- Gatekeepers: Reshaping Immigrant Lives in Cold War Canada
Marilyn Barber, Carleton University
During the 2009 Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association held in Ottawa at Carleton University, I had the pleasure of facilitating a roundtable discussion of Franca Iacovetta's Gatekeepers: Reshaping Immigrant Lives in Cold War Canada. Interest in the 2008 Macdonald prizewinning book and the prospect of a lively discussion attracted an overflow audience that completely filled the room and extended into the corridor.
The richness of Iacovetta's examination of gatekeepers in the Cold War era enabled the three commentators to address common themes of citizenship and nation-building, but also to explore important facets of the book related to their own research expertise and interests. Royden Loewen, professor of history and Chair in Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg, focused on the contributions of Gatekeepers to immigration history and transnationalism. Elise Chenier, assistant professor in the history department at Simon Fraser University, drew upon her research regarding gender and sexuality in postwar Ontario to emphasize the importance of Iacovetta's inclusion of mental health concerns and to interrogate how the gatekeepers' motivations are assessed. Magda Fahrni, associate professor in the history department at Université du Québec à Montréal, addressed the adjustments required of postwar families and the analysis of the postwar state. Franca Iacovetta, as always, did not disappoint in engaging with the issues raised by the commentators.
Gatekeepers demonstrates the critical contributions that immigration studies can make to an understanding of Canadian history. All participants hoped that the interchange of ideas would stimulate further studies that might address regions apart from the Toronto-centred focus of Gatekeepers but continue the important debates raised by the many intertwining analytical threads within the book. We thank Histoire sociale — Social History for assisting by publishing the roundtable discussion. [End Page 241]
Royden Loewen, University of Winnipeg
Franca Iacovetta's book possesses many strengths. It makes a contribution to numerous sub-themes in Canadian history. It is rigorous, almost relentless, in pursuing its thesis. Its passion to build a more inclusive Canadian society is impressive. To my mind, though, the greatest strength of the book lies in the idea that "gatekeepers" included such a very wide variety of agents, from left-wing, second-generation ethnic professionals to right-wing, virulently anti-socialist enforcers of state policy. And they sought to "shape" the lives of the immigrants in so many spheres of everyday life — not only in language, vocation, dress, and politics, but in sexuality, gender, food, and mental health — thus helping to shift the historian's gaze from concerns with a legal or a "social citizenship," in the tradition of T. H. Marshall, to a kind of "cultural citizenship," a paradigm that considers "exclusion" in very specific ways. In so doing, Iacovetta contributes innovatively to the broader Canadian historiography.
As the book's title suggests, this study is really more than a history of the pressures placed by host society agents on the 25 per cent of postwar European immigrants who came to Toronto. While the case studies, agencies, and media examined tend to be based in Toronto, the approach that Iacovetta develops has wider relevance. The book implicitly invites questions of comparison with other regions and with other historical moments. Certainly the Toronto-based media, the Ottawa-centred citizenship branches, the federal police force, academics of national repute, and other gatekeepers affected every corner of Canada, but the postwar immigrant equation in Western Canada, for example, was simply different than the Toronto experience. It was Vancouver that received most of the 47,000 postwar Chinese immigrants. It was Winnipeg — 35 per cent non-French, non-British — that possessed the most polyethnic society by midcentury, a society in which Ukrainians were the new "white" and Aboriginal "newcomers" were the new "non-white."1 These regional demographic distinctions, of course, do not put to question Iacovetta's methodology, but they do raise the question of just...