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It's All History by Jon Malek

Borrowing the ties of dominion?

Canada-Britain relations and the Philippines, 1912

By Jon Malek

    Emilio Aguinaldo
Emilio Aguinaldo, President of the First Philippine Republic, announced plans to visit Canada in 1912. (Photo c.1930 – Presidential Museum and Library, Philippines)
In November 1997, then-President Fidel Ramos paid a visit to Winnipeg, the first time a Philippine president had visited the city. He was in Canada to attend a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Co-Operation countries in Vancouver. This was a family affair, as President Ramos’ first cousin lived in Winnipeg. Although this visit was brief – about nine hours – it attracted 1,000 Filipinos living in Winnipeg, and included a large entourage accompanying the President. This brief but jam-packed evening was a testament to the vitality of the Filipino community in Winnipeg in the late-1990s, which Ramos knew to be strong.

Given the large population of Filipinos in Winnipeg, it may not have been that much of a surprise – although, certainly an honour – to have the President of the Philippines stop over in the city. What is surprising, however, is a visit by another Filipino leader eighty-five years earlier in 1912. While examining newspaper archives in search of stories relating to the early Filipino community in Canada, I found a story in the Brandon Sun about Emilio Aguinaldo. It was normal for Canadian newspapers to carry news of events in the Philippines, but this story caught my eye with its headline “Aguinaldo Will Visit Dominion.” The Winnipeg Free Press, then the Manitoba Free Press, picked up the same story. At this time in 1912, although Canada had been independent from Britain since 1867, it remained closely tied to the British Monarchy as a dominion. Aguinaldo, it seems, felt that that the Dominion’s relationship with Britain was similar to that between the Philippines and the United States, which had been a colonial occupier since 1898.

The short story reads as follows:


Manila, March 16 [1912] —Emelio [sic] Aguinaldo, the former leader of the Filipino insurgents, expects soon to visit Canada with a party of representative Filipinos, in order to study the working connection between the Dominion and Great Britain. He believes that a similar connection between the Philippines and the United States might be the best solution of the Philippine question. (17 March 1912, Manitoba Free Press.)

This short article is one of the many joys of searching through archives. This was completely unexpected and raises so many questions. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any information on this trip – or if it even happened. If anyone knows, I’d love to hear about it! There are a three important things we can learn from this short news item.

The first is that Canada registered on the horizons of Filipinos like Aguinaldo. The elite of the Philippines, and those who pushed for Filipino nationalism and independence, were a globally aware group. Many travelled abroad for education and made travels to study foreign governments and how they function. This process of sending missions to Western nations was common among Asian countries in this period. In 1905, the Empress Dowager Cixi of the ailing Qing Dynasty in China sent exploratory missions to Japan and Western nations to study their constitutions. Japan, which had adopted a Western-influenced government under the Meiji Emperor (1867-1912), sent missions to the West in 1873 for similar purposes. This was a period of great change in Asia - including Southeast Asia - and political leaders were looking for innovative ways to meld Western ideas of governance to the particular contexts of their countries and cultures. England at this time was in the process of granting independence to its settler colonies, Canada included, and this system clearly caught the attention of Aguinaldo and others.

The second point this story suggests is that Filipinos at the time were not satisfied with the way the Philippines were being governed by the Americans. While U.S. colonial rule differed from other Western colonies in terms of how the Philippines were governed, the country remained under “American tutelage,” indicating the U.S. did not feel the Philippines capable for self-rule. But, unlike other powers, the U.S. had a long-term plan that would give political independence to Filipinos. The process of Philippine independence was initiated in 1934 with the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which laid out a ten-year period of transition to a Philippine Commonwealth. This was of course interrupted with the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1941; by 1946, though, the U.S. followed through and gave the Philippines Independence. As a side note, it is interesting that this “Independence Day” – 4 July 1946, the same date as American Independence – is not celebrated as Philippine Independence day, which is instead 12 June 1898, the date Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence. The fact that Aguinaldo planned to visit Canada to study its relationship to Britain suggests that at least Filipino political elites were looking for alternatives that would give the Philippine government far more autonomy and sovereignty. It isn’t clear what his long-term vision was, however. Was he looking to request independence from the United States along the lines of the Canadian Dominion, or was he trying to find a more acceptable way of running the Philippines with American occupiers?

The third point is that article represents an interesting early point of contact between Canada and the Philippines, regardless of whether or not the visit occurred. While this was not an official Philippine government mission, this is likely one of the first visits of a Filipino leader to Canada. I’ve written before on early Filipino presence in Canada – “The first Filipinos in Canada” – because it’s important to realize that the relationship between the two countries began well before immigration began in the 1950s and 1960s.

Aguinaldo could not have known how strong this relationship would become, especially in the province whose newspapers told of his planned visit. Much happened in the 85 years between Aguinaldo’s intention to visit Canada and President Ramos’ brief appearance in Winnipeg, something that my own research endeavours to document.

Jon Malek is a PhD candidate in History at Western University, and is a member of the Migration and Ethnic Relations program. Jon’s research endeavours to document the history of the Winnipeg Filipino community through archival research and interviews. Jon is happy to hear from community members interested in sharing their experiences of life in Winnipeg. He can be contacted at and information on the project can be found at

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