Sunday, February 27, 2011

Canadianism for Canadians

I love my country, but I’m ashamed to say I do not know enough about it. Neither history nor geography were my strongest subjects, and my grasp of the French language is pauvre to say the least. I’ve watched chunks of Canada: a people’s history. And like many TV-watching Canadians, I can quote episodes from Historica Minutes: your place in history. (Doctor, I smell burnt toast!) But for newer writings on what it means to be Canadian, take a look at some of the following.

Canadian History for Dummies
by Will Ferguson

Witty commentator and passionate historian, Ferguson once again brings Canadiana to life. His style, combined with the well-organized structure of the Dummies books, makes for a fast-paced and broad-based read. I wish this book had been my high school history text...I might have paid more attention...

A History of Canadian Culture
by Jonathon Vance

Vance’s book has a focus on the arts of those living between three oceans. He first tackles the definition of art (or cultural concept of what defines art), by evaluating the works of Native Peoples before European settlement. He then compares the European notion(s) of art, and how they set early Canadian style...and warped Native American style. This book tackles everything; from Christian passion plays to the rise of literacy, from the traveling shows of westward pioneers to firework displays, from textiles to newspapers to photography, and modern media. Vance looks at the British / French cultural divide, the creation of our copyright laws, the role of landed artisans, and art in a post-BNA* Canada.

(* British North America Act, 1867)

The Unfinished Canadian
by Andrew Cohen

Cohen remains objective while evaluating today’s Canadian. From this lack of bias, he develops a less-than-pleased perspective on who we are. His book is an attempt to describe Canada’s personality, our ’national character’. He presents 8 types of Canuck:

* Hybrid Canadian - the melding of American, British, and French ideals
* Observed Canadian - how the nation has been perceived by non-Canadians (rife with depressing commentaries)
* Unconscious Canadian - how we exist without knowing our history
* American Canadian - are we (not) becoming like our nearest neighbours?
* Casual Canadian - Canadian in name (or association alone)
* Capital Canadian - Canadian as represented by Ottawa City
* Chameleon Canadian - we’re people who ‘blend in’, or as he claims, we have the ‘tallest poppy syndrome’
* Future Canadian - new qualities of the current Canadian populace

I think I fall under a few categories; how about you?

Great Questions of Canada,
edited by Rudyard Griffiths

Based on an annual contest of the same name, Griffiths presents winning essays scribed by academics, journalists, politicos, and social commentators. The 2007 edition relies on questions inspired by 1860’s political climate, but revisited today. Topics are are given two essays each, which provide opposing views. Topics include ‘Does history matter?’, ‘When Canada speaks...does the world listen?, and my favourite, ‘Where have all the heroes gone?’

The Penguin History of Canada
by Robert Bothwell

This book lies somewhere between Ferguson’s and Cohen’s. With an objective perspective, Canadian history (from pre-history to present) is quickly described in this fast-paced text. The short and focused chapters provide factual data and cultural significance in equal amounts, all with a positive, pro-Canadian voice. While I wish Ferguson’s had been my high school text book, this is the title I would give to anyone seeking perspective on Canadianism.

1 comment:

  1. For a quirky look at Canadian culture, check out Souvenir of Canada (books or DVD), by Generation X author Douglas Coupland. It is conceived as an explanation to non-Canadians of uniquely Canadian things.