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The Canada-wide celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation was intended to promote the idea of a “new nationality” based on the linguistic and cultural dualism associated with Canada’s two “founding races.” The widespread participation of New Canadians in the celebrations was expected to accelerate their assimilation into the “melting pot” of the new nationality, which did not recognize the legitimacy of dual identities and loyalties. Winnipeg’s diverse and marginalized ethnic communities challenged both the official meanings of the Diamond Jubilee and the hegemonic Anglo-conformity of the city’s civic culture. They transformed the celebrations into a vehicle for representing their ethnocultural identities in the public sphere and asserting an alternative, pluralistic version of Canadian nationality. Winnipeg’s Jubilee celebrations became a milestone in an ongoing “dialectic of resistance and accommodation” that allowed immigrant groups to negotiate the terms of their integration into Canadian society, and that continues to structure the relationship between minority and mainstream cultures in the twenty-first century.

In modern social theory, it has become axiomatic to treat ethnicity as a historical and cultural construct, with its origins in relations of inequality, rather than a timeless “primordial” essence. Ethnic characteristics denoting inferiority, for example, are ascribed to particular groups by dominant elites, as a means of preserving their own superior status. But they can also be asserted by the “culturally defined” ethnic Other, as part of a strategy of collective mobilization in the struggle for economic resources and social and political equality. They are, in other words, neither wholly imposed nor voluntarily assumed, but emerge out of contestation and struggle between “the ethnicizing and the ethnicized.”[1]

Drawing upon positive images of their traditional folk culture and a glorious—often mythologized—past, recent immigrants were driven to create identities that countered the hostile stereotyping of the dominant group and justified their claims to recognition and justice.[2] What Wilmsen has described as ethnicization consisted of a relationship between dominant and subordinate groups: a “dialectic of accommodation and resistance” to the majority culture.[3]

Winnipeg’s response to the nationwide celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927 provides an illuminating case study of how immigrant communities were able to exploit public commemoration to advance ethnicization. The success of the Jubilee as a vehicle for strengthening national unity and social cohesion and inculcating a new sense of Canadian identity depended on the ability of federal organizers to mobilize the entire population. Ironically, it was this very insistence on mass participation and maximum inclusiveness that enabled ethnic minorities in Winnipeg to insert their own meanings into the celebration of the Jubilee. Instead of showing how their ethnicity was being submerged in an emerging “new nationality,” the Jubilee became a vehicle for representing their patriotism and fitness for citizenship as staunchly ethnic Canadians, and demonstrating to the native-born population that integration into Canadian society could coexist with dual loyalties.

Political rituals like the Jubilee, according to some social theorists, are a form of hegemonic discourse, exploited by elites as a means of imposing their beliefs, values, and authority on the rest of society. But as cultural anthropologists like Catherine Bell and David Kertzer have pointed out, hegemony is a matter of negotiation rather than straightforward coercion. It consists of a dialogue in which subaltern groups consent to a negotiated version of dominant belief systems and existing power relations. These groups are empowered (up to a point) by the need to secure their consent and complicity. The Diamond Jubilee of Confederation presented opportunities for empowerment to many foreign immigrants and naturalized citizens who, in the course of negotiating the terms of their solicited participation, were able in some measure to revise the assimilative script of federal organizers. In Winnipeg in 1927, the Diamond Jubilee was unexpectedly transformed into a site for “a politics of cultural assertion,” in which traditional ethnic identities were adapted to new circumstances.[4]

Before 1927, there had been few points of contact between Winnipeg’s majority and minority cultures, to dispel the widespread hostility and prejudice that largely defined the attitudes of the former towards the latter. Non-English-speaking immigrants, especially the tens of thousands of Slavic and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who had settled in the city since the beginning of the century, were perceived as a threat to its “British” civic identity and cultural values. The wedge between Winnipeg’s Anglo-Saxons and the expanding ethnic enclaves of the North End widened after 1914, as a result of the wartime xenophobia directed against “enemy aliens,” which included Ukrainians as well as Germans; the “Red Scare” inspired by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution; and the postwar economic slump that brought an abrupt end to the buoyant, expansionist phase of Winnipeg’s early history. The easing of ethnic tensions was in any case hampered by the high degree of residential segregation, measured in terms of both class and ethnicity, that characterized the city’s public spaces.[5]

Most ethnic communities responded to the hostility of the charter group with a strategy of collective self-defence, in the form of a dense network of churches, mutual benefit associations, fraternal societies, immigrant banks, vernacular schools, adult education centres, community halls, literary societies, and so on, to ensure cultural survival and defend living standards in the face of economic discrimination and a segmented labour market.[6]

Socialist minorities within several immigrant communities, however, went beyond this strategy of self-help and fought to advance their overlapping and mutually reinforcing class and ethnic interests in the wider public sphere of labour and electoral politics.[7] Such activities brought them into contact with radical Anglo-Saxon workerd in the One Big Union, the International Labour Party, and other militant working-class organizations, whose meetings were often conducted in several languages. Their collaboration culminated after the First World War in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.[8]

Ethnic participation in the labour conflicts of the early 1920s represented a kind of progressive pluralism that opened breaches in the wall of prejudice and exclusion that kept most non-English-speaking immigrants segregated from the British majority within their crowded and impoverished North End enclaves. At the same time, however, the activities of labour militants stoked the fears of Winnipeg’s Anglo-Saxon middle classes—especially the wealthy businessmen and professionals who dominated the economic and political life of the city through the powerful Citizens’ Committee and the Board of Trade—by associating the unassimilated foreigner with the threat of Bolshevism.[9]

In any case, Robert England’s observations about relations between Ukrainians and Anglo-Saxons in the 1930s—that there remained “a great deal of prejudice yet to be overcome . . . and a tendency to see one another in the blackest colours”[10]—was even more applicable to the previous decade. Nativist doomsayers pointed with alarm to the higher birth rates of the “foreign elements” that, combined with the persistent out-migration of many native-born Canadians to the United States, would lead to the dilution and eventual submergence of the British “race” in Canada. Organizations like the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire and the National Council of Women deplored their apparent inability to counteract the influence of “foreign homes and companions,” and the private language classes that so many immigrant children attended after the end of the regular school day. Despite their efforts, they lamented, the New Canadians of the West remained a people “separated by nationality and custom and creed” from their English-speaking neighbours.[11] During the Jubilee year itself, in a widely reported speech to the Union of Canadian Municipalities, Winnipeg’s pugnacious, one-legged, British-born mayor, Ralph H. Webb, spoke “at great length and forcefully against the further immigration of non-British settlers into the West,” where, he claimed (erroneously, of course), “the Anglo-Saxon element is already outnumbered.” Their presence, he warned, “was a menace to Canadianism.”[12] After the First World War, the majority of immigrant communities continued to opt for a strategy of “ethnic persistence,” extending their networks of voluntary associations that had developed since the First World War. Associational activity before 1914 had been hampered by the peasant origins of many pioneer immigrants, isolated on their rural homesteads, whose illiteracy, conservatism, and ingrained suspicion of anyone outside their immediate kinship group or village circle hampered the growth of a broader collective identity. The 1920s brought a new generation of immigrants, generally better educated than their predecessors, with a tendency to maintain a strong sense of identification with their country of origin and its political struggles. They established branches of Old World societies and parties in Canada, began publishing ethnic newspapers, and, in the case of the Ukrainians, engaged in ferocious infighting fuelled by religious and political divisions rooted in the turbulent recent history of their homeland.[13]

The Ukrainians, who formed the largest ethnic community in Winnipeg,[14] were especially active in founding political organizations, representing different and often violently opposed ideological and religious factions, that were nonetheless all committed to some variant of Ukrainian nationalism: the Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood; the radical, pro-Bolshevik Ukrainian Labour Farmer Temple Association; the militantly anti-Communist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists; the monarchist Canadian Sich Organization; the Ukrainian Women’s Association of Canada; and the secular Self-Reliance League of Canada, which was founded in 1927 to promote the individual and collective advancement of Ukrainian-Canadians, and the cause of an independent Ukrainian state.[15]

The spread of national consciousness in the Ukrainian-Canadian community went hand in hand with a cultural revival. In the 1920s, for example, the emigré impresario Vasile Avramenko introduced new generations of Ukrainian immigrants to their national dances. In 1925, his touring company gave a series of hugely popular concerts throughout the prairie provinces that led to the establishment of a school of dance in Winnipeg in 1926 and the rapid proliferation of amateur and professional folk-dancing troupes throughout Manitoba. “National dances” in the 1920s became a self-conscious vehicle for the reinvention of ethnic identity and an evocative symbol of Ukrainian nationhood. However, they were no longer the spontaneous expression of an organic peasant culture, but stylized reinventions and reinterpretations by middle-class “cultural producers” like Avramenko, designed to be performed on the concert stage and consciously associated with the modern Ukrainian nationalist movement.[16] The decade also witnessed the founding of dozens of choirs and orchestras, dramatic societies, reading circles, and community cultural centres.[17]

Excluded from the commemorative culture of the Anglo-Saxon mainstream, Ukrainians developed their own alternative ceremonial life and sites of memory,[18] providing the community with a set of shared beliefs and symbols affirming its unity and collective identity, despite the deepening ideological divisions that threatened its cohesion.[19] A “common bond of Ukrainianness”[20] was forged above all by the annual observance of the birth and death of the great national poet and champion of Ukrainian independence Taras Shevchenko, whose anniversary on 10 March was celebrated by all members of the community, regardless of political or religious affiliation, with (often competing) parades, concerts, banquets, and public lectures.[21]

However, all of these efforts by Ukrainians and other ethnic communities to construct a durable collective identity and ensure group survival in the face of nativist hostility and the Canadianizing efforts of the state did not imply a determination to segregate themselves from the dominant society and cling to a traditional way of life, which in any case was hardly a viable option in a large North American city. Many of them “sought full participation in Canadian social, economic, political and cultural life and recognition by the host society as its equals.”[22] They saw no contradiction between their ethnic nationalism and the requirements of Canadian citizenship, between adapting to a modern Canadian lifestyle and preserving a distinct national-cultural identity. The challenge lay in legitimizing the idea of an ethnically distinct pluralism in the eyes of a mainstream society that was still largely committed to an Anglo-conformist conception of what it meant to be Canadian.

Civic celebrations provided one of the most effective vehicles for groups seeking to test new ideas, express their loyalties, assert their claims, and discursively construct or reinvent their identities. They were also sites of contestation in which different groups communicated and negotiated the nature and meaning of the social and political order. Before 1927, Winnipeg’s civic celebrations operated as mechanisms of exclusion, ignoring or marginalizing ethnic minorities and their achievements, and allowing the Anglo-Saxon majority to insist on the exclusively British character of the city’s heritage and identity. The commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of the incorporation of Winnipeg in 1924, for example, privileged the role of the original pioneers and “old-timers,” who had migrated to the banks of the Red River from Ontario, the United States, and Great Britain in the 1870s, and virtually ignored the contributions of the Slavic settlers who fundamentally transformed the character of the city and the surrounding district after the turn of the century. The organizing committee for the Jubilee celebrations, which did not include any representatives of the city’s many ethnic associations,[23] appealed to Winnipeg’s “native sons and daughters” who, as “the Old Timers of tomorrow,” were charged with “the responsibility of preserving the traditions of this romantic locality, rich in the lore of the hardy pioneer.”[24]

Ethnic Winnipeg was not wholly excluded from the 1924 celebrations. The deeply rooted Icelandic settlements on the outskirts of the city contributed a float to the Jubilee pageant depicting three generations of homesteaders seated inside a Viking longship,[25] while the Petro Mohyla Institute—an educational establishment for high school students affiliated with the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church—was represented by a float featuring young girls in white robes playing harps and mandolins, while its school choir presented a program of folk songs in front of City Hall before and after the parade.[26] Ukrainian choirs and mandolin orchestras might be occasionally recruited to provide a touch of colour and exoticism to the proceedings, much like the native powwows and dances that were a fixture of rodeos throughout the West during this period. But neither Ukrainians nor any other ethnic group figured in the “fabled story of progress” that wound its way through the downtown streets on 18 June 1924. Their contributions to the early growth and development of Winnipeg were erased from the historical narratives and collective memory of its Anglo-Saxon citizens.[27]

The 1920s, however, also witnessed the rise of a liberal, pan-Canadian nationalism concerned with completing the task of nation-building begun in 1867 by fostering the growth of a “new nationality.”[28] Its promoters embraced a relatively more generous conception of assimilation that was prepared to recognize the contributions being made by non-English-speaking immigrants to the development of the nation. They rejected the imperialist version of national identity, with its increasingly untenable insistence on “the myth of Anglo-Saxon ethnic homogeneity.”[29] Pan-Canadian nationalists pinned their hopes on a “melting pot pluralism,”[30] based on the evolution of a “new national type” that would eventually absorb those foreign elements, neither English nor French, that in the 1920s made up almost 20 per cent of the population. But how was this new Canadian alloy going to be welded out of the bewildering mix of cultures that had settled in Canada since 1867? Like other countries “on the threshold of a more national conception of itself,”[31] Canada sought to exploit public commemoration as a vehicle for redefining national identity. In 1927, the Mackenzie King government seized upon the sixtieth anniversary of Confederation as an unprecedented opportunity to pluck recent immigrants from their bloc settlements and urban enclaves, and invite them to join the rest of the country in an ambitious, nationwide patriotic festival that was intended to integrate them more fully into the life of their adopted country.

The 1927 Diamond Jubilee represented a kind of coming-out party for Canada, the first major attempt by the federal state to promote social harmony and political unity through commemorative ritual and to direct the primary loyalty of Canadians to the newly autonomous, self-governing nation-state, to national institutions, symbols, and authority structures. The official meaning of the Jubilee was captured by Graham Spry’s nationalist creed, coined in 1927 to describe his vision of Canadian nationhood sixty years after Confederation: “One nation, two cultures; one nationality, two races; one loyalty, two tongues.”[32] There were no New Canadians among the two hundred members of the National Jubilee Committee, nor among the dozens of public dignitaries and popular entertainers who had been invited to participate in the elaborate, scrupulously bilingual program of patriotic speeches, ceremonies, and popular entertainments that the National Committee planned to stage on Parliament Hill on 1 July. The liberal, bicultural national imaginary that emerged from its deliberations included the contributions of immigrants to the previous sixty years of nation-building, but it had no room for unassimilated ethnic groups, especially if, like the Ukrainians, they insisted on maintaining dual loyalties and involving themselves in the national struggles of their homeland. The Jubilee was intended to inculcate “a strong national spirit” that would direct the thoughts of New Canadians away from the lands of their birth “to Canada and to their duties, responsibilities and privileges as citizens of the Dominion.”[33] The committee’s assimilative intentions were revealed in its widely circulated suggestions for local parades and pageants, which included a float entitled “The Melting Pot”: a family group of newly arrived immigrants, surrounded by their worldly belongings, sit at the feet of a resplendent robed female figure symbolizing the Dominion, wearing a crown and bearing the Canadian coat of arms and the Union Jack, who enjoins them “to think in terms of Canada’s good.”[34] Another float that was specifically recommended for Jubilee parades in western Canada featured a group of adult immigrants wearing their traditional national dress, with “their children before them clothed as modern young Canadians.”[35] On 1 July, the residents of Winnipeg’s North End would, it was devoutly hoped, gather with their English-speaking neighbours “under a Canadian sky with Canada on their lips and Canada in their hearts.”[36] The sense of national communion experienced on that day was expected to initiate a transformation that, “through the future operations of nature,” would end with foreign immigrants and the British and French charter groups becoming “one people and making a new nation on the face of the earth, whose inhabitants would simply be known as Canadians, a new people, brought into being by the mingling of many peoples.”[37]

Particular attention was paid to the proselytization of immigrant schoolchildren. Special patriotic exercises were devised for schools in New Canadian settlements, designed to transform “queer little foreigners” into “true Canadians.”[38] The mounting of plays and pageants was recommended by the National Committee as a means of impressing “the best Canadian customs and ideals” upon immigrant children with rudimentary English language skills. Canada, Her Friends and Future, written for the use of Manitoba schools by H. J. Keith, featured boys and girls in costume representing nationalities “who have come to find a home in Canada now offer[ing] their contribution to the building up of nationhood.” Each newcomer dutifully begs for tolerance, friendship, and the privilege of adopting “Canadian customs and ideals,” with the Ukrainian child warning of the dire consequences that befall nations where “races live together in close contact with each other and yet do not mingle.” He pleads for welcoming neighbours who will value his people for their “patience and endurance,” their willingness to adopt new ideas and boundless ambition to succeed in their new circumstances, and hopes they will teach him “to be a worthy citizen of so great a country.”[39]

The determination of federal organizers to “get at the mind of the foreigner”[40] was not, however, reflected in the early stages of Winnipeg’s Jubilee preparations, which mainly followed the template of the 1924 celebration. An executive committee, charged with drawing up a preliminary program and creating subcommittees to organize different aspects of the celebrations, was appointed on 29 April, nine weeks before Dominion Day, at a general meeting of “representative” organizations dominated by the city’s anglophone elites.[41] Its initial plans for 1 July, which did not contain any specifically ethnic component, included a historic pageant mounted by schoolchildren, “special events for ‘Old Timers and Indians,’ military displays, and a parade of ‘industrial progress,’ and a big community gathering in Assiniboine Park—all the elements, in short, of a conventional celebration of Winnipeg as “the Gateway of the West” and the “Bull’s Eye of the Dominion,” recycling the optimistic civic boosterism of the earlier celebration that had survived a decade of economic stagnation.[42] In 1927, Winnipeg’s charter group initially chose to follow its usual practice of excluding the ethnic minorities in their midst from their “public celebrations of unity and self-expression.”[43]

At the same time, the Provincial Jubilee Committee, appointed by the Premier’s Office on 1 May, was making an effort to organize celebrations in the remotest Ukrainian and Metis settlements.[44] The United Farmers of Manitoba, with John Bracken as premier, had been in office since 1922 and faced a provincial election on 30 June. The support they enjoyed among New Canadian voters in the rural districts help to account for the inclusion of prominent Ukrainian and other ethnic representatives on the Provincial Committee, whose two hundred members included eighteen East Europeans, mainly prominent businessmen and professionals, such as Max Steinkopf and Mitchell Rapiski from Winnipeg, and half a dozen clergymen.[45] On 13 May, a Publicity Subcommittee was appointed that launched initiatives directed specifically at the province’s foreign-born population, to ensure that no one was left out of the festivities. The Manitoba Committee produced its own booklet of guidelines for local celebrations that, counter to the directives of federal organizers, explicitly celebrated the province’s unique cultural diversity. It included the suggestion that “racial groups of different national origins” march under banners bearing such slogans as “The Cosmopolitan Nature and Rapid Growth of Population.” Alternatively, representatives of major ethnic communities were encouraged to sponsor floats exhibiting aspects of their unique national cultures: “In tableau each group or member of each group might provide a national song or dance or a two minute speech on Canada our Homeland.”[46]

The Provincial Committee also prepared a special editorial for distribution to community newspapers in ten European languages, stressing the importance of the Jubilee for all residents of Manitoba and urging immigrants to contribute to local celebrations. Both the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian National Railway (CNR) placed their publicity departments at the service of the Manitoba Committee, distributing historical pictures and articles to the rural press in English, French, and Ukrainian. Short radio reports on the progress of municipal efforts, with emphasis on New Canadian settlements, were broadcast every day at noon to keep the enthusiasm of organizers at a high pitch.[47] The committee’s most innovative exercise in public relations was “An Oratorical Symposium of All Races,” organized in collaboration with a number of ethnic associations and broadcast over CKY, the local CNR radio station. It consisted of brief speeches by twenty-one representatives of “the various races which have entered into our Western Canadian citizenship,” delivered in their respective languages, interspersed with “characteristic musical numbers” by ethnic choirs. Their enthusiastic endorsement of the Jubilee reportedly succeeded in “focussing the interest of every racial group in the province on the organization and purpose of the upcoming celebrations.”[48] The sense of anticipation and mounting excitement was reflected in letters to the editor from immigrants and naturalized citizens welcoming the opportunity provided by the Jubilee to demonstrate their loyalty to Canada, pointing to their demonstrated ability “to adapt themselves to this country and become good citizens,” and listing their contributions to the economic development of the West.[49] Anglo-Saxon anxieties about the reluctance of immigrant groups to abandon their ethnic cultures and identities were countered by the argument that instruction in their traditional dances and “histrionic arts” and the “cultivation of their national history” helped to turn young Ukrainians into “good Canadians”.[50]

The Winnipeg Committee, on the other hand, had resisted every plea from federal and provincial officials “to invite New Canadians to take an active part in the celebrations” until 23 May, when a Patriotic and Community Subcommittee was created, composed of twenty-two different nationalities.[51] On 25 May, James Aikins, president of the Provincial Committee, announced that, having completed the task of organizing and encouraging celebrations in outlying areas, it was concentrating its efforts “at the centre,” in collaboration with local organizers, to ensure the success of the ambitious three-day program of commemoration planned for the capital.[52] The intervention of the provincial body may have served as a catalyst for the involvement of ethnic associations in municipal preparations. In any case, the late arrivals soon made their presence felt, “entering heartily into Jubilee plans,”[53] and injecting new, more pluralistic elements into the celebrations—and, by extension, into Winnipeg’s civic and festive culture. By 27 May, the Patriotic and Community Subcommittee had decided to add a “nationalities” section to the 1 July parade, in which each national group would be represented by a separate float illustrating the history and customs of its homeland, with participants “dressed in native costume.”[54] The idea struck an immediate chord in the city’s immigrant neighbourhoods, with twenty-three ethnic organizations pledging themselves to enter floats in the parade.[55] The influence of the North End on Winnipeg’s Jubilee program was reflected above all in the activities planned for the evening of 1 July in Assiniboine Park. The “big community gathering” was transformed into an ambitious “Pageant of All Nations,” consisting of traditional folk dances, choral concerts, community singing, communal picnics, and a variety of athletic events conceived as “a miniature Olympic Games.”[56]

With the addition of dozens of New Canadians to various Jubilee committees, the city’s Anglo-Saxon elites for the first time found themselves collaborating with their ethnic counterparts in a major civic enterprise. For their part, representatives of the different ethnic associations were forced in many cases to subordinate their mutual prejudices and enmities to the common goal of impressing the charter group with their collective competence and patriotism. Since 1918, political upheavals in Central and Eastern Europe—the struggle over Ukrainian independence, border disputes between Poland and her neighbours—were reflected in strained relations between various diaspora communities in Canada: between, for example, Poles on one side, and Czechs, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Russians on the other. Yet according to one press report, “not one jarring note had been heard” during the weeks of frenzied preparation leading up to 1 July.[57] John Dafoe went so far as to claim that their shared experiences during the Diamond Jubilee “has given the people of various racial stocks a new viewpoint toward each other—the viewpoint that here in Canada, no matter what our racial origin, we are facing the battle of life together, that we all have more things in common than we have to keep us apart.”[58] The unprecedented collaboration of the city’s ethnic communities in the celebration of the Jubilee arguably contributed to the relaxation of inter-ethnic tensions that, according to Alan Artibise, became apparent in Winnipeg by the late 1920s.[59]

Figure 1

Spaces allocated to different “national groups” participating in the “Pageant of All Nations” in Assiniboine Park on the evening of 1 July 1927

Spaces allocated to different “national groups” participating in the “Pageant of All Nations” in Assiniboine Park on the evening of 1 July 1927

-> See the list of figures

On the morning of 1 July “the entire city seemed to turn out en masse” for the start of Winnipeg’s “Grand Patriotic Pageant of Progress,” with tens of thousands of spectators thronging the sidewalks “a dozen deep” along the line of march.[60] Far surpassing the 1924 parade in scale and spectacle—its 175 floats took over three hours to pass the reviewing stand—it was similarly dedicated to embracing “all features of city life,” with sections devoted to local Industries, Trades, Civic Enterprises, Early History, Transportation, and Neighbouring Settlements.[61]

The pageant opened with the customary nostalgic salute to the “old-timers,” the earliest homesteaders from Ontario and Great Britain, since “nothing was more pleasing than to bring together the children and the veterans who led the way in community development.”[62] The historical section of the parade was led by the float of the Lord Selkirk Society, which featured the eight-year-old great-granddaughter of John Sutherland, the leader of the opposition in Manitoba’s first Parliament. Dressed in period costume and “conscious of her splendid proud inheritance,” she was shown rocking a cradle belonging to her great-grandmother, which “had soothed her forbears in those hard pioneer days.”[63] The Red River cart made its inevitable appearance, together with buffalo hunters on horseback and floats depicting the “rude homes” of the early settlers who had “made many sacrifices” and “endured great privation.”[64] The historical sections, as in 1924, highlighted the arrival of French explorers and fur traders in the eighteenth century, the achievements of the Hudson Bay Company, the founding of the Red River settlement, the coming of the railroad, and Manitoba’s entry into Confederation (with no allusion, however, to either Riel or the Metis), and it traced the “progress of public service” and the “steady advance of trade and industry” in Winnipeg and the surrounding area.[65] The industrial and commercial floats that followed “demonstrated in graphic style . . . the city’s remarkable development of the last sixty years” in agriculture, manufacturing, merchandizing, transportation, and public utilities.[66] Despite the pleas of high-minded federal organizers for a didactic celebration that emphasized national and historical themes, and avoided the taint of commerce, the Winnipeg pageant was largely a brash expression of local boosterism and western Canadian chauvinism.[67]

In Winnipeg, however, the traditional, predominantly British parameters of civic identity were dramatically extended by the “lustily cheered” “Nationalities” section of the pageant. Its eighteen entries included Italians in traditional Calabrian and Sicilian costumes on a float decorated with gilded eagles, fasces, marble columns, Romulus and Remus, and other symbols of ancient Rome. The Greeks chose to impersonate Olympian gods grouped around a miniature version of the Parthenon. Icelanders re-enacted the first session of their medieval parliament, and quaint Dutch farmers in wooden shoes posed in front of a functioning windmill. The Belgians presented a tableau of traditional rural family life, while the Danish and Czechoslovakian entries chose to depict “stirring scenes” from their national histories. The Germans displayed a primitive sod hut associated with the earliest homesteaders alongside a “picturesque modern farmhouse.” The ethnically mixed Jewish community contributed a visually striking allegorical float featuring six giant gilded statues of Old Testament patriarchs.[68]

Several floats combined both ethnic and Canadian decorative elements, symbolizing the persistence of dual loyalties: the Czechoslovakian float, for example, contained a children’s choir dressed in national costume that gave repeated “lusty” renditions of “God Save the Queen” and “O Canada,” to the acclamations of the crowd. The Italian float supplemented its ancient Roman motifs with Canadian and provincial flags and coats of arms, while the Polish entry featured members of the Sokol dance troupe—the men in knee-high boots and white sukmanas, the women in their intricately beaded and embroidered bodices—startlingly juxtaposed with Polish-Canadian veterans of the Great War in khaki uniforms.[69]

The partial appropriation of Winnipeg’s Jubilee celebration by the North End was consummated by the “Pageant of Nations” that was held in Assiniboine Park immediately after the parade.[70] Twenty-five ethnic societies collaborated in organizing Winnipeg’s first multicultural festival: eclectic displays of traditional folk culture were combined with communal suppers, patriotic exercises, and athletic events in which the winners of competitions from each national group competed for medals in a “miniature Olympiad.”[71] A large raised platform surrounded by an enclosure was erected in the middle of the park to serve as a stage for the performers, with each ethnic contingent assigned its own section of the grounds marked by its national flag.[72] Intentionally or otherwise, the relative position of the certain national groups mirrored Winnipeg’s ethnic hierarchy, with the Scottish societies, which had requested space for ten thousand people, occupying the choicest location immediately in front of the platform, while the Ukrainians were relegated to the extreme northeast edge of the park.[73] The privileged position of the Scottish contingent may be explained more simply by the tribal loyalties of John McEachern.

The festivities began at two o’clock in the afternoon, with a performance of folk songs by a Dutch choir, followed by over five hours of music, dancing, and gymnastic displays by Icelanders, Poles, Ukrainians, Swedes, Germans, Scots, Italians, Hungarians, Greeks, and Norwegians.[74] Spectators were pressed fifty rows deep against the central platform throughout the day, while others attended or competed in sporting events, joined the hundreds of picnic parties scattered under the trees, or simply promenaded through “the undulating sea of humanity,” watching the “colourful proceedings” unfold.[75] Over fifty thousand people attended “the Pageant of Nations,” despite the intermittent rain and unseasonably cool temperatures, according to every estimate the largest crowd ever gathered in the park. And over thirty thousand of them had come—on foot and by streetcar, many of them wearing the “picturesque old costumes of their homeland”—from the ethnic neighbourhoods beyond the pale of the railway yards.[76] Observers were especially struck by the “astonishing,” apparently novel spectacle of “young and old, rich and poor, people of Canadian birth and the foreign-born,” encountering each other on seemingly equal terms in a socially neutral public space. They stressed the therapeutic influence of this unprecedented commingling of cultures, and the almost miraculous ability of a nascent national spirit to dissolve class and racial differences. “Persons whose appearance indicated scarcity of worldly goods were wearing small flags or Jubilee buttons on their coats, decorations which must have meant something of a sacrifice to them . . . and small children of foreign appearance enthusiastically chanted ‘Canada’s Diamond Jubilee’ while playing games on the green.”[77]

The evening culminated in an elaborate allegorical tableau vivant of Canadianization, which explicitly drew the lessons that the people of Winnipeg were expected to absorb from the events of the day, in the shape of “Canada standing in the midst of the races she has gathered to be her people.”[78] Immigrants in their national costumes—“Robin Hood and his maids and merry men for England, young women in plaid for Scotland . . . boys and girls gay in the colours of the Ukraine, of Italy, of Hungary, of Poland, and many another land”—gathered together around the protective, matriarchal figure of Canada, dressed in white fur and crowned with scarlet maple leaves, played by Mrs. G. K. Gainsford, a granddaughter of John A. Macdonald. For the grand finale, “after the picturesque racial groups had displayed their mother country’s best in song, story and dance,” the massed ethnic choirs presented “a magnificent rendering of the national songs of Canada,” while thousands of spectators reportedly joined in the choruses “with a rousing enthusiasm that left no doubt as to their passionate belief in their adopted country.”[79]

Most English-Canadian nationalists in the 1920s assumed a binary, zero-sum relationship between assimilation and ethnicity, which occupied the opposite ends of a spectrum. It followed that the willingness of a young Italian or Ukrainian immigrant to ride in the Jubilee parade and enthusiastically join in the singing of “The Maple Leaf Forever” signified a weakening of their ethnic identity and a corresponding advance on the road to Canadianization. But their exuberant participation in the commemorative rituals of 1 July are open to a more ambiguous interpretation. The Jubilee may have strengthened their desire to become both more Canadian and more ethnic, to fully integrate into Canadian society, but only as members of their respective communities. The Diamond Jubilee of Confederation provided an opportunity that its federal promoters, with their Canadianizing agenda, certainly did not intend, for Ukrainians and other groups to publicly renegotiate the terms of their social and political integration.

The contribution of Winnipeg’s North End to the redefinition of both the Jubilee and the sense of nationality it was supposed to inculcate did not end with the Pageant of All Nations on 1 July. The outdoor Service of Thanksgiving on the afternoon of 3 July was originally designed to convey, in the sacred texts and old familiar hymns compiled by the National Committee, the importance of religion, especially in its more Protestant guises, as the cement that bound Canada together. On 3 July “the rollicking crowds put aside their carnival spirit and came to the legislative grounds in sober mood . . . ready to join in devout thanks for sixty years of progress and prosperity.”[80] From the steps of the Legislative Building a succession of lay and clerical speakers described the vital work of the Christian churches among Canada’s “seventy-two racial strains” in leading New Canadians into citizenship by providing hostels, community centres, hospitals, and boys’ and girls’ clubs.[81] Like their secular counterparts, local church leaders insisted on “the unity and harmony” of the Canadian people in 1927, claiming, for example, that “the anti-Romanist attitude so long characteristic of the average Briton” had not taken root in Canada and that relations between different sections of the community were marked by “perfect religious freedom, social concord and mutual toleration and respect.”[82] The official order of service seemed to assume the existence of a homogeneous population with a common political and religious heritage—an assumption shared by James Aikins, a devout Methodist, who insisted that the celebrations acknowledge “the role of God in our Nation.”[83]

In the event, however, the service of thanksgiving, described as the largest religious gathering ever held in the Canadian West, was transformed by the participation of ethnic choirs and congregations into a sacralized version of the community gathering in Assiniboine Park. An estimated fifty thousand people attended the service, which also featured a massive interdenominational choir of 1,340 voices, drawn from a dozen different immigrant communities.[84]

Figure 2

Italian float in Winnipeg’s Diamond Jubilee of Confederation parade, 1 July 1927

Italian float in Winnipeg’s Diamond Jubilee of Confederation parade, 1 July 1927

-> See the list of figures

The official Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving, like the secular spectacles and patriotic rituals of 1 July, reproduced and reinforced the very cultural differences its authors sought to transcend, and associated them with an ethnicized version of Canadian identity. The prayers and homilies in praise of Canada’s early pioneers, the Fathers of Confederation, and the Glorious Dead of the Great War were accompanied and upstaged by a babel of foreign languages, regaling the crowd with the hymns and sacred songs of eastern and southern Europe.[85] Like the joyful, polyglot gathering in Assiniboine Park two days earlier, the thanksgiving service was turned into a platform for proclaiming, in the symbolically loaded landscape of the provincial capital, the message of Winnipeg’s intractable ethnic pluralism, and broadcasting it, through the CNR radio network, to the rest of Manitoba.

Exultant federal organizers were convinced that the Diamond Jubilee had accelerated Canadianization among the ethnic enclaves of western Canada. In its final report, the National Committee singled out for special praise the “splendid work done in Manitoba towards generating a permanent sentiment in the way of national unity . . . and in creating in the minds of the rising generation of all races a sense of the great pride that should be felt in acclaiming oneself a Canadian.”[86] The “universal, spontaneous and unanimous enthusiasm of the foreign elements” was, according to James Aikins, “especially gratifying for dispelling popular perceptions that they remained apathetic, if not antagonistic in their attitude towards anything British.”[87] Dafoe’s Free Press insisted that “the people of all racial stocks had entered heartily into the spirit of the occasion, exalting the idea of a united Canada which they now regarded as their new homeland . . . it would be a surprising thing to hear if they did not give to Canada their first loyalty.”[88]

The triumphalism of Dafoe and the National Committee contained an element of wishful thinking. Anglo-Saxon observers chose to interpret the dance troupes, choirs, and traditional handicrafts on display in Assiniboine Park as sentimental reminders of Old World folkways and values that were swiftly receding into the past. “They may have turned their backs on Europe, those thousands who surged into the park yesterday—some of them indeed knew the old countries only through the memories of their fathers and mothers—but they had not utterly forgotten it. Their contribution to the new country was to give the best they had in the old. And yesterday they once again put on their old costumes and sang their old songs and showed in a small measure what they had in them to give.”[89] For many New Canadians, however, folk songs and embroidered blouses represented living emblems of a vigorous, very modern ethno-national revival, nourished by the renewed mass immigration of the 1920s and the rich and expanding associational life that the later arrivals had created in Winnipeg. The previous generation of immigrants, drawn mainly from the peasant classes, had tended to identify with their village or region of origin.[90] Many Galicians, Ruthenians, and Calabrese acquired a sense of belonging to a wider national or ethnic community only after their arrival in Canada. And it was through public celebrations like the Diamond Jubilee and its “Pageant of Nations” that they were learning how to be Ukrainian and Italian.

The idea of Canada as a mosaic—a culture based on Anglo-Saxon traditions enriched by other national elements, leading to the evolution of “a new people enriched by the diversity if its origin”—originated in two seminal studies of Canada’s ethnic communities published during the interwar years by Kate A. Foster and John Murray Gibbon.[91] Foster and Gibbon rejected the conventional approach to Canadianization that demanded the assimilation of the immigrant into the Anglo-Saxon mainstream culture. Until the “new Canadian type” made its appearance, Canada would continue to resemble “a decorated surface, bright with inlays of separate coloured pieces, not painted in colours blended with brush or palette,”[92] with each piece valued for its contribution to “the common advancement.”[93] It was this new, still contested vision of Canadian nationality that was enacted in Winnipeg during the first three days of July, when its streets and parks were transformed into “a mosaic of urban ethnicities.”[94]

It was in some ways, however, a flawed and limited vision, involving the marginalization of alternative definitions of pluralism and ethnicity. The ethnic identities on display during the Diamond Jubilee chose to highlight “those popular and apolitical components of the Canadian mosaic,” such as peasant dances and costumes, that were least threatening to the Anglo-Saxon majority.[95] Representatives of more progressive and politicized varieties of pluralism associated with socialism and the labour movement, with their demands for economic justice through class struggle, did not make an appearance.[96] The Jubilee helped to legitimize a cultural pluralism that did not explicitly acknowledge the claims of ethnic minorities to full social and economic equality. In other words, it failed to provide a definitive solution to the vexed problem of “how to adapt to Canadian society and be fully Canadian while remaining Ukrainian”[97]–or Italian or Polish or Hungarian. The Diamond Jubilee did, however, allow these groups to challenge the hegemonic Anglo-conformity of Winnipeg’s civic culture, and demonstrate that loyalty to Canada did not preclude a continuing devotion to their countries of origin. By enacting—and thereby helping to construct—their version of the emerging Canadian mosaic, Winnipeg’s ethnic minorities widened the boundaries of the public sphere and gained the opportunity to “negotiate the meaning of their common experiences”[98] with the Anglo-Saxon majority on more equal terms. Despite the limitations of public celebration as a vehicle for achieving “ethnocultural justice,”[99] the Jubilee marked an important advance towards “the mutual granting of legitimacy” between majority and minority groups that was in turn a prerequisite for any future progress in redressing economic disparities and restructuring social and political relationships.[100] And by establishing the principle that ethnic and Canadian identities were not only compatible, but mutually reinforcing,[101] the Jubilee of Confederation represented a milestone in “an ongoing dialectic of accommodation and resistance”[102] that has structured our own impassioned debates about group rights and the nature of multicultural citizenship. Multiculturalism is revealed as the ambiguous product of ethnic persistence and self-assertion on the one hand, and assimilation and integration on the other—two sides, as it turns ot, of the same coin.