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Archive for July, 2013

Henry Sandham's "The Coming of the Loyalists" (1910) reveals a romanticized conception of Canadian history common in his day.

Henry Sandham’s “The Coming of the Loyalists” (1910) reveals a romanticized conception of Canadian history that was common in his day.

(For the introduction to this series on national narratives click here.)

It’s the 4th of July. The skies of America are lit up by a bouquet of colours as fireworks announce another year of that country’s independence from Britain. With the Stars & Stripes on full display, crowds waft between watermelon picnics and baseball games, stopping now and then to listen to a marching band play “Yankee Doodle.” Magically, amidst all its political gaffs and global blunders, the sentimental face of the “Home of the Brave” reveals itself with an unabashed blend of pride and kitsch. It gets to you.

Just a little ways North of the border in a dingy but well-loved campus bar in Halifax, Nova Scotia an altogether different sort of celebration is taking place. Instead of the Stars & Stripes, you find the old “loyalist” flag of Britain tacked to the wall, while in some place of prominence – in front of an old speaker, perhaps – an image of Canada’s reigning monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, smiles down upon the revelries as undergraduates hoist their drinks in the air and stumble their way the lyrics to “God Save the Queen.” (more…)

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"The Impending Nisga'a' Deal. Last Stand. Chump Change" (1996). Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.

“The Impending Nisga’a’ Deal. Last Stand. Chump Change” (1996). Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.

(For the introduction to this series on national narratives click here.)

It is a breezy July morning, and a group of weary men are trudging their way up a sloping hill. In their midst they carry a 10-metre long plank of wood. A smaller beam has been nailed perpendicularly to the plank’s upper third to form a cross, the symbol of their God.

The men are nearing the end of what had been a long and difficult voyage along the shores of this strange, new continent. Their captain, Jacques Cartier, led them here in search of a waterway that would lead to the riches of the Orient. That discovery, however, would have to wait. Finding only false starts and dead ends, Cartier and his crew have at last decided to turn return home, and all preparations are in order for the perilous journey back across the Atlantic. No doubt looking forward to their return, it is easy to imagine the minds of Cartier’s men on the sights and smells of their home ports as they work through this final task: the raising of a cross on the banks of a great bay. (more…)

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Detail from BC artist Jin-Me Yoon's "A Group of Sixty-Seven."

Detail from BC artist Jin-Me Yoon’s “A Group of Sixty-Seven,” 1996.

Last year, Canadian cinephiles were treated to a wonderfully curious documentary in Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. Moved to uncover her own family’s murky history, Polley sets about interviewing close friends, old acquaintances, and key players in order to dig into the rich strata of her past. The film’s brilliance arises from a peculiar curatorial decision on the director’s behalf: rather than sort through the often conflicting stories of her interviewees to find a narrative that most closely approximates “fact,” Polley chooses to let each story speak for itself amidst the voices of the others, thereby allowing each perspective to take a shape of its own. Though the juxtaposition of these would-be narratives, Stories We Tell rises far above a typical family drama to say something truly profound about the stories from which truth, like a mirage, appears to emerge.

The stories we tell help define and give meaning to every aspect of our lives, from personal relationships – as Stories We Tell so deftly illustrates – to the places we inhabit. Long before the first Europeans arrived in the land now commonly referred to as Canada, the original inhabitants of the country had fostered a great number of rich story telling traditions as a way of understanding and being in this place, and you can bet that new stories were fostered and cultivated from the moment that Leif Ericsson laid his Viking eyes on the vast forests of Newfoundland. In the many centuries since that fateful encounter, historians, artists and politicians alike have spent a great deal of time and energy try to pin down the elusive nature of this country. It would seem that Canada is ever in question, and has been so since well before there was a “Canada” to speak of. (more…)

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