Canada, Relations with

views updated


CANADA, RELATIONS WITH. The Canadian-American relationship is unusual in a number of ways. The two nations share one of the longest common borders in the world, nearly five thousand miles, including Alaska. This frontier is technically undefended, which gives rise to much discussion of how the two nations pioneered mutual disarmament, even though the lack of defense is more mythical than real. Canada and the United States are one another's best customers, with more goods moving across the Great Lakes than over any other localized water system in the world. Nonetheless, the cultural impact of the more populous nation upon the smaller has caused Canada to fear a "creeping continentalism," or "cultural annexation," by the United States. In the 1960s and 1970s, this fear led to strains in the Canadian-American relationship. Indicative of the cultural problem is Canadian resentment over the use of the term "American" as solely applicable to the United States, since Canadians are Americans too in the geographical sense.

Two Distinct Nations

To understand the Canadian-American relationship, one must be aware of three problems. The first is that, until the twentieth century, Americans tended to assume that one day Canada would become part of the United States, especially since it continued to be, and technically still is, a monarchy. Democratic Americans who espoused the notion of Manifest Destiny felt Canada should be added to "the area of freedom." The second problem is that Canadians found themselves caught between the United States, which they feared would absorb them, and Great Britain, which possessed Canada as a colony. Thus, Canadian statesmen often used the cry of "Americanization" to strengthen ties with Britain. The third problem is that the Canadian population has been roughly one-third French-speaking for nearly two centuries, and this bilingual and bicultural condition has complicated the North American situation.

In a sense, one cannot separate Canadian-American relations from Canadian history. This is especially so for two reasons. Of the two score or more distinct steps by which a colonial dependency of Britain became a self-governing colony—and then a fully independent nation—Canada took most of them first, or the distinct steps arose from a Canadian precedent or over a Canadian initiative. Thus, Canada represents the best and most complete example of progressive decolonization in imperial history, and one must understand that the Canadian-American relationship involves sharp contrasts between a nation (the United States) that gained its independence by revolution and a nation (Canada) that sought its independence by evolution. Further, despite similarities of geography, patterns of settlement, technology, and standards of living, Canadians came to differ in numerous and fundamental ways from Americans. The most important areas of difference, apart from those arising from Canada's bilingual nature, were: (1) that Canada did not experience a westward movement that paralleled the frontier of the American West; (2) that Canada's economy was, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, dependent upon a succession of staples, principally fish, furs, timber, and wheat, which prevented the development of an abundant and diversified economy like that of the United States; and (3) that Canadians could not at any time become isolationists, as Americans did, since they felt under threat from an immediate neighbor, which the United States did not. Most Americans are ignorant of these basic differences in the histories of the two nations, which perhaps stands as the single greatest cause of friction in Canadian-American relations, for, as Canadians argue, they know much American history while Americans know little of Canadian history.

Early Hostilities

The history of the relationship itself includes periods of sharp hostility tempered by an awareness of a shared continental environment and by the slow emergence of a Canadian foreign policy independent of either the United Kingdom or the United States. This policy, moreover, gave Canada middle-power status in the post–World War II world. The original hostility arose from the four intercolonial wars, sometimes referred to as the Great War for Empire, in which the North American colonies of Britain and France involved themselves from 1689 until 1763. The English Protestant settlers of the thirteen seaboard colonies were at war with the French Catholic inhabitants of New France until, in the French and Indian War, Britain triumphed and in 1763 Canada passed to the British by the Peace of Paris. Thereafter, Canadians found themselves on the fringes of the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin traveled to Montreal in an un-successful attempt to gain revolutionary support there, and rebel privateers raided the Nova Scotian coast. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris created the New United States and left what thereafter came to be the British North American Provinces in British hands. The flight of nearly forty thousand Loyalists from the United States to the New provinces of Upper Canada (later Canada West and now Ontario) and New Brunswick, and to the eastern townships of Lower Canada (later Canada East and now Quebec). This assured the presence of resolutely anti-American settlers on the Canadian frontier, which increased tensions between the two countries.

Relations between the United States and Great Britain, and thus with Canada too, remained tense for over three decades. Loyalists in Canada resented the loss of their American property and, later, the renunciation by some American states of their debts for Loyalist property confiscated during the American Revolution. The British regained certain western forts on American soil, contrary to the treaty of 1783, to ensure control over the Indians, and American frontier settlers believed that the British encouraged Indian attacks upon them. Although Jay's Treaty of 1796 secured these forts for the United States, western Americans continued to covet Canada. In 1812 a combination of such war hawks, a controversy over British impressment of American seamen, and the problem of neutral rights on the seas led to an American declaration of war against Britain. A series of unsuccessful invasions of Canada nurtured anti-Americanism there, while the burning of York (now Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada, became an event for the Canadian imagination not unlike the stand at the Alamo and the sinking of the Maine to Americans. The Treaty of Ghent, signed in 1815, restored the status quo ante but ended British trade with American Indians, which removed a major source of friction. The Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817 placed limitations on armed naval vessels on the Great Lakes and became the basis for the myth, since the agreement did not apply to land fortifications, that the United States and Canada henceforth did not defend their mutual border.

A second period of strain along the border began in 1837 and extended until 1871. The British government put down rebellions in both Canadas in the former year but not before American filibustering groups, particularly the Hunters Lodges, provoked a number of border incidents, especially over the ship the Caroline. Further, the leaders of the rebellion sought refuge in the United States. Two years later, a dispute over the Maine boundary led to a war scare. Although the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 settled the border, the Oregon frontier remained in dispute until 1846. In the 1850s, Canada flourished, helped in part by trade with the United States encouraged by the Elgin-Marcy Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. An abortive annexation manifesto released by a body of Montreal merchants had forced the British to support such trade.

During the American Civil War, relations again deteriorated. The Union perceived the Canadians to be anti-Northern, and they bore the brunt of Union resentment over Queen Victoria's Proclamation of Neutrality. The Trent affair of 1861 brought genuine danger of war between the North and Britain and led to the reinforcement of the Canadian garrisons. Canadians anticipated a Southern victory and an invasion by the Northern army in search of compensatory land; therefore, they developed detailed defensive plans, with an emphasis on siege warfare and "General Winter." The Alabama affair; Confederate use of Canadian ports and towns for raids on Lake Erie, Johnson's Island, and Saint Albans; and the imposition of passport requirements along the border by U.S. customs officials gave reality to Canadian fears. Ultimately, Canada enacted its own neutrality legislation. Moreover, concern over the American threat was one of the impulses behind the movement, in 1864, to bring the Canadian provinces together into a confederation, as achieved by the British North America Act in 1867. In the meantime, and again in 1871, Fenians from the United States carried out raids. These raids and congressional abrogation of the reciprocity treaty in 1866 underscored the tenuous position of the individual colonies. Thus, the formation of the Dominion of Canada on 1 July 1867 owed much to the tensions inherent in the Canadian-American relationship.

Arbitration and Strengthening Ties

The Treaty of Washington in 1871 greatly eased these tensions. From this date on, the frontier between the two countries became progressively "unguarded," in that neither side built New fortifications. The treaty provided for the arbitration of the Alabama claims and a boundary dispute over the San Juan Islands. This agreement strengthened the principle of arbitration. Furthermore, for the first time, Canada, in the person of Sir John A. Macdonald, its prime minister, represented itself on a diplomatic matter. Nevertheless, the treaty was unpopular in Canada, and it gave rise to the of trepeated charge that Britain was willing to "sell Canada on the block of Anglo-American harmony" and that Canada was an American hostage to Britain's good behavior in the Western Hemisphere. Significantly, Canadians then began to press for independent diplomatic representation.

Problems between Canada and the United States after 1871 were, in fact, more economic and cultural than strictly diplomatic. Arbitration resolved disputes over the Atlantic fisheries, dating from before the American Revolution, and over questions relating to fur seals in the Bering Sea. In 1878, as the United States refused to renew reciprocity of trade, Canada turned to the national policy of tariff protection. A flurry of rumors of war accompanied the Venezuela boundary crisis in 1895. In addition, the Alaska boundary question, unimportant until the discovery of gold in the Klondike, exacerbated old fears, especially as dealt with in 1903 by a pugnacious Theodore Roosevelt. Perhaps Canadians drew their last gasp of fear of direct annexation in 1911, when the Canadian electorate indirectly but decisively turned back President William Howard Taft's attempt to gain a new reciprocity treaty that many thought might lead to a commercial, and ultimately political, union. English-speaking Canada resented American neutrality in 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, and relations remained at a lowebb until the United States entered the war in 1917.

Wartime Alliances

A period of improved Canadian-American relations followed. In 1909 an international joint commission emerged to adjudicate on boundary waters, and the Canadian government had welcomed a massive influx of American settlers onto the Canadian prairies between 1909 and 1914. With the coming of World War I, the economies of the two nations began to interlock more closely. In 1927 Canada achieved full diplomatic independence by exchanging its own minister with Washington; by 1931, when all dominions became fully autonomous and equal in stature, Canada clearly had shown the United States how it could take the lead in providing the hallmarks of autonomy for other former colonies as well. During the U.S. experiment with Prohibition, which Canada did not share, minor incidents arose, the most important of which was the American sinking of the Canadian vessel I'm Alone in 1929. Luckily, harmonious arbitration of this specific case in 1935, following the United States's repeal of Prohibition in 1933, eliminated the cause of the friction. Canadians were disturbed that the United States failed to join the League of Nations, but they welcomed U.S. initiatives toward peacekeeping in the 1920s and 1930s. With the outbreak of World War II in Europe and the rapid fall of France in 1940, Canadians were willing to accept the protection implied by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his Ogdensburg Declaration of 18 August, and Roosevelt and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King established the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, which continued to exist in the early 2000s.

Military cooperation continued during and after the United States's entry into World War II. Canada and the United States jointly constructed the Alaska Highway, Canadian forces helped fight the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands, and both Canada and the United States became charter members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. The two countries constructed a collaborative series of three early-warning radar systems across Canada during the height of the Cold War, and in 1957 the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) came into existence. Increasingly, Canada came to play the role of peacekeeper in the world: at Suez, in the Congo, in Southeast Asia, and in 1973 in Vietnam. Although Canada entered into trade relations with Cuba and Communist China at a time when the United States strenuously opposed such relations, diplomatic relations remained relatively harmonious. Nor did relations deteriorate when Canadians protested against U.S. nuclear testing in the far Pacific Northwest, or during the Vietnam War, when Canada gave refuge to over forty thousand young Americans who sought to avoid military service.

Economic and Trade Relations

Nonetheless, increased economic and cultural tension offset this harmony. In the 1930s, the two countries erected preferential tariff barriers against one another, and despite an easing of competition in 1935, Canadians continued to be apprehensive of the growing American influence in Canadian industry and labor. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, disputes over the role of American subsidiary firms in Canada; over American business practices, oil import programs, and farm policy; and over the influence of American periodicals and television in Canada led to a resurgence of "Canada First" nationalism under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. Still, Queen Elizabeth II and President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959 together opened the Saint Lawrence Seaway, long opposed by the United States, and the flow of Canadian immigrants to the United States continued. Relations, while no longer "easy and automatic," as Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson once described them, remained open to rational resolution. The growth of a French-Canadian separatist movement; diverging policies over the Caribbean and, until 1972, the People's Republic of China; as well as U.S. ownership of key Canadian industries, especially the automobile, rubber, and electrical equipment sectors, promised future disputes.

Canada remained within the U.S. strategic orbit in the last decades of the twentieth century, but relations soured amidst world economic instability provoked by the Arab oil embargo in 1973, a deepening U.S. trade deficit, and New cultural and environmental issues. Canadians complained about American films, television shows, and magazines flooding their country; acid rainfall generated by U.S. coal-burning power plants; and environmental damage expected from the U.S. oil industry's activities in the Arctic. After the U.S. tanker Manhattan scouted a route in 1969 to bring Alaskan oil through the Canadian Arctic ice pack to eastern U.S. cities, the Canadian parliament enacted legislation extending its jurisdiction over disputed passages in this region for pollution-control purposes. Subsequently, the oil companies decided to pump oil across Alaska and ship it to U.S. West Coast ports from Valdez. Disputes over fisheries, a hardy perennial issue, broke out on both coasts. On the East Coast, a treaty negotiated with Canada during the administration of President Jimmy Carter that resolved disputed fishing rights in the Gulf of Maine fell through after protests by congressional representatives from Massachusetts and Maine. Ultimately, the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands, resolved the issue. On the West Coast, the two countries argued over salmon quotas. (Later, during the 1990s, when fish stocks had declined precipitously in both regions, the disputes broke out again with renewed intensity.) In response to these issues, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government (1968–1979, 1980–1984) struggled to lessen Canada's dependency on the United States. It screened U.S. investment dollars, sought new trading partners, challenged Hollywood's stranglehold on cultural products, canceled tax advantages enjoyed by U.S. magazines, and moved to reduce U.S. control over Canada's petroleum industry.

Free Trade and Unity against Terrorism

Relations improved notably in 1984 because of a startling convergence of personalities and policies. A New Canadian leader, Brian Mulroney (1984–1993), established affable relations with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In an important demonstration of Canadian-American economic cooperation, Mulroney led Canada into a controversial, U.S.-initiated continental trade bloc via the Free Trade Agreement (1988) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (1992). These treaties between the United States, Canada, and Mexico intended to eliminate all trade barriers between the countries.

Scrapping Trudeau's nationalist agenda, Mulroney endorsed the U.S. presidents' hard line toward the Soviet bloc, joined the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States, and participated in the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War of 1991. In the spring of 1999, under U.S. president Bill Clinton and Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, the United States and Canada, as members of NATO, cooperated in military action in Serbia. Following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on 11 September 2001, Canada assisted the United States in searching for those responsible. It passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which brought Canada's more liberal immigration policy into line with that of the United States in an attempt to prevent terrorists from using Canada as a staging ground for further aggression against the United States.

In the early 2000s, Canada and the United States depended more heavily on one another for trade than on any other nation. Canadians purchased between one quarter and one-third of all U.S. exports, while the United States bought some 80 percent of Canada's exports. Similarly, each nation invested more capital across the border than in any other country, including Japan and Mexico.


Aronsen, Lawrence R. American National Security and Economic Relations with Canada, 1945–1954. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997.

Campbell, Colin. The U.S. Presidency in Crisis: A Comparative Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Fatemi, Khosrow, ed. North American Free Trade Agreement: Opportunities and Challenges. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. Martin, Pierre, and Mark R. Brawley, eds. Alliance Politics, Kosovo, and NATO's War: Allied Force or Forced Allies? New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Menz, Fredric C., and Sarah A. Stevens, eds. Economic Opportunities in Freer U.S. Trade with Canada. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

Pendakur, Manjunath. Canadian Dreams and American Control: The Political Economy of the Canadian Film Industry. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1990.

Rafferty, Oliver P. The Church, the State, and the Fenian Threat, 1861–75. Basingstoke, Hampshire, U.K.: Macmillan Press; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Rugman, Alan M. Multinationals and Canada-United States Free Trade. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Savoie, Donald J. Thatcher, Reagan, Mulroney: In Search of a New Bureaucracy. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994.

Winks, Robin W. The Civil War Years: Canada and the United States. 4th ed. Montreal and Ithaca, N.Y.: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1998.

Robin W.Winks/a. e.

See alsoAcid Rain ; Canada, Confederate Activities in ; Canadian-American Waterways ; Caroline Affair ; Fenian Movement ; Klondike Rush ; North American Free Trade, Foreign ; Washington, Treaty of ; andvol. 9:Address of the Continental Congress to Inhabitants of Canada .

About this article

Canada, Relations with

Updated About content Print Article