Canadian Immigrant Life
For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Canadian immigration mirrored that of the United States. Western European immigrants were welcomed in Canada, strict limits on Chinese immigrants were put in place, and by the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, sharply reduced quotas limiting the numbers of Jews and Italians were instituted. Because of the Great Depression of the 1930s, immigration was curtailed; however, as soon as World War II ended, a booming economy increased the need for immigrant labor, and Canada once again welcomed large numbers of immigrants to meet the need for workers. However, not all of the new immigrants were welcomed. For several years after the end of World War II, large numbers of people, who had been living in European Displaced Persons (DP) camps, immigrated to Canada, looking for a better life. In many cases, they faced discrimination. Many Canadians, especially those of Scottish and English origins, blamed the DPs for being the cause of World War II, and thus responsible for the loss of British lives during the war.
Although many of the DPs were white Europeans, it was not unusual for the children of DPs to be teased at school. Many of them dressed as they had in their previous homelands, spoke with accents, and had unpronounceable names. It was common for both immigrant parents to work together on farms and in small businesses, which sometimes shifted additional child-care responsibilities from mothers to their older children. To survive as an immigrant, every member of the family had to work together to support the family.
By the 1950s, Canada had created an assisted passage program that provided immigrants with two-year loans to help pay for moving to Canada. Repayment of these loans increased the financial burden on DPs, which meant that more members of the family needed to work. The government also signed agreements to admit limited numbers of immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Ceylon. In the mid-1950s, when large numbers of European DP immigrants ceased moving to Canada, local farmers were forced to look elsewhere for immigrant labor. As a result, Caribbean migrant workers poured into the country as cheap farm labor.
In Munro’s short story ‘‘Day of the Butterfly,’’ Myra is excluded and victimized because of differences in both behavior and appearance. Her skin is brown and her clothing different from that of other children. Her ethnic background is never revealed, but her family might well have been from India or Pakistan or one of the islands of the Caribbean. Different appearance and behavior led to discrimination—a common problem of new immigrants, who had to learn to become Canadian. In Ontario, where Munro grew up, bias against DP immigrants was quite widespread, as was schoolyard teasing of DP children.
With the influx of post-World War II immigrants to Canada, anti-immigrant bias became more common in the country. Some of the new immigrants—those whose appearance was different, who spoke a language other than English or French, or whose ethnic background, religion, or customs were different from their neighbors— were often targeted as foreign, and thus inferior. Since Canada needed immigrants to provide labor for industries and agriculture, there needed to be a way to help appease those people who demanded more restrictive immigration laws, while still meeting the need for more immigrant workers. One possible solution was to try to assimilate new immigrants. Many Canadian schools, churches, and social agencies helped new immigrants learn English or French.
In Munro’s story, the teacher, Miss Darling, encourages the children to be nicer to Myra, but they are unwilling to ignore that she is different from her classmates. By the mid- 1960s, when Munro was revising ‘‘Day of the Butterfly’’ for inclusion in Dance of the Happy Shades and Other Stories, the Canadian government had begun working on a policy of cultural pluralism, which was intended to acknowledge and preserve multiculturalism as an important element of Canadian life.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Alice Munro – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.