Defining Citizenship

Recognizing that banning Chinese immigration was against the charter of the newly formed United Nations, in 1947 Canada allowed Chinese immigration to resume after 24 years of exclusion (courtesy "The Province," Vancouver).

Canada's contribution to the Allied effort during the Second World War gave Canadians a new-found confidence to build institutions and shape a society that expressed values that are particularly Canadian. A defining moment was the passing of the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947. Cabinet minister Paul Martin Sr. formed the idea when, during a tour of a Canadian war cemetery in Dieppe, he was struck with the realization that men of various ethnic origins had fought and died for Canada. Canadians, formerly identified abroad only as "British subjects by birth," were now, at home and abroad, "Canadian."

Beginning in 1947 and lasting a decade, Canada would woo immigrants in numbers not seen since Eastern Europeans came to settle the prairies. This time the purpose was economic, to sustain the promise of the post-war economic boom and to fill shortages of industrial workers. However, immigration was not to be open-ended. Prime Minister Mackenzie King assured Canadians that the European character of Canada would be preserved. On the list of preferred countries for immigrants were the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries and Germany. Those not welcome were Asians and Africans.

Recognizing that banning Chinese entry was against the charter of the newly formed United Nations, that same year Canada allowed Chinese immigration to resume after 24 years of exclusion. It was restricted, however, to dependent children and wives of men already here. Ironically, that led to a trade in "paper" relatives and, consequently, frequent RCMP raids in Chinatowns. Canada also remained restrictive about Indian immigration, setting almost negligible annual quotas for immigrants from India, Pakistan and Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka).

Learn more:
Towards the Canadian Citizenship Act
From C to C: Chinese Canadian Stories of Migration