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Imperialism, Continentalism and Nationalism: The Struggle to Define Canadian Identity

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In the first few decades following confederation, Canada's' survival seemed tenuous to many Canadians due to the obvious divides in cultural, political and economic beliefs. As such, different ideologies emerged carrying a similar agenda: how to strengthen Canada's economy and how to best unite Canadians on a political and cultural level. In response to these issues, three major ideologies emerged. One was the belief that Canada should rely more heavily on the British Empire, another was the idea that strengthening ties with the United States would secure Canada's future, and yet another ideology maintained that Canada`s future lay in its independence from both countries. However, though the intent of each movement was to strengthen and unify Canada, each ideology proved to encourage segregation and discrimination, furthering a profound sense of disunity among Canadians.

Imperialists sought to strengthen ties to the British Empire, both economically and politically, as they saw numerous potential benefits from Imperial Federation. Imperialists argued that Imperial Federation could expel tensions between ethnic groups, protect Canada from American annexation, and move Canada from the depression to a more prosperous era (112). However, imperialism in the eyes of many of its followers was far more intellectual than political (111). Imperialists believed in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon` race and that Canada's future lay in the celebration and preservation of the Anglo-Saxon customs and beliefs. This emphasis of the `superior` verses `inferior` and the `conqueror` verses the `conquered`, proved to be an extremely racist ideology that excluded all those of non Anglo-Saxon descent . To the other ethnic groups, particularly the Indigenous and the French-Canadians, imperialism was simply another word for colonialism. In contrast to the British, the Indigenous people and the French-Canadians were made to feel subservient and inferior. This is evidenced quite well in the portrayal of women through Imperialist Literature. English-Canadian women and British women were hugely influential in shaping the Imperialist movement as they became symbols for purity, morality, and superiority. In contrast, all other women became 'less than' - further fostering a feeling of subservience among the ethnic minorities. Ultimately, advocates of the imperialist vision saw imperialism as bringing unity and strength to Canada. However, it was viewed by most non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants as an oppressing and controlling force, one which would serve only to destroy their individual cultures and identity.

Continentalism advocated closer ties between the United Stated and Canada. This could manifest in freer trade or simply a renewal of the reciprocity treaty of 1854 (which some Canadians saw as a golden time in Canada`s economy). Continentalism could also take a more drastic form, such as commercial

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