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1947: The first officially Canadian citizens

The Story

Until 1947, Canada was a nation without citizens. "Canadians" were simply British subjects living in Canada. It was an embarrassment for a country that emerged from the Second World War with a strong sense of nationhood. On Jan. 1, 1947, the Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect and Canadians finally became "Canadian citizens." On this 1947 New Year's Day CBC Radio broadcast, Maclean's magazine editor Blair Fraser tells a nation of new citizens what it all means.

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC News Roundup
Broadcast Date: Jan. 1, 1947
Guest(s): Blair Fraser
Host: Larry Henderson
Duration: 2:22
Photo: National Archives of Canada, PA-129262

Did You know?

• The Citizenship Act was the brainchild of Liberal cabinet minister Paul Martin Sr. He conceived of the idea during the Second World War and became its champion after visiting the military cemetery at Dieppe, where thousands of Canadians from many different backgrounds fought and died for a country they cherished.

• When Martin introduced the bill to the House of Commons, he said: "For the national unity of Canada and for the future and greatness of this country it is felt to be of utmost importance that all of us, new Canadians or old, have a consciousness of a common purpose and common interests as Canadians; that all of us are able to say with pride and say with meaning: 'I am a Canadian citizen.'"

• The Canadian Citizenship Act was enacted on June 27, 1946 and came into force Jan. 1, 1947.

• Before the act, citizenship was governed by multiple pieces of legislation: the Immigration Act of 1910, the Naturalization Act of 1914 and the Canadian Nationals Act of 1921.

• The new act granted all citizens automatic right of entry into Canada, and treated married women as independent from their husbands.

• The Citizenship Act provided for the conferring of citizenship on all Canadians, regardless of whether or not they were born in Canada. It made Canada the first Commonwealth country to create its own citizenship separate from Great Britain.

• On Jan. 3, 1947 the first 26 people were presented with Canadian citizenship certificates. They included Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (who received certificate number 0001) and photographer Yousuf Karsh.

• This photo is from the first official Canadian citizenship ceremony at the Supreme Court building on Jan. 3, 1947. They are: (Front, L-R:) Naif Azar from Palestine, Jerzy Meier from Poland, Louis Brodbeck from Switzerland, Joachim Hellmen from Germany, Jacko Hrushkowsky from Russia, Anton Justinik from Yugoslavia. (Back, L-R:) Zigurd Larsen from Norway, Sgt. Maurice Labrosse from Canada, Joseph Litvinchuk from Romania, Mrs. Labrosse from Scotland, Nestor Rakowitza from Romania, Yousuf Karsh from Armenia, Helen Sawicka from Poland.

• A second citizenship act became law in 1977. It took a more liberal view of citizenship as a right rather than a privilege. It reduced the number of years people had to live in Canada before they could become citizens, removed restrictions on dual citizenship and ended preferential treatment for British subjects.

• A new citizenship act was tabled on Oct. 31, 2002. It would modernize the citizenship rules and processes, address "gaps and inconsistencies," and establish "clear, fair and objective criteria for Canadian citizenship." It includes a revised citizenship oath that incorporates the concept of loyalty toward Canada and its democratic values.

Also on January 1:
• 1863: U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing more than three million slaves.
• 1886: The Chinese Immigration Act takes effect, imposing a $50 head tax - later $500 - on each person of Chinese origin entering Canada.
• 1980: 48 New Year's Eve celebrants are killed when fire destroys a club in the northern Quebec mining town of Chapais.
• 1991: The controversial federal goods and services tax (GST) takes effect.


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