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Canadas of the Mind: The Making and Unmaking of Canadian Nationalisms in the Twentieth Century.

Canadas of the Mind: The Making and Unmaking of Canadian Nationalisms in the Twentieth Century

Edited by NORMAN HILLMER and ADAM CHAPNICK. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press. 2007. Pp. x, 326, index.

In their preface, Norman Hillman and Adam Chapnick, the editors of Canadas of the Mind, say that the inspiration for their book was Nationalism in Canada, a collection of essays that was published under my editorial direction forty years ago (Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1966). In recent years I have been asked several times about doing a new edition of Nationalism in Canada. Now, having read the Hillmer/Chapnick collection, I am glad I did not pursue the idea of reviving my book. I could never have captured as well as Hillmer and Chapnick do the different perspectives on how Canadians think about themselves and their nation that have developed since I and my colleagues brought out our book.

Though Canadas of the Mind, like Nationalism in Canada, is diverse both in the kinds of expertise it draws upon and in the outlooks expressed, it is based much more on the discipline of history than our book was. Nationalism in Canada was a project of the University League for Social Reform. Most of its contributors (many of whom were historians) were concerned either with the obstacles nationalist differences posed to social democratic reform or with harnessing nationalist energies for advancing "progressive" socio-economic policies. Canadas of the Mind is more concerned with the identity side of our nationalism--how we think about our country--than the policy implications of nationalist developments. It is more descriptive and less prescriptive than the earlier book. Perhaps this represents a change in the orientation of Canadian historians.

On the issue of identity I found broad similarities of outlook among the authors of the two books, but also interesting differences. In both books there is a strong sense of cultural and ethnic diversity being at the core of Canadian identity. One of the real treasures in Canadas of the Mind is Peter Henshaw's essay on John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir. As Canada's governor general from 1935 to 1940, he openly encouraged Canadian multiculturalism. Buchan's appreciation of the strength a political community gains when it is nourished by multiple cultures was rooted in the religious divide of his native Scotland and his experience as a colonial administrator in South Africa, where he saw respect for non-British cultures as contributing to a new South African identity. Buchan's speeches calling on Canadians to make multiculturalism a defining feature of their national identity were ahead of their time and certainly did not win favour with Prime Minister Mackenzie King. But his views seem in harmony with the outlook of most of the authors in this new book, none of whom, I should point out, are francophone Quebeckers. One author who does not celebrate Canada's multiculturalism is Andrew Chung, the son of a Chinese father and Newfoundland mother (he refers to himself as a "Chewfie"). In the book's concluding chapter, Chung explains--with good humour--why he does not find multiculturalism adequate solace for his sense of not belonging to either of his parent's cultures. Forty years ago, we weren't thinking of the problems of civic identity experienced by the Andrew Chungs of our country.

Forty years ago, we were absorbed in the English-French dimension of Canada's diversity. The only essay in the new book that dwells on that duality is Alan Gordon's perceptive account of the stark contrast between English-Canadian and French-Canadian historical monuments in Quebec. Citizens are publicly encouraged never to forget their proudest national moments: English-Canadian historical memorials celebrate valour and victory in World Wars I and II, while French monuments celebrate the survival of French-Canada and the dedication of the Patriotes--in Quebec the two solitudes continue.

Clearly, the canvas of Canadian pluralism has become much more complex. Two essays in the Hillmer/Chapnick volume focus on aboriginal peoples, a dimension of Canada's national diversity that, to my shame, was not even much mentioned in the book I edited. In his account of the interaction of aboriginal nationalism with Canada's mega-constitutional politics, Michael Behiels thinks that First Nations' aspirations for recognition were too extreme. David Newhouse, an aboriginal scholar, provides a much more grounded appreciation of the political and constitutional gains native Canadians have made since the 1960s. The inclusion of two chapters on the nationalist projects of aboriginal peoples in a book on "Canadas of the mind" shows how far aboriginal peoples have come in establishing their presence in the national political consciousness of Canada.

Another dimension of Canadian diversity covered here that seemed of no concern forty years ago is the provincial identities of provinces other than Quebec. A chapter by James Opp explores the awakening of a sense of provincial identity in the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1955. Patricia Roy provides a wonderful overview of a century of provincialism in British Columbia, a province where a strong sense of its own identity never needed awakening. Her conclusion that "the history of BC suggests that provincialism can coexist with Canadian nationalism" (p. 234) seems apposite for the other predominantly English-speaking provinces.

The surges of nationalist sentiment that induced a group of academics in the mid-1960s to produce a book on Canadian nationalism were quebecois nationalism and Canadian economic nationalism. What are we to make of the much smaller coverage of these issues in the present volume? The slight attention to Quebec nationalism in the current volume is, I think, more a reflection of the authors' backgrounds than of the importance of Quebec nationalism in the future politics of the Canadian federation. However, the inclusion of only one essay on economic nationalism is more reflective of the relative decline of this dimension of nationalism in our national politics. In his fine essay on the "paradox of economic nationalism," Stephen Azzi shows how economic nationalism tends to focus on trade protectionism in hard times but on foreign investment in good times. Azzi brings out well how economic nationalism in Canada has been subsumed in a much broader anti-globalization movement.

The policy fields that receive more attention in this book are military and foreign policy. Roger Sarty's account of the struggle to establish a Canadian War Museum brings out the struggle in Canadian national consciousness to overcome a sense of innocence, summed up by John Holmes in the earlier volume as an image of Canada as the "immaculate nation." A similar sentiment runs through Hector MacKenzie's chapter on Canada's "national internationalism." MacKenzie traces the historic shifts in the country's foreign policy, from great caution about becoming embroiled in international conflict to becoming anxious to play a distinctive and useful role in the world. He warns of a Canadian nationalism that loses sight of how much its effectiveness in international affairs continues to depend on Canada's traditional alliances with Great Britain and the U.S.A. John Holmes, were he still with us, would, I think, agree.

Canadas of the Mind makes an important contribution to our knowledge about the vehicles, the communication and transportation channels, through which a Canadian sense of national community has been forged. The story told by Robert MacDougall about creating the first trans-Canada telephone system in 1932 may not be up there with driving the last spike in the CPR, but it does remind us of the combination of money and national sentiment that helped knit the country together. Similarly, Sandra Campbell's account of the life and work of Lorne Pierce, who as the publisher of Ryerson Press did so much to make the works of Canadian painters accessible to schools and the Canadian public, expands our appreciation of the real makers of Canada. My personal favourite among this group of essays is Paula Hasting's chapter on how the young nation was celebrated in consumer advertising in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The chapter is illustrated by marvelous pictures of advertising labels. One shows Sir John A. Macdonald endorsing Canadian Tomato Chutnee and another has Sir Wilfrid Laurier boosting the "sunny ways" of Sunshine Furnaces. It is a comment on how far politicians have fallen in Canadians public esteem that today Canada's best hockey players have replaced its political leaders as advertising icons.

I conclude this review on a point where Canadas of the Mind begins. The opening chapter of the book, by Janice Cavell, invites us to view Canada through the lens of the changing ways Canadians have written about Sir John Franklin and his tragic last voyage to our Arctic North. Cavell shows how Canadians have moved from celebrating Franklin as a British-Canadian hero to a post-colonial portrayal of him as an ignorant imperial invader of our north. In exposing the mythologies of both perspectives she helps us understand how Canadians are continually reconstructing their country.

My book too began with an analysis of nationalism as myth. In penetrating these Canadian mythologies, Cavell uses Northrop Frye to great effect. Let me borrow a quote from Cavell's essay and give Professor Frye the last word: "To feel 'Canadian' was to feel part of a no-man's land with huge rivers, lakes and islands that very few Canadians had ever seen.... One wonders if any other national consciousness has had so large an amount of the unknown, the unrealized, the humanly undigested, so built into it" (p. 24).

Peter H. Russell is university professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.
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Author:Russell, Peter H.
Publication:Canadian Public Administration
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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