The Racial Mosaic

A Pre-history of Canadian Multiculturalism

How and why Canada came to celebrate - and exclude - certain "races" before the era of official multiculturalism.


Canada is often considered a multicultural mosaic, welcoming to immigrants and encouraging of cultural diversity. Yet this reputation masks a more complex history. In this groundbreaking study of the pre-history of Canadian multiculturalism, Daniel Meister shows how the philosophy of cultural pluralism normalized racism and the entrenchment of whiteness.

The Racial Mosaic demonstrates how early ideas about cultural diversity in Canada were founded upon, and coexisted with, settler colonialism and racism, despite the apparent tolerance of a variety of immigrant peoples and their cultures. To trace the development of these ideas, Meister takes a biographical approach, examining the lives and work of three influential public intellectuals whose thoughts on cultural pluralism circulated widely beginning in the 1920s: Watson Kirkconnell, a university professor and translator; Robert England, an immigration expert with Canadian National Railways; and John Murray Gibbon, a publicist for the Canadian Pacific Railway. While they all proposed variants of the idea that immigrants to Canada should be allowed to retain certain aspects of their cultures, their tolerance had very real limits. In their personal, corporate, and government-sponsored works, only the cultures of "white" European immigrants were considered worthy of inclusion.

On the fiftieth anniversary of Canada's official policy of multiculturalism, The Racial Mosaic represents the first serious and sustained attempt to detail the policy's historical antecedents, compelling readers to consider how racism has structured Canada's settler-colonial society.


  • Short-listed, John W. Dafoe Book Prize 2022
  • Short-listed, Wilson Book Prize 2022


"An excellent book. The Racial Mosaic has forced me to rethink multiculturalism's historical, racial, and even eugenic roots. Although there is a lot of scholarship on multiculturalism, this is the first serious and sustained attempt to historicize one of Canada's defining policies." Donald Wright, University of New Brunswick and author of Canada: A Very Short Introduction

The Racial Mosaic is an eye-opening book that details the problematic history of nation-building leading up to the post-war era. … Meister unmasks the legacies of eugenics, genocide, and humanism that illuminate the limits of multiculturalism. With detailed anecdotes and Indigenous histories, The Racial Mosaic offers stunning clarity.” The Quill & Quire

“Diversity and inclusion initiatives across institutions are now calling for a re-examination of multiculturalism and the limits of race representation. Those leading the charge would do well to consider Meister’s insights into the fabrication of Canada’s ‘mosaic.’” Literary Review of Canada

“A well-written and thoroughly researched history of the development of cultural pluralism, … Meister’s discussion of the erasure of Indigenous people by these advocates of cultural pluralism is particularly well done.” The Canadian Historical Review

“[The Racial Mosaic] is a model of scholarly insight and clarity as it takes the reader into a hitherto under-researched slice of Canadian history. … fascinating, deeply textured, and meticulously researched.” Canadian Ethic Studies