Cultural Invasion
Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
The Canadian Dream
Cultural Invasion
History Home
Cultural Invasion
Elvis Presley rocks Canada as teens embrace American pop culture
Fifteen-year-old Melinda McCracken lived in a Winnipeg suburb, listened to American rock and roll, and hung around Elletts, an American-style soda fountain. It was the 1950s, and United States pop culture had begun a concentrated invasion of Canada.
In April 1957, Elvis Presley's first tour outside of the United States brought the King of American pop culture to Canada. Pictured here, Elvis performing in Ottawa (City of Ottawa archives)
In April 1957, Elvis Presley's first tour outside of the United States brought the King of American pop culture to Canada. Pictured here, Elvis performing in Ottawa (City of Ottawa archives)

"America appeared to be source of all good things, things that were magical and ingenious and fun -- Cokes, thirteen-inch hot dogs, sodas and milkshakes, soft ice cream, chocolate bars, Walt Disneys lovable world full of cute characters, comic books, Hollywood movies."

Leading the invasion was the exploding world of television.

"When television arrived we got the full blast of American culture," remembered McCracken.

On September 4, 1952, Canada officially entered the television era when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) went on the air. Variety shows like Don Messers Jubilee and drama series like the Plouffe Family celebrated the countrys talent and diversity. For the first time, Canadians saw their own country reflected back to them on television.

But most of the drama and entertainment the CBC carried, and Canadians watched, were American. The U.S. had begun regular television service in 1939, though its progress was largely halted by the war. But now the industry was booming and shows like Father Knows Best were dominating the airwaves.

Even rock and roll was buoyed by the medium, bringing American pop culture right into Canadian living-rooms. On September 9, 1956, millions of people saw Elvis Presley perform on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Wayne and Shuster were a popular Canadian comedy team who appeared on the CBC and on various American television shows in the 1950s, including a record 67 performances on the "The Ed Sullivan Show." Pictured here, Wayne and Shuster as puppets, 1955.  (Nat
Wayne and Shuster were a popular Canadian comedy team who appeared on the CBC and on various American television shows in the 1950s, including a record 67 performances on the "The Ed Sullivan Show." Pictured here, Wayne and Shuster as puppets, 1955. (National Archives of Canada, PA-203477)

Teachers and preachers were outraged and many parents worried about the affect Presley and his raucous music were having of the moral fibre of their children. But Canadian teens like Carol Vanderleck were relishing a new carefree independence in the post-war boom times.

"Its funny but the things parents dont like about Elvis are exactly what we like most about him."

In April 1957, Elvis' first tour outside of the United States brought the King of American pop culture to Ottawa. The event raised new fears among Canadian parents, prompting a question by one Canadian reporter about Elvis' views on the teens of the day.

Reporter:
"Elvis, youve watched teenagers when theyve been pretty excited. Youve seen a lot of them. Have they lost a lot of their morals or are they just the same as theyve been lots of other times?"

Elvis:
"No they havent. Maybe theyre growing up, you know and theyre having a nice time and nobody is going to stop that. I mean, the only way theyre going to stop that is for the United States to turn communist and I dont think thatll ever happen."

During the Elvis tour, at least one Ottawa high school, Notre-Dame Convent, took steps to protect the moral health of its pupils. Principal Sister Saint-John asked students to sign a pledge:

"I promise that I shall not take part in the reception accorded Elvis Presley and I shall not be present at the program presented by him."

Fifteen-year-old Louise Bowie signed the pledge but went to the Elvis show anyway.

" It was like, "wow"! Here was this person that I had seen on television, and I was seeing this person in person. Id never seen people behave that way, screaming and jumping up and down and pulling their hair and looking like they were swooning."

The next day she faced the consequences.

"I went to school, the nun who was my teacher asked who went and I said I went. So she called me out into the hall and she told me I was no longer welcomed at the school and that my soul was condemned to hell. I was devastated."

Seven other girls were expelled that day. It was a humiliating experience for the teens but represented the dawning of a new era.

Elvis, like all American pop culture, had come to represent the freedom and carefree living of the post-war era. And Canadians seemed to have an insatiable appetite for "all thing good." In Canada, the march of American culture had started and would not be stopped.


top of page


Last Topic:
Birth of the Suburbs

Current Topic:
Cultural Invasion

Displaced Persons
European refugees begin new lives in post-war Canada
read more ...

A Wealth of Oil
A major oil strike in Alberta transforms the province and the country
read more ...

Birth of the Suburbs
Canadians embrace the comforts of home in post-war times
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC