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1968’s Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada is still making Americans pause for thought

Fifty years ago, one of bestselling books in the United States was the Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada.

This book served as an introduction to Canada for Americans who wished to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War by dodging the draft. It’s a book of an age when America was in absolute turmoil. Its military suffered heavy losses in Vietnam during 1968 and student protests spread across many US universities as it became clear that there was no end in sight to the war.

Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada was published by Canadian publisher House of Anansi Press. The first edition was a rough affair with just 5,000 copies printed. It was a major hit instantly and the next printing, two months later, featured 20,000 copies.

House of Anansi had started out in 1967 and initially operated out of a basement of a rental house. The Manual was its first bestseller. Today’s it’s still going strong with a bank of superb authors on its books.

A drab but important book for draft dodgers

The book is a practical guide with information on the immigration process, and key aspects of Canadian society, such as history, politics, culture, the provinces, weather, work, housing, and education. The Manual went through several editions from 1968 until 1971.

Draft dodgers started arriving in Canada in 1965.  This was nothing new – Americans have been fleeing to Canada since the days of slavery when the Underground Railway helped escaped slaves to freedom north of the border.

Once in Canada, there was really no way back for these draft dodgers in the late 1960s. They were giving up their friends and family and looking for a new life among strangers. Returning meant being arrested if they had already been drafted and the Manual makes this very clear.

The Manual helped many to make the decision to flee the United States. It had a plain cover featuring one red maple leaf and became one of the key accessories of the American anti-war movement. Estimates put sales of the Manual at 65,000 but the book was also widely pirated across anti-war groups.

It wasn’t easy.  U.S. Customs confiscated shipments destined for college bookstores. The FBI weren’t thrilled by the book. US newspapers condemned it.

The driving force behind the creation of the Manual was an American activist and draft dodger called Mark Satin. He was committed to helping Americans escape to Canada and became the first director of the Toronto Anti-Draft Program. Satin wrote part of the Manual himself and found Canadian academics and activists to help. It was he who persuaded House of Anansi to publish the book and it was him to relentlessly lobbied the Canadian media on behalf of incoming draft dodgers.

Why was a Manual even necessary? Well, international travel was nowhere near as common as it is today. Canada might look similar to the US but its social infrastructure is completely different – it’s bilingual, there’s a Queen in the mix, has a very different set of laws, huge tracts of wilderness and is brutally cold in most places.

There is guidance on completing the forms, and being interviewed by immigration officers, and advice on what to expect on arrival. Soundbites include:

“Although Canada is the second largest nation on Earth, it has never launched a war…”

“Discrimination against immigrants is strictly prohibited…”

“Get a good night’s sleep, bathe, shave, and get a haircut. You must appear neat. Applying for status is a suit and tie affair, even in 100-degree weather.

“There’s no restriction on the admission of cats into Canada.

“The Communist Party is legal in Canada but doddering…

“There is indeed very little intellectual life among adults in Vancouver.

The book goes on to list of more books to read, a few friendly lawyers, and helpful organizations to contact in Canada and the United States. Loom fixers, dentists, paper makers, and librarians are just three of the many trades listed as being in demand in Canada. Six books are recommended for describing Canada:

Morley Callaghan’s Stories

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen – yes that Leonard Cohen.

The Journal by Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau

Kingdom of Absence by Dennis Lee (scarce now)

The book was reissued in 1967 to commemorate 50 years of Anansi Press. Mark Satin wrote an afterword for the edition where he reveals it was a miracle that the book got published at all because of the internal politics that racked the anti-war groups such as the Toronto Anti-Draft Program. It appeared to be complete chaos.

So why read the Manual today? It’s a valuable piece of social history. Immigration is again a key issue in North America. The US is described as not being a welcoming place. History always has lessons for us and there is a tendency to things to be cyclical.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975. Jimmy Carter pardoned draft exiles in 1977. Mark Satin went home and now lives in California. Canada did very well out of the draft dodging. The people who came were highly educated, and the ones who stayed often went on to make major contributions to Canadian society.

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