How They Kept Canada Almost White
Learn how Canada kept their country almost "LILY WHITE".....
There was a time, just six decades ago, when Americans of all people, found themselves in a spot to go against Canadians of race prejudice. In 1970, general Canadians are quick to apply the word "racist" to American society. A long time ago in the early years of this century, Washington and Chicago said that Canada was officially anti-negro. In those years, the Canadian government carefully put a policy of nearly total exclusion of American blacks. This is the reason why Canada today has few blacks.
This untold story was not a pleasant event in Canada's history. It is not a boldly stated policy that goes into the school's learning. There was nothing public about it but "Keep Australia White" policy. It was a black room effort almost entirely successful. It was to "discourage" the many Americans and West Indian blacks who might otherwise have moved to Canada.
The policy goes back to at least 1898. In those years Canada and mostly the West part, looked forward to inviting many American blacks. Canada had a pre-Civil War reputation as the end of the Underground Railroad, where escaped slaves could find safety. Many American blacks were discovering that even in the North they were discriminated. They wanted to be known as well as Canadians. To do that they had to go to Canada, get some of the free land the Canadians were offering and set up as farmers.
Canada didn't want them, and didn't get them. In the time period 1896-1907, when 1.3 million Europeans and Americans became Canadian immigrant’s less than 900 blacks were admitted.
The reasons were never clear, but there were plenty of reasons given. Canadians thought that the blacks were poor farmers. They also thought that the blacks were dumb because their skin colour was black. They weren't allowed to do any job but tasks that don't require skill, for instance: chopping wood and other hard labour. It was all repeated again and again that the blacks couldn't stand the cold.
Up to a few years ago there were no Negroes here than a few families arrived.
Apparently some blacks didn't mind the cold, but Edmonton didn't like them. What is curious is that at this point there can have been no more than 100 blacks living in and around Edmonton.
Other cities followed Edmonton's example, Winnipeg was among them. On June 1, 1911, the Chicago Daily News informed:
"Yet the Winnipeg Board of trade is complaining against the taking up of farmhouses in Alberta and Saskatchewan by Negroes on the ground that they are not improved to the climate... There are races which cannot stand the cold, but the Negro is not one of them."
Those few blacks who worried the businessmen in Edmonton, Winnipeg and in another place had actually got to Canada through accident. For certainly by then Ottawa had been carefully following an anti-black policy for more than a decade.
In 1899, a Canadian government agent at Kansas City, J. S. Crawford, reported that he found American blacks afraid to get literature, "which as far as possible in the past I have steered clear of." In reply to another letter, a servant in Ottawa wrote that same year:
"Sir, I am to say to you in a reply to your letter... that it is not chosen that any Negro immigrants should arrive in western Canada."
The West wasn't the only area threatened by blacks; they were coming into the Maritimes, too, and W. D. Scott was giving out strict orders to "Discourage this class of immigrants!" Sometimes, if accused of bigotry, he would write letters expressing large thoughts ("The 'coloured line,' as you call it, is not drawn in Canada in the eye of the law, and all men have exactly the same rights in this country") but he and his agents did all they could to discourage blacks.
In 1909, Scott's agent in St. Paul, W. J. White, wrote to him:
"Although we tried our very best efforts to guard closely the class of people who go to Central Canada, we find the case of the Negro probably the most challenging. If given a few helping hands and the honour to absolutely refuse to give him a certificate allowing him to the settlers (railroad) rate, we could meet it. Whether it is sensible to refuse the coloured man this certificate is a question that troubles.... In some cases, though, where we thought it safe, we ABSOLUTELY refused to give railway certificates... I would not have brought this to your attention, but I find at almost every office, applications from these people."
By 1910, with white Canadian anger to the few black immigrants rising, at least one of Scott's agents was writing whining little letters in which, obviously hurt, he was trying to avoid the blame. Crawford wrote from Kansas City that "I have stood in the way or there would have been not only a few hundred, but thousands." On March 26, 1910, he wrote to Ottawa:
"Replying to yours of the 22nd with enclosure from Mr. Walker recoloured people moving to Canada. I beg to say I am not in any way responsible for this. These people get their information in the usual way from literature sent. I am not able to discriminate as to letters. When I have known of coloured parties applying I have failed to forward literature."
Crawford was meeting a problem that was to bother the civil servants for years. Since much of its employment of immigrants was done by mail, how could they avoid sending literature to blacks? Ottawa found a way: after getting a request for help from a small town where there was no government agent, a civil servant would write to the local American postmaster and ask whether the applicant was black. Some of the postmasters' replies are still in the archives, a tribute to international co-operation. The files reveal only one postmaster who refused to help. He wrote back from Kansas City: "Postmasters are not allowed to deliver information concerning supporters of their offices."
All of this remained illegal, even if officials carried it out. But in 1911 there was a movement to make black exclusion into law; just why it didn't happen is not clear, but the evidence makes it obvious that Canada came very close to having the first racial exclusion law in the Western Hemisphere on its books.
On March 23, 1911, Edward B. Robinson, Assistant Superintendent in the immigration department, wrote to Frank Oliver, Minister of the Interior:
"I would suggest presenting to Council a communication recommending that, in benefit of the supplies of Section 38, Sub-section 'C' of the Act, an Order in Council be passed elimination the admission of Negroes."
Surprisingly, Frank Oliver agreed. He drafted a note dated May 31, 1911:
"The Governor General in Council.
"The signers has the honour to recommend that, to Sub-Section (c) of Section 38 of the Immigration Act, Your Excellency in Council be pleased to order and do order as follows, namely, that for a period of one year from and after the date of said Order, the landing in Canada shall be and the same is prohibited of any immigrants belonging to the Negro race, which race is thought unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada."
The communication was sent to council by special messenger two days later, but it never became law. What happened to it isn't clear. That summer the Laurier government had other problems: the September election threw the Liberals out of office and the "disaster" of black immigration apparently passed. Canada never got its race law.
The immigration experts had to use other methods. One was to send a civil servant, C. W. Spears, to stump the black areas of Oklahoma, warning black leaders that Canada would be dangerous for blacks. For a time Ottawa even hired a traveling black minister, G. W. Miller, to tell the same story, also in Oklahoma. And the immigration agents made the same case. W. H. Rogers, in Kansas City, wrote to W. D. Scott in 1911 to report good progress:
"We think a good beginning has been made toward checking the coloured movement Canada ward. Scores of families from Alabama and Oklahoma who have come to Kansas City on their way to the Northwest expecting to get rates from this point were persuaded that Western Canada was not the place for them and went elsewhere..."
The letterhead for Rogers' office in those years carried some advertising. "FARMS IN WESTERN CANADA FREE," said one line. Another said "Get Settler's Certificate for Lowest Passenger Rates to the Wheat and Grazing Lands of Western Canada." It did not say "except for blacks."
Canada's policy, through all the years that followed, remained definitely sneaky. The suggestion to make it public kept coming up, even after the 1911 order-in-council was abandoned, and many government officials sometimes let their real reasons creep into official documents. This was to be discouraged. On July 29, 1914, W. D. Scott, still superintendent of immigration, wrote to his agent at Halifax, W. L. Barnstead:
"Sir: I notice in a number of Board cases the cause of negative includes the statement that the person rejected is a Negro and that instructions have been received to prevent the entry of Negroes in every possible way. While it is true that we are not seeking the immigration of coloured people... I do not think it is sensible to insert any notice of the instructions or policy of the Department in a Board decision or other communication beyond stating in the proper place that the person is a Negro. I am sure you will appreciate the view I have expressed and will understand the reason.” In other words, do it, but keep quite about it.
Last July a writer in the Vancouver Sun Allan Fotheringham expressed a common feeling among Canadians who think about racial issues:
"I have no doubt at all that self-satisfied Canadians, presented with the racial problems of the U.S., and would react in the same way as do many Americans... However, we have not yet been tested... I am willing to be grateful for the fact that we have not yet been tested."
A good many Canadians for sure shared Fotheringham's appreciation. Perhaps it is important for them to know where the appreciation should be focussed, and why.*