Diefenbaker’s refusal to acknowledge hyphenated Canadian identities during his political career drew criticism, particularly from Québec. However, his continued commitment to national equity was evident through actions such as his recommendation to appoint Georges Vanier, Canada’s first French Canadian Governor General.

In the early 1960s, Senator Paul Yuzyk, a social historian of Ukrainian descent, was credited with popularizing the term and concept of multiculturalism – a term later associated with Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Yuzyk, whose appointment had been recommended by Diefenbaker, supported the cultural endeavours of many ethnic groups, promoting their interests in the Senate.

With wife, Olive Diefenbaker at ethnic festival, Toronto, November 1961
With wife, Olive Diefenbaker at opening of South Saskatchewan River Dam, Outlook, Saskatchewan, 1959.
In Cornwall, Ontario
Diefenbaker and Mariann Lee, 17 November 1962

Following the Liberal Party’s electoral victory in 1963, the ideas of bilingualism and biculturalism were introduced. Diefenbaker, as Leader of the Opposition and a Member of Parliament, led Yuzyk and other politicians in condemning these policies. Diefenbaker continued to promote the ideals of multiculturalism, rather than principles that encouraged assimilation into English or French culture.

Canada is not “…a melting pot in which the individuality of each element is destroyed in order to produce a new and totally different element. It is rather a garden into which have been transplanted the hardiest and brightest flowers from many lands, each retaining in its new environment the best of the qualities for which it was loved and prized in its native land.”

(Diefenbaker, “Notes of Speech by the Prime Minister, the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, Q.C., M.P., on the Anniversary of the Ukrainian Canadian Settlement in Canada and in Commemoration to Taras Shevchenko, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 9 July 1961”)