After the War
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
Allen Seager taught in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby.
This richly illustrated volume is intended to be a popular, not academic, study of a crucial but neglected chapter in Canadian immigration history: the influx of over a million war-ravaged Britons and Europeans during the years 1945-1955. Jean Bruce overstates the case when she portrays this period as “the bridge between today’s urban, industrial, heterogeneous society and the Canada of... family farms and primary industries....A country whose population was largely divided into two basic groups,” French- and English-speaking. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, not Mackenzie King and St. Laurent, presided over that transformation. The post-war immigration, however, was to have a decisive regional impact. The migrations of 1899-1913 and 1921-1930 were focused on the western provinces; 70 per cent of post-war immigrants made their homes in central Canada. They would be, overwhelmingly, urban dwellers, and they contributed a great deal to the self-sustaining economic growth of the post-war era.
After the War is cleverly organized around a series of topical themes such as the arrival of the war-brides (all 48,000 of them), so-called Displaced Persons, and workplace experiences, described in an excellent chapter entitled “On the Job.” The Toronto subway stands as an enduring monument, among others, to the immigrants’ hard work and dogged determination to make “good” in a land whose future they “never doubted.” Bruce does not spare the authorities in her recounting of many examples of rank exploitation in the industrial and agricultural milieux, which stand out among the 250-odd interviews she conducted while researching After the War.
In the final analysis, however, this government-sponsored publication sheds as much light on official views on the immigrant “question” as on the immigrants themselves. Bruce takes pains — sometimes painfully — to explain the rationales behind the shifting immigration policies of the era, and the dust-jacket of the book highlights a somewhat unctuous quotation from Cabinet member J.W. Pickersgill in 1955: “when an alien applies for permission to come to Canada, he is like someone applying for membership in a club.” To paraphrase Winston Churchill, some country — some club!