Canadian Americans

views updated


by Marianne Fedunkiw


Canada is the largest country in the Western Hemisphere, covering 9,970,610 square kilometers including both land and freshwater areas. It is surrounded on three sides by oceans: the Pacific to the west, the Arctic to the north, and the Atlantic to the east. Its southern border with the United States, which stretches 5,525 miles, is the longest undefended border in the world.

Because Canada is such a large country (much of which is relatively uninhabitable), approximately 60 percent of its 1991 population of 26.9 million was concentrated in urban centers, particularly in the southeastern stretch between Windsor, Ontario, and Québec City, Québec. The largest cities are Toronto, with a population of 3.8 million, followed by Montreal, with 3.1 million, and Vancouver, with 1.6 million.

Unlike the United States, Canada is made up of provinces and territories: Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, the recently created Nunavut, British Columbia (BC), Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island (PEI), Newfoundland, and Labrador. Each province has its own provincial government, coat of arms, and provincial capital. The nation's capital is Ottawa, Ontario. Although there are provincial divisions, provinces tend to identify with one another by region. For example, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba make up the prairie provinces, while New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Newfoundland make up the Atlantic provinces. The Canadian national flag, adopted in 1965, is a red maple leaf set against a white background and bordered on either side by wide, vertical bands of red.


The first explorers to visit North America, as opposed to the indigenous peoples, were said to be the Vikings. Around 1000 A.D., Norwegian Leif Ericson's ship first landed in what is now Labrador and went on to what is now Massachusetts, stopping on the coast of modern-day Nova Scotia along the way. However, there are those who believe there were earlier visitors to Canada: Celtic monks fleeing the Vikings, and African travellers. All those who visited found a harsh, cold land occupied by potentially hostile native peoples, and many suffered from scurvy and other afflictions. As a result, few early explorers survived or stayed very long.


By the late 1400s, parts of North America were being claimed for European empires. Giovanni Gabotto, a native Italian who became known as John Cabot after he immigrated to England, landed at Cape Breton Island on the east coast of Canada on June 24, 1497, and claimed the land for his patron King Henry VII. Despite this fact, many French explorers and colonists traveled to Canada as well. Seeking a northern base along the route to the Far East, the French explorer Jacques Cartier gained renown for venturing into the Canadian mainland via the St. Lawrence River in 1535. Cartier made it as far west as Hochelaga, the native peoples' name for what became Montreal. Another famous French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, established his first trading post in 1608 in what is today Québec City. The land's vast resources, particularly beaver pelts, became part of the draw for early visitors. In fact, the ripening fur trade led to the founding in 1670 of the Hudson Bay Company, which is still in operation today.

Settlement was not easy in the seventeenth century. By 1663 there were only 2,500 French settlers, most of whom were clustered in Montreal, Québec City, and Trois Rivieres (Three Rivers). Vicious battles took place between the French settlers and the native Iroquois, and the European colonies were all but destroyed. In fact, relationships with indigenous peoples often determined the pace of settlement. Jesuit missionaries, who were sent to the new land to help colonize and convert the natives to Christianity, met with considerable opposition, for example, and in many cases missions were destroyed and missionaries killed.


By 1713, the population of New France, as the Canadian colony was called, numbered less than 20,000, compared with some 400,000 English, Scottish, and Irish settlers in the Atlantic states. The French and English began fighting over the Canadian lands, particularly the valuable beaver country around Hudson and James Bays. The early settlement of Port-Royal in Nova Scotia changed hands a number of times. The French set up strategic fortifications to prepare for British attacks, and the British countered by establishing their own fortifications. For example, the French built Louisbourg, a fortress which guarded the entrance to the St. Lawrence River, and in response the British built, in 1749, a base at Halifax.

The French and British were also battling over lands in the United States at this time. In 1753 French troops established Fort Duquesne, a base near present-day Pittsburgh, and controlled much of the Ohio Valley. War was declared between France and Britain in 1756, and two years later the French lost Fort Duquesne, upper Ohio (which tied the French colonies in Louisiana to Canada), and Niagara. In 1759in a famous battle on the Plains of Abraham near Québec Citythe British gained a foothold in New France. Then on February 10, 1763, France signed the Peace of Paris treaty and Britain assumed control over all of North America except for New Orleans, which France ceded to Spain. All that was left for France were the small islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, off the southern coast of Newfoundland, which are still French properties today.


Many early ties linked the areas that would become Canadian lands with those that, after 1776, would become states. At its zenith, British Canada included not only present-day territory, but also the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. In fact, after the British conquest of New France, the "Canadian" colonies had to determine whether they wished to join the Thirteen Colonies in their bid for independence or remain within the Empire. Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Québec opted relatively quickly to remain with Britain, while Nova Scotia deliberated. In 1776, almost two-thirds of Nova Scotia's population consisted of New England emigrants with strong ties to their former land. In the end, however, Nova Scotia decided to stay with England, too, rather than become the fourteenth state of the Union. American invaders did try to take part of British Canada in December 1775, when forces led by Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery unsuccessfully attacked Québec. Furthermore, those Americans who supported British rulethe United Empire Loyalistsfound refuge in the Atlantic provinces in the later eighteenth century.

The new British rule and pressure from the revolutionaries in the Thirteen Colonies did not make for a harmonious meld of lands and peoples in Canada. Concessions were made, however, to keep Québec in the British Empire. The Québec Act of 1774 returned to the French Canadians their civil law based upon Napoleonic code (still provincially applicable today) and the freedom to practice the Roman Catholic religion. To further accommodate both French and British interests, the Constitutional Act of 1791 allowed for two separate elective legislative assemblies within the distinct provinces of Upper Canada (the largely British area to the west of the Ottawa River) and Lower Canada (presentday Québec).


Tension between the French and English was not confined to the East. When the Canadian government acquired western lands from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869, Louis Riel led a group of Metis settlers in protest. The Metis, who were part French Canadian and part native, feared that the encroachment of other settlers would mean the loss of their freedom and identity.

Riel, an educated man who had studied for the priesthood, served as the spokesman for the Metis. They set up a "Provisional Government" of their own and denied entry to William McDougall, the newly appointed lieutenant-governor of the region. Further conflict ensued when a young Orangeman named Thomas Scott, who had fought against Riel's government, was executed. The government of Ontario issued a warrant for Riel's arrest, and the Orangemen, who controlled much of Ontario, topped that with a $5,000 reward for his capture.

Riel was not overthrown, however, despite the fact that 1,200 government troops marched 500 miles to enforce peace in the West. In fact, Riel maintained considerable influence. In 1874, he was elected to the Dominion Parliament as a representative from Manitoba, but he never took his seat because he was exiled for five years and went south to live in Montana. He returned to Canada in 1884 and the next year led another Metis surprising. The rebellion was quashed, though, and Riel was tried and hanged for treason in 1885 at the age of 41.


In addition to the Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, Canada became a sought-after destination for American farmers in search of cheaper land. By 1812, about 60 percent of the population of Upper Canada was comprised of non-Loyalist colonists from the United States. Loyalists and British made up the remaining 40 percent in about even proportions.

The most significant relationship with Americans in the early nineteenth century, however, was one of war. Many Americans believed that the British were supporting Indian attacks in the United States, while other Americans, such as the expansionist "war hawks," favored going to war to seize Upper Canada for themselves. Americans also resented Britain's imposition of a naval blockade upon France, which hampered American trade with France, and Britain's seizure of thousands of British sailors found to be "deserters" on American ships. As a result of these mounting tensions, American President James Madison declared war on Britain on June 1, 1812.


The war went poorly for the Americans because they mistakenly concentrated their initial efforts on taking the eastern part of Upper Canada, including the Detroit River and Niagara. The Americans believed they would be welcomed by their compatriots who had moved to Canada, but they were wrong. The Americans lost not only Detroit, but all of the American territory west of Lake Erie to General Isaac Brock's troops, which were fewer in number, and his ally the Shawnee chief Tecumseh. The battles of the War of 1812 continued well into 1814 with both sides making advances, but victory was on the side of the British more often. In fact, in August 1814, the British advanced as far south as Washington, taking and burning the Capitol and President's House. The Americans whitewashed the walls to cover the burns, and it has since been called the White House.

In the end, the war changed little in terms of boundaries or national possessions. But ideologically, the war fostered anti-American sentiments and corresponding loyalty to the colony itselfmaking the settlers neither Loyalists nor British, but Upper Canadians.


The 1830s was a decade of discontent in both Lower and Upper Canada, which culminated in the rebellions of 1837. Although relatively few people participated in the uprisings, they set the stage for changes in government that led to confederation in 1867. On July 1, 1867, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Canadas (Lower and Upper) joined together to form the Dominion of Canada.

Another major development in the relationship between Canada and the United States that helped propel Canada to independence centered around the American Civil War. Canada quickly opposed the war, particularly the thought of the

"C an't you see the freedom in America? That it's not just political? Can't you see American liberty? Can't you see self-reliance and self-expression? That is the American atmosphere.... In America you can do anything you want, live anywhere you want, and, finally, do what it is that you most want to do very easilyperhaps not without what you might consider to be sacrifices, but they're not really sacrifices."

Agnes Martin in 1931, cited in American Mosaic: The Immigrant Experience in the Words of Those Who Lived It, edited by Joan Morrison and Charlotte Fox Zabusky (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1980)..

South winning (although many Americans believed the British supported the South), and hostilities between the two countries grew. The situation grew worse when many American slaves fled to freedom in Canada via the "Underground Railroad," and when "The Fenian Brotherhood"anti-British Irish Americansattacked the Canadian village of Fort Erie in southern Ontario in the summer of 1866. The fear of annexation by the United States, either North or South, eventually led Canadians to forge the British North America Act, which established the Dominion of Canada. The first Prime Minister was Sir John A. Macdonald.

Although the prairies and outlying parts of Ontario and Québecthen a huge area called Rupert's Landwere not part of Confederation, the same fear of American takeover led, first to an expansion of the railroad to the West, and then to an influx of settlers westward. Manitoba joined Canada as a province in 1870, followed by British Columbia in 1871, the Yukon Territory in 1898, and the trio of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories in 1905.

As for the remaining Maritime provinces, Prince Edward Island joined in 1873, and Newfoundland was the last to join in 1949. This reluctance perhaps explains why many Newfoundlanders who have moved to the United States identify themselves not as Canadian Americans, but as Americans of Newfoundland descent.


The twentieth century has seen the tension between the French and English in Canada continue. English-speaking Canada continued to feel strong ties to Britainit fought with England in the Boer War (1899-1902) and in World War I. The French-speaking Canadians, however, resented fighting in "English wars," and the issue of compulsory military service drove the two groups further apart.

Meanwhile, European and Asian immigrants continued to flow into Canada. Much of the still-open Canadian West was built up by new Canadians. The period between the two World Wars brought a greater sense of national autonomy. By 1939, English-Canadians made up only half of the 12 million population. Another 30 percent were French, and the rest consisted of Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, and Scandinavian immigrants. By the time the Second World War began, Canada made its own decision to take part, going to battle on September 10, 1939.

The years following World War II were ones of prosperity in Canada, particularly compared to those preceding the war, which devastated the country. The 1950s and 1960s saw decreasing trade with Britain and increasing exchange with the United States. Canada also achieved greater respect internationally. Lester B. Pearson, Canadian prime minister from 1963 to 1968, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his work in the Middle East. Pearson also served as chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1951-52, and as president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1952-53.


Although there has always been a flow of people between Canada and the United States, reliable data has only been kept since the 1910 census of the United States and the 1911 census of Canada. Migration is also somewhat seasonal: the Canadian American population swells in the winter months. States such as Florida and Arizona have strong seasonal populations of Canadians, which affects items such as media for Canadians in the United States. By 1990, almost 30 percent of Canadians in the United States were 65 and older, which lowers the average income level for the group.

The number of Canadians moving to the United States has climbed steadily since the 1850s. Based on the 1990 report Migration between the United States and Canada, migration between the two countries was relatively unrestricted until immigration laws were changed in the United States in 1965 and in Canada in 1976. In the early part of the twentieth century, for example, more than 1.2 million Canadians crossed the border to live in the United States. Interestingly, this was four times more than the number moving from the United States to Canada. The decade of the 1920s set a record with nearly one million Canadians heading south, primarily to take advantage of the industrial boom in northeastern and north central states. The number of Canadians in the United States peaked at 1.3 million in 1930, after which the economic depression and World War II slowed emigration. The flow picked up markedly in the 1950s and early 1960s, however, because of greater job opportunities and higher wages in the United States. From the 1930s to the 1980s, more than 2.3 million Canadians immigrated to the United States. When the immigration laws began to tighten between 1960 and 1970, however, the annual number dropped by almost 60 percent.

This decline continued through the 1980s and had a marked effect on U.S. immigration. While in the early 1960s Canadians made up almost 12 percent of total immigrants to the United States, by the early 1980s that number fell to just two percent. In fact, almost 65 percent of the immigrants listed on the 1980 U.S. census immigrated before 1960.

During the period when immigration laws were less restrictive, crossing the border was less an international shift than a movement based upon economic influencesjust like internal migration. When the laws tightened, the patterns became more controlled and more typical of long-distance international migration, according to Migration between the United States and Canada. Demographically, most Canadians who immigrated to the United States before 1960 live in the northern states, while those who came later tend to live in states further south.


In the 1990 U.S. census, just over 500,000 people living in America, or .2 percent of the total population, cited Canadian as their ancestry group. Interestingly, this definition of "Canadian" excluded those from the provinces of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, as well as French Canadians and Acadians. All of these ancestry groups are listed separately. The highest regional concentration of Canadian Americans was in the northeastern states, although the highest single-state population is found in California, with 86,341. In second place is Massachusetts, with 66,007, and in third place is New York, with 45,274.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Unlike other groups, there is almost no language barrier separating English-speaking Canadians and Americans. This is one reason why assimilation is relatively easy. Another factor is that the two countries are close neighbors, so many traditions and customs creep across the boundaries and become familiar. Migration between the United States and Canada states that "the ease with which Canadian and United States immigrants are assimilated is evident from the large population of naturalized U.S. citizens among Canadian-born immigrants.... In both countries, more than 80 percent of the immigrants prior to 1980 have become naturalized citizens of the destination country."

Ultimately, English-speaking Canadians who moved to the United States also enjoyed the benefit of settling relatively close to their home country. Unlike immigrants from European, Asian, or African countries, Canadians could visit relatives and receive news from Canada via newspapers, radio, or television rather readily. Unless they had recent ethnic ties to a country that was their home before Canada, assimilation was largely a smooth procedure. Aside from an abiding interest in all things British held by some Canadians, traditions tended to be more "North American" than distinctively different. The media plays a large role in this cultural mixing: most of Canada's population is concentrated in a thin band close to the American border, well within the range of American radio and television. In addition, many Canadian immigrants could still hear and see familiar programs and events.


Because of the many similarities between Canadians and Americans, common stereotypes either portray Canada as just another large state, or exaggerate the differences that do exist. An example of the former is an American referring to the provinces as "states," the Prime Minister as "the President of Canada," or Parliament or the House of Commons as "Congress" or "the Senate." Another misconception of this type is that Canadian nationalism historically was built upon a wariness of American control and that Canadians moving to the United States would do so in the face of this fear. Therefore, the type of individual most likely to make the move would prefer American culture and want to assimilate into it. The exaggeration of differences centers around weather, culture, and common pastimes. Some people envision all of Canada as a land of igloos and ice, where everyone is French Canadian (or at least fully bilingual) and plays ice hockey.

The main sources of these stereotypes are television and film. For example, Second City Television (SCTV) produced comedy sketches and a movie featuring beer-swilling, flannel-attired Canadian brothers Bob and Doug Mackenzie in the 1970s and early 1980s. Another more passive source of stereotypes is simply an incomplete knowledge of the vast and diverse country that is America's northern neighbor. Given the opportunity to tour all of Canada, it would be difficult to describe the Maritimes, the Prairies, northern Ontario or Québec, and British Columbia using the same words.

Although it is difficult to outline hard and fast boundaries to define Canadians versus Americans, there are differences. In the New York Times, for example, Canadian novelist and nationalist Robertson Davies described basic differences in the underlying myths upon which each country is built: "The myth of America is a very powerful one and one that we in Canada look toward with envy. You have your heroes. You have your great men of the past, you have your myth of tradition, of the conquering of the West, and the pioneer life and the gold rush life and all that sort of thing, which is enormously romantic, and nations feed on the romantic tradition.... We don't go for heroes. As soon as a man begins to achieve some sort of high stature, we want to cut him down and get rid of him, embarrass him" (December 15, 1994).


Differences in cuisine for Canadians who have immigrated to the United States depend upon where they grew up and to which area of the United States they moved. For example, Canadians from the Maritime provinces (Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) and coastal British Columbia include a hearty amount of seafood in their diets, and this preference would not change if they immigrated to a seaboard state.

Like language and cultural traditions, however, other cuisine choices depend upon Canadians' ethnic origin and the degree to which they have assimilated into Canadian society before moving to the United States. Ethnocultural groups such as the Mennonites and Jewish peoples maintain an individual cuisine as part of their identity. This is also true of traditional clothing.


Canadians and Americans share many of the same national holidays, although they are not always celebrated on the same days. For example, while Americans celebrate the birth of their nation on July 4, Canadians celebrate Canada Day on July 1. Both countries observe Thanksgiving, although it is a holiday in Canada on the first Monday of October rather than the American holiday in November. In addition, there are Canadian provincial holidays which differ from province to province, and other ethnocultural holidays that citizens of either country may observe.


There are no documented health problems or medical conditions specific to Canadian Americans. Recent Canadian immigrants to the United States must adjust, however, from government-controlled health care to a private system. Canada's public system has been in place since the 1960s, and in comparison, the cost of staying healthy in America seems steep. In Canada, workers and/or employers pay a special tax to the provincial government, which in turn pays for most medical services, up to an agreed-upon limit. Most health care practitioners are self-employed and bill the provincial government directly for their services.

Canadians in Canada or in the United States have access to sophisticated medical treatment using leading-edge technology. Some Canadian physicians, however, have become disenchanted with increasing levels of government control over medicine in Canada and have moved to the United States to practice.


Canada has two official languages, English and French. These two languages are the mother tongue for more than 84 percent of Canadians, with 60 percent speaking primarily English and almost 24 percent French. Among the others languages that make up the remaining 16 percent are Italian, Chinese, German, Portuguese, Polish, and Ukrainian.

For the majority of Canadians who either speak English or are bilingual, moving to the United States was not a difficult transition in relation to language. Those who are Francophones, or French-speaking Canadians, are classified as a separate group. Other Canadians who are profiled separately include Acadians and a number of native groups, among them the Iroquois, Tlingit, and Inuit.

The Canadians who have another ethnic origin would not only be familiar with either English, French, or both, but might also retain their mother tongue to some degree after immigrating to America. They might, therefore, identify themselves as "German Americans" rather than "German Canadian Americans," which more accurately traces their roots through Canada on the way to America. Of the 836,000 Canadians who lived in the United States for five or more years, 79 percent spoke English at home, while 19 percent said they could speak English but spoke another language at home.

Family and Community Dynamics

Canada prides itself upon its multiculturalism, and this fact supplies a context for any discussion of family and community dynamics. An Italian Canadian who moves to the United States, for example, might maintain the customs, language, and community dynamics of Italy. Defining such a person as Canadian would obscure those traditions. For this reason, the section on a certain country of origin should be consulted for information on cultural and religious practices. Other factors, such as cuisine, traditional clothing, and special events, can differ based upon not only the ethnic background, but also the region of Canada from which an individual came. In fact, the U.S. census of 1990 excludes those from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, as well as Acadians and French Canadians, from its overall consideration of the Canadian American population.


As of 1980, the percentage of female Canadians in the United States over 15 years of age who were married (58.9 percent) was very close to that for Canadians in Canada (59.7 percent). There are, however, twice as many divorced Canadian Americans (6.8 percent) as Canadians (3.1 percent). Although twice as many Canadian Americans were widowed than Canadians20.5 percent versus ten percentthis may illustrate the disproportionately high number of people older than 65 living in the United States.


In 1991, Canada spent $54.2 billion on education to service the more than six million Canadians, or a quarter of the country's population, who were enrolled in full-time educational programs. Enrollment in all schools, from pre-elementary to university, has been growing since the late 1980s. Total enrollment in Canadian universities was 757,497 undergraduates and 110,085 graduate students.

Canada also features a strong network of 201 community colleges which offer semi-professional or technical and vocational programs leading to a diploma rather than a university degree. For those who move to the United States, however, there are ten times as many post-secondary institutions to choose from, because the American population is around ten times larger.

Other than certain private, single-sex schools, there are no appreciable differences in the education of Canadian boys and girls. There are, however, some differences in educational attainment between the sexes at the higher levels. For example, the number of female graduates of undergraduate university programs in Canada has been greater than that of males from 1990 to 1992, although slightly more men than women went on to complete master's and doctoral degrees.

Canadians who move to the United States obtain, overall, higher educational levels than native Canadians. In 1980, 20.5 percent of Canadian Americans held a university degree, two-thirds more than the 12.3 percent in Canada. The same is true, to a lesser extent, for women10.3 percent of Canadian American women have completed post-secondary education, compared to 7.0 percent in Canada.

The most popular curricula college students enroll in can be derived from statistics on the sector in which most Canadian Americans worknamely, the tertiary or service sectoras well as the fact that a high percentage are professionals. The most significant growth in Canadian Americans who worked in highly skilled occupations occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s. By 1980, just over half of Canadian Americans were employed in highly skilled jobs, and the tertiary sector accounted for 70 percent of the Canadian American work force.


Religion has been a building block of Canadian society since the French and British explorers arrived in the sixteenth century. The first Roman Catholic service in Canada was held in 1534, and the first Anglican service took place 44 years later. The most active churches in Canada, based upon recent figures, are the Roman Catholics and Anglicans, although there is also strong representation by the United Church of Canada, Jewish, Muslim, Evangelical Lutheran, and Pentecostal faiths. Protestant Canadians who immigrated to the United States encountered certain differences in the naming of denominations: for example, Canadian Anglicans would most closely resemble American Episcopalians.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Generally, the types of jobs Canadians immigrants took upon arrival in the United States depended upon economic conditions at the time. In the early twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Canadians sought jobs in booming American industries. More recent figures indicate that 60 percent of Canadian Americans work in highly skilled jobs, a number which has been growing since the late 1950s. These positions are classified as: administrative support including clerical, professional specialty, and executive administrative and managerial. In the latter two categories, the figures for Canadian Americans are higher than average for the United States.

The unemployment figures for Canadian Americans in the early 1980s were lower than for Canadians. Only 4.6 percent of Canadian American women were unemployed versus 8.6 percent in Canada, while 4.8 percent of Canadian men in the United States were unemployed versus 6.4 percent in Canada. However, labor force participation rates for Canadian Americans were highest for both sexes in the early 1960s and have been declining steadily since.

Politics and Government

With a few notable exceptions, Canadian Americans have initiated little conflict within the United States. In fact, relatively few Canadian Americans have become involved in American politics. One exception is Jerry Simpson (1842-1905), a Populist party representative who served three terms in Congress. Born in Westmoreland County, New Brunswick, Simpson was a self-educated man who began his career as a cook on a Great Lakes boat at age 14 and rose to become captain. He established a farm and ranch in Kansas before entering politics. Amendments to American immigration laws in 1965 severely restricted the number of Canadians who could legally emigrate to the United States.


Canadians have a strong presence in both national labor organizations (such as the Canadian Labour Congress and Canadian National Federation of Independent Unions) and international trade unions with local chapters in both Canada and the United States. Some of the international trade unions with the largest Canadian participation are:United Steelworkers of America, with 875 locals in Canada; United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, with 175 locals in Canada; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, with 152 lodges in Canada; and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, with 121 locals in Canada.

Because Canadians tend to assimilate thoroughly into American life, it is difficult to identify group patterns in items such as voting and participation in the armed forces. One major difference Canadian immigrants would encounter in U.S. politics involves the dominance of two political parties. In Canada, there are three national political parties, the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberals, and the New Democratic Party. Of course, in different provinces there are other strong party representatives, such as the Social Democrats or Parti Québecois.

Canadian Americans' quick rate of assimilation also affects their level of participation in the political issues of their home country. Although the English-language media in border states and the English-language seasonal newspapers in states such as Florida and Arizona do well in presenting current Canadian events, geographical distance often leads to a sense of isolation. Coupled with the many similarities between Americans and Canadians, achieving a distinct sense of identity becomes a challenge for immigrant Canadians. Groups such as French Canadians, who are already individuated by their separate language, culture, and long history in the United States, are better able to maintain their identity and ties to Canada. For example, this group would be very aware of the latest struggles for French independence in Canada and the rise of the separatist Parti Québecois and Bloc Québecois.

Individual and Group Contributions


Perhaps the most notable Canadian American academic is economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908 ), born in Iona Station, Ontario; after completing his bachelor's degree in Ontario, he went to California to pursue graduate studies; he was a professional economist from 1949 to 1975 and held a number of teaching positions in North America and Europe; his many books include American Capitalism (1952), The Great Crash (1955), and A Short History of Financial Euphoria (1993); he received the Medal of Freedom in 1946. English professor Margaret Anne Doody (1939 ), born in St. John, New Brunswick, came to the United States in 1976 as an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and has taught at Vanderbilt University in Nashville since 1989; she is the author of a number of books on Samuel Richardson and his writings.


"America's Sweetheart," Mary Pickford (1893-1979), was Canadian by birth; born Gladys Mary Smith in Toronto, she starred in silent screen versions of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Tess of the Storm Country, and Coquette, for which she won an Oscar, and became an early pioneer of film in the United States; she organized the Mary Pickford Corporation in 1916 to produce her work, and in 1919 joined Charlie Chaplin, D. W. Griffith, and her husband-to-be, Douglas Fairbanks, to establish United Artists Company. Another Canadian-born actor is Glenn Ford (1916 ), originally Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford; born in Québec City, he attended high school in Santa Monica, California; his films include Destroyer (1943), Cimarron (1961), and Superman (1978); Ford served with the United States Marines Corp during World War II; in 1958, he was named "Number One Box Office Star in America" in a poll by the Motion Picture Herald. Film star Donald Sutherland (1935 ) was born in St. John, New Brunswick; his films include M*A*S*H (1970), Ordinary People (1980), and JFK (1991).

One of the best-known Canadian names in television was Lorne Greene (1915-1987); born in Ottawa, Ontario, he made his American debut on the New York stage in 1953; among his many credits of stage, screen, and television are the movies Peyton Place (1957) and Earthquake (1974), and the television western series Bonanza (1959-1973), in which he played the patriarch of the Ponderosa ranch, Ben Cartwright. Born in New Westminster, British Columbia, Raymond Burr (1917-1993) is perhaps best known for his role on the television series Perry Mason (1957-1966); he also performed in the series "Ironside" from 1967 to 1975. Another recognizable Canadian face on television and in film is William Shatner (1931 ); the Montreal native has appeared on Broadway but is famous for his role as Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in the television series Star Trek (1966-1969) and subsequent Star Trek films; Shatner followed this success with a leading role in the police series T. J. Hooker in the 1980s, and he wrote a series of science-fiction novels beginning in 1989 that were adapted for television as TekWar.

Two younger Canadian-born actors, well-known for their television work, are Michael J. Fox and Jason Priestley. Fox (1961 ) was born in Vancouver, British Columbia; he received two Emmy Awards for his starring role in the television sitcom Family Ties (1982-1989) and currently stars in Spin City. He has also appeared in films such as Back to the Future (1985) and The Secret of My Success (1987). Priestley, also born in Vancouver, was a leading actor in the television series Beverly Hills 90210.

A group of Canadian-born comedians have found success in the United States on the television comedy series Saturday Night Live. Mike Myers (1963 ), born in Toronto, also starred in the movie Wayne's World, and as secret agent "Austin Powers" in a pair of movies. Dan Aykroyd (1952 ), born in Ottawa, was the star and screenwriter for the film Blues Brothers (1980), and also appeared in Ghost-busters (1984) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

Among those Canadian Americans who often appeared on the Broadway stage were Hume Cronyn, Colleen Dewhurst, and Christopher Plummer. Actor, writer, and director Hume Cronyn (1911 ) was born in London, Ontario, and came to the United States in 1932; he starred in countless playsmany of them with his late wife, actress Jessica Tandyincluding 1978 Pulitzer Prize winner The Gin Game; Cronyn has been named to the Theatre Hall of Fame (1979) and Kennedy Center Honors (1986) in addition to receiving a Tony Award in 1964 and an Emmy Award in 1992; his films include: Lifeboat (1944), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and Cocoon (1985). Colleen Dewhurst (1926-1991) was born in Montreal, Québec; her Broadway appearances included: Desire under the Elms (1952), Camille (1956), All the Way Home (1960), and Moon for the Misbegotten (1974)the latter two both earned her a Tony Award; she also directed plays and appeared in a number of films and television movies, including the 1986 series Anne of Green Gables; she played a guest role as Murphy Brown's mother in the television series Murphy Brown; her second husband was actor George C. Scott. Christopher Plummer (1929 ) was born in Toronto and made his Broadway debut in 1954 in Starcross Story; although he has done considerable stage work, particularly in the Shakespearean classics, he is best known for his role of Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 Academy Award-winning The Sound of Music; he has appeared in many television dramas, including the miniseries "The Thorn Birds" (1983); he has received many awards, among them a Theatre World Award (1955), two Drama Desk Awards (1973 and 1982), a Tony Award (1974), and an Emmy Award (1977).


Television anchorman Peter Jennings (1938 ) is Canadian American; born in Toronto, Ontario, he began his career in Canada and then moved to ABC News in New York City in 1964; since 1983 he has been senior editor and anchorman of "World News Tonight;" he was named Best Anchor in the United States by the Washington Journalism Review in 1988 and 1989. Another Canadian American broadcast journalist, Robin MacNeil (1931 ) was born in Montreal, Québec; after studying in Canada, he became a Washington correspondent in 1963; in 1975 he served as executive editor and co-anchor of the MacNeil/Lehrer Report on WNET-TV in New York City, and beginning in 1983 hosted the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour on PBS until his retirement; he has also authored or coauthored five books.


Many Canadians continue to live in Canada while working in the United States, but singer/songwriter Paul Anka (1941 ) moved to the United States soon after achieving success; born in Ottawa, Ontario, Anka first made a hit with "Diana," composed in 1957; he followed it in 1959the same year he moved to the United Stateswith the popular songs, "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," "Crazy Love," "Lonely Boy," and "Time to Cry;" Anka also composed the theme music for The Tonight Show; he has received 22 songwriting awards18 for most-performed songs and four for songs performed more than one million timesand 15 gold records. Born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell first captured attention in the United States with "Chelsea Morning" (1962); in 1970 she won a Grammy for her album Clouds (1969).


Physicist Richard Edward Taylor (1929 ) was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and was one of three recipients of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1990 for his work in demonstrating that protons and neutrons are made up of quarks; Taylor moved to the United States in 1952. Orthopaedic surgeon and educator John Emmett Hall (1925 ) was born in Wadena, Saskatchewan, and has been a professor of orthopaedic surgery at Harvard University Medical School since 1971. Psychiatrist and educator Charles Shagass (1920 ) was born in Montreal and came to the United States in 1958; since 1991 he has been a professor at the Medical College of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Canada has been home to some of the world's greatest athletesparticularly in professional ice hockey. Wayne Gretzky (1961 ) was born in Brantford, Ontario, and holds the National Hockey League scoring title in addition to 12 league trophies; after nine years with the Edmonton Oilers, Gretzky moved to Los Angeles in 1988 to play with the Los Angeles Kings team. He retired in 1999 as a member of the New York Rangers. Gretzky's Edmonton teammate, Mark Messier (1961 ) was born in Edmonton; and beginning in 1991, Messier starred for the New York Rangers. Brett Hull (1964 ), son of hockey great Bobby Hull, was born in Belleville, Ontario; he began his professional hockey career with the Calgary Flames, and from 1987 until 1998 played for the St. Louis Blues. He currently plays for the Dallas Stars; he was the recipient of two league trophies (Lady Byng and Hart Memorial) and held the league scoring record for goals scored from 1989-92.


Many Canadian artists, particularly women, have chosen to live in the United States. Henrietta Shore (1880-1963), born in Toronto, began spending half of each year in New York taking classes with the Art Students' League at the age of 20; she immigrated to California in 1913 and became an American citizen eight years later; her paintings of landscapes, figures, and abstract works led to a number of major solo exhibitions and a medal in the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915. Agnes Martin (1912 ) was born in Macklin, Saskatchewan, but grew up in Vancouver; she left for the United States at age 20 and became an American citizen at 28; she earned a master's degree in fine arts from Columbia University, spent several years painting and teaching children in New York and New Mexico, and lived in a desert hut for six years (1967-1973) in New Mexico, meditating and writing; primarily an abstract artist, Martin often uses grids of pencil or paint on paper or canvas with various textures. Toronto-born Sylvia Stone (1928 ) immigrated to New York in 1945; Stone is known for her sculpture and painted aluminum reliefs; after she married abstract painter Al Held, her paintings became less figurative and more abstract; she also began to broaden her materials to include aluminum, plexiglass, metal, and mirrors; Stone has also taught at Brooklyn College. Jacqueline Winsor (1941 ) was raised in St. John's, Newfoundland, and became an artist after she found a career as a secretary was not what she wanted; she graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1965 and went on to get her master's of fine arts from Rutgers in 1967; after settling in New York, this abstract sculptor experimented with hemp and rope and went on to create box-like structures of various materials in which the interiors are lit.

Other Canadian American artists include: Hartwell Wyse Priest (1901 ), born in Brantford, Ontario; sculptor Mary Abastenia Eberle (1878-1942), who was the daughter of Canadian parents living in Webster City, Iowa; and Canadian-born abstract artist Dorothea Rockburne (1934 ).



There are no English-language daily newspapers for Canadian Americans. Those who desire Canadian news can get it either by subscribing to a Canadian newspaper or by reading the Canadian coverage in an American paper (more extensive in the border states). There are, however, a group of weekly newspapers serving the needs of "snowbirds" (Canadians who spend the winter in the United States) as well as resident Canadian Americans.

The American-Canadian Genealogist.

Formerly The Genealogist, this publication of the American-Canadian Genealogical Society reports on the work of the society, which is devoted to the study of the genealogies of French Canadians and French Americans.

Contact: Anne-Marie Perrault, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 668, Manchester, New Hampshire 03105-0668.

Telephone: (603) 622-1554.

Canada News.

Founded in 1982, it is owned in part by publisher Bill Leeder and his wife Sally, although the majority owner is the St. Catharines Standard, a daily newspaper out of St. Catharines, Ontario. It is published weekly between November and April, with four summer issues and an annual travel publication in September, and boasts an average circulation of 20,400, mostly in Florida. The news coverage includes Canadian American events as well as news from Canada.

Contact: Joe Braddy, Editor.

Address: 2725 Thornhill Road, Auberndale, Florida 33823.

Telephone: (800) 535-6788.

Canada This Week.

Founded in 1994, it is a seasonal weekly during the winter months which concentrates on news from Western Canada. An early print run was 8,700 copies.

Contact: Rob Irvine, Editor.

Address: 244 North Country Club Drive, Suite 103, Mesa, Arizona 85201.

Telephone: (602) 655-0846.

Canadian News.

Founded in 1994, it serves the Canadian market out of Yuma, Arizona. It is a seasonal weekly running from November to March, which offers strictly Canadian coverage with a Western Canadian focus.

Contact: Barb Glen, Editor.

Address: 1769 West 26th Drive, P.O. Box 1024, Yuma, Arizona 85366.

Telephone: (602) 344-4003.

The Sun Times of Canada.

Founded in 1990, it is a seasonal weekly from November to April with five preview issues in the months from July to November. With a circulation around 21,000, mostly in Florida, this newspaper offers Canadian news, entertainment, and business reports, including Canadian mutual fund and stock reports.

Contact: Geoffrey Stevens, Editor.

Address: 515 West Bay Street, Suite C, Tampa, Florida 33606.

Telephone: (813) 254-6620.


Because such a high percentage of Canadians settled in neighboring U.S. states, their needs for "news from home" could be best served by tuning in to Canadian stations as much as possible. American media, particularly in these border states, also devote significant coverage to Canadian developments. To serve the needs of Canadian Americans, there are both Canadian radio programs that are syndicated to American radio stations, and American radio programs that offer daily and weekly summaries of Canadian news.

"Canada Calling" and "Canada This Week."

These radio programs cover Canadian news events, specifically packaged for Canadian Americans and "snowbirds" (Canadians who maintain a winter residence in southern states) in Florida and Arizona. "Canada Calling," first broadcast in 1952, is a five-and-a-half-minute daily radio news show broadcast on 30 stations in Florida and one station in Phoenix. "Canada This Week" is a 15-minute weekly summary of Canadian news events broadcast on Sundays. Both shows are broadcast from Lake-field, Ontario, just northeast of Toronto.

Contact: Prior Smith.

Address: P.O. Box 986, Lakefield, Ontario K0L 2H0.

Telephone: (705) 654-3901.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

"As It Happens," "Sunday Morning," and "Quirks and Quarks" radio programs are distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). "As It Happens," a news commentary/documentary program, is fed to 22 of the 50 states. Ten cities in Minnesota alone carry the program, including KNOW-FM in St. Paul. "Sunday Morning" is heard in 17 states, again most frequently in Minnesota, but also on stations ranging from West Virginia (WVWV-FM in Huntington) to Alaska (KSKA-AM in Anchorage). The science program "Quirks and Quarks" is distributed by PRI to 16 states.

Contact: Ann Phi, Communication Assistant.

Address: Public Radio International, 100 North Sixth Street, Suite 900A, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403.

Telephone: (612) 338-5000.



"Canada Pulse News," a half-hour weekly summary of Canadian news, is shown on WFLX Fox 29 in West Palm Beach and on WTMV 32 in Tampa/St. Petersburg. Produced by CFCF-TV in Montreal, Québec, its first season was in 1993 and it runs 13 weeks each year.

Contact: George Goulakos, Sales Manager.

Address: CFCF-TV, 405 Ogilvy Avenue, Montreal, Québec H3N 1M4.

Telephone: (514) 495-6100.

"This Week in Canada."

This program airs a half-hour weekly in the winter season, in select states such as Florida, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, and Virginia, on the Public Broadcast System (PBS). It offers a selection of Canadian news events and is produced by World Affairs Television of Montreal, Québec.

Contact: Colin Niven, Producer.

Address: World Affairs Television, 600 Maisonneuve West, Suite 3230, Montreal, Québec H3A 3J2.

Telephone: (514) 847-2970.

Organizations and Associations

The Americas Society.

A business-funded group.

Contact: Stephen Blank, Director.

Address: North American/Canadian Affairs, 680 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10021.

Telephone: (212) 249-8950.

Association for Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS).

Founded in 1971, ACSUS has a membership of 1,300 individuals and institutions, which include business and government officials as well as librarians, professors, publishers, and students with an educational interest in Canada. The organization was brought together to promote scholarly activities about Canada at all educational levels. ACSUS publishes The ACSUS Papers, American Review of Canadian Studies, and the Canadian Studies Update, a quarterly newsletter. It also sponsors a biennial conference.

Contact: David N. Biette, Executive Director.

Address: 1 Dupont Circle, No. 620, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Telephone: (202) 887-6375.

Committee on Canada-United States Relations.

Founded in 1933, the committee consists of 60 members, 30 from the Chamber of Commerce of the United States and 30 from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Its goal is to investigate problems, such as trade and investment challenges, which are common to both countries. Semiannual meetings are held in the spring and fall.

Contact: Wolf Brueckmann, Executive Secretary.

Address: c/o Chamber of Commerce of the U.S., 1615 H Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20062.

Telephone: (202) 463-5463.

North American Committee (CAC).

This organization was founded in 1957, originally with just Canadian and American business leaders. The 110 current members are Canadian, American, and Mexican leaders in private-sector agricultural, business, labor, and professional positions. CAC is jointly sponsored by the C.D. Howe Research Institute in Canada and the National Planning Association in the United States. It studies issues related to expanding commerce and interdependence among Canada, the United States, and Mexico to build cooperation and minimize areas of conflict. Semiannual meetings are held in March in the United States and in September in Canada.

Contact: Dahlia Stein, Director.

Address: c/o National Planning Association, 1424 16th Street, N.W., Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Telephone: (202) 884-7630.

Museums and Research Centers

Canadian-American Center (National Northeast Resource Center on Canada).

This is a joint research facility made up of Canadian studies programs at the Universities of Maine and Vermont and the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Research is carried out in the fields of economics, humanities, international relations, law, and social sciences as they relate to Canada and the United States. In addition to publishing the Canadian-American Public Policy Series and Borderlands Monograph Series, the center sponsors professional meetings.

Contact: Dr. Stephen J. Hornsby, Director.

Address: University of Maine, Canadian-American Center, 154 College Avenue, Orono, Maine 04473.

Telephone: (207) 581-4220.

Fax: (207) 581-4223.



Center for Canadian-American Studies.

Integral unit of Western Washington University. Canada, including interdisciplinary studies in Canadian business, economics, politics, geography, social structure, and culture, and Canada-U.S. environmental issues and problems.

Address: Canada House, Rm. 201, Bellingham, WA 98225-9110.

Contact: Dr. Donald K. Alper.

Telephone: (360) 650-3728.

Fax: (360) 650-3995.

E-mail: [email protected]


Florida-Canada Institute.

Founded in 1987, it promotes cultural, business, and educational exchanges between Florida and Canada. It is supported by the Florida International Affairs Commission.

Contact: Dr. Elliot Vittes, Director.

Address: University of Central Florida, Department of Political Science, Orlando, Florida 32816-1356.

Telephone: (407) 823-2078.

Johns Hopkins University Center of Canadian Studies.

Founded in 1969, it is part of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. Its research areas include: Canadian/U.S. relations, the impact of foreign trade on Canadian culture and politics, and Canadian politics and government. Courses at the master's and doctoral degree levels are taught by resident faculty as well as visiting professors from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and Laval University in Québec City, Québec.

Contact: Dr. Charles F. Doran, Director.

Address: 1740 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.

Telephone: (202) 663-5714.

Fax: (202) 663-5717.

E-mail: [email protected].

Sources for Additional Study

Francis, R. Douglas, Richard Jones, and Donald B. Smith. Origins: Canadian History to Confederation. Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1988.

Immigration, Language, and Ethnicity: Canada and the United States, edited by Barry R. Chiswick. Washington, D.C.: AEI Press; Lanham, MD: Distributed by University Press of America, 1992.

Immigration Profiles: Canada. U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1991.

Long, John F., and Edward T. Pryor, et al. Migration between the United States and Canada. Washington, D.C.: Current Population Reports/Statistics Canada, February 1990.

Walton, Richard J. Canada and the U.S.A.: A Background Book About Internal Conflict and the New Nationalism. New York: Parents' Magazine Press, 1972.

About this article

Canadian Americans

Updated About content Print Article