Archive for the ‘Roy MacGregor’ Category

I suppose it’s best to be honest right from the start and to admit that I have a particular weakness for navel-gazing books about Canada and the elusive Canadian identity.  It is one shared by a vast number of my countrymen and women (making for some very happy publishers).  In fact, my mother is prepping right now for a seminar she’s giving at the end of the month entitled “A Canadian Is…” 

Canadians: A Portrait of a Country and its People by Roy MacGregor isn’t snarky or cynical, nor it is overly scholarly.  You never forget that MacGregor is a journalist, first and foremost, and that he views this work as a very personal collection of stories.  The anecdotes he uses throughout the book can be rather sentimental, particularly the introduction (a description of people touching Trudeau’s funeral train as it passed by).  As you’d expect, there are numerous hockey references (again, a sign of MacGregor’s day job) but these are more neatly tied into the points he makes.

The sections dealing with Native groups are among the book’s best.  MacGregor has been a supporter of various Native groups and specific causes for over 30 years and, while he is guilty of romanticizing some of the common myths, he presents an affectionate and relatively balance portrait of a group that rarely receives such respectful treatment (or, frankly, any treatment at all) in books of this kind.

I’m not sure how well-suite the book is to foreign audiences.  Of course, its intended market is Canadians but there must surely be those abroad who wonder about my strange country.  If so, they would probably find a high school-level history book of some use while reading, allowing them to reference the unfamiliar.  For example, both Meech Lake and the Richard Riot prove the basis for long chapters of the book.  While both are briefly (very briefly) explained, I think you probably would need a better basis in Canadian cultural history to understand a.) why these things happened and b.) why they were as important as MacGregor insists they were.  Even the most basic cultural norm, summers spent at the cottage or camping, may not be familiar to non-Canadians (the French, with their wonderful August holidays, may come close to understanding this national passion for fleeing civilization).

I most identified with the section on how Canadians seem to find it so much easier to express their patriotism once outside of the country than they do within it.  At the Turin Olympics, even the Australians were complaining that the Canadians were too loud.  I am perversely proud of this (both that we were identifiable as Canadians and that we were louder than the notorious Aussies).  If you’ve ever seen the Trafalgar Square street hockey game, held outside Canada House each year, you’ll have seen a group of countrymen far more united, thousands of kilometers outside their borders, than they ever were at home.  And that is very Canadian.

The Canadian Identity, it seems, is truly elusive only at home.  Beyond the borders Canadians know exactly who they are; within them they see themselves as part of a family, a street, a neighbourhood, a community, a province, a region and, on special occasions like Canada Day and Grey Cup weekend and, of course, during the Winter Olympics, a country called Canada.

Beyond the borders, they pine; within the borers, they more often whine.

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