Paul.Hjartarson@ualberta.ca