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British Imperialism

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Imperialism and Racism


. . . In Canada, we are proudly Emily Murphyclaiming for ourselves the title of 'Canadian plus,' that is to say, with the fullest possible freedom of government, we have the added advantage of membership in the British Empire, the most powerful and beneficent international federation of all the centuries. . . .

                                                  —Emily Murphy (1927)

The British Empire was the most powerful empire of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and included the young Dominion of Canada. The fight to establish and maintain a British presence in Canada followed Britain's 1759 "Conquest" of New France, but not until 20 years after "The Conquest" was there a flood of British immigration into the colony. The British presence was largely limited to merchants and officials who had social and political power until the success of the 13 colonies' American Revolution caused waves of 40,000 to 50,000 Loyalists to flee to Canada. The Loyalists exerted a strong and lasting effect on Canadian society, as they were instrumental in establishing religious, educational, social, and governmental institutions.

King George and Queen ElizabethThe Famous 5 were members of Canada's largely Anglo-Saxon cultural elite—its leaders, teachers and intellectuals. In the eyes of many members of the elite, the power of the British Empire was evidence of British superiority, and they believed that Canada's future greatness was dependent upon maintaining its Anglo-Saxon heritage and culture, as well as close ties to the British Empire. In 1927, on Canada's 60th birthday, Emily Murphy expressed the feelings of many Anglo-Canadians when she wrote of Canada's position in the British Commonwealth in an article entitled, "Confederation and the Destiny of Canada." "It was only the other day that His Excellency Viscount Willingdon, the Viceroy of Canada, forespoke the place this nation is destined to hold in Imperial leadership—Canada, the heritor of whatever is best in Anglo-Saxon civilization. They are few and inconsequential who will contest his prophecy."

This strong devotion to the British Empire surfaced in the efforts of Anglo-Canadian cultural leaders to "Canadianize" immigrants. Immigrants who were easily assimilated were more welcome than others who were less easily assimilated.

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