Invisible Immigrants: The English in Canada since 1945 by Marilyn Barber and Murray Watson (review)
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Reviewed by
Marilyn Barber and Murray Watson. Invisible Immigrants: The English in Canada since 1945. University of Manitoba Press. x, 284. $31.95

In an earnest appeal, broadcast over the BBC home service two years after the Second World War ended, Winston Churchill implored would-be emigrants "not to desert the old land" because their departure would [End Page 185] threaten Britain's post-war recovery. It was a heartfelt call that would go unheeded by over half a million English-born people who immigrated from Britain to Canada in the three decades after the war. With the exception of eight years between 1945 and 1975, they comprised the largest national group among the 400,000 immigrants who landed in Canada in these decades.

Although a great deal has been written about Canada's immigrant communities, the English who settled in Canada after the Second World War have received comparatively little attention. Apart from the war brides, they have tended to be invisible, hence the apt title of this book.

In this engaging, well-researched history two respected historians, Carleton University professor Marilyn Barber and Murray Watson, a UK-based historian, fill a significant gap in this largely ignored chapter of Canadian immigration history. Using primary source material, notably oral interviews, the authors explore conditions in England and Canada immediately after the Second World War to the mid-1970s, reasons for leaving England for Canada, preparations for departure, the experience of the voyage across the Atlantic, the newcomers' adjustment to life in Canada, earning a living, and the role the English played in the Canadian community.

Traditional immigration histories have relied on government reports, passenger lists, agency records, and other documents, but all too often, as Ottawa historian Bruce Elliott has observed, this approach fails to reveal what really happened to the immigrants themselves. To find out what really did happen one must record their reminiscences and experiences. With this in mind, the authors have made extensive use of oral testimonies, most of which were conducted by Barber and Watson and two groups of graduate students at Carleton University. The result is a wealth of fascinating life stories that reveal the aspirations and adventures of these immigrants as well as the challenges that they faced being uprooted from home and adjusting to life in a country with a different climate, different vocabulary and pronunciation, and few English-style pubs.

For many post-war English immigrants the decision to emigrate was driven largely by a desire to improve their standard of living, and when Canada was the preferred destination it was because they perceived that it offered better-rewarded employment and improved career opportunities. The statistical evidence that exists suggests that the majority of post-war English newcomers were professional and skilled workers. In chapter five, the authors adopt a case history approach to answer questions relating to the kind of jobs undertaken by and the work experience of these English-born immigrants. Fortunately, the testimonies of the interviewees indicates that rarely did they confront problems relating to non-recognition of English qualifications or experience. Discrimination of prejudice in the workplace was also infrequent. [End Page 186]

Unfortunately, however, many English interviewees found themselves separated from English-speaking Canadians by the language they ostensibly shared in common. Both vocabulary and pronunciation set them apart. It was in Quebec, however, particularly in Montreal, that the language issue proved most acute and troubling. Despite their best efforts to master French some of these newcomers never felt at home in the province after the Roman Catholic Church's dominance ended (1960s and 1970s) and language became the central focus of Quebec's culture. This was especially true of English housewives and mothers who did not work outside the home. Unlike their husbands who were occupied at work or travelling, these women were more exposed to the language issues that arose during the course of family and community life. Lacking complete fluency in French, they felt they were second-class citizens.

Not surprisingly, there is some repetition in Invisible Immigrants, but this is a mere quibble. What stands out are the stories told in the voices of the immigrants themselves. These and the...


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