Canada-An American Nation?: Essays on Continentalism, Identity, and the Canadian Frame of Mind


398 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1252-7
DDC 303.48'271073





Reviewed by Graham Adams, Jr.

Graham Adams, Jr., is a professor of American history at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.


Comparisons between Canada and the United States have long occupied the
attention of scholars. In this series of essays, historian Allan Smith
describes how each nation evolved along considerably different lines.

Americans envisioned their country as a “melting-pot,” which
transformed immigrants from many cultures into a new unified people.
President John Quincy Adams observed that Americans had to “cast off
the European skin, never to resume it.” To become an American meant
subscribing to the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which
asserted that all people were created equal and were entitled to the
inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This
creed, so universal in its appeal that it inspired movements throughout
the world for two centuries, provided the glue that held an otherwise
diverse population together. Any serious deviation from it usually led
to some form of social conflict.

In contrast, Smith contends that Canadians viewed their society as a
“mosaic” consisting of separate enclaves, each preserving its own
cultural and linguistic heritage. He maintains that Canada attempted to
create a nationality that was based not on a common culture but on its
ability to serve and protect the interests of its parts. In the words of
Lord Acton, Canada consisted of “several nations under the same
state.” In fact, Smith declares that Canada is really a
“non-nation.” Canada’s pluralism, he suggests, represents the best
available model for the world in the future.

Smith’s work raises more questions than it answers. If Canada’s
chief purpose is simply to perpetuate historic cultures, is there
anything distinctively Canadian at all? If Canada is indeed a
“non-nation,” why worry about outside influences? How can Canada
recommend its system to the world when the country stands in imminent
danger of breaking up? What and where is the necessary cement to secure
the mosaic? Despite these and other weaknesses, Smith’s gracefully
written and well-researched articles make a thoughtful contribution to
the study of two of North America’s civilizations.


Smith, Allan., “Canada-An American Nation?: Essays on Continentalism, Identity, and the Canadian Frame of Mind,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,