Race segregation refers to the practise of limiting interactions between individuals based upon ‘race’. In Canadian history, this includes the removal of aboriginal peoples to the reserves, legislation regarding relationships between white and non-white races and segregation of blacks and whites within public spaces. Racist beliefs in the moral and genetic superiority of the white race influenced these policies, promoting fears of miscegenation. Eugenics ideology led to concerns over race degeneration. Many scientists, sociologists and anthropologists undertook studies on white and non-white intelligence and the consequences of hereditary inheritance. These studies were based upon pseudo-scientific research into the differences between white individuals and other races. The seemingly scientific studies led to a confirmation of prejudice about racial traits. This led to concerns over the increasing presence of Asian and black immigrants into Canada in the twentieth century and harsher laws which targeted non-white citizens. Segregation therefore served to promote the political and economic prominence of whites in Canadian society and enabled the control of non-white populations which were perceived as a threat to the stability of the nation.
Definition of Race
The concept of ‘race’ is culturally constructed. While certain biological traits are often associated with specific 'races', these traits vary significantly between individuals who are considered part of a ‘race’. The most common trait that indicates ‘race’ in social conception is skin colour. Yet consideration of race in North America has (and is) constructed around the 'one-drop' rule. Individuals who demonstrate evidence of Asian or African heritage, even one-drop, are considered non-white. The exception to this rule is the aboriginals in Canada, as aboriginal status is legally defined by the Indian Act.
The cultural construction of race is easily seen in the history of the idea of races In the past, even individuals which today would be classified as ‘white’, were broken down into different races based upon their ethnicity. Many studies undertaken by eugenicists (see Carlos Closson, "The Hierarchy of European Races") commented on the differences between those of Anglo-Saxon (also referred to as Aryan) decent and those of Celtic-Slav or Mediterranean decent. The role of science in defining these divisions enabled the perpetuation of these misguided beliefs and allowed eugenicists to justify race segregation because it gave a seemingly legitimate scientific basis for it. This led to discrimination of the Ukrainian and Russian ‘races’ within Canada, who were viewed as inferior to those of English descent.
Segregation of First Nations people in Canada
After the confederation of Canada in 1867, the Canadian government began to look to the west in hopes of expanding the new Canadian nation. It purchased the vast area of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company the next year and focussed on how best to deal with the large population of aboriginals who populated the plains. Using a mixture of coercion and negotiation, the government signed a number of treaties with the plains peoples, which relocated them onto reserves and placed them under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The treaties defined who was considered an Indian and to whom the federal government had obligations. The Residential School system was implemented to enact a process of assimilation among First Nations people. Nonetheless, there were many obstacles which maintained segregation. The reserve system kept aboriginals living separately from non-aboriginals in Canada. Aboriginal children attended separate schools from non-aboriginals, including residential, industrial and day schools. Health care for aboriginals was also kept separate from the main system, through the use of privately established (and poorly run) Indian hospitals and on-reserve tent hospitals. The reasoning behind this separation was based in racial eugenic thinking. Aboriginals were viewed as a ‘dying race’, one that could be saved through civilization and Christianisation. Racial thinking was never far from the surface of considerations over health either. Some doctors in the 1920s speculated that the high tuberculosis rates amongst aboriginals, resulting from years of starvation and poverty, were actually the result of “inherent, anatomical weakness” that made the ‘race’ more susceptible to the tuberculosis bacillus. (Lux, 213.) The racial definition of Indian was therefore a powerful reinforcement of segregation.
In the 1920s more and more eugenicists were interested in understanding the outcomes of miscegenation. Sociologists and anthropologists undertook studies on intelligence levels of those deemed to be 'full-blood' and 'half-blood' Indians and compared these with studies done on white intelligence. Not surprisingly, they concluded that white populations had the superior intelligence and that half-bloods were more intelligent than full-blooded Indians (because of their white genetics). The criteria for these tests assumed that the basis for intelligence was their comprehension of English and the ability to conform to social norms within white society. This bias led to the poor scores of non-whites in these studies. Unfortunately, these types of studies supported the assumptions about white supremacy and perpetuated public beliefs about the immorality of inter-breeding.
History of Black Segregation in Canada
While Canada never passed official segregation laws between the races, it was still affected by the racism which was prevalent across North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. These racist ideas were linked to eugenic understandings of white superiority and inherent weaknesses of the ‘negro’ race. Segregation was present in many informal ways throughout Canada. Black communities in the prairies were often settled outside the urban areas and therefore stayed separate from white ones until the increased urbanization of the Inter-war period. During WWI, black soldiers were initially prevented from volunteering. When man-power became limited and blacks were accepted as soldiers, they were separated into a different all-black regiment. In Ontario and Nova Scotia, legally segregated schools were established in the inter-war period to keep the increasing number of black children separate from white children. Additionally, the Maritime Provinces often had separate public spaces for whites and non-whites. One famous case occurred in 1946 in Nova Scotia, where a black women named Viola Desmond refused to sit in the black section of the local theatre. Viola’s actions brought racism into question in Canadian society.
Internment Camps in Canada
While the concept of internment camps is usually linked to ideas of Nazi Concentration camps and the Holocaust, internment camps were used in Canada to segregated undesirable races from the main population much earlier. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Canada implemented internment camps for Ukrainian, German, Japanese and Chinese people. During the early 1900s, Canada’s immigration policy was focussed on attracting agricultural workers to settle and farm the prairies. This policy attracted many farmers from Russia, the Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. Yet at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, newly arrived immigrants of German, Slavic or Ukrainian descent were targeted as enemy aliens. Canada established 24 internment camps for such individuals which remained open until 1920. Up to 2,000 internees were also deemed ‘undesirables’ and deported back to their native lands.
A similar process of internment occurred during the Second World War. German immigrants and residents of German descent were once again targeted for internment. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the Canadian government set up Japanese internment camps as well. These camps were largely concentrated in the West, which contained the largest population of Japanese residents. The government shut down Japanese run businesses, Japanese newspapers and seized the property of many Japanese-Canadian citizens. In many cases this property was sold to fund the systematic relocation of Japanese people from their homes to the internment camps.
Racial segregation was found in many forms during the eugenics movement. Canada implemented policies of segregation amongst aboriginals, blacks, Asians and individuals of eastern European descent. The trend towards segregation was based upon racial assumptions about the 'superior' Anglo-Saxon, or Aryan race and the other, 'inferior' races. Mixture between the races was viewed as both a danger to the health of the Anglo-Saxon race and to the stability of the Canadian nation. Unfortunately pseudo-scientific studies seemed to legitimate these assumptions and perpetuated racist ideology under the umbrella of eugenics.
Blackhouse, Constance. “Racial Segregation in Canadian Legal History: Viola Desmond’s Challenge, Nova Scotia, 1946.” The Dalhousie Law Journal 17 (1994): 299.
Cattell, Raymond B. The Fight for Our National Intelligence. London: P. S. King, 1937.
Closson, Carlos. "The Hierarchy of European Races." American Journal of Sociology 3, no.3 (Nov. 1987): 314-327.
Gates, R. Ruggles, “A Pedigree Study of Amerindian Crosses in Canada.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 58 (1928): 511-532.
Garth, Thomas. "The Intelligence of Mixed Blood Indians." Journal of Applied Psychology 11, no. 4 (1927): 268-275.
Lux, Maureen. Medicine that Walks: Disease, Medicine and Canadian Plains Native People, 1880-1940. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.
Saleeby, Caleb. Parenthood and Race Culture. An Outline of Eugenics. New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1909.
Schaeken, Thea. “Freedom had a Price: Canada's First Internment Operation 1914-1920.” Canadian Social Studies 30 (Summer 1996).
Sugiman, Pamela. "Memories of Internment: Narrating Japanese Canadian Women's Life Stories". The Canadian Journal of Sociology 29, no.4 (2004): 359- 388.