Three books which define Canadian Identity
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If you had to choose three books of fiction which might define the "Canadian Identity" which would they be.
I will lead off with
1) Sunshine Sketches of a Little town (Stephen Leacock)
2) Two Solitudes (Hugh MacLennan)
3) Solomon Gursky Was Here (Mordecai Richler)
I am bothered by how narrow my choices are, but there it is. I am a second generation Anglo-Celt and I am surprised how strong Britain speaks to me.
Hmmm, I would divide into West; Quebec and Maritimes
1. Plainsong/Cantique des plaines by Nancy Huston
2. C't'à ton tour Laura Cadieux by Michel Tremblay
3. Island by Alistair MacLeod
Although I can't help thinking of Margaret Laurence, Gabrielle Roy, Daniel Poliquin, David Adams Richards... tough choices!
It certainly is a tough question...narrowing down to three is a challenge! I'll suggest:
1. The Dominion of Wyley McFadden by Scott Gardiner. This is a book about "equalization" -- in this case, addressing the fact that there are no rats in Alberta. There's a road trip from Ontario to Alberta. And an aboriginal hitchhiker.
2. The Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway is a good story about Aboriginal people, both in a modern and traditional sense.
3. And, we can't avoid hockey, so I'll suggest King Leary by Paul Quarrington. The scene of the Christian Brothers teaching kids to play is amazing.
How about it's really, REALLY difficult to try and come up with only three books to define the Canadian Identity? This, of course, is coming from someone that doesn't think it is possible to pin down Canada's Identity.......... seriously, you have hit on a bit of a conundrum for me!
Defining Canadian identity into three books in almost impossible because "Canadian indentity," like Canadian culture, is a work-in-progress.
I would have to divide it into eras.
1886 - 1945: Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
1945 - 1985: Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway
1985 - 2010: Cherchez le vent (Necessary Betrayals) by Guillaume Vigneault
Wow...for me it's not possible to pin it down to three books. That just baffled my mind.
Don't apologize for starting what can become an amazing discussion!
I can't even begin to answer this question, but I'm impressed that two people have suggested Kiss of the Fur Queen. It's one amazing novel.
Although it is still on my TBR list, I am betting I heard the Owl Call My Name would be somewhere on this list.
There's plenty of other authors I'd have liked to include on my list, but when it came to books that best express the feeling of what its like to live in Canada, the list of possible novels shortened quite drastically. A lot of Canadian novelists set their books outside of Canada or look to external conflicts to provide the backdrop to their novels. Perhaps its modesty, or maybe insecurity, but it seems that most Canadian writers are hesitant to take an honest look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Canadian life.
Hey, this isn't an exam! Just pick three books that define Canadian identity, knowing full well that there's no way only three would give the full picture. I find the choices fascinating.
If you really can't limit yourself to three, you can do what I'm about to do: post a second group of three.
While I didn't like the book, I did find that Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay really captured life in Yellowknife. And the geography was so integral to the story that it almost became a character.
Second, The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay really described my life as a child in Montreal. Having lived in six other Canadian cities since then, I can say that that story couldn't have taken place in any of them.
Third, What is a Canadian? Fourty-three Thought Provoking Responses gathered by Irwin Studin points to our angst about this subject, and our obsession with what the Americans think of us.
If I were to pick three books this morning I would probably choose:
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler - mainly because it is the one piece of Canadian literature that has stayed with me since my school days, and that is going back a fair bit!
Oh .... And I have to second the mention at message 12 above for I Heard the Owl Call My Name.
I am adding as the third book Can'tLit, a collection of short stories compiled by Broken Pencil Magazine as an indicator that we are still experimenting with who we are and how we communicate that.
Tomorrow, I will probably have a completely different list.
>14 LynnB: I tend to agree with LynnB a second three would be reasonable but a top 100 would be ultimately UGGHHHH!!!!! (Sound of a pile of books crashing pinning me under them.)*
*Actually three weeks ago some books fell of my foot causing some breoken metatarsals...
My head explodes even at the thought. ;)
Although having grown up on the prairies, I do think Margaret Laurence's Manawaka books were pretty true to life. My undergrad self also wants to say Roughing It in the Bush, although I can barely remember the details of it.
Also, there's a book called Weird Sex and Snowshoes which explores film, not literature, but works on the idea that Canadian identity fixates a lot on screwed-up relationships and the harsh weather conditions. (Discuss?)
This is fun!
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje - about the building of Toronto, being an immigrant in Canada, sparse prose representative of modern/contemporary Canadian Lit., and Ondaatje is both Canadian and Sri Lankan, thus representing the multicultural nature of our country.
Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery - the last of the Anne of Green Gables novels, which are some of our most famous literature, plus it is the only Canadian novel that deals with World War 1 written by a woman who actually was contemporary to that time. Also, WW1 was quite the nation-building event for Canada.
Even though I haven't read it yet, my third choice is Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King, since it is a major work of Native Canadian Literature.
Tomorrow I will probably have a totally different trio!
I read two of Thomas King's short stories for an introduction to prose forms class and I've been hooked ever since. "One Good Story, That One" pokes fun at cultural appropriation by telling the story of Adam and Eve from a First Nations perspective and "Trap Lines" deals with the miscommunications that happen in families and how we re-write our memories to fit how we wish things had been. Both manage to be enlightening and humourous at the same time. He's an amazing author.
Green Grass, Running Water is next up on my TBR list, and his work definately has a place on this list.
I'm like everyone else - it's hard to pick three. These aren't the only three but they are ones I would like to include. Sisters in the Wilderness by Charlotte Gray is a sort of companion to Roughing it in the Bush and provides an explanation of the difficulties English pioneers faced in early Canada.
I would want Anne of Green Gables as the perfect example of Canadian optimism and as the defining Prince Edward Island book.
I think Barometer Rising is also a great book which shows Canada's place in WWI and explains the reason for Maritimers closeness to the New England States which continues to this day.
But picking three books to represent Canadian identity is hard and frustrating but I suspect that is part of the fun. The more I see of different books being mentioned the more I want to change my original choices.
(Corrected for typos)
Thought I would mention that the Giller Prize just tweeted this thread on Twitter!
>23 Barton:: "The more I see of different books being mentioned the more I want to change my original choices."
That's the trouble (and the fun) of a list like this. I almost forgot about Black Bird by Michel Basilieres. A very twisted and thoroughly enjoyable book about a family living in Montreal during the October Crisis that has both English and French relatives and just happens to make their living by grave-robbing.
Really hard to do only three, but here are my choices:
Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures: Stories by Vincent Lam, for a very Canadian way to handle a crisis.
Stories from the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean, for good Canadian humour, and
Can you hear the nightbird call? by Anita Rau Badami, reflecting some of the immigrant experience and taking into account all the very varied immigrant experiences that are now part of the Canadian identity.
I agree that three is impossible, but fun to try to narrow it down.
For me, some defining Canadian authors and their books would be:
W.O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen The Wind which described growing up on the prairies during the depression so vividly.
Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf, among many of his other writings.
And I would just add my vote with the Anne of Green Gables books, I think they're as Canadian as they get, however dated they are now. Still delightful.
- 28: Thanks for the link, somehow I missed that on my last visit to this thread :P
-30: I was just coming here to add Stuart McLean.. I think part of what makes us Canadian is our ability to laugh at ourselves :)
Okay, I know it is supposed to be three, but how can I NOT add the Anne of Green Gables books? I immigrated to Canada with my parents when I was 11, and this was a big part of my introduction to Canada.I devoured the series. This has to be one of the defining series/books.
Ann-Marie MacDonald's books, The Way the Crow Flies and Fall on Your Knees, are spot-on in describing life in Canadian military bases (ca 1960s) and in coal towns (early 1900s). My dad's father owned a general store in New Waterford, Cape Breton, and I grew up on military bases. We are amazed that she could recreate our worlds so perfectly!!
The Outport People is on mount TBR in this house... Will move it up a few notches ;)
Wait a sec, I missed the thread where we decided there was a 'Canadian Identity'.
I just attended Mosaik, the sight and sound show on Parliament Hill (beautiful, by the way), and Canadian Identity is that as Canadians we all have the right to be who we are, regardless of religion, belief, background... I think we should be proud that we can be so diverse in our definition, although I think a common thread would probably be our geography!
Your optimism is overwhelming. I see us as smug, sanctimonious, and not nearly as excellent as we believe ourselves to be. Your post ignores the broken treaties with First Nations, ignored agreements with the Quebecois, an undercurrent of racism, a history of nuclear, chemical, AND biological weapons research and development, and a current position as leading exponents of dirty fuel, Climate Change denial and ideology in place of information.
I'm going to suggest being Canadian provides no special skills or talents.
Here's my corresponding list of books:
1. Saint Genet
2. The Brave Never Write Poetry
3. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
Nice... coming from France, I was hoping to find less cynicism where it abounds.
Hi Stunnedtuna -
Your pessimism is so sad. No one ever said Canadians were perfect - we're just who we are. I don't disagree with your arguments but I hope we've learned from some of our mistakes and won't repeat them.
I also think that being proud of your country doesn't reflect on the accomplishments or lack thereof by the current inhabitants - we're all here (except for native Canadians) by the grace of our ancestors who came here in the past for so many different reasons, and we're extremely fortunate that they did. We're blessed to live free from war, fear, or hunger, and over the years we've evolved into a people who are generally tolerant, peace loving, polite, caring and generous. Just because we're not perfect is no reason to be cynical.
#42 - Okay, well, I think you have a valid point. Pessimistic, but valid. There is always more than one view point on anything. I think the spirit of this thread was to celebrate Canada, but it's always healthy to have a reality check too.
Your #3 fascinates me, but does it have anything to do with Canada? Sounds like a US book.
Perhaps you might enjoy Will Ferguson's Why I Hate Canadians.
To join the recent discussion on this thread, I think that Canada and Canadians view their identity as a 'work in progress'. We are a young, diverse country after all. No country is without its flaws, that is pretty much a given, unless you live under a rock or buy into propaganda. As such, anyone can find something that in their minds reflects the Canadian Identity. The individualistic nature of that discovery for identity, IMO, is what makes us truly Canadian.
Suggesting that there is a Canadian identity is not the same as suggesting that Canadians have special skills or talents. Suggesting that the actions of a minority government that enjoys the support of only one third of Canadians represent "Canadian identity" is similarly fallacious.
If I was going to accuse someone of being smug or sanctimonious, I know who it would be.
Wow - I've just expanded my TBR list a lot. How about any of the Morningside Papers books by Peter Gzowksi. Or am I betraying my age here?
It's close to cynicism, and if I do stray it is in that direction. Take 44 for example: 44 finds pessimism to be 'sad' (I recommend Bright Sided for you, 44) and Canadians 'blessed' to live without war (although we currently fight one in Afghanistan). This post suggests are writer who feels entitled, possibly by the grace of diety who finds other nations less deserving of blessings. Or 47 - rephrasing my argument in more narrow terms to dismiss it, and suggesting we are not all responsible for our government's actions because 'only one third of Canadians' support them. Ignoring the fact we ALL elected them, and forgetting that 33% support is likely enough to get them re-elected and that 33% means 1 in three adult Canadians prefer our current government, even after all their shenanigans.
I agree, we are a work in progress. And I would not pick this year to celebrate our advances in health care, education, environmental protection, diplomacy, separation of church and state, manufacturing...Anyway, I would love to have some real achievements to celebrate.
I think StunnedTuna raises a good point in that he/she reminds us that any discussion of Canadian identity, as reflected or expressed by literature, needs to take into account the Québécois claim to nationhood, ongoing oppression of Aboriginal people, and our imperfect approach to "multiculturalism," among other things. One can recognize these issues and still have some pride in the idea of Canada or "Canadian-ness." (And that definition is obviously contested and elusive, despite what those Molson commercials say.)
I don't know as much as i should about Canadian literature, but Prochain épisode (Next Episode) by Hubert Aquin is a title that i think ought to be on this list.
Yeah, it has no connection to Canada. Our Canadian textbooks suffer from similar flaws, but we do not have a history of challenging them. But as I was going to get lots of flack for the post anyway (what do the Brits say about Canadians coming to the Olympics?), I decided to up the ante by suggesting we could learn a thing or two from our American pals.
My favourite is #2, largely for the location visited by the CN tower in one of the poems.
And hey, thanks for taking my point of view seriously. I will take a look at Why I Hate Canadians.
Possible definitions of Canadian identity as expressed by people from at home and abroad:
1. A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe. - Pierre Burton
2. Canada has never been a melting-pot; more like a tossed salad. - Arnold Edinborough
3. Canada is an interesting place, the rest of the world thinks so, even if Canadians don't. - Terence M. Green
4. Canada is one of the planet's most comfortable, and caring, societies. The United Nations Human Development Index cited the country as the most desirable place in the world to live. This year a World Bank study named Canada the globe's second wealthiest society after Australia. - Time magazine
5. Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity. - Herbert Marshall McLuhan
6. Canadians do not like heroes, and so they do not have them. - George Woodcock
7. Canadians have been so busy explaining to the Americans that we aren't British, and to the British that we aren't Americans that we haven't had time to become Canadians. - Helen Gordon McPherson
8. I am deeply moved by the warmth and courage of the Canadian people which I felt so strongly during my recent visit to your country. Your support of the struggle against apartheid restored me in my journey home and reassured me that many just people around the world are with us. - Archbishop Desmond Tutu
9. In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect. - Bill Clinton
10. In any world menu, Canada must be considered the vichyssoise of nations, it's cold, half-French, and difficult to stir. - Stuart Keate
11. It's going to be a great country when they finish unpacking it. - Andrew H. Malcolm
12. There are no limits to the majestic future which lies before the mighty expanse of Canada with its virile, aspiring, cultured, and generous-hearted people. - Winston Churchill
13. We peer so suspiciously at each other that we cannot see that we Canadians are standing on the mountaintop of human wealth, freedom and privilege. - Pierre Elliott Trudeau
14. You Canadians have given us such hope to carry on. We admire your bravery. You are the neighbour of such a rich, powerful country, and yet you don't mind clashing with them. Well, that gives us more confidence. - Pedro Gutierrez
And my personal favourite:
15. What is a Canadian? A Canadian is a fellow wearing English tweeds, a Hong Kong shirt and Spanish shoes, who sips Brazilian coffee sweetened with Philippine sugar from a Bavarian cup while nibbling Swiss cheese, sitting at a Danish desk over a Persian rug, after coming home in a German car from an Italian movie... and then writes his Member of Parliament with a Japanese ballpoint pen on French paper, demanding that he do something about foreigners taking away our Canadian jobs. - Anonymous
But back to the subject at hand. The Loved and the Lost by Morley Callaghan definately belongs on this list.
I decided to up the ante by suggesting we could learn a thing or two from our American pals
Now that's an outrageous comment!
Or 47 - rephrasing my argument in more narrow terms to dismiss it, and suggesting we are not all responsible for our government's actions because 'only one third of Canadians' support them. Ignoring the fact we ALL elected them, and forgetting that 33% support is likely enough to get them re-elected and that 33% means 1 in three adult Canadians prefer our current government, even after all their shenanigans.
At issue is "Canadian identity," not whether Canadians can be proud of the actions of their government or the effectiveness of their electoral system. Policies that two thirds of us oppose may indeed define our polity at this time, but to suggest that they define our character is moronic. It would be far more defensible to propose that the government is at odds with our national identity -- except that this, in turn, pretends that one third of the people don't count.
The problem with this exercise, as I complained before, is that "Canadian identity" is too broad to be conveniently defined in three books. You cannot make Joseph Boyden's James Bay Oji-Cree stand for all First Nations, for example; you cannot reduce Quebec to a single book; you cannot lump all the rest, as diverse as it is, into a single volume. I put it to you that the only way to define "Canadian identity" in books is by building a library that encompasses everything published here: the good, the bad, the blind, the stupid, the brave, the noble, the smug, the sanctimonious ... all of it. Otherwise, we're just myth making -- a fate to which even the sanctimonious activist astride his hobby horse is prone. Perhaps especially so....
I think you're taking this challenge a little too much to heart. No culture can be defined by 3 books. The point of this thread isn't to define Canadian identity but to list books that depict Canadian life in all it's diversity. If you look at the titles listed in this thread, you'll notice that they cover ever time period, every region of the country, and different racial points of view.
Which brings me to my next suggestion:
Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto
A moving story about three generations of a Japanese immigrant family and their struggle to find harmony between their traditional ways and their new home.
1. The White And The Gold: The French Regime In Canada by Thomas B Costain
2. Century of Conflict by Joseph Lister Rutledge
3. 1812: War with America by Jon Latimer
The first two of these are romantic histories from my dad's library that I remember fondly. I picked up a used copy of White & Gold this summer so am anticipating rereading the stories of early Quebecois, nuns, coureurs de bois, farmers and all.
Century of Conflict describes the warring between French and British colonial powers plus their Native Allies--lots of wicked detail on scalping,etc., in the forests of what is now NY! (If I recall correctly.) I'm still looking for a used copy, but was pleased to see that Century of Conflict seems to be available (free as trial member?) at http://www.questia.com/library/book/century-of-conflict-by-joseph-lister-rutledg...
The War of 1812 was an important prompt to Canada's formation, and its 200th anniversary is almost upon us. Americans are barely observing it and Parks Canada is trying to avoid any whiff of triumphalism in its celebrations. Fascinating to me how Canadian and US myths around the war don't quite come together. 1812: War with America, a fairly recent book by a British historian (who studied both US and Canadian archives) is really good at reconciling the two perspectives. Being a historian, Latimer doesn't spare any military or geographical detail, but I highly recommend his book as the bicentennial approaches.
I'll have to see if I can find a copy of 1812; thanks for recommending it. I guess we shouldn't be surprised that Canadian and American views on war don't "come together". Canadians have always viewed war as a necessary evil that should only be used as a last resort. Americans have always seen it as a nation-building tool and a patriotic tool for uniting their people. And we're also talking about the war of 1812: the only war between the US and Canada; you can't expect adversaries of a war to have the same perspective on that war. I'm sure the Japanese histories of WWII read very differently from the ones in the Western World. It'll be interesting to see how Latimer manages to reconcile the differing points of view.
Below, Parks Canada is planning a very PC 1812 bicentennial.
No celebrating victory in the War of 1812: We're Canadians
As bicentennial of the war approaches, government officials try to avoid any bragging about our beating the Americans
By Jack Branswell, Canwest News Service June 21, 2010
Great suggestions everyone! :) My discovery of America my Farley Mowat is also a great one, but more a a light hearted read :P
Just returned from Montreal, the used book store capital of Canada I am convinced. Going to add some books to my wishlist and finish unpacking.
Every nation or country has it own negative or positive views ours included. However the deeper you read history the better Canada looks even with its own rather negative actions. The war of 1812 seems to be the only with three sides where all three win. As on who haas lived in Britain (a year at Oxford) and eight monthe withe the American 82nd airborne. All three countries an learn from each other and none have a monoploy on the good and the just.
Ask the Six Nations who won and who lost the War of 1812, and you might get a different perspective.
Ask many different people and you will get many different perspectives. The same will hold true or any subject at any time ;)
>62 ajsomerset: You are of course correct and actually the Six Nations did better, if you can put it that way, than their brethern to the south (e.g. the Creek,Choctaw, or the Seminoles) Either way the native Americans found themselves on the bottom.
The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies by Alan Taylor (1996 winner of Pulitzer Prize), reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, sounds interesting: "...Particularly impressive are the chapters on the treatment of prisoners of war and the ways in which the Americans and the British organized their armies. But readers should know that the title of the book is somewhat misleading. Neither a "conventional" nor "comprehensive" history of the war, the narrative focuses on the region from Montreal to Detroit. Mr. Taylor barely mentions major events elsewhere—including the 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend that all but destroyed the Creek Indians and opened Alabama and Mississippi to American settlement—even when they support his overall argument. Similarly, he neglects decisive moments much closer to his borderland, such as the Battles of Lake Erie and Moraviantown, to linger instead over the details of inconclusive encounters and foiled visions of military glory along the Niagara River. The raids tend to run together because they're so similar, just as the characters tend to merge because they're all variations on the theme of unscrupulous or naïve men undone by bravado that cannot compensate for lack of skill."
"Nevertheless, Mr. Taylor makes it clear that the War of 1812 was a decisive moment in the history of North America; it established that the United States and Canada must be separate nations. Originating in competing visions of a reunited British America, unfolding in bursts of violence among people who mainly spoke the same language and honored the same history, the War of 1812 succeeded only in institutionalizing the constitutional crisis that had originally precipitated the American Revolution. Unable to resolve their differences, Americans and Canadians transformed a momentous civil war into a curious minor conflict that in historical memory scarcely merits serious attention. But readers of "The Civil War of 1812" will know that the Niagara River was once a hotly contested border and that Forts George and Niagara are monuments, not to the success of peace but to the failure of conquest."
Well, I'm not sure I could really narrow done which three books which define Canadian identity -but hey -it's not a test - so I'll give it a stab.
Under this Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell really spoke to me about European immigrants homesteading on the praries, in dreadful circumstances. The more I talk to older people - the more I realize that experience to be fairly common one .
Home from Vinyl Cafe by Stuart Mclean. All of his books and tales are such fun and truthful slices of life in Canada.
Can You Hear the Nightbird Call by Anita Rau Badami I think her book helps us understand the challanges of non European immigration to Canada really well.
The Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway. This books is so accurate and tragic as to the situation of many of our first Nations People both historically and currently.
Good points Deb.. I have been hearing a lot of good things about The Kiss of the Fur Queen, I am thinking I might need to add it to my ever-growing wishlist :P
One more. The Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway. This books is so accurate and tragic as to the situation of many of our first Nations People both historically and currently.
Oh, I'm so glad you liked it, Deb. (I hate it when I rave about a book and then the person doesn't like it). I think that may have been my favourite book that I read at university. Definitely the one that I most enjoyed writing about. I just love the scene where they go to the ballet.
The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed by John Vaillant has a little bit of everything, and something for everyone -- mystery, history, wilderness drama, culture, politics, plant genetics (surprisingly interesting!), and a character profile you just have to read to believe.
Pierre Berton wrote a lovely little book called Why We Act Like Canadians. I haven't read it for a long time but I do remember that I loved it at the time.
Working in a US-Canadian milieu, I lent out my copy of Why We Act Like Canadians many times! American colleagues, as well as Canadians, sensed differences, but couldn't quite identify them until they read Pierre Berton's book, a series of "letters" addressed to Uncle Sam. Eventually, the book went missing... It seems to be out of print (?), but I am always looking for second hand copies.
You be glad to know that the BBC World Service is taking a que from us. There are asking for people to do the following "If you had to recommend three books or poems that would deepen a visitor's understanding of your country and culture, what would they be?" We should be proud of ourselves.The adress for this is,
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