More Menial than Housemaids?: Racialized and Gendered Labour in the Fruit and Vegetable Industry of Canada’s Niagara Region, 1880–1945

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Canadian citizenship is a young official category of belonging, and the relationship of Aboriginal people to that category remains contested ground: scholars debate the legal status of First Nations people within the Canadian state while other academics and First Nations leaders note that these nations never ceded their sovereignty to a foreign colonial state. While such debates have deep historic roots, more recent post-1945 government policies and programs reveal the extent to which Aboriginal peoples continued to be seen as outsiders who need to be assimilated to the 'mainstream.' As a historical contribution to these ongoing debates, this paper explores efforts to create a distinct and common Canadian citizenship in the years after the Second World War when, as a follow-up to the passage of the 1947 Canadian Citizenship Act, the federal government strategically chose to combine its management of immigrant admissions, reception, and citizenship with its Indian Affairs policies under the rubric of one new federal ministry, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (DCI). From 1950 until 1966, the Indian Affairs branch was located in the DCI, where its activities were heavily modelled after the citizenship campaigns being developed for immigrants within the DCI's Canadian Citizenship Branch. This paper reveals the ways in which ministry officials and their network of public and private groups and agencies aimed to create a one-size-fits-all category of societal Canadian citizenship. To do so they deliberately constructed Aboriginal peoples as 'immigrants too' and targeted both 'Canada's original inhabitants' and newly arrived European refugees and immigrants with similar 'Canadianization' programs. The analysis of the programs targeting both groups highlights the similarities (for example, both Natives and newcomers were constructed as outsiders who needed to adopt dominant middle-class Canadian social and moral codes and pro-capitalist values) and the differences (for example, the immigrant campaigns were more tolerant of cultural differences than the Aboriginal campaigns that, despite their seemingly progressive rhetoric, effectively continued earlier assimilationist policies) as well as their gendered and class features. In offering this comparative analysis between these twinned postwar campaigns, the paper brings together two histories, Aboriginal and immigrant, that have usually been studied in isolation from each other.
A 1964 strike by women workers in Dunnville, Ontario provides an exceptional perspective on the complex ways in which class, gender, and ethnicity unite in the construction of identity. The women strikers drew on left-wing traditions of feisty femininity to claim an identity as real workers and authentic unionists while also embracing multi-ethnic identities that distinguished them from the Anglo-Celtic middle class. Their claims to authenticity challenged pervasive assumptions, including those of their union brothers, who defined labor militancy as implicitly male and distorted memories of the strike. Yet the limits on the women's own constructions of these identities are evident in their inability to perceive the Native women who scabbed during the strike as workers. By contrasting the ways in which identity was claimed, assigned, and contested by different groups of workers, this story problematizes categories of identity that are often used uncritically in labor history.