Pourquoi le Kanata?


Margaret Atwood, Survival, a thematic guide to Canadian Literature

“If you were a rocky, watery northern country, cool in climate, large in geographical expanse, small but diverse in population, and with a huge aggressive neighbour to the south, why wouldn’t you have concerns that varied from those of the huge aggressive neighbour? To justify the teaching of Canadian literature as such, here and now, thirty-four years later, you’d still have to start from the same axioms: i) it exists, and ii) it’s distinct.”

“All Canadian revolutions are failed revolutions… But if the enemy [the government] in its lawful authority is not really an enemy but a necessary and mitigated evil, a fact of life, then the construction of ‘revolutionary’ heroes becomes difficult; you get not so much a hero as one who has allowed himself to be a victim of idiot circumstances, like a man who goes swimming in a thunderstorm.”


June Callwood, Portrait of Canada

“Canada “developed from Tories who fled the US. Railroads made it a nation, only industrial Ontario and rail builders supported federation; only Ontario shows real passion for keeping the country together.”


Eugène Cloutier, No Passport, A discovery of Canada

“… our unity will come from a need to make a common front against the demands of all the countries on which we still depend.”


Farley Mowat, Canada North

“Somewhere far to the north of Newfoundland, the Saint Lawrence Seaway, … the bald-headed prairie and Stanley Park, lies an unreal world conceived in the mind’s eye, born out of fantasy, and cauled in myth. It is a weird and terrible land where nothing is as it may seem…

Only since the 1950s have southern Canadians begun to glance over their shoulders northward. As yet only a handful have made the effort to penetrate to the reality beyond the myth and to actually go north, not to make a quick buck and then flee south …, but to attempt to make themselves integral parts of a gigantic and exciting world …”


George Ronald, ed., In Search of Canada especially opening essay

“If Canada were any smaller it would not be Canada. It is the vast, open reaches which have made the nation what it is today, for without them the character of Canada would be quite different. Though the majority of Canadians live … in cities and towns where the proximity of fellow humans makes life more civilized and enjoyable, it is the emptiness of the country which makes such an abiding impression.”


David P. Silcox, The Group of Seven and Tom Thompson

“To experience the variety and vitality of the Group’s images, even in reproduction, is to know oneself and Canada better. My hope… is that [this] it will contribute to an appreciation the role artists have in creating our identity, and emphasize the importance of art in our lives. For today’s artists are defining who we are now, as surely as the Group of Seven and their colleagues did only a few generations ago.”


Hilary Stewart, Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast

“Bold, inventive … highly graphic, the indigenous art of the Northwest Coast is distinguished by its sophistication and complexity. It is also composed of basically simple elements, which, guided by a rich mythology, create images of striking power…”


Pierre Trudeau in Lorraine Monk, Canada with Love/Canada avec amour

“A country is more than a national anthem, or a flag fluttering in the breeze. It is the breeze itself, and the sunset, and the ocean’s roar and all of these… Especially, a country is the land, and the mark that it carves on the souls of its people, and the claim that it makes on their hearts.”


George P. Grant, Lament for a Nation

Starting with First Nations (note the plural): Canadian Pluralism         

“The keystone of the Canadian nation is the French fact; the slightest knowledge of history makes this platitudinous. English-speaking Canadians who desire the survival of their nation have to co-operate with those who seek continuance of Franco-American civilization… “

“…The French-Canadians had entered Confederation not to protect the rights of the individual but the rights of a nation. They did not want to be swallowed up by that sea which Henri Bourassa had called l’américanisme saxonisant.”


George Bowering, Stone Country An Unauthorized History of Canada

Eastern Tunnel Vision and a Broader Prairie One

While the BNA Act was being haggled over, Louis David Riel was just a student. He was born in the Red River Settlement, but by 1865 he was in Montreal, being school as a priest and studying Napoleonic law. He was working in the USA when the act was passed, and a year later he was back in St. Boniface.

He had been educated in Lower Canada. He knew how the powerful English business people and Protestants felt about the country and who owned it. He knew that the Prairies were designated to be Old Macdonald’s Farm. Macdonald must have heard that there was a people out there on the edge of the world who considered themselves to be in the centre. But Macdonald was an Ontarian. It was very hard for him to imagine a Canada that was not simply a much bigger Ontario. Riel knew this, too. His people spoke French and danced to fiddle music and followed the ancient bison. They were not French and they were not Cree. They were not a little problem inside a confederated Canada. They were the Palestinians of their valley.

During the 1870s Louis Riel would just not go away. Macdonald sincerely wished that there were no such person. The main problem was that Riel had become a major hero in Quebec, the champion of French-Canadian rights on the Prairies …

… Macdonald thought that he would offer a great deal. He would give utter amnesty to both Riel and Lépine if they would stay out of the country for five years.

But before the PM could do so, Louis Riel became Louis La Rochelle, a patient at a mental hospital in Beauport, just outside Québec City. From now on friends of Louis David Riel would find a new rebel … He would write a large prophecy that does not get studied in Canadian universities the way that Walt Whitman’s prophecy gets studied in US universities. Riel saw North America, especially the Canadian half of it, as the ground for an entirely new kind of land, one in which all religions, European, Asian and North American, would be explicitly enfranchised, where there would be land grants for all minority communities. Crazy, they said …