Story: North Americans

Page 3 – 1940–present: closer contact

Pacific bonds

The Second World War forced Canada, the United States and New Zealand together to protect their interests in the Pacific Ocean. Canada and New Zealand had agreed to an exchange of high commissioners in 1939. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, America established full diplomatic relations with New Zealand. After the war, the loosening of ties with Britain made New Zealand realise the advantage of closer defence and trade links with other Pacific Rim nations. Closer bonds with Pacific allies may have had an effect on the number of North Americans choosing to live in New Zealand.

Alliances and arguments

Between 1942 and 1944 about 100,000 American troops were stationed in New Zealand to support the counter-offensive in the Pacific. They were based mainly in Auckland and Wellington, and at any one time swelled the small local population by 50,000. The American presence had an impact on New Zealand’s way of life: nightclubs, milk bars, florists and drycleaners sprang up to cater to American needs, and relationships were forged. Almost 1,500 New Zealand women married American servicemen and emigrated after the war. A much smaller number of American servicemen settled in the country. One enduring legacy of wartime was the New Zealand–American Association, set up to foster understanding.

During the 1950s few Americans visited New Zealand as tourists, and the number of residents remained small, but this began to change in the 1960s. The advent of jet services revolutionised air travel. Favourable impressions from visits to New Zealand may have encouraged some Americans to settle permanently. In the late 1960s and 1970s there was a surge in American residents. After a brief dip, the number rose again from the mid-1990s.

Americans have entered a wide range of occupations, from information technology to winemaking. In particular, they left their mark on New Zealand education. A teacher shortage led to recruitment campaigns overseas, including the western states of the USA, from 1963. Another teacher recruitment programme took place in the early 1990s. The dramatic increase in university teachers with American degrees between 1947 and 1987 may have been partly due to the post-war Fulbright educational exchange programme, but also to immigration.

Although American culture has become entrenched in New Zealand, Americans were not always made welcome in the post-war years. New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War sparked a local protest movement against what was seen as American imperialism. Bad feeling resurfaced in 1985 when New Zealand banned visits by nuclear-powered ships, shattering the 1951 ANZUS defence pact. The resulting anti-American sentiment offended some American residents. Trade barriers imposed by the United States remain a source of discontent. Nevertheless, the number of US-born residents in New Zealand continues to increase – in 2006 there were 17,751, up from 8,451 in 1991.

Similarities and differences

Canadians are often perceived as having more in common with New Zealanders. Yet Canadians who have settled in New Zealand since the Second World War have remarked on deep cultural differences between the two countries. During the war many New Zealand military pilots trained in Canada under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Some brought Canadian brides back to New Zealand. These women had difficulty adjusting to the absence of amenities that were widespread in both the United States and Canada at that time – central heating, double-glazing, electrical appliances and supermarkets. A few found the lifestyle too austere and returned to Canada. Even in the 1990s, teachers recruited from Canada noted the limited educational resources available in New Zealand and the high cost of living.

A war bride’s observations

When Canadian war bride Ruth Strand arrived in New Zealand in 1945, she was struck by the differences between Canadians and New Zealanders:

‘The Canadians pronounce certain words differently, causing much confusion at first. We also found pounds, shillings and pence hard to get used to. Everything seemed to be shut from 6pm until morning, and rugby, racing and beer seemed to be the main topics of interest.

Rationing was still in force when I arrived. … Most people in those days seemed to have roast hogget or lamb for Christmas dinner, whereas in Canada we always had turkey or lamb.’ 1

Like Americans, Canadians have worked in education and for a wide range of industries and multinational corporations. Growth in the number of Canadians living in New Zealand mirrored the American pattern in the 1960s and 1970s, but was not as marked in the 1990s. Since 1971, the Canadian population in New Zealand has lagged behind the American: in 2006 it was 8,994.

Why do North Americans come to New Zealand today?

Employment is only one attraction, especially as the internet makes distance-working possible. Many North Americans seek a relaxed lifestyle, temperate climate and opportunities for outdoor pursuits. Others appreciate New Zealand’s pro-environment image and support the anti-nuclear policy. And a few are driven by a taste for adventure – an impulse that brought many of their predecessors to New Zealand.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted in Val Wood. War brides. Auckland: Random Century, 1991, p. 149. › Back
How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick. 'North Americans - 1940–present: closer contact', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/north-americans/page-3