Going to Canada

Tomorrow I head on a three-city visit to Canada: Toronto, Montreal and St John’s in Newfoundland. It’s part of a series of seven videos of seven Canadian cities and how one can ‘experience a place like a local.’

It’s far from my first time there (that would be age nine to Alberta; above). But to prep, I’ve been reading books like mad. Canadian books. Getting distracted on tangents like, hey, ‘what is Canada?’

A lot of people think of Canada as just this:

But it’s not the subject most Canadian authors seem to dwell on. ‘Canada’ — as a nation, an identity, a concept — is much more confusing. The question has a history.

The country’s relationship with the US and Europe weighs heavy. In the 1943 book Unknown Country, Bruce Hutchinson tries to explain his nation for an American audience. He calls it a ‘dual personality – not fully formed’ but touts its name — an Iroquoian word for ‘village’ (that for the world’s second-largest country!) — as ‘wondrous and sweet’: Canada!

He writes, ‘The very word is like a boy’s shout in the springtime!’ I love that.

Karen Connelly, meanwhile, says of Canada in her book Touch the Dragon, that much remains unanswered. ‘Even the name is a question.’ (Can a da? Get it?)

Some define Canada by its niceness. Apparently a woman found with amnesia in California was taken for a Canadian simply by how incredibly nice she was (turns out she was from Edmonton). And in Moose Jaw Beauty Secrets, Albertan author Will Ferguson notes how the Trans-Canadian Highway marks each end as ‘Mile Zero’: ‘two separate (but equal!) Mile Zeros.’ Negotiation is nice.

Most of these books seem to begin their survey with Quebec. Canada seems ever fascinated with its relationship with, what some call, the ROC (‘Rest of Canada’) — something made fun of by Why I Hate Canadians author Will Ferguson.

The Great Canada Novel — Hugh MacLennan’s wonderful Two Solitudes from 1945 — takes on both sides of English/French-Canadian Montreal. In it, he calls Canada ‘a large red splash on the map… still raw’ and proclaims, ‘if this sprawling half-continent has a heart, here it is.’ In Quebec.

It’s perhaps interesting to note that the Great Canada Novel is not currently in print in the USA.

Rather than join the discussion, yet, maybe I’ll just shout that next spring.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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