150 years

Jun. 30th, 2017 11:09 am
jsburbidge: (Default)
[personal profile] jsburbidge
 I am nicely old enough to remember the Centennial in 1967, although, as I was seven at the time, my memories of Expo '67, being taught the Canadian Railroad Trilogy and Gimby' s "Canada" in school, and a general mood of Pearsonian optimism are not as precise as they might be.  The overall impression I get from people more of my parents' generation than mine is in agreement with mine: there was rather more enthusiasm for 1967 than for 2017.
Admittedly, the U.S. and U.K. are doing their best, these days, to make everyone else look good by comparison. Most Canadians surveyed consider Canada the best place to live, and holdouts would nevertheless consider it well up there in the rankings. (My impression is that immigrants are more enthusiastic; if all your grandparents were born here (like mine) you may tend to be a little more world-weary about it.)
Having disposed of Harper and the CPCs, we have a pleasant but not obviously strong prime minister whose government at least says all the right things, rather like Charles II ("We have a pretty witty king, Whose word no man relies on; He never said a foolish thing, Nor ever did a wise one"), albeit with less wit and more playing to the crowd. Not that all is well in the world of politics: we produced that harbinger of Donald Trump, Rob Ford, and there's lots of evidence that we share the discontent (and malcontents) that led to a Trump White House and Brexit.
For all the post-Charter changes in Canada, we remain firmly committed to what lawyers call the POGG clause ("peace, order, and good government"), and our leaders, after a daring swerve to a Nobel Laureate and a Jesuit-trained leader with intellectual heft, have reverted to being the spiritual heirs of William Lyon Mackenzie King, or of Bill "bland works" Davis, regardless of their ideological views. (Though I must give a nod to, of all people, Brian Mulroney as an agent of change, between a sensible but much-resented tax reform, a trade realignment leaping back over the years to Laurier's Reciprocity, and an attempted constitutional reform which actually might have been better for the country (if Preston Manning disliked it, it can't have been all bad)).
On the cultural front, perhaps the less said about the ingrown standard Can. Lit. crowd, the better. They have changed in alignment since the days of "The Canadian Authors Meet", no longer concerned with "zeal for God and King", but the core commitment to a common orthodoxy remains. There are, however, many happy exceptions, once one steps outside that charmed circle. Among the dead Davies stands out (who was fully aware that he got no respect at home until it was bestowed by critics in New York), along with Munro, Avison, and Scott (worth recalling as poet, constitutional lawyer and writer, and counsel in Roncarelli v. Duplessis), with honorable mention to Montgomery, Klein, and Buchan, tenuously Canadian but still read after a century. (A generation ago, someone I knew defined a Canadian SF writer as someone who had once flown over Canada: Dickson and Van Vogt were not far off. We are doing rather better these days.) 
We have produced some top-flight critics and philosophers: notably Frye (who stayed here), Kenner (who did not, but returned late in life to give a set of CBC lectures), Lonergan, and McLuhan, but there are worthy lesser lights (Gordon Teskey, Alexander Leggatt). We have hosted others: Lee Paterson, who taught at U. of T. and organized for the NDP, Jacques Maritain, Étienne Gilson, José Maria Valverde.
The past 50 years have seen CBC FM, now Radio 2, trashed by its management and we have shared in the decline of classical studies in the West, but the overall education rate as measured by university participation has increased markedly (whether this is <i>entirely</i> a good thing is another question) and good musical ensembles have, one senses, expanded, although I'm not sure what the trade-off is between the decline of symphonies and the increase in early music ensembles. 
Choice in food has gone way up. I recall hunting vainly for shallots in the summer of 1982; they are now a staple in supermarkets. We have craft breweries and artisanal cheese makers and a some decent wineries. It's not quite as good as living in France, but it's much better than it used to be.
I find it hard to muster up enthusiasm. We seem to be the country which sums up "damn with faint praise", though perhaps it's the inverse, the recognition that at least we don't have police helicopters bombing our courts or semi-autocrats put in place by a two-centiry out-of-date mechanism for putting a check on the public threatening to make the lives of the poor even more miserable while stirring up strife half a world away. 
My ancestors, generally, came here because it was potentially better than staying where they were - a Scottish crofter's son after the Highland Clearances, an impoverished London boy in an early variant of the Barnardo system, a nephew of an uncle who had lucked out as a Sergeant while reducing the fortifications of Louisberg and eventually became an honourary colonel and a member of the Governor's Council, a family of Irish Methodists who had been burned out by the neighboring Presbyterians. There's a whole set of Nova Scotia Settlers who came up from the colonies for land over two centuries ago. (Their ancestors were mainly in the New World because they didn't like the C. of E. Colour me not impressed.) A few UELs, political refugees by today's standards. 
With the exception of a couple of German soldiers who had served with the British against the rebels and came in the Berczy settlement, they were all British subjects moving within the bounds of British jurisdiction. (Not the empire: most of them came over before the empire.) With the exception of one great-grandfather, my ancestors were all here, in Upper Canada or Nova Scotia, at the time of Confederation.
It doesn't make for a neat story, and there's probably little enthusiasm in it. Some came because things were better, but most because it was merely less bad. My Nova Scotian ancestors opposed Confederation. I have a relative who died at Vimy, and another who served in and lived through the Northwest Rebellion. I have a Minister of the Crown under Macdonald, a Minister of the Crown under Laurier, a Prime Minister and a Premier of Ontario (for the UFOs) to count as blood relatives, though the number of farmers in my Canadian ancestral tree outweighs everyone else.  If you squint hard enough, it matches a narrative of "land of opportunity", but on examination it looks more unusual than typical - both of my grandfathers had university degrees, and my grandmothers both had other forms of post-secondary education, in a period when this was rare in Canada.
As far as lived experience goes, I have lived abroad, and while I would definitely not choose the US over Canada, I'd willingly relocate to France given an equivalent job. I'd avoid the UK except for brief visits,despite the fact that, culturally, I'm mainly fairly classically English. 
So maybe a cheer and a half for Canada at its century and a half, and a toast in a local IPA or a claret from Thirty Bench vineyards, but a restrained one, in keeping with the old ethos of this Dominion. 
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