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«Nova Britannia» revisited: Canadianism, Anglo-Canadian identities and the crisis of Britishness, 1964-1968

McGill University
Publication Date
  • History - Canadian
  • History


The confrontation with Britishness in Canada in the mid-1960s is being revisited by scholars as a turning point in how the Canadian state was imagined and constructed. During what the present thesis calls the “crisis of Britishness” from 1964 to 1968, the British character of Canada was redefined and Britishness portrayed as something foreign or “other.” This post-British conception of Canada has been buttressed by historians depicting the British connection as a colonial hangover, an externally-derived, narrowly ethnic, nostalgic, or retardant force. However, Britishness, as a unique amalgam of hybrid identities in the Canadian context, in fact took on new and multiple meanings. Historians have overlooked ethnic and cultural nuances among the various ethnicities—English, Scots, Irish, etc. The role of Britishness as a constitutive and animating element embedded in the Canadianism of hybridized individuals and groups, and not only those of British ethnicity, has been neglected. Significantly, it was members, almost all male, of an Anglo-Celtic core ethnie, some of whom had made the pilgrimage to Oxford University, who carried out the othering process, the portrayal of Britishness as something that was not truly Canadian—introducing a new national flag, for example, with French Canadians and non-British ethnic groups largely sidelined. At the same time, the neo-aristocracy within this core ethnie did not so much abandon its heritage as assign to it a new and less public role that they regarded as “distinctively Canadian.” If the overt Britishness of the Red Ensign was downgraded, the new flag was a less dramatic break with the past than is commonly assumed. In a sense, Anglo-Canadians implemented the kind of local change and development foreseen by liberal theorists of Empire, who saw in the Res Britannica an evolving association of diverse elements and nationalisms that represented a fulfillment, rather than a rejection, of Britishness. With all o

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