Canada Day

Frye on Canadian culture and identity in relation to Great Britain and the U.S. in the “Conclusion to the First Edition of Literary History of Canada“:

The simultaneous influence of two larger nations speaking the same language has been practically beneficial to English Canada, but theoretically confusing. It is often suggested that Canada’s identity is to be found in some via media, or via mediocris, between the other two. This has the disadvantage that the British and American cultures have to be defined as extremes. Haliburton seems to have believed that the ideal for Nova Scotia would be a combination of American energy and British social structure, but such a chimera, or synthetic monster, is hard to achieve in practice. It is simpler merely to notice the alternating current in the Canadian mind, as reflected in its writing, between two moods, one romantic, traditional, and idealistic, the other shrewd, observant, and humorous. Canada in its attitude to Britain tends to be more royalist than the Queen, in the sense that it is more attracted to it as a symbol of tradition than as a fellow nation. The Canadian attitude to the United States is typically that of a smaller country to a much bigger neighbour, sharing in its material civilization but anxious to keep clear of the huge mass movements that drive a great imperial power. The United States, being founded on a revolution and a written constitution, has introduced a deductive or a priori pattern into its cultural life that tends to define an American way of life and mark it off from anti-American heresies. Canada, having a seat on the sidelines of the American Revolution, adheres more to the inductive and expedient. The Canadian genius for compromise is reflected in the existence of Canada itself. (CW 12, 344-5)

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2 thoughts on “Canada Day

  1. Veronica Abbass

    “The Canadian genius for compromise is reflected in the existence of Canada itself. ”

    On July 1, I was in a coffee shop waiting for the Canada Day parade to come down the main street. A young man was reading a paperback edition of George Grant’s Lament for a Nation. I thought, as I watched the young man read his book, there is very little to lament: the parade and Canada Day commemorated Canada’s 144th year as a nation. Canada skillfully negotiates “its position between two larger nations speaking the same language.”

    1. Michael Happy Post author

      Frye in the “Conclusion to the Second Edition of Literary History of Canada:

      “Some contributions have commented on the tragic tone of George Grant’s Lament for a Nation and Creighton’s Canada’s First Century: the interest of such books does not end with the issues they deal with because the tragic is always a major aspect of the human situation. Still, one may hope for a writer of equal power who will see a structure of comedy also in the Canadian story.”

      It remains to be seen whether or not Canada’s happy ending remains in sight. The Harper government represents a substantial break with our liberal political traditions based upon what Frye calls “our genius for compromise.” Harper pushes very hard on the fault lines of unity along both the Alberta and Quebec borders, and he seems intent on isolating Ontario completely, both politically and economically — he can’t even fully hide his disdain for the place. More significantly, he also seems determined to introduce an American attitude to government that is completely foreign to Canada, where government has never been the enemy but an effective instrument of nation building. I suspect that a lot of people (especially in Ontario) who voted Conservative in the last election at some level thought they were voting for the old school Toryism of the Progressive Conservative party, which of course no longer exists since Western conservatives based primarily in Alberta kicked it to death a decade ago. If so, those voters will regret what’s coming soon enough. The danger in the meantime is that the Harperites are hard-line corporatists who hate government and whose intention is to hobble it permanently in order to allow corporate power to run rampant, most especially the oil interests in Alberta — the province Harper just happens to come from and whose tendency to fringe evangelism he shares.

      If I throw in that just over 60% of the country voted to the left of the Conservatives, there are those who will rush in to say that that’s just the way it works: that with just 39% of the vote Harper has a perfectly legitimate majority government — and, of course, that’s absolutely true. The difference is, first, that Harper has personalized our politics in a way no one has done before, and it is therefore safe to say that the majority of Canadians didn’t simply not vote for the Conservatives, they voted against Harper, and that may catch up with him quickly. The second is that Harper — perhaps consistent with his fringe Christianism — tends to divide Canadians into the real and not-real, and the former are the minority. The very large majority of not-real Canadians can still start asserting their rights of citizenship in ways Harper does not expect: the pressure points are health care, reproductive rights, gay rights, the social safety net, and perhaps the CBC — in other words, our deeply liberal social contract generally. Harper has called Canada a “second-rate socialist country,” which only reveals that he has a second-rate understanding of our history and our politics, so we’ll see about that.


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