The impact of the English in
Canada has been profound. For much of the past two centuries, the English
looked upon Canada as their colony. Many of Canada's institutions such
as the legal system, parliamentary system, rule by cabinet, and school
system are all based on the British model. The English and French are
considered to be the two "Founding Nations" of Canada. Although
the number of English immigrants has dropped off in the last thirty years,
the census shows that the English remain the dominant culture which Canadians
The industrial revolution was the main impetus for the majority of English
to emigrate to Canada. Throughout the 1830's there was a movement in Britain
by workers to form unions and associations in order to protect their rights.
Individuals such as Robert Owen, organized the Grand National Trade Unions,
which in the 1830's had a million members. Labour groups organized themselves
with a Charter of six basic demands for improving their lot. Fifty thousand
Charterists, as they became known, marched down the streets of London.
The sight of 50,000 workers organized and marching, frightened Britain's
Charterist movement collapsed amid a scandal. It was discovered that among
the signatures on a petition, which they presented to Parliament, were
a number of forged signatures, including that of Queen Victoria. However,
there was no denying the parade.
A series of reforms were passed through Parliament to improve the conditions
of the working people.(14) Workers organized themselves into societies,
such as the Independent Order of Forresters, the Oddfellows, and the Antediluvian
Buffaloes. They met in pubs, where they could relax and talk. One of the
benefits they established for their members was insurance to take care
of expenses in times of death or sickness.
These societies were brought to Canada with the poor and the working class
in the mid- and late 1800's. They had experienced the underbelly of the
industrial revolution, and wanted to ensure that the same exploitation
did not occur in Canada. The socialist movement in Canada can trace its
roots to industrial England. The New Democratic Party of Canada is a mirror
of England's Labour Party, not only in its demands and vision, but also
its internal politics and charter.(15)
Irene Parlby, was a child of privilege in Victorian London. She would
have been aware of the plight of the working class, but would have had
no first-hand experience of material hardship. As a homesteader in Alberta
where there were no class barriers, she, like everyone else, was expected
to perform the chores of a farmer's wife. This she did, raising young
children and facing the same lack of health care and access to education
for her children as other homesteaders. From her experience in England,
Irene and her husband Walter knew the importance of farmers banding together
and forming a union to ensure their rights. But it was Irene's ability
to cross over from the culture of the upper class to that of the farmers'
world that made her such a strong voice in the fight for improving conditions
for farm families in Alberta.
Irene preached at every opportunity for the need for co operation - of
a better world which could be forged for all if farmers and politicians,
regardless of their station in life, educational or cultural background,