Chapter 10. This is the Modern World

10.19 Summary

A young black woman reviews a document, drink in hand. She wears a Carmen Miranda–esque costume.
Figure 10.46 Eleanor Collins was one of mid-20th century Canada’s outstanding supper-club voices.

The modern world comes in many forms but it always travels in style. In the 19th century, countries around the world did their level best to attract railway investment and to build efficient train lines. This was the case in the industrializing world, and it was also the case in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The CPR was, in that context, part of a global fashion trend. In the 1950s and 1960s, as independence raced across the map of Africa in particular, colonial airlines were supplanted by national airlines, the newest and most modern expression of statehood and technological sophistication. Whether their fleet of aircraft was large or small, the national airlines were symbols of modern commerce, a certain kind of travelling glamour, and utterly dependent on the availability of skilled technicians and petroleum. While these travel options were ramping up, the number of cruise ships on the high seas fell precipitously. Sea travel by the mid-20th century had become plodding, inconvenient, and somehow very 19th century.

Modernity resists a concise definition, but we find its imprint across the 20th century, especially in the years before the 1980s. It expresses itself in a kind of confidence that is shored up by validating measures like units sold, crowd size, science (and quasi-science), media prominence, and distance from pre-modern and rural values. This is why irreligion and the rise of stadium-venue evangelicals can co-exist on a continuum of modernism. It is how we can speak of the hegemony of middle-class-style domesticity and the spread of divorce and female independence as concurrently modern. It is how consuming the country through tourism and consuming country music and folk culture could only happen in the modern era, even though they consistently reference the wilderness and simpler, more bucolic times.

There were, as we have seen, antimodernist points of resistance. Some — like hobby farming, scouting, weekend hiking, and so on — were largely benign and not very convincing; others, like the antimodernist sentiment of conservative regimes in Quebec (as described in Chapter 9) were genuinely oppressive. However, even under the archly Catholic Union Nationale or the conservative-protestant Social Credit regimes in Alberta and British Columbia, the technocrats and urbanites had considerable influence.

The social, political, and intellectual movements and rebellions of the 1960s challenged many of the underpinnings of modernity. This is ironic insofar as it was the spread of good-paying jobs in an advanced industrial economy, better access to post-secondary education, and the communications infrastructure of modernity that enabled it to be challenged. What followed was a change in national values and the beginnings of what would come to be called postmodernism, a theme that is taken up in Chapter 12.

Hinged on values like progress, commercialization, and the growing influence of the nation-state, modernity is also (importantly) a colonizing force: it colonizes its own people and it colonizes others. There is no way to understand the processes of cultural and economic assimilation inflicted on Indigenous populations in the 20th century, outside of the paradigm of modernism. Schools, medical science, and bureaucratic management, as the next chapter shows, were all complicit in the post-Confederation world of the First Nations; these were all modern institutions. The reaction against these initiatives in the last generation of the 20th century was, therefore, both postmodern and post-colonial.

Key Terms

abstract: An artistic technique that makes use of images that are not clearly representative of conventional visual references.

Aird Commission: The Royal Commission on Radio Broadcasting, 1922 to 1932; recommended the creation of what became the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

amateur: In the context of the history of modern sport, refers to athletes who do not accept pay to play; also implies a middle- and upper-middle class ethos of fairplay and a hostility toward professionalism.

Americanization (ch 10): The trend identified especially in the post-WWII era towards the adoption of American cultural practices, vocabulary, and tastes, especially among Anglo-Canadians.

Arts and Crafts: The Arts and Crafts Movement was an anti-industrial and antimodernist decorative tradition that looked to older hand-built styles of craftsmanship in visual arts, furniture, and domestic architecture.

assembly line: Refers to manufacturing processes that are systematically organized; most often associated in the public mind with the building of automobiles.

Beaver Hall Group: A group of nearly two dozen painters based in Montreal whose modernist and urban style was at odds with the Group of Seven’s wilderness and nationalist abstractions.

big science: Associated with the large scale experiments and processes that became possible after the Second World War.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): Established in 1922, the BBC is a crown-owned public service broadcaster. Its equivalent in Canada is the CBC.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC): In full, the CBC/Radio Canada; Public broadcasting system established in 1932 following the recommendations of the Aird Commission; its status as a Crown Corporation was clarified under the Canadian Broadcasting Act (1936); modelled in large measure on the BBC.

Canada Council for the Arts: Established in 1957, the Canada Council arose from recommendations contained in the Massey Commission report. It was established as the principal funding agency for arts and culture.

Canadian Football League: Established in 1958 when Canadian-style rugby teams left the Canadian Rugby Union to establish a nine-team professional league.

colour barriers: Racial segregation; specifically, the exclusion of people of colour from activities or services enjoyed by European-Canadians.

commodification: In the context of the professionalization of sports and leisure, the process of turning what originally was an informal and voluntary set of practices into a commodity to be bought and sold.

Contemporary Arts Society: Formed in 1939 in Montreal; lasted until the late 1940s; influential in its production and advocacy for modern art.

Eastern Group of Painters: Established in Montreal in 1938.

escapist: Typically refers to entertainments that divert one’s attention from banal features of everyday life.

fan identification and representation: In the context of, principally, professional sports, the phenomenon of fan allegiance to a team or player; manifest in the wearing of sports merchandise or loyalty to a team or club, and consciously encouraged by local media.

fundamentalists: Any conservative theological movement that regards holy scripture as literal truth.

Group of Seven: A group of artists (also known as the Algonquin Group) who emphasized landscape painting as the key to expressing Canadianness.

hegemony: The dominance of a set of ideas or a particular group or social class.

high culture (high style): Also called high style; refers to cultural activities associated with elites; largely consistent across continents; spatially large with little differentiation (in contrast with vernacular styles which are spatially narrow and come in many forms); examples include classical music, liturgies, opera, many visual arts, and theatre.

high modernism, high modernity: A phase of modernism beginning in the interwar era and accelerating during WWII; characterized by a deepened confidence in science and engineering. See also big science.

Institut Canadien: Established in 1844 under the leadership of young francophone liberal professionals (physicians, lawyers, notaries, teachers) who sought to enrich and secularize Canadien life; provided the intellectual firepower of les Rouges.

International Olympic Committee (IOC): Established 1894; responsible for the organization and operation of the Olympic Games (both winter and summer versions).

Les Automatistes: Surrealist painters and performers based in Montreal, 1942 to 1948; overlapped with the Contemporary Art Society.

Massey Commission: The Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences was appointed in 1949 and reported out in 1951. Chaired by Vincent Massey, it recommended substantial federal government investment in arts and culture, including the Library and Archives of Canada.

Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA): Created in 1881, a federation of non-professional sports organizations, including bicycling, lacrosse, and ice hockey clubs; argued for a gentlemanly view of athletics, one which built character and community; opposed to the professionalization of sports and games.

moral panics: Public fears of declining values and worsening behaviours that could lead to social turmoil and/or crisis. Examples include temperance, anti-gambling crusades, the 1950s campaign against comic books, and several recurring moral panics regarding adolescents.

Motion Picture Production Code (1930): Also called the Hays Code; operated until 1968; established to address a public relations crisis in the film industry regarding risqué subject matter and scandals in Hollywood; prescribed anodyne subject matter and self-censorship by filmmakers as regards profanity, sex, nudity, and a long list of other perceived offences. It is worth noting that language, sexuality, and humour had a much wider berth in the first 30 years of the century.

National Film Board (NFB): Established under the National Film Act, 1939 with a mandate to produce propaganda films during wartime; subsequently a centre for creative excellence in documentary production.

National Hockey Association (NHA): One of several early 20th-century professional hockey leagues and the direct precursor of the National Hockey League.

National Hockey League (NHL): Established in 1917 after a dispute among team owners in the National Hockey Association. It was, originally, an all-Canadian league but expanded in 1920 to Boston. Its higher salaries and American market led to the decline and disappearance of other professional leagues and the rise of an effective monopoly by the 1940s.

Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA): One of several early 20th-century professional hockey leagues; pioneered use of artificial ice in indoor arenas; merged with the Western Canada Hockey League in 1924.

popular culture: Denotes arts, values, and ideas that are entrenched in a large slice of the population. “Popular” in this respect signifies that it is both widely appreciated and desired, and generated by this mainstream population. A 20th-century idea, it was sometimes referred to as “pop culture” in the later 20th century.

postmodern, postmodernism A complex system of views arising in the late modernist period that questioned the era’s certainties, invited a skeptical analysis of conventions, focussed on pluralism rather than unity (both politically and artistically); contains anti-modernist elements (such as the return to craft and artisanal production) but is not otherwise anti-modern in the way that the original opponents to modernism were.

professionalization: Generally, the creation of exclusive policies that limit entry into a particular business or trade, such as the need for a teaching certificate from a recognized institution in order to become a teacher; in sports, the phenomenon of paying players to play, which moved games and athleticism away from the 19th century ideal of gentlemanly and unpaid (amateur) competition.

progress The view that the history of humanity is a constant movement forward toward a better and better society.

rational recreation: A 19th-century response to the leisure activities of working people —  gambling, competitions of strength, drinking, and low-brow performances — which sought to replace these with controlled, morally superior, and character-building (improving) activities.

representational value of sport: In the context of, principally, professional sports, the phenomenon of athletes whose performance is seen by the community and by fans especially as representing the community and its members; applies to local and to national players/teams.

secularism: The separation of church and state; the belief that a modern state is best served by individuals not directly associated with organized religion. See also anticlerical.

slumming: Colloquial for seeking recreation or entertainment in a locale that is associated with a lower socio-economic class or different cultural group than one’s own.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC): Arose out of the recommendations of the Canada Council for the Arts in 1977. Along with the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) constitutes the Tri-Council that funds a great deal of scholarly research.

social hegemony: Influence enjoyed by one social group over all others; dominance in tastes, culture, and values, among other indicators.

United Church of Canada: Created in 1925 as a result of a merger between three denominations: Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian. Some members of each denomination remained outside of the United Church but it was, nonetheless, immediately the third-largest denomination in Canada.

vernacular: In language, a local dialect; in design and cooking, styles developed in a specific locale and which are, in the case of emigrants, transported to other locations intact where they are reproduced. Examples of regional vernacular include Canadien stone houses influenced by the pre-Conquest era and, among immigrants, Doukhobor communal housing.

welfare state: Initiatives taken on a large scale on the part of government to provide the population with payments or services that ameliorate the worst effects of economic or social dislocation. Sometimes called a social safety net.

Short Answer Exercises

  1. What is modernity? In what ways can it be used to distinguish the mid-20th century from the Victorian and the postmodern eras?
  2. What resistance was mounted to modernity? What sources of authority were challenged by modernity?
  3. In what ways was consumerism part of something more than an economic model?
  4. How were gendered roles changed in the modern era?
  5. What role(s) did moral panics play in supporting and undermining modernity?
  6. How was childhood changing in the 20th century?
  7. In what ways were the arts changing in the modern era? What do they reveal about changing social and national values?
  8. What was the function and appeal of professionalizing and spectator sports?
  9. How did tourism change in the 20th century?

Suggested Readings

Block, Tina. “Religion, Irreligion, and the Difference Place Makes: The Case of the Postwar Pacific Northwest,” Histoire sociale/Social history, 43, Number 85 (Mai-May 2010): 1-30.

Nelson, Jennifer J. “Panthers or Thieves”: Racialized Knowledge and the Regulation of Africville,” Journal of Canadian Studies/Review d’études Canadiennes, 45, Number 1 (Winter 2011): 121-42.

Rudy, Jarrett. “Do You Have the Time?: Modernity, Democracy, and the Beginnings of Daylight Saving Time in Montreal, 1907–1928,” Canadian Historical Review, 93, Number 4 (December 2012): 531-54.

Sangster, Joan. “Creating Social and Moral Citizens: Defining and Treating Delinquent Boys and Girls in English Canada, 1920-65,” in Contesting Canadian Citizenship: Historical Readings, Robert Adamoski, Dorothy E. Chunn, and Robert Menzies, eds. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2002.

Stanger-Ross, Jordan. “Municipal Colonialism in Vancouver: City Planning and the Conflict over Indian Reserves, 1928–1950s,” Canadian Historical Review, 89, Number 4 (December 2008): 541-80.

Swainger, Jonathan. “Teen Trouble and Community Identity in Post-Second World War Northern British Columbia,” Journal of Canadian Studies/Review d’études Canadiennes, 47, Number 2 (Spring 2013): 150-79.

White, Richard. “Urban Renewal Revisited: Toronto, 1950 to 1970,” Canadian Historical Review, 97, Number 1 (March 2016): 1-33.

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Canadian History: Post-Confederation - 2nd Edition Copyright © 2020 by John Douglas Belshaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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