Chapter 4: Case Study

Handbook for New Canadians

Born of the expanding non-British immigration that thoroughly altered settler Canadian society in the first decades of the twentieth century, Alfred Fitzpatrick’s Handbook for New Canadians, first published by Ryerson Press in 1919, was one of the nation’s first guides to citizenship.

A former Presbyterian minister who preached in the lumber camps of the Algoma region in the late nineteenth century, Fitzpatrick turned from ministry to bibliostry in 1899, when he founded the Canadian Reading Camp Association (which became Frontier College in 1919). Fitzpatrick’s model was rooted in his belief that he could reach more men through popular fiction – adventure and animal stories, romances – than he could through his religious services; in the name of this new mission, he recruited university students, mostly young men and initially mostly from Toronto, to work as librarians or clerks in the cabins, rail cars, and tents where the reading camp movement was established. As a way to redress numerous problems – the clerks’ class distance from the labourers, the need to raise funds to pay clerks, and the enervated (in Fitzpatrick’s estimation) character of male students in cities – the association turned in 1902-1903 to the labourer-teacher model: university students would labour as campmen during the day and would conduct classes in the evening. During the first two decades of its existence, the association grew and spread into other provinces (particularly in the West, where rail construction camps flourished) and the character of its pedagogical work altered. This period’s wave of new immigration from northern and eastern Europe filled the nation’s frontier work camps with labourers who had little proficiency in English. By the teens, British Canadians were increasingly associating — unfairly, in many cases – these immigrant groups with “enemy languages,” socialist and communist ideologies, and labour radicalism. In this context, the work that civil society groups like the Reading Camp Association and governments were coming to call “Canadianization” assumed urgency.

Handbook for New Canadians, front cover

By 1907 the association was working to procure and develop pedagogical materials for these non-British immigrant workers. The association ordered materials for English-as-a-foreign-language instruction from the United States, for example, where civic education efforts, fuelled by the early twentieth-century progressive education movement, had an earlier start. Fitzpatrick sought out series such as Peter Roberts’s 1911 English for Coming Americans, a publication of the New York City YMCA that was adapted in 1912 for Canadian learners. A pamphlet on second-language instruction prepared by Edmund Bradwin, a labourer-teacher turned camp-school inspector who became a director of the movement in 1914, was in use even earlier, in 1907. Bradwin’s authorship of this no longer extant pamphlet confirms the anecdotal evidence that suggests he may have been a primary, though unacknowledged, author of the Handbook for New Canadians, which lists Alfred Fitzpatrick as author but includes a dedication to Bradwin, “who has given so many years of his life as an instructor and Canadianizer in bunkhouses and camps of Canada.”

Produced through data collection in the camps, correspondence with instructors, and wide consultation with bureaucrats who were tackling the challenges of non-British immigration, the association’s Handbook for New Canadians was published in 1919. The reorientation of Toronto’s Methodist Book and Publishing House under the leadership of Samuel Fallis led, among other changes, to the creation of “The Ryerson Press” imprint in July 1919, and the Handbook was published under that new imprint in the early winter of 1919. This was a self-financed venture for Fitzpatrick; Ryerson shifted the work of promotion and wholesale distribution to the association, though the press retained 260 copies of the first print run, which it sold at a profit of twenty cents per copy. Although such arrangements were standard company procedure in that era, the first printing of three thousand copies at a cost to Frontier College of just over three thousand dollars drove the association into financial difficulty for years to come. At 327 pages, with each book measuring 13 by 19 centimetres, including nine two-colour maps and two tri-colour engravings, and bound in cloth boards, this was an ambitious publishing project.

Handbook for New Canadians, title page

Faced with this financial burden, Fitzpatrick sought various forms of support while the Handbook manuscript was in development. As in the association’s earliest days, he appealed to employers with the promise of improved workers: H.L. Lovering, president of the association and of the Canadian Copper Company; the Honourable George Gordon, board member of the association, lumber merchant, and Conservative member of the Senate; Sir Joseph Flavelle, meatpacking baron and president of the Imperial Munitions Board during the First World War; and James Playfair, lumber merchant and third vice-president of the association, all took up advance subscriptions in order to fund the publication. Fitzpatrick’s additional efforts to secure funding from governments reveal that he clearly believed that the Handbook would find its place in the new state provisions for the education of immigrants; indeed, Fitzpatrick was committed to the idea that Canadianization, the term he used to describe the education that he believed was required for national citizenship, was a federal responsibility that fell within the purview of the immigration portfolio. Indeed, Handbook for the New Canadians states that the Dominion government was obligated to “provide the proper machinery” for the education of immigrants “up to the standards of Canadian citizenship.” In 1917, the federal government granted immigration its own department (it had previously been the responsibility of the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior), thus acknowledging the national importance of the portfolio; in 1921, it published A Manual of Citizenship (a much more modest project than the Handbook). Yet even by the end of the 1920s, the federal Superintendent of Immigration and Colonization claimed that the pedagogical work of the association fell under provincial jurisdiction.

Left with little hope of securing funds from the federal government, Fitzpatrick sought its authenticating endorsement. In the fall of 1919, when the manuscript was undergoing the last stages of the editing process, he wrote to the Superintendent seeking the “official approval” of the Department of Immigration for his book. The Department could recommend the book “as an aid and incentive to fuller and better citizenship,” Fitzpatrick suggested, because it was “intended to give the adult foreigner who wishes to take out citizenship, a knowledge of Canada in brief form under one cover.” In such letters, Fitzpatrick was pursuing a new approach to government responsibility for camp workers: the moral diseases of camp men could threaten the nation, but the failure to Canadianize immigrants portended a whole array of new dangers to the nation, especially in the immediate wake of the First World War and the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, a time when fears regarding “enemy aliens” and Bolshevism motivated much federal action. The Handbook’s emphasis on basic English-language acquisition responded directly to both the “enemy” language debates that had raged in the late 1910s and had led to the suppression of the foreign-language press and the 1914 Naturalization Act, which added a language requirement (proficiency in French or English).

Handbook for New Canadians, p. 25

Like the books on which it draws, such as Peter Roberts’s English for Coming Americans/Canadians series, the first half of Fitzpatrick’s Handbook for New Canadians is an English-language primer. Despite the fact that knowledge of French provided a route to naturalization, the Handbook’s privileged language is English; it renders French more or less invisible as a possible route to citizenship. In the initial lessons, “stock” words are paired with illustrations and then employed in simple sentences that run along the bottom of each page; the more advanced lessons consist of prose sketches that begin with brief texts on simple topics (“To Light a Fire”) and progress to page-long texts on more abstract topics (“The Police”). This first half follows the example of the Peter Roberts series and the advice of Saskatchewan’s Director of Education among New Canadians, J.T.M. Anderson, quite closely: it emphasizes “functional” spoken English rather than the teaching of grammar, and it advocates the “direct” method (the use of English only in the teaching of English as a second language).

Handbook for New Canadians, p. 114

Yet the Handbook is much more than a language primer: it promotes a settler identity that aggressively links the acquisition of English to Canadian citizenship, implying that the former skill will have relevance only in the context of the latter identity. Operating from the premise that all immigrants to Canada must become naturalized (citizenship was not a legal category in Canada until 1947), the Handbook insists that the immigrant must do more than simply reside in the nation. Unlike the YMCA’s competing titles – Peter Roberts’s series and George Reaman’s English for New Canadians (1919) – the more abstract lessons in the primer and in the second half of the Handbook, which comprises booklets dealing with geography, government, naturalization, and “History and Progress,” cultivate a liberal vision of citizenship, devoting extended attention to the individual’s place in the capitalist economy, in the progress of national history, and in the geography and government of Canada and the Empire. While influenced by the contemporary idea of the “higher type” that might be produced by the intermingling of non-British and British immigrant populations, this liberal vision of citizenship is simultaneously shaped by strict limits: like J.S. Woodsworth’s Strangers within Our Gates, or, Coming Canadians (1909), it hierarchizes groups according to their “desirability” as immigrants, and occludes others from view, most notably erasing Canada’s Indigenous peoples, who are relegated to the nation’s past.

By 1920, each labourer-teacher who set out to work in a frontier camp was equipped by the head office in Toronto with a kit that included a number of copies of the newly published Handbook for New Canadians, which was meant to serve both as a kind of textbook for students and as a lesson-planning guide for instructors. Labourer-teachers were tasked with selling copies to their worker-students; by 1920, the association lowered the initial price of two dollars per copy to $1.00-$1.25 per copy (with a commission of twenty-five cents per copy to the instructor). Sales were not brisk; however, it was quite common for an instructor to note in his report that one or two of his copies had gone missing, had been stolen, or had been given as gifts. Initial sales outside the camps do not appear to have been significant either. The federal Department of Immigration and Colonization did not purchase the title for distribution among new immigrants, as Fitzpatrick had hoped, probably because it had already begun publishing its pocket-sized Manual for Citizenship. By the spring of 1921, Fitzpatrick was still working to convince provincial governments, particularly those in the West, to purchase bulk quantities of the Handbook, but he had little success.

The University in Overalls, front cover

It seems that the first lot of copies of the Handbook to be bound (1,045 copies) had been sold by the end of 1920. In the fall of 1920, Fitzpatrick had another thousand copies bound, but by March of 1921, the press still had 543 bound copies of the book on hand and 955 copies in sheets ready to be bound. The association’s annual report for 1923 lists $615.72 worth of handbooks under assets, or approximately 615 copies (value was estimated at cost, which was $1.01 per copy for the first three thousand copies). By 1923, therefore, the 2,045 bound copies had been sold, given away, lost, or stolen. By 1925, the association required more handbooks for its instructors’ kits and made inquiries at the Ryerson Press regarding the feasibility of reprinting. The publisher responded with an estimate (an additional two thousand copies for $1,950), but Fitzpatrick did not proceed, probably because the cost was prohibitive. The publication in 1928 of a significantly abbreviated version of the Handbook, A Primer for Adults: Elementary English for Foreign-Born Workers in Camps, went through at least six printings between 1928 and 1935. The Primer does not bear the imprint of the Ryerson Press, but it was probably printed using the same plates.

The Handbook is much more elaborate than any of its contemporaries in Canada, such as J.T.M. Anderson’s The Education of the New Canadian (1918), which offers an analysis of Saskatchewan’s non-British immigrant population and the methods that might be employed to teach their children, or George Reaman’s language primer English for New Canadians, published by the National Council of the Canadian YMCA in 1919. It has much more in common with the citizenship training texts being produced by the U.S. Bureau of Naturalization in the same period, books such as Student’s Textbook (1918) and the Federal Textbook on Citizenship Training (1924). Through its publication and dissemination of the Handbook for New Canadians, the Reading Camp Association was at the vanguard of an early twentieth-century continental settler movement to produce a pedagogy for national citizenship, one that was not taken up in earnest by Canada’s federal government until after the Second World War.1

1 This case study draws on information contained in the Frontier College fonds held at Library and Archives Canada (MG 28, I 124). Specific citations may be found in Jody Mason, Home Feelings: Liberal Citizenship and the Canadian Reading Camp Movement (Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2019). Other useful sources on the Handbook for New Canadians include Lorna McLean, “‘The good citizen’: Masculinity and Citizenship at Frontier College, 1899-1933,” in Contesting Canadian Citizenship: Historical Readings, ed. Robert Adamoski, Dorothy E. Chunn, and Robert Menzies (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2002) 225-45, and Pierre Walter, “Literacy, Imagined Nations, and Imperialism: Frontier College and the Construction of British Canada, 1899–1933,” Adult Education Quarterly 54.1 (2003): 42-58. See also Alfred Fitzpatrick, The University in Overalls: A Plea for Part-Time Study (Toronto: Hunter-Rose, 1920).