Uneasy Neighbours: The USA and Canada since 1867

Academic Responsibility: Dr Tony McCulloch

Module Aims

Pierre Trudeau, three times Canadian Prime Minister between 1968 and 1984, once likened Canada's position as a neighbour of the USA to living next door to an elephant – i.e. a rather uncomfortable position. The main aim of this module is to trace the development of modern Canada since Confederation in 1867 and to explain its often uneasy relationship with the super power to the south. A further aim is to compare and contrast contemporary Canadian attitudes with those of the USA.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course students should be able to:

  • Critically discuss the development of Canada as a modern nation from 1867 to 1945 and evaluate the influence of the USA on its development;
  • critically discuss the political and security relationship between Britain, Canada and the USA that evolved in the twentieth century i.e. the so-called North Atlantic Triangle;
  • explain and reflect upon the role of Quebec and the Francophone population in the outlook of Canada;
  • critically evaluate the US-Canadian relationship since 1945;
  • compare and contrast contemporary attitudes in Canada and the USA, eg towards security and the environment;

Module Content

The first part of the module (term one) will be concerned largely with the historical development of Canada and its relationship with the USA since the Confederation of 1867 – which was partly motivated by the need for self preservation in face of the growing power of the USA after the Civil War. The course will explore events such as the Treaty of Washington, 1871, and the Alaska boundary dispute of 1903 both of which suggested that Britain was prepared to sacrifice the interests of Canada in order to improve relations with the USA.

In 1914 Canada, as a Dominion, joined Britain in the war against Germany while the USA remained neutral until 1917. After the war Canada played an important part in the establishment of the League of Nations while the USA did not join. Relations between the two countries were certainly uneasy after the First World War until the mid 1930s when the advent of William Lyon MacKenzie King as the Canadian Prime Minister led to much better relations with the USA led by Franklin Roosevelt. By 1945 the two countries were close allies in what was termed the "North Atlantic Triangle" with Britain.

The second part of the module (terms two and three) looks at relations between Canada and the USA since 1945. In this period the two countries have been close allies in terms of their security and as members of organisations such as NATO and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). But Canada has also been very conscious of its own national identity and of differences in political outlook between Ottawa and Washington. For example, Canadian forces took part in the first Gulf War in 1990 but Canada refused to support the war in Iraq in 2004 despite the lead given by the USA and Britain. Within this historical context the course explores contemporary Canadian politics, society and culture and compares and contrasts Canadian and American policies and attitudes on issues such as the Kyoto treaty, attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism, and national security.

Learning and Teaching Strategy

Lectures will be used to introduce students to the main issues involved in the module. These will also be discussed in student-led seminars. Group work will be used where appropriate. There is a great deal of material on Canada and the USA available via the Internet and students will be given particular guidance about these sources.


Assessment consists of three course work assignments.  There is no examination.