Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
Joseph Leydon teaches geography at the University of Toronto.
Between 1905 and 1912, more than 1000 blacks migrated from the United
States to Canada. They came mainly from Oklahoma and settled in
Saskatchewan and Alberta. The author identifies racism as the dominant
reason for this migration. The final straw was the Democratic Party
success in disenfranchising black settlers in Oklahoma. Unfortunately,
those blacks who migrated to Canada encountered the same racial hatred
in the white Canadian population of the prairies.
Despite its official policy of encouraging settlers, the Canadian
government actively sought to prevent blacks from entering Canada. The
government deliberately restricted information flows to potential
immigrants, conducted rigorous medical examinations to deny entry to
those who successfully made it to the border, and even prepared an
order-in-council banning black immigration. An African-American doctor
was hired by the Canadians to spread reports among potential immigrants
that those Oklahoma blacks who had settled in Canada were unable to cope
with the harsh climate; this endeavor was so successful that the
order-in-council did not have to be employed.
Deemed Unsuitable is a well-written, carefully researched, and
comprehensive history. The author provides a solid account of the
political intrigue of the Americans in Oklahoma, the hypocrisy of the
Canadian government’s immigration policy, and the problems encountered
by the black settlers in their attempts to establish sustainable
communities (a process that was complicated by uncompromising white
neighbors). Less successful is Shepard’s attempt to locate the origin
of racism in Britain, and to use the historically negative attitude of
the British toward “blackness” as an explanation of American and
Canadian racism. The main problem with this argument is that it does not
explain the endemic racism of the French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Dutch
throughout the colonial period, or the racism of the Ukrainian and
Polish settlers on the Canadian prairies.
A final problem with Deemed Unsuitable is that it focuses on
government and policy at the expense of exploring the attitudes of the
average Canadian settler; in a book intended to help Canadians confront
their latent racism, this is a real limitation.