Before Official Multiculturalism

Women's Pluralism in Toronto, 1950s-1970s

Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Part One: Introduction

1. The Case Study
2. The Scholarship

Part Two: Narrative, Subjectivities, and Affect in the Multicultural Social Welfare Encounter

3. Toronto Counsellors and International Institute Social Work Theory and Practice
4. Professionals, Narrative, and Gendered Middle-Class Subjectivities   
5. Marital Conflict, Emotions, and “De-culturalizing” Violence
6. Generational Conflict: Intimacy, Money, and “Mini-Skirt” Feminism

Part Three: Community-Building Experiments, Integration Projects, and Collective Belonging

7. Making Multicultural Community at the Institute
8. Community Projects for Rural Villagers: Health and Occupational Training  
9. Food as Charity, Community-Building, and Cosmopolitanism on a Budget

Part Four: Ethnic Folk Cultures and Modern Multicultural Mandates

10. Immigrant Gifts, Pluralist Spectacles, and Staging the Modern City and Nation
11. Handicrafts, High Art, and Human Rights: Cultural Guardianship and Internationalism



For almost two decades before Canada officially adopted multiculturalism in 1971, a large network of women and their allies in Toronto were promoting pluralism as a city- and nation-building project. Before Official Multiculturalism assesses women as liberal pluralist advocates and activists, critically examining the key roles they played as community organizers, frontline social workers, and promoters of ethnic festivals.

The book explores women’s community-based activism in support of a liberal pluralist vision of multiculturalism through an analysis of the International Institute of Metropolitan Toronto, a postwar agency that sought to integrate newcomers into the mainstream and promote cultural diversity. Drawing on the rich records of the Institute, as well as the massive International Institutes collection in Minnesota, the book situates Toronto within its Canadian and North American contexts and addresses the flawed mandate to integrate immigrants and refugees into an increasingly diverse city. Before Official Multiculturalism engages with national and international debates to provide a critical analysis of women’s pluralism in Canada.


  • Short-listed, 2023 Heritage Toronto Book Award Awarded by Heritage Toronto 2023