Manitoba History: Citizenship and Schooling in Manitoba, 1918-1945

by Rose Bruno-Jofre
Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba

Number 36, Autumn/Winter 1998-1999

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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In the past few years there has been a renewed interest in citizenship education and in a reformulation of educational aims in light of some kind of ideal of a polity in a global society. With the exception of Ken Osbome’s work, however, there have been few historical studies on citizenship and schooling in Canada. [1] In this paper I examine the official discourse of Canadianization as expounded in The Western School Journal and by the Department of Education in Manitoba, and then analyze examples of the intersection of the official discourse and life experience in school and beyond. I will focus mainly on Manitoba between the end of War I and the end of War II.

By 1918 the impact of immigration had already been felt while large urban workers’ and farmers’ movements had grown in importance. [2] Education, character formation, and citizenship were both local and national concerns. Anglo conformity was the central principle permeating the dominant notion of citizenship that sought to make proper members of the national polity. In addition, in the early 1920s there was emphasis on a notion of citizenship mostly based on service to the community, duties, responsibilities, and social integration, while by the end of the decade the dominant discourse was beginning to be influenced by progressive education notions of education and democracy.

The end of World War II (1945) provides a historical breaking point because it brought a new international reality that would in the long run affect Canada’s view of herself. The war also led to a questioning of racist and ethnocentric ideas, and theories of cultural relativism emerged which along with internal developments made it imperative to reconstruct the understanding of citizenship formation and its principles.

Through the examination of the official discourse and then the exploration of oral testimonies and case examples such as the public schools in Franco-Manitoban communities, this paper shows that the official discourse was not necessarily taught and learned in schools. It also shows that people often developed a sense of being Canadians in their own terms in an often-contested process of resistance and negotiation.

Student parade at Transcona-Springfield School during the 1936 visit of the King and Queen to Winnipeg.
Source: Family of Dr. Emilie Sumi Denney

The Official Discourse of Citizenship in Manitoba

Public schooling was created as an integral part of the modern state, having as one of its functions the shaping of a moral citizenry. Outside Quebec, the geo-political framework for citizenship education was English Canadian. It neglected French Canada, emphasized loyalty to Britain and the British Empire, and treated the colonization of the First Nations as a matter of fact. The framework had, however, unique connotations given by the situation of Canada within the British Empire, its preoccupation with its place in North America, and the nation-building motif persistent in education. Furthermore, education was and still remains under provincial jurisdiction although schooling for the First Nations had been left as a federal responsibility.

The aim of public schools in English Canada was to create a homogeneous nation based on a common English language, a common culture, identification with the British Empire, and an acceptance of British institutions and practices. The British Empire and its values and institutions were seen as an indispensable support for a distinctive Canadianism because of Canada’s place in North-America. Thus, before the Citizenship Act of 1947 there were only British subjects resident in Canada; there were no Canadian citizens as such.

At the end of the Great War, as evidenced in Canada’s signing the Peace Treaty at Versailles in its own right and in its separate membership in the League of Nations, there was a growing feeling among Canadians that their country was a distinct national entity, but also an important component of the British Empire. Business leaders and political leaders also had an urgent concern with “education and the national spirit.” They were motivated by the massive presence of so-called “aliens”, the depression after the war, and the growth of the Canadian labour movement which featured 428 strikes in 1919 across the country and the Winnipeg General Strike the same year. [3] Also the war and its sacrifices could be justified only by a new emphasis on community and duty.

Schooling was the state agency that was expected to generate unity of thought, to teach English to the children of new immigrants, to educate them in Canadian ways, and to generate a civic culture based on service, duties, and responsibilities. Social integration and cohesion were major objectives. In 1918, the Minister of Education, Dr. R. S. Thornton, in his public address to the Manitoba Educational Association, identified the need to bring newcomers more quickly into Canadian national life and into the life of the province. He said: “Our aim is to plant Canadian schools with Canadian teachers setting forth Canadian ideals and teaching the language of the country.” [4] He quoted the 1916 census as showing that 42% of the population of the province represented thirty-eight nationalities. His concern was also related to the issue of social and labour unrest. The public school was conceived as an agency for national unity and social harmony. In the case of Manitoba, a major step had been taken in 1916 when, at Thornton’s initiative, the legislature repealed the section of the Public Schools Act which permitted bilingual instruction in schools supported by public funds, and unanimously approved the School Attendance Act making school attendance compulsory and instruction unilingual in English.

Tom Mitchell has recently argued that the Great War evoked a sense of national identity among members of Canada’s English speaking middle class, while Canada as a country in 1919 was fragmented along ethnic, social class, and regional lines. [5] In his view the middle class sought to address the post war crisis “by casting the post-war order in a particular idiom of nationalism informed by a common Canadianism rooted in Anglo-conformity and a citizenship framed in notions of service, obedience, obligation and fidelity to the state.” [6] The National Conference on Character Education in Relation to Canadian Citizenship that took place in Winnipeg in 1919 was an example of efforts after the war to advance this idiom of citizenship. The Conference was funded by the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, himself a Winnipeg investment banker, by other business and professional individuals, and by the Rotary Clubs of Canada. The organizers tried to move the service spirit of the war years to stimulate and guide post-war reconstruction. It is clear from its final recommendations that those who left room to accommodate diversity received little or no attention at the Conference. Such was the fate of Prof. Carrie Derick, Vice-President of the National Council of Women, and first woman faculty member at McGill University. She thought of an evolving unified Canada that did not suppress diversity and placed great emphasis on equality of opportunity through education and compulsory schooling. [7] Winnipeg labour organizations decided not to send delegates but there were participants willing to voice the workers’ view without, however, making an impact on the audience. The One Big Union condemned it as nothing more than propaganda of patriotic imperialism. [8] Delegates from Quebec, especially the Francophones, politely dissented from the national enthusiasm of the Conference. They tried, with little obvious success, to make participants aware that there was another view of Canada. Most participants perceived teachers as playing a powerful role in transmitting an ideology of Anglo-conformity, assimilation, service, social stability, and hostility towards radical change.

At the time The Western School Journal reached every school district in the province. Initially a fully independent publication, since 1916 it had contained a bulletin of the Department of Education in Manitoba and also of the Manitoba Trustees Association; and after 1919 there was news from the Teachers’ Federation. It also included a bulletin from the Manitoba Educational Association. Dr. William McIntyre, principal of the Normal School in Winnipeg, known for his reformist bent, was the editor for much of the period until his retirement in 1934. The editorials and articles of the Journal praised the objectives set for the Conference in 1918, and applauded its final recommendations. [9] An outcome of the Conference was creation of the National Council on Education which attracted support from the Canadian Industrial Reconstruction Association. [10] The Council, a voluntary organization, hoped but failed to establish a national bureau of education. It sponsored a notion of citizenship based on character education and a Canadian nationalism that endorsed British imperialism and opposed American cultural influence in Canada. It did so by producing surveys of textbooks and arranging for the publication of a number of books including This Canada of Ours, and organizing three more conferences. [11] The Council quietly faded in the late twenties.

The Western School Journal in its editorials and articles devoted great attention to issues of moral character, citizenship, and patriotism. The school was seen as the agency through which the state could promote morality, good citizenship, and nation building. In the 1920s, the Journal by and large emphasized service, work habits, Christian values, obedience to the law, defence of national institutions, and a willingness to serve the state as the main traits of a good citizen. The inculcation of the “right habits” of neatness, accuracy, thoroughness, faithfulness was often seen as a necessary condition for learning.

Similar traits of good citizenship appeared in the 1920s, in the Programmes of Studies issued by the Department of Education from Grade I to VI. In the July 1927 Programme of Studies for Elementary Schools there in an italicized Note in the in the Grade I section under the heading Manners and Morals: “Teachers should not fail to inculcate in the minds of all children in the school, (a) Love and Fear; (b) Reverence for the name of God; (c) Keeping of His Commandments.” [12] This governing of the soul (dispositions, sensitivities, enhancing of sympathetic feelings) was supported by the Readers accredited for use in Manitoba public schools, and the selections for study in the upper grades. Pedagogically, oral reading, language-enunciation, and grammar were emphasized in the early grades. Memorizing was considered essential in most subjects until changes, at least on paper, came with the curricular and pedagogical changes of 1927-30 that, in particular at the elementary level, included practical knowledge and experimentation. [13]

Character formation had something to do with social order and with the need to establish a framework guiding the transactions with the state. The approach was eclectic. Some writings in the Journal suggest that character formation emerged from strict mandates and the teaching of habits and manners. The Boy Scouts and the Cadet Corps were seen as auxiliary agencies to the school in the development of moral purpose. Other writings also reflect an active participatory approach. Character formation was also equated with being Canadianized; it was conceived as part of the process of nation building through the assimilation of the “aliens.” This approach persisted to some degree over the years even as curricular changes provided new insights.

Physical exercises at Strathcona School, 1918.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

The Report of the Committee on the Review of the Programme of Studies published in 1926 stated that the school should aim to give its children knowledge of the conditions governing health , awareness of good habits (neatness, punctuality, industry, etc.), solid interests (both vocational and avocational), and healthy ideals. The objective was to create a good citizen with some degree of social efficiency at the economic, domestic, and civil level, and the ability to make worthwhile use of leisure, understood as constructive enjoyment. [14] The Report stated that character was the essential element in personality and outlined the principles determining the trend of life. Those principles were faith, reverence, obedience, truthfulness, a clean heart, thoroughness, justice, courage, self-reliance, judgment, power (intellectual and moral) and steadfastness. [15]

Teachers, and in particular the teacher in the one- room school who was normally a woman, were expected to play an important role in the process of Canadianization and character building. An editorial in 1927, entitled “Nation Builder”, is illustrative of the Journal’s approach:

She is out in a one-roomed rural school. She has twenty children under her control. They range from six to sixteen years of age. They are poor, ill-nourished, half-clad. They are strangers to Canada. Their mothers speak no English and the fathers have but a few words used in trade ... They work with joy because the school is for them the finest place in the world. Physically they are cared for, their manners and morals are carefully observed, their taste is cultivated, right habits are built up, the home, and the school are happily co-operating. Old customs, unsuitable to this land and age, are being dropped. [16]

This is a statement of how things were ideally supposed to be rather than how they actually were. Inspectors’ reports often pointed out that most one-room school teachers were too young, too undereducated and too temporarily employed in each school to be effective.

Textbooks were very British. This quality was most marked in the content of the Readers of the elementary school and in the Literature—the so-called English Programmes—of the secondary schools. Examples noted by Sybil Shack were in a collection called Narrative and Lyric Poems (second series) for use in the lower school, published in 1914, the Victorian Reader, many of the selections of which later appeared in the Alexandra Readers, the Manitoba Readers, as well as in Narrative and Lyric Poems. [17] The History of England for Public Schools, published in 1910, that she used in 1922 as a student, was “a model of condensation and assurance” of Britain’s role as ruler. A paragraph Shack selected with reference to India reads,

It seems almost beyond belief that one nation, with the aid of a few thousand soldiers and civil servants, should be able to rule a people made up of many nations and numbering three hundred millions of souls ... But it is well for India that she is under British rule. Without the firm control of a guiding power, she would torn by internal strife and exposed to the greed and trickery of powerful neighbours. [18]

History books for young children were upholders of the rightness and goodness of leaders. The Britannia History Reader, published in 1909 and reprinted many times, aimed at Grades IV and V children is illustrative. Under “The Ideal Explorer,” Champlain “was a good man and wished to serve God even before the king . He worked hard to teach the natives to worship God, saying ‘that to save a soul was more than to found an empire.’” [19] Opponents were portrayed as misguided or wicked. “In Lower Canada the leader of the rebellion was Louis Papineau, a man high in office in his own province. He did much mischief among the French by his fiery speeches in Parliament. After several riots he, with a few followers, escaped to the United States.” [20]

There were of course special days and occasions that were also part of the process of Canadianization. Among them were Empire Day (celebrated just before Victoria Day), Armistice Day, and Queen Victoria’s birthday. The Union Jack, a symbol of Canada’s place in the Empire, was flown outside every school during school hours. It seems clear, as Ken Osborne has pointed out, that pride in Canada was relatively outward looking. Canada looked to Britain but also to the wider tradition of western civilization. [21] After the War, the place of Canada with reference to the British Empire was also influenced by the notion of international citizenship since the Empire was seen as a good model compatible with the League of Nations (1920). [22] There was some emphasis on international peace and co-operation.

In an editorial of The Western School Journal in 1927 patriotism was carefully defined as loyalty to “the ideal for which the Empire stands in what may be called qualified or ordered freedom for every one within the Empire ...” [23] Loyalty to the King-Emperor was also expressed in respect for the flag that symbolized the ideal, the system, and the person of the king. [24] The role of education in securing a democratic society went hand-in-hand with the overall notion of the Empire. [25] Understanding Patriotism as a feature of being a citizen was also linked to the idea of nation building and the realization that Canada was indeed a nation. [26] An interesting example is the high school textbook, published in 1926, written by G. J. Reeve, who taught in Winnipeg, entitled Canada, Its History and Progress: 1000-1925. In his introduction he stated his hope that it would “instil into those who read the book a thorough spirit of patriotism which while not wholly ignorant of the mistakes of the past, may yet express itself in a proper and predominant love of country, based on a healthy belief in its future greatness.” [27]

The ideal of citizenship as expounded in The Journal was a gendered ideal that reflected the educational leaders “understanding of women’s and men’s place in society and their responsibilities. Women’s experiences and values were largely ignored. The emphasis on service (voluntarism) rather than on active political participation gave citizenship a depoliticized slant while education was seen as a way to counteract radicalism especially in the early 1920s.

The principles of progressive education reached a number of Canadian provinces in the late twenties and early thirties. [28] These principles influenced the notion of citizenship held by educational leaders but seldom influenced school practice. In Manitoba, the curricular changes of 1927-30 reflect progressive influences, especially at the elementary levels. There is an emphasis on the development of the life of the child, on participation in purposeful activities, on relating the school to the community. [29] These changes were due in part to the longstanding influence of progressive education minded leaders like William McIntyre. In addition, politically relevant pressure was also coming from rural constituencies which had long been complaining about a bookish education which they perceived as having little practical value. [30]

Progressive ideas were reflected in curricular content and pedagogical guidelines, for example in the emphasis placed on students’ individuality and their future role in a democratic society. In 1939, the Principal of the Brandon Normal School, Clarence Moore, wrote that the objective of education was “to produce a generation of informed, thinking, and socially disposed citizens.” He went on to say, “It no longer suffices to teach the bare facts of geography and history. Complex and varied situations demand radical variations in materials and teaching methods.” [31] The progressive discourse showed an interest in Canada’s place as a North American nation although it also contained justifications of colonialism within the British Empire, of suppression of the Aboriginal Peoples, of sexual division of work. It also featured a continuing attempt, sometimes questioned, to Canadianize students within the framework of Anglo conformity. The discourse as expounded in The Journal with its emphasis on the virtues of liberal democracy reflected anxiety about the rise of fascism and Stalinism in the interwar years and when the war broke out in 1939 it was explained as a struggle for democracy. Citizenship education in the economically depressed 1930s was expected to generate social harmony. [32]

World War II brought into the discourse the elements of unity, patriotism, and service through war efforts by children. The Manitoba Education Department Act of 1937 prescribed a revised set of patriotic exercises which became part of the public school program in 1941. In 1942, the Advisory Board recommended that citizenship be included as part of every school subject and other school activities. Empire Day was organized around the war theme during the War. The program for Empire Day 1941 talks about the unity of the English-speaking world; it read, “it is no exaggeration to say that the future of the whole world and the hopes of a broadening civilization founded upon Christian ethics depend upon relations between the British Empire, or Commonwealth of Nations, and the United States of America.” [33]

At the end of the war the process of Canada’s self-definition began to take new shapes. The Canadian Citizenship Act was adopted on January 1, 1947 and Empire Day was changed to Citizenship Day in 1951. Moreover, the place of Canada in what began as the British Commonwealth and developed into the Commonwealth of Nations provided a point of reference for Canada’s identity in the international context. After 1945 the focus was on the United Nations, where Canada was accepted as a recognized state in its own right. The collapse of the British Empire and the assertive presence of the United States as a leading world power had a tremendous influence on Canada’s perception of its role in the world. [34] Canada Anglo-conformity continued to influence the social dimension of schooling for long time. Canada was more and more inclined to the United States as the cold war progressed. Some educational and community leaders tried to resist the ideological re-accommodation that began to be seen as a necessary alternative to the status quo. [35]

Wingham Consolidated School, 1921-22.
Source: Family of Dr. Emilie Sumi Denney

The Intersection of Official Discourse with Life Experience

For many children, building an identity as Canadians meant having to deal with the intersection of contesting views, customs, and values sustained at home, in the community, and in the school. There was a great gap between official policies and statements and the lived experiences of teachers and students. In rural Manitoba, the impact of the official discourse in the classroom was mediated through the multitude of school districts, each with its locally elected Board of Trustees controlling one or two room schools, and by poorly trained and frequently changing teachers. The model for this system came from Ontario, the home of many of the settlers of the late 19th century. At the end of World War II the Manitoba educational system had the same structural problems it had had in 1916 when compulsory schooling was legislated. By 1945, Manitoba had a school population of 118, 390 and there were some 1450 one-room schools, located in rural areas and in small towns, among the 1875 school districts scattered across Manitoba. [36] The districts controlled hiring, salaries, and working conditions. The situation did not change until the recommendations from the McFarlane Report (1959) were implemented in the sixties. [37]

In Winnipeg, Brandon and in various smaller towns, the impact of the discourse was also conditioned by the classroom composition and the community of memory to which the minority children belonged . Sybil Shack who started school in 1917, recalled that when she was in Grade IX at Aberdeen School, in north Winnipeg, there were 32 pupils in her class and all but three were Jewish. The influence of the community of memory along with numbers made a difference in having to deal with non Christian holidays, religious festivities, text interpretations, and the hidden curriculum in general. These children absorbed Canadian ways while keeping their cultural and family identities even if their efforts implied resistance and contestation. For example, Shack recalled that in 1922-23, when she was at William Whyte School, a school serving an area heavily populated with the children of new Canadians, mostly Jews and others from Central Europe, she was one of a group of students who went to see the principal, Miss Redman, to protest their having to study The Merchant of Venice. Miss Redman was sympathetic but tried to convince them that Shylock was really the hero, not the villain of the play. She quoted from memory Shylock’s famous speech and told the students that Shakespeare lived in a period when there were no Jews in England. [38]

Shack wrote about her experience at William Whyte:

We did not know at the time, but William Whyte School had been built specifically for children like us, immigrants, and children of immigrants ...

Accordingly on the advice of the then superintendent of Winnipeg schools, Dr. Daniel McIntyre, the school board planned and had constructed a model of its kind, William Whyte, a school in which girls were to be trained to be good wives and mothers in the British-Canadian style.

“However it was not from Dr. McIntyre’s courses that we learned to be Canadian. It was from the teachers we loved, admired and imitated in speech and manner. We learned from the way they talked, dressed and gestured, from the songs they taught us—“Rule Britannia” and “The Maple Leaf Forever”—from the stories they told us, and of course, the textbooks they used.” [39]

Shack’s account of how she perceived how she and her fellow pupils became Canadianized serves as an illustration of the relational and multilevel character of citizenship building. Her experience at William Whyte School reinforces the notion that the teacher was expected to be a role model embodying Canadian ways. It is not surprising that teachers in Winnipeg were mostly of British background, although most of them might have been Canadian born. By the early twenties, however, there were teachers of non-British background who were either naturalized Canadians or the children of immigrants.

Teachers mediated the curriculum and could challenge official views and even generate a political space in the classroom by using a critical alternative perspective. Some of them like Fred Tipping and Arthur Beach from Winnipeg, James Skene from Brandon, all of them industrial arts teachers, were active in the labour scene. Others had or had had an involvement with the feminist organizations including the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Yet others were related to the Grain Growers’ Association whose publications advanced critical views of schooling and citizenship. The composition of the classroom reflected the political involvement of the pupils’ parents as well as ethnic origins. Citizenship formation had in practice a dynamic relational character and was constantly conditioned by developments beyond school boundaries.

The rural boards preferred a teacher of their own kind, particularly in ethnically-homogeneous communities, and they had the political authority to hire the teacher of their preference. The teacher was seen as embodying the community and was expected to be an authoritative and exemplary figure who demonstrated and instilled the “right values.” Teachers often enlarged their pedagogical space in line with community values. The Inspectors then became the mediators in the transactions between the state (the Department of Education), and the communities (Board of Trustees). The inspector represented the Department in relations with the school boards and the inspector’s power was occasionally visible in disputes over educational control, in particular over issues of language and preservation of cultural values. [40] Here and there through the province inspectors reported the existence of teachers of Icelandic, Ukrainian or Mennonite background, usually in school districts where these groups were in a majority and were also represented on or constituted the local school boards. Inspectors who made special mention of these teachers noted that they all spoke acceptable English.

Yvonne L. related two incidents she had with an inspector in a one-room school three miles east of Ste. Anne, a French Catholic community in the 1940s:

The inspector came one day and I had left my French books on the desk. He saw French on the board. I said, I am taking the letter “1” today, Sir. Some would be confused if I taught in English. It would confuse them. You wait. You come here in June and they will be reading English. I had an argument with him. He said, I could take your permit away. I said that there shouldn’t be such a law. I had that inspector in Grade XII and I knew him. I felt I could talk to him and he would understand. The second time he came, he was angry. He started to throw those books on the floor. I was picking them up and putting them back on the desk. The kids were out for recess. When he was finished, he asked me if I was that stubborn about teaching against the law even though I would lose my certificate. He said it would be his duty to take my certificate away ... He reported to the trustees that I had a problem with language. I explained to the trustees and they said it’s all right, we won’t fire you. [41]

A scene from a classroom at Isbister School, circa 1923.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

The trustees did not fire her because they wanted her to teach French. Most teachers in Franco-Manitoban areas (one-room and town schools) taught French during class hours and hid the books when the inspector came. The teachers had support from the boards when they resisted state demands which contradicted the community’s dominant values. [42]

Michael Ewanchuk, born in 1908, a student during the first World War, then a teacher, and an inspector after World War If, illustrates the mediating role he played and the assumptions of a time when paranoid attitudes about uniformity had started to relax.

Now when I went to inspect some of the areas that I inspected were solidly Ukrainian, and some teachers did teach Ukrainian after four. And I would look at their books and they would be scared because I’d find a Ukrainian reader in the school. Well, why make a fuss over it? And then after a while the teachers couldn’t teach Ukrainian, it just all went. [43]

This personal assessment is in line with the conclusions reached by Marcella Derkartz in her analysis of the Canadianization and assimilation of Ukrainians. She noted that “through the conformist era [the dominance of Angloconformity] relative successes in both the ‘preservation’ and ‘assimilation’ movements occurred.” [44] Ewanchuk’s narrative also shows the contingent character of identification and community. He recalled intervening when a teacher wanted to punish a student who spoke Ukrainian, although it was forbidden on school grounds. The boy had refused to take the punishment and the teacher was upset because the boy was actually an Anglo-Saxon who had learned Ukrainian. He told the teacher, “Let the youngsters be happy, and we are not going to have any more trouble. The youngsters will talk German or whatever they know on the side.” [45]

Minority children placed in schools where the discourse of Anglo-conformity went hand in hand with a British environment may have encountered difficulties in the process of building identity by experiencing and representing various identifications. Various ethnic communities protected their identities and tried to overcome the difficulties encountered in public schools by creating after school schools. For some children the process of Canadianization involved pain and oppression. Frances McColl referred in an interview to the dreadful time some members of her family had in the school system. When asked what kind of dreadful time? She responded:

My cousin’s mother in law, she had a Ukrainian name. And I don’t know what her first name was, but I guess it was long, and she became Mary Smith or Mary Brown and she was that all through school, on the register. They would not call her by her name. And she still has an inferiority complex about that. And she was very pleased when her son and my cousin were thinking of moving over here perhaps, because that would be nice. And she was pleased to be invited to my home. Well, good grief! It’s more of a treat to be invited to hers. [46]

Betty Gibson recalled her first years of teaching, between 1929 and 1933, in a rural school in Deloraine, Manitoba, attended by a large number of Belgian children. She resented “the sort of attitude that if you were white and English you were a better person than if you came from some other country.” The textbooks irritated her because they fostered those attitudes. [47]

Emma Thompson, who started school in 1920, went along with total assimilation and so avoided difficulties that so many others faced. Hers was the only German family in a rural English-speaking area, where memories of the “Great War ... were still very much alive.” She recalled: “It [the community, the school] was British; but we took it for granted because we had come to a country where there were no other German people around ... My parents came to this country with the understanding that ‘now we are Canadians; we are going to live a Canadian life.” I don’t know anything about German cooking, for example. Nothing about my background, absolutely nothing.” [48] Once Emma and her brothers fully adopted the Canadian ways, they could easily blend. She became a teacher in her own school district and two of her brothers served on the school board. This example of assimilation raises, however, questions regarding ethnicity and race that are beyond the scope of this paper.

Some children suffered ethnic and racial discrimination often times based on a Christian ethnocentric world view dominant in schools and in the wider community. Jerry Dorfman, who attended a Jewish religious parochial school in Winnipeg, and then attended David Livingstone School for Grades III and IV in the early 1930s, said:

I remember being called ‘dirty Jew’ by the kids sitting around me, but I guess we sort of expected that I suppose. [49]

He then was asked:

Because of the fact that you had come from a parochial school?

Dorfman replied:

And also when we were still in the parochial school there was gang warfare between the students at David Livingstone and the Torah, and I remember vividly one day when I was in Grade I or kindergarten, there was a war between us, and we were all lined up in the back of the Talmud Torah with big wooden planks to protect ourselves from the raids from across the street. [50]

The First Nations were excluded from the transactions with the state and their children were forced into residential schools. It was an exclusion regulated by the parameters of colonization and was reproduced in the classrooms. One student, Dora Rosenbaum, who attended St. John’s High School during World War II, explained her understanding of the otherness of Aboriginal peoples in the following terms:

As far as Aboriginal people go, we didn’t talk too much about that either. I don’t think we did because there weren’t any around. They were tucked in their little reserves. And they were referred to in the history books. And we talk about that, for example, in the 1700s and 1600s, but not in the present day. I don’t think that we were even aware that they were serving in the Canadian Army, and that they served the country well. It was just after the war and after school that I saw Native people coming in, and seeing them in what I would call the ghetto on Main Street.

The interviewer interjected:

You mentioned before we recorded that they were considered as heathens.

Dora answered:

Yes, and this was from the history books. We did not relate the Indians, or Aboriginals of the 1700s or 1800s to those of the 1930s, 40s, or 50s. It never occurred to us, because one of the most important reasons, we didn’t see any. They were living on reserves, or if they came into Winnipeg, they’d head for Main Street. That was it. Now we see them in schools. [51]

This testimony shows how racism against the Native people was a component of the process of building a Canadian identity.

The process has been complex and eclectic. I will use as example the public schools located in Franco-Manitoban communities to explore the oppositional dimension of citizenship formation and the impact of collective action in the classroom. Citizenship formation has an oppositional dimension because it can involve resistance, contestation, negotiation and memories of oppression on an individual or collective basis.

School for Swedish immigrant children at Westwood, no date.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

While the official discourse was addressed primarily to immigrants, and western French Canadians were not immigrants in the usual sense, as J. H. Thompson has argued, “the problems with regard to education that beset other minorities directly involved French Canadians.” [52] He goes on to say that “including French Canadians among those regarded by English-Canadian Westerners as “foreigners” also seems to illustrate the prevailing opinion that the French, far from “partners” in Confederation, were simply another ethnic group speaking another foreign language.” [53] And indeed in the Manitoba curriculum French was treated as another “foreign” language.

The influence of Franco-Manitobans on school life, in particular in Francophone rural areas, was facilitated by the provincial educational structure but it also was an integral part of the process of elaboration of the identity of what Martel calls the French-Canadian nation (Quebec, and communities outside Quebec). [54] Martel explains that thanks to the initiative of the French Canadian Catholic clergy and the supports of professionals a set of institutions was created to preserve the identity of French Canadian communities. [55] The emphasis was on the French language and the Catholic faith. For their guidance, these institutions drew upon ultramontane and agriculturalist ideologies in Quebec and throughout Canada. Until the end of the 1950s language and faith were the central elements of identity and attachment to tradition as it became clear in national meetings held in Quebec in 1937 and 1952. [56] The identity construed at the time was similar to that prevalent in Quebec nationalist circles. However, each French Canadian or Acadian community outside Quebec created provincial bodies to promote its own particular interests. [57]

Franco-Manitobans (at the time French Catholics) had a strong sense of being victims of injustice, a strong desire for recognition. Their actions took the form of a collective challenge to the Department of Education. Franco-Manitobans claimed rights due them within a legal sphere. They were moved by common purposes and solidarity. [58] This collective action was the response to the aftermath of the School Question and specifically the Education Act of 1916 which eliminated the bilingual system, made English the official language of instruction in public schools, and relegated religious instruction to hours before or after school. The teaching of French and teaching in French was banned from Grade I to IX; at the high school level French was taught as a second language. Thus, L’Association de d’Education des Canadiens-Francais with headquarters in St. Boniface was founded in 1916 with the mandate to protect the interest of French Catholics in Manitoba. The Catholic Church played a prominent role in this Association.

The important point here is that the Association had as much control over the education of Franco-Manitobans attending public schools as the Department of Education. Taillefer has demonstrated that the Association was the French and Catholic Department of Education in Manitoba, playing a role parallel to the Department of Education. [59]

The Programme de l’Association (later the programme d’etudes, francaises) created in 1922 was a French program with accompanying books, annual competitive exams (concours), the hiring of competent teachers, and the creation of an inspectorate. [60] It became in practice a parallel curriculum in particular with reference to French and to the values inculcated in the schools while the history of Canada as dictated by the Department was taught in French instead of in English. Francophone inspectors ensured the implementation of the program. At the same time, Franco-Manitobans were not opposed to their children being fluent in English. Indeed l’Association supported and encouraged teachers to teach the official curriculum along with the program from l’Association.

Earl Grey School, Winnipeg, 1938.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

Although religious teaching took place early in the morning, religion was also a central part of both the overt and hidden curriculum. In fact the program taught until the 1960s was permeated with French Catholique nationalism and a morality tied to Catholicism. The establishment of L’Action Catholic in Manitoba in 1934 generated a complex social infrastructure in Catholic communities and in the schools. A large number of the teachers were nuns, in fact female religious congregations played a vital role in the preservation of French and Catholic values in Manitoba and also ensured that women played the role envisioned by the Church. Colleen Ross recreated school life in Ste Anne in the 1940s and 1950s through oral histories and analysis of documents, bringing life to the many facets of the permeation of French nationalism and Catholic values. One of them was the role of the parish priest in relation to students. Not only did he teach catechism but he also heard students’ confessions usually scheduled on the first Thursday of every month during school time. Confessions were neither sanctioned nor forbidden by the Public School Act. Extra curricular activities were strongly related to the Catholic Action. Evidence of fear and obedience within a pious authoritarianism often appeared in Ross’s study. [61]

The Church, the school, the community, the official curriculum and the parallel curriculum generated in the children a sense of being French Canadians. Their identity developed within the overlapping parameters set by the state and the Church. The point of reference was given by the claim of the rights to teach and learn French and to practice the Catholic faith in the schools. The Bulletin des Institutrices (1924) published by the Ligue des Institutrices Catholiques de l ’Ouest was the medium to provide curricular and pedagogical information. The newspaper La Liberte (after 1946 La Liberte et Le Patriote), founded in 1913 as a paper allegedly free from partisan politics and directed by the Oblate Fathers, also played an important role in the educational network. [62] It published the list of schools that participated in the concours (annual competition for French writing) and contained many articles on education. In 1946 the founding of the French radio station CKSB became yet another tool for Franco-Manitobans.

L’Association encouraged trustees and teachers to be members of the Manitoba Trustees’ Association and of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society but it also expected them to be members of their French counterparts, The Association of French Teachers and the Association of French Trustees (funded by l’Association). The influence was extended over time. In 1926, 73 schools (54,8% of the total of 1916), in 1931, 82 schools, in 1936, 103 schools, in 1941, 106, and by 1946, 96 schools were identified with the Association. All of them with the exception of those located in Saint-Boniface were in rural communities. [63]


The official discourse aimed at generating a common polity, based upon a shared identity, loyalty to common institutions, a common language, a common culture, and a homogenizing notion of citizenship. The discourse, however, contained both conservative and liberal components and some of the changes, such as the curricular change of the late twenties, were a response to complaints of a bookish education especially from the rural areas. The progressive educational discourse dominant (but not new) in the late 1920s and 1930s, while encouraging experience and participation kept a colonizing British core. As part of that core the First Nations were placed outside civic life and this idea was conveyed to the students.

The intersection of the official discourse—as expressed in statements, policies, and Programmes of Studies—with lived experience within the school boundaries and beyond produced unintended outcomes. In the process of Canadianization the school became a public site where consciousness of collective identity, family values and identity, political standpoints, ways of talking, intersected with the official discourse of how to govern the soul and become a good citizen. Where there was no collective action dissension from the norm could be threatening for the children. The norm also included a gendered understanding of the role of teachers. It was highly acceptable to see a woman teacher at the elementary level but not necessarily at the secondary level.

The understanding of citizenship formation “as a series of transactions,” as relational, and as often having an oppositional dimension helps to explain the relationship between communities such as the Franco-Manitobans, used as an example in this paper, and the Department of Education. The Franco-Manitobans generated a social movement around language and faith understood as rights issues and through collective action were able to achieve their educational aims. Having a geographical basis gave Franco-Manitobans a stronger negotiating power with the Department of Education and this was reflected in school life. The collective memory provided a sense of identity based on religion, ethnicity, and community history. This sense of identity was somehow articulated in public schools affiliated with L’Association de l’Education with the sense of identity expounded in the official curricula.

The oral narratives along with case studies such as the history of Franco-Manitobans and other examples in the paper make clear that people often became Canadians in their ownterms deploying various identities following attachments and identifications. [65] In many cases Franco-Manitobans, Jews, Ukrainians, Mennonites, and other minority groups ended up through a process of resistance, contestation, and negotiation, with a combination of ethnic and Canadian identity, the balance of which is difficult to determine. It may be arguable that a sort of proto-multiculturalism was at work but not necessarily one cultivating a cosmopolitan world view.


The author would like to thank Ken Osborne, Tom Mitchell, and Sybil Shack for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

1. Two of Ken Osborne’s recent works are “Education is the Best National Insurance: Citizenship Education in Canadian Schools. Past and Present,” Canadian and International Education, 25, 2 (December 1996) 31-43 and “Citizenship Education and Social Studies,” in Trends and Issues in Canadian Social Studies, Ian Wright and Alan Sears, ed. (Vancouver: Pacific Educational Press, 1997), 35-63. Also Paul Axelrod, The Promise of Schooling: Education in Canada, 1800-1914 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997).

2. In the case of Manitoba, The Grain Growers’ Guide, the farmers’ magazine, contained a lot of discussion of politics, citizenship, and education. An important source is David Laycock, Populism and Democratic Thought in the Canadian Prairies, 1910-1945 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.

3. In 1920 there were 459 strikes across Canada. Gregoy S. Kealey, “1919: The Canadian Labour Revolt,” Labour/Le Travail 15 (Spring 1984): 17.

4. “Address of the Minister of Education,” The Western School Journal, 5 (May 1918): 185.

5. Mitchell, T, “The Manufacture of Souls of Good Quality: Winnipeg’s 1919 National Conference on Canadian Citizenship, English-Canadian Nationalism, and the New Order after the Great War,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 31, 4 (Winter 1996-97): 21.

6. Ibid.

7. Report of the Proceedings of the National Conference on Character Education in Relation to Canadian Citizenship (Winnipeg, 1919), (hereafter Proceedings), 29-30.

8. Tom Mitchell, “Manufacturing Souls,” 18.

9. Editorial. “A National Conscience,” The Western School Journal, XIII, 8 (Oct. 1918): 305. The Western School Journal was published until 1938 when the Department of Education discontinued the grant and started the Manitoba School Journal which was published monthly until 1963.

10. Alf Chaiton, “The History of the National Council of Education” (M.A. thesis, University of Toronto, 1974), 108. Also All Chaiton, “Attempts to Establish a National Bureau of Education 1892-1936,” in Canadian Schools and Canadian Identity, ed. Alf Chaiton and Neil MacDonald (Toronto: Gage Educational Publishing Limited, 1977), 122. Chaiton argued that the Industrial Association wanted a pressure group to promote anti-socialism and the interest in vocational and technical training in schools.

11. Alf Chaiton, “The History of the National Council of Education of Canada,” 109.

12. Programme of Studies for Elementary Schools, July 1927, Manitoba Department ofEducation, p. 5.

13. The Murray Commission issued its report in 1924 calling, among other things, for a “revision of the course of study by a committee of experts.” The Advisory Board accepted the Report in 1924 and establish a Curriculum Revision Committee. William McIntyre of the Normal School was in charge of the subcommittee for Grades I-V I; for Grades VII-XI subject committees were set up; Grade XII was under University control. A pilot version of Grades I-VI curriculum was used on trial basis on 1927-18. It was authorized in 1928. The full VII-XI programme was finally approved in 1930 after some partial applications. Documents and information provided by Ken Osborne.

14. Report of the Committee on the Review of the Programme of Studies, Winnipeg, Department of Education, 1926, pp. 6-7.

15. Ibid., 36-38.

16. Editorial. “Nation Builder,” The Western School Journal, XXIV, 9 (Nov. 1929): 327.

17. It contained: “Enoch Arden”, “The Prisoner of Chillon”, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, Mrs. Browning’s “My Kate” The second section, more advanced, consisted of four of Tennyson’s longer poems, including “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington,’ three of Browning’s poems including “Home Thoughts from the Sea” and “The Patriot”, Goldsmith’s ‘The Traveller,” Byron’s “The Isles of Greece,” Clough’s “As Ships Becalm’d and Homes”, “The Chambered Nautilus.” The Merchant of Venice was also required study. Sybil Shack, “Schooling in Early Manitoba,” speech, March 28, 1979, Dalnavert.

18. Shack, “Schooling in Early Manitoba.”

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ken Osborne, “I’m not Going to Think how Cabot Discovered Newfoundland When I’m Doing My Job: The Status of History in Canadian High Schools”, A paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association, Calgary, June 1994, 5.

22. D. C. Harvey, “National Sovereignty and the League of Nations,” The Western School Journal, XXIII, 3 (March 1928): 99-100.

23. “Patriotism,” The Western School Journal, XXII, 6 (June 1927): 234.

24. Ibid.

25. W. J. Gordon Scott, “Democracy in the Classroom,” The Western School Journal, XV, 6 (1920): 231.

26. D. C. Harvey, “National Sovereignty and the League of Nations,” Western School Journal, vol. 23, 3 (March, 1928): 99-100.

27. G. J. Reeve, Canada, Its History and Progress: 1000-1925 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1926). Introduction.

28. See Robert Patterson, “The Implementation of Progressive Education in Canada, 1930-1945,” in Essays in Canadian Education, N. Kach, K. Mazurek, R. S. Patterson, and I. DeFavery, eds. (Calgary, Alberta: Detselig, 1986), 79-93.

29. School Curriculum and Teachers’ Guide. Grades I-VI, Prepared under the Direction of the Advisory Board, Manitoba: Department of Education, 1928.

30. Ken Osborne, personal communication, September 1998. See also Ken Osborne, “One Hundred Years of History Teaching in Manitoba Schools 1: 1897-1927,” in this issue.

31. Clarence Moore, “The Social Studies,” The Manitoba School Journal, II, 4 (December1939): 6.

32. See Ken Osborne, “Citizenship Education and Canadian Schools,” A Paper Prepared for the Conference on Canadian Citizenship within the Next Millennium, Citizenship Council of Manitoba, Winnipeg, October 30, 1998, p. 14.

33. Empire Day, May 23, 1941, Province of Manitoba, Department of Education.

34. See W. L. Morton, The Canadian Identity (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1968) and also Ramsay Cook, “Nation, Identity, Rights: Reflections on W. L. Morton’s Canadian Identity,” Journal of Canadian Studies, 29, 2 (Summer 1994): 5-19.

35. See Robert W. Milan, “Education and the Reproduction of Capitalist Ideology. Manitoba 1945-1960,” (M.Ed. Thesis, University of Manitoba, 1980), chapter 1, in particular pages 18-19.

36. Milan, 62 and 108-125.

37. Benjamin Levin, “The Struggle over Modernization in Manitoba Education: 1924-1960,” in Issues in the History of Education in Manitoba. Rosa Bruno-Jofre, ed., 73-96.

38. Sybil Shack, personal communication, September 1998.

39. Sybil Shack, “The Making of a Teacher, 1917-1935: One Woman’s Perspective,” in Issues in the History of Education in Manitoba: From the Construction of the Common School to the Politics of Voices, Rosa Bruno-Jofre, ed. (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter, The Edwin Mellen Press, 1993) 433 and 435.

40. Rosa Bruno-Jofre and Colleen Ross, “Decoding the Subjective Image of Women Teachers in Rural Towns and Surrounding Areas in Southern Manitoba: 1947-1960,” in Issues in the History of Education in Manitoba: 1947-1960, 586.

41. Bruno-Jofre and Ross, “Decoding the Subjective Image,” 586-87.

42. Ibid., 587.

43. Interview with Michael Ewanchuk by Sybil Shack and Helen Mendelsohn, Winnipeg, February 9, 1995.

44. Marcella Derkatz, “Ukrainian Language Education in Manitoba Public Schools: Reflections on a Centenary,” in Issues in the History of Education in Manitoba, 183.

45. Ibid.

46. Frances McColl interviewed by Sybil Shack and Helen Mendelsohn, Winnipeg, October 4, 1994.

47. Interview with Betty Gibson by Rosa Bruno-Jofre and Lois Grieger, Brandon, Manitoba, September 30, 1995.

48. Interview with Emma Thompson by Sybil Shack, Winnipeg, February 8, 1994.

49. Stress added.

50. Interview with Jerry Dorfman by Sybil Shack, Winnipeg, March 15, 1995.

51. Interview with Dora Rosenbaum by Sybil Shack, Winnipeg, April 25, 1994.

52. John Herd Thompson, The Harvests of War: The Prairie West, 1914-1918 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981), 74.

53. Ibid.

54. Marcel Martel, French Canada: An Account on its Creation and Break-up, 1850-1967, The Canadian Historical Association, Canada’s Ethnic Group Series, booklet No 24, pp. 3-5.

55. Ibid., 4-5.

56. These were the second and third Conference of the French language in Canada. These meetings called for “the preservation of the essential elements of identity and condemned any divergence from the path of survival.” Ibid., 5.

57. Ibid.

58. This is the way Sidney Tarrow defines social movement. Sidney Tarrow, Power in Movement: Social Movements, Collective Action, and Politics (Cambridge, 1992), 3 cited in Louise A. Tilly, Women, Work, and Citizenship, p. 3.

59. Taillefer, Jean-Marie ‘Les Franco-Manitobains et L’education 1870-1970: Une etude Quantitative (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Manitoba, 1987), 263-264.

60. Ibid., 263.

61. Colleen Mary Ross, “Franco-Manitobans and the Struggle for the Preservation of Religion and Language: Public Schools and the Township of Ste. Anne, 1946-55” (M.Ed. thesis, The University of Manitoba, 1997), chapters six and seven.

62. Jacqueline Blay, Friendly L’Article 23, Manitoba (Saint-Boniface, Manitoba: Les Editions du Bl, 1987), 40. Taillefer, 267. The paper became La Liberte et Le Patriote after merging with the paper from Saskatchewan. Ibid., 329.

63. Ibid., 267-280. By 1946 the number of schools reflected migration to urban areas as well as some limited consolidation of school districts. The first signs of problems in the French Canadian institutional network appeared in the 1950s. Martel wrote “there were signs of trouble on the horizon for the propagators of the French Canadian idea. Whether it was the definition of French Canada as a political space and focus of collective action, the view of a nation made up of two founding peoples, or the space and focus of collective action, the view of a nation made up of two founding peoples, or the constituent elements of national identity, a number of events forced a reassessment and an examination of each aspect of the French Canadian idea.” Marcel Martel, French Canada: An Account, 14-15.

64. Charles Tilly defines citizenship as a tie. He defines a tie as a “continuing series of transactions to which participants attach shared understandings, memories, forecasts, rights and obligations.” One can refer to citizenship as a tie “in so far as it entails enforceable rights and obligations based on persons; categorical membership and agents’ relation to the state.” Charles Tilly, “Citizenship, Identity and Social History,” in Citizenship, Identity and Social History, ed. Charles Tilly, International Review of Social History, 40, supplement 3 (1995): 7 and 8.

65. For a clarification of multiple identities see Charles Tilly, “Citizenship, Identity and Social History,” in Citizenship, Identity and Social History, 7.

Page revised: 28 September 2017