THE UNTROUBLESOME CANADIANS
While our two largest racial groups hammer noisily at their difficulties and disagreements, the third — against all natural expectations — makes no uproar at all. What makes this so surprising is that the third great racial strain is German
IN THE THREE AND A HALF CENTURIES since the arrival of Canada’s first foreign-born, officially authorized and permanent settler—a Paris apothecary named Louis Hébert who landed at Quebec in 1617 only after the government had defrauded him of half his promised grubstake — no single instrument of the nation’s growth has created as much dispute and paradox as its policy on immigration.
Immigration has brought the coun-
try such various individuals as John A. Macdonald, Jimmy McLarnin, Hal Banks, C. D. Howe, Galina Samtsova and Bob Edwards. We have told outrageous lies to coax some immigrants in (notably during the circus-tent promotion of the empty west in the early 1900s) and practised outrageous discrimination to keep others out (as the Immigration Act still permits and encourages its administrators to do when confronted with applicants from most parts of Asia and Africa). Both during the years of flow (as many as 400,870 as long ago as 1913) and of ebb (as few as 74,586 as recently as 1962) certain basic arguments have remained unchanged. Too much immigration, according to one of the two bedrock theories, has weakened the country's internal life and reduced its stature in the world. Too little immigration, according to the other, is all that's kept us from achieving the highest living standard ever known to man
and a place in world affairs almost equal to that of the former immigrant heaven of the U.S.A. Within this basic framework, the subsidiary debates remain as far from settlement as ever. Protestants have maintained that we're letting in too many Catholics and Catholics that we're letting in too many Protestants. French Canadians have objected that we're admitting too many English and English Canadians that we’re admitting too many foreigners. Those who want more new
Canadians have claimed that every one of them creates five new jobs; those who want fewer new Canadians claim they either take existing jobs from old Canadians or downgrade the whole labor market by working for substandard pay under substandard conditions.
In one area, however — perhaps the most explosive area, potentially, of all — the arguments over immigration have fizzled into an astonishing calm. Although the 1,050,000 Canadians of German birth or descent are the third-largest ethnic group within the national population — and although more than a quarter of them have come here since the last world war alone — they have turned out to be the least controversial, the least quarrelsome and least quarreled-over element in our whole society.
This is doubly surprising in view of the historic fact that Canada, as a whole, has always regarded each of its
parts as a desperate and probably hopeless problem. The “French problem’’ and its corollary, the “English problem,” are of course built into the national bloodstream as firmly as corpuscles. So are the Indian problem and the Eskimo problem, which are essentially non-immigrant problems. The American problem, another highly special one, casts its golden shadows everywhere. The Irish problem, a nightmare sequel to the terrible potato famines of the nineteenth century, deposited twenty thousand dead and dying fugitives in Canada in a single year and left their survivors to pick up the struggle for bare life in a land almost as hostile and meagre as the one they'd left. The British or U. K. problem — a pragmatic, hot-and-cold affair which is not to be confused with the more durable English problem — fed discordant headlines on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 1900s and again in the late 1950s; both times
fairly large numbers of immigrants went back to the United Kingdom with the complaint that, like Louis Hebert, they had been lured to Canada by glowing promises and then callously short-changed on them. The Hungarian problem, created when we waived most of our screening procedures to admit thirty-five thousand refugees from the abortive Budapest uprising of 1956, has slowly begun to liquidate itself, but even the staunchest defenders of its underlying humanitarianism acknowledge that its net effect on our crime, mental-health and unemployment rates has been, thus far, an adverse one. The Italian problem has created ghettos of illiteracy, slum housing and exploited labor in most major cities. The Ukrainian problem, as the royal commission on bi-culturalism was quickly informed on its first trip to western Canada, turns on a well-organized and politically significant community which
does not intend to let its own special interests go by default in a private duel between Quebec and The Rest. After seventy baffling years the Doukhobor problem still preserves itself by opposing reason with force and, when that doesn't work, opposing force with reason. The Chinese, Japanese, East Indian and West Indian problems have trapped almost every government since Confederation into displays and denials of race and color prejudice.
THE GERMAN PROBLEM should have been the biggest and ugliest immigration problem of them all. Since 1945 alone it has brought to Canada almost three hundred thousand people whose old country has fought two w'orld wars against their new one. By census definitions more than five in every hundred people who live here have German origins. Tw-elvc in every hundred immigrants of the last twenty years made their way to Canada
directly or indirectly from Germany.
Yet the obvious hazards and the predictable penalties simply haven’t materialized. The major facts about the German Canadians of 1964 mock almost every logical guess of 1945.
a Not a single unreconstructed Nazi or fascist agent has slipped through the security screen and been admitted to Canada. “Or maybe you’d better put it this way,” a high-ranking RCMP officer said. “If anybody got through we haven’t caught him.” ° Despite the fact that almost half of Germany, geographically, is a communist state, not a single communist agent has been smuggled in. “Or maybe you’d better put it this way,” a former officer of the department of citizenship and immigration said, “we had the goods on one but the day before we were going to make the arrest she caught a plane out.”
a Far from creating a boisterous and belligerent colony of the master
race the German Canadians are almost painfully unassertive. They don’t run for public office, either, as Germans or as Canadians. In Ontario, the home of half Canada’s Germans or German descendants, there was no German-Canadian candidate in the last federal or provincial election or even in the perpetual scramble for places at City Hall. John Diefenbaker, four long generations removed from Bavaria, is one of the very few Canadians with a Germanic name who’s even tried to make good in Canadian politics.
D Although Germans were classed as enemy aliens by Canada as recently as 1950, we w'ill spend more money, per head, inviting Germans to come to Canada in 1964 than we’ll spend on any other national group.
a German Canadians aren't “cheap” labor nor are they “dear” labor. Their earnings are almost exactly equal to the national average.
Like their attitude to politics their attitude to their new' country is extremely reserved. You will seldom find a German Canadian waving the swastika or the flag of the new German republic. You will seldom find one waving the Union Jack or the Red Ensign either. “1 don’t get emotional about Canada and I don’t expect Canada to get emotional about me,” a former Luftwaffe navigator now doing well in an office job in Toronto told me. “I came here because there was lots of room and a hope to buy a house and a chance to get out from under Adolf. It’s been fine, but if I was supposed to get fired up about the country I’ve failed. It’s a place to live — a damned good place — but not a place to get excited about.”
“My daughter will be a Canadian,” a stenographer in Kitchener said. “But 1 can’t be one, no matter how I try, and neither can my husband. He’s scared, he’s terribly scared. He goes
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It isn’t hard to get work here, one German found—at half pay
to look for a job and tries to explain he’s a trained forester and his English isn’t very good and they tell him to try down at the Chinese café and he knows he shouldn't lose his temper but he comes home without a joh and mad at me. We’ll get along. There are scars though. I suppose there are always scars when you tear yourself away from home.”
A twenty-eight-year-old house painter — if the coincidence ever strikes him he keeps it to himself — offers a more detailed case history. “My father was a Nazi, a real early one, and 1 won’t apologize for him. He needed a job and we needed to eat.” The only time Otto’s father even hinted that he'd had second thoughts was when he wrote from the Russian front enclosing a news clipping about decorations for generals and adding: “They can keep their crosses and Ell keep mine.” His father got home in time to die of cancer.
Young Otto had finished his training as a painter in Germany in the spring of 1957. He'd graduated from apprentice pay of roughly twenty dollars a month to a skilled painter's two marks, twelve pfennig, about fifty-five cents an hour, which translated into a pack of cigarettes or a kilogram of bread. His mother was paying just under nine dollars a month for rent in their government-built apartment “but it was very small and crowded and full of ghosts.”
Otto got the idea of coming to Canada from a friend of his. The friend had seen a poster in a Berlin employment agency — there were similar ads on behalf of Australia and New Zealand — saying that Canada had excellent openings for skilled tradesmen. His friend went on ahead to Kitchener and wrote that every-
thing was fantastic. Otto went to the Canadian immigration office, obtained a loan of two hundred and twenty dollars and was on his way.
“My friend’s boat going back passed mine coming out,” he recalls now. “Things turned out badly for him. He was washing bottles just to keep alive and he was so ashamed that he kept telling me he was doing fine."’
Otto claims the only greeting he himself received from Canada was extended by a small deputation of German Canadians who met the long, wandering and uncomfortable immigrant train in Ottawa and tried to sell him a three-year lease on an apartment and a five-year payment plan for the furniture.
“I had twelve dollars left,” he remembers. “The landlady — she was a German landlady — demanded all of it in advance. I’d been told on my landing card to report to the immigration department office and I was there at five o’clock in the morning. ‘I’m in trouble.’ I said when they opened. ‘Well,’ an official said, ‘you could stop smoking.' He took down my name and gave me another card but after seven years 1 still haven’t heard.”
“We do our drinking with Berliners”
A fellow immigrant found Otto work at $1.65 an hour. “The official minimum was $1.95 but I was too slow and I was fired. Then I got a job at $1.75 an hour. The official rate was $2.41. The government found out and sent in an investigator to look at the books. My boss was ordered to pay me the difference, for three months, between $1.75 an hour and $2.41 an hour. He made me give it back to him and he put in a second set of books and I went on working for $1.75. I get the full rate now. I know the laws and 1 know my rights. It takes about four years to find out which way the ball is rolling.’’
Otto's memories aren’t all unhappy. “The first thing I did was to bring my girl over and we got married. She started out as a cleaning woman and the man of the house tapped her on
the shoulder and said he could get her a job as a secretary. That was exactly what and all he meant.” He and his wife live well in an apartment that costs them $127 a month. “We're saving money, a lot of money. According to our budget it’s two thousand dollars a year but it never comes out to more than a thousand.” They drive a 1960 Chevrolet — “there's nothing wrong with the Volkswagen but it crumples.”
Otto and his wife took English lessons for a while. “I signed up for ten dollars in an adult-education class but after the second lesson I discovered my wife spoke better English than the teacher did, so we didn't go back.’’ They have no “Canadian” friends and don't expect they ever will have. “People are always saying we must come over but they never say what night. When you think of it I guess we do the same. Anyway the only people we drink beer with are from, Berlin.”
Otto’s nonintegration is not deliberate. He hasn’t read a Canadian book or seen a Canadian play but he's read very few German books and seen no German plays. He’s encountered no hatred in Canada—except, he says, “by the Jews.” He flatly refuses to believe the revelations about the German concentration camps. “There may be a little bit of truth to these stories,” he says, “but at heart they're lies. I know Germans and I know Germany. We are not capable of doing the things, they say we've done. War's an ugly business of course. My father told me of some of the things they had to do in Russia but they had to do them. There was no choice.”
A month or so from now Otto and his wife — having finished waiting out the minimum five years and three months — will complete the formality of becoming Canadian citizens. They'll satisfy an examiner that they speak and read English and know the names of the provinces. Their own names will be posted on the wall of the immigration office and if no one objects they'll be sworn in.
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“F intend to be a good citizen,” he says. “My son will be a better one. Once one of my first bosses was talking to an insurance adjuster and the adjuster asked why he kept giving all the work to foreigners. The boss said: These damned foreigners work harder and cheaper and they don’t go running to the inspectors and 1 can give you a better rate.’ Another German on the job heard it and threw down his tools and went to the boss. The boss said: ‘Don’t be foolish. It’s him I’m kidding.’ But once it wasn't funny. I was painting a bathroom in a military hospital and a man came in and I asked him if he’d mind using the one upstairs. 1 had my accent and he had his. He was a Jew and I was a German. ‘Don’t order me around,’ he said. ‘You burned babies.’ We had a fight and 1 was fired.”
Otto’s bleak romance with Canada has had one other twist of irony. He tried to enlist in a militia unit but was turned down because of a heart murmur. I asked him if therc’d he another war. “That will be up to the Freemasons,” he said. “The Freemasons always decide.” But as a final contradiction Otto is devoted to his country. “The size of it alone — well, the size of it. We've got a cottage to go to in the summer and when we get ready we'll buy a house. There just isn't that kind of room in Germany.”
Canada’s intake of Germans has almost wholly dried up. From the end of the war until 1950 we admitted only Volksdeutscher — Sudeten Germans, Austrian Germans, Danzig Germans and Polish Germans and other Germans who were not born in Germany. When we opened the gates Germans flooded in — thirty-two thousand in 1951, nearly thirty thousand in 1952 and thirty-five thousand in 1953. But then, as Germany’s postwar recovery gathered strength, the exodus slowed down. Only fifty-five hundred Germans came to Canada in 1962 and fifty-three hundred in 1963. Germany has no prohibitions against emigration but the natural movement is in, not out. More than eight hundred thousand Italian, Greek, Spanish, Turkish and Yugoslavian laborers went to Germany last year. At Christmas more than forty holiday trains went south from Frankfurt alone. The official figure on German unemployment runs around one percent compared to five percent here; in practical terms this means a fairly serious labor shortage.
Julius Baier, publisher of the Torontoer Zeitung, a leading Germanlanguage paper, used to get scores of letters from would-be settlers. Now he gets only two or three a week. "J used to write back and say: ‘You can make good in Canada, but you must have a certain spirit, a certain courage and even a certain willingness to suffer. If you have those, come. If you don’t have them, don’t.’ The last time I went to Germany — it was only a month ago — I tried to hire a printer. I finally found the one 1 was looking for. He was earning eight marks an hour, about two dollars, and 1 offered him ten. The point isn't that he refused but that ten years ago he'd have been willing to swim to get here.”
Nevertheless, Baier says, Canada still has the scent of a promised land even to the people who have no in-
tention of ever coming here. “A Canadian passport is a magic thing. I visited a wine grower on the Moselle the last time 1 was over. He has a chateau and thirty acres and his wine is famous all over the world. T tell you what,’ he said, ‘give me your passport and I'll give you the castle and the grapes.’ ”
“You see,” Julius Baier said, “everything about the Germans is a sort of contradiction. I’ve lived in Canada since 1928. I didn’t become a citizen until 1946 and wasn’t terribly surprised when 1 was interned right at the start of the war. For two years and nine months, up to 1942, I moved from camps in Toronto, Kingston, Petawawa, the foothills of the Rockies and Fredericton. We had a saying: ‘Join the Nazi party and see Canada.’ We were treated all right though, in fact very well. I said to one of my guards after the second year, ‘Let my wife and daughter move in and I'll sign a life contract.’ ”
Baier is a past president of the German-Canadian Harmonic Club, a four-story million-dollar successor to a hundred-year-old German singing club. “Another contradiction. A fellow club member, without either of us knowing it, bought the house next door. When we met on the sidewalk he threw up his hands and shouted, ‘I’m selling.’ We’re not clannish.”
The end of official racism
No one has an accurate check on the number of Germans who leave Canada to go back home or on those who pause in transit to the United States. Baier believes more are going than are coming. The immigration department says the opposite.
Now there are sixty-one people in Canada’s immigration offices in Germany, twenty-six in France, thirty-two in Italy and a hundred in the United Kingdom. When Germans get here nearly all economic statistics on them will fade into the norm. Their family income will be $5,206 a year, exactly a dollar less than the average for a family from the United Kingdom. They’ll spend a little more money on education, recreation and clothing. Only seven out of ten of them will buy television sets against a national average of more than nine in ten, but seven out of ten will buy cars against a national average of six in ten. They’ll buy fewer telephones but far more houses.
In February 1962 the regulations of the Canadian Immigration Act were rewritten to eliminate, in theory, most of its discriminatory features. Anybody who has the skill or training to establish himself in Canada and has “sufficient means of support to maintain himself in Canada” is eligible for admission now. But section 61 of the act still provides that regulations can be made to exclude applicants for citizenship on account of “unsuitability having regard to the climatic, economic, social, industrial, educational, labor, health or other conditions or requirements existing, temporarily or otherwise, in Canada or the area or country from or through which such persons come to Canada.” This catchall phrase is clearly racist in intent and even though it isn't in force as a regulation now it still sometimes in-
fluences the judgment of our visa officers overseas when they're ruling on applications. “We don’t keep anybody out specifically because of race or color,” an officer of the department said. “But we do try to say as honestly as we can that Canada isn’t for everybody.”
Before he left the politically unrewarding job of minister of citizenship and immigration Guy Favreau increased our budget for attracting new immigrants from one hundred thousand dollars a year to half a million. Fie instructed his officials to increase the influx of new Canadians to “well in excess of a hundred thousand."
Then Favreau announced his own articles of faith:
“Article one. The acceptance by a people of an important share of immigration constitutes one of the clearest manifestations of that charity which must ever more deeply stamp the relations between men and between the nations they compose. (Canada is one of the richest and most prosperous nations. As such, it must accept its share of human beings deserted by fortune or broken by circumstances.)
“Article two. More than any other means, generalized immigration among the countries will succeed in blasting away the cruel borders separating peoples and destroying those cruel partitions erected between men by prejudices of all kinds. As an increasing number of countries accept more freely the entry into their territory of brothers whose language, faith or color are not those of the majority, the inhabitants of the universe will learn to understand, accept and love another. Immigration can thus contribute to the stifling of hatreds, prejudices and selfishness which lead to war.
“Article three. Immigration represents among us, in addition to a contribution of a social and cultural order, an undoubted economic enrichment and constitutes the surest way of compensating for the decrease felt in the rate of growth in our population." ★