Hark! A Vagrant

A comic from Kate Beaton's website, Hark! A Vagrant.

This week, Canadian history buffs across the nation celebrated Sir John A. Macdonald‘s 197th birthday, remembering the contributions of our country’s first prime minister and great uniter. We celebrated our early history even as one of our most storied publishing houses, McClelland and Stewart, was taken over by the German-owned Random House, leaving a big question mark as to the future of Canadian publishing and, in many ways, the question of Canadian identity.

These events bring to mind a question that pops up every Canada Day when we start feeling reflective: how can we promote our own history and our own culture in the face of increasing apathy, globalization, and American cultural encroachment? Macdonald wanted Canada to be independent and unencumbered by American interests, but even 197 years after his birth, we’re struggling with a different kind of independence – a cultural one. Perhaps this week’s items offer some clues on how to cope: comedian Dave Broadfoot brings an insistence and zing to his arguments on the importance of history while comics illustrator Kate Beaton approaches history with a kind of honest wryness, and The Walrus grabs the future by the horns in a new TV venture. Perhaps the lesson is humour and boldness? Meeting people where they are? Whatever it is, what’s true is that the times they are a-changing.

Last Sunday about 40 Hamiltonians gathered at Gore Park to celebrate the 197th birthday of Canada’s Father of Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald. A brass band played “O Canada” and “God Save the Queen” and the group shared a Royal Union flag cake. According to Robin McKee, president of the Head-of-the-Lake Historical Society, Hamilton, Ontario is the only city to throw a party for Sir John A. “While most cities commemorate Mcdonald’s death, it’s his birth that is symbolically important,” said McKee. “By being the father of Confederation…we remember Sir John A.’s birth, we remember Canada’s birth in 1867.” [The Hamilton Spectator]

Historica-Dominion Institute’s Sir John A. Day initiative helped lead more than 300 schools across Canada in a classroom birthday bash in honour of Sir John A. Macdonald. His birthday inspired the Twitterverse to explode in goodwill and led CBC to ask its readers if Sir John A. Macdonald’s birthday should be a national holiday. [CBC]

Both the Globe & Mail Book editor Martin Levin and the Historica-Dominion Tumblog drew our attention to a very talented Cape Breton comics illustrator, Kate Beaton, whose book, Hark! A Vagrant is, in Levin’s words, “a delicious gallimaufry that makes mock of cows sacred and profane with equal relish.” That sentence alone got us excited! Best of all, Beaton’s comics include such historical luminaries as General BrockLaura Secord, and a fun send-up of Canadian stereotypes. Delightful! [Globe & Mail]

In order to save money(about $16-million annually), the Canadian government will be making new money, namely new versions of the loonie and toonie. The new coins will be made from steel, replacing the more expensive nickel found in the current coins. The new coins will be slightly lighter, cheaper to produce and ship, and more difficult to counterfeit. The only snag:

“They’re also going to cost Canada’s coin-operated industries about $40-million in recalibration costs to make vending machines recognize the new coinage.” [Globe & Mail]

The Canadian Encyclopedia gets a plug in the Toronto Star care of our print publisher, Mel Hurtig, who bemoans this week’s takeover of Canadian publishing house McClelland and Stewart (M&S), a veritable pillar of Canadian literary culture, to German-owned Random House. “It’s absolutely outrageous” says Hurtig. “Jack McClelland must be spinning in his grave.” What follows is an interesting account of how M&S got into its current position and what it means for Canadian publishing. Our own Literature editor Susanne Marshall weighs in here. [Toronto Star]

Comedian and long-time member of the Royal Canadian Air Farce, Dave Broadfoot speaks his mind on the War of 1812, from historical illiteracy (“…we need a new party, the NAP – the New Apathetic Party”) to the cost of Harper’s investment in celebrations (“I don’t care if it’s $100-million, it is worth waking people up to their history”) to why we should care about history at all (“Why not give a damn? All history is valid and worth learning”). He’s still got the sting! [Globe & Mail]

The Walrus magazine, a beloved Canadian source for long-form current affairs journalism, branches out into TV. Beginning this month, Toronto-based High Fidelity HDTV will produce fourteen documentaries, ranging from eight to 15 minutes, inspired by articles in the magazine. In light of our scattered attentions across new media, publisher Shelley Ambrose has the rig idea: “…we need to be where people are or where they’re going. We can’t sit here and pull people to be towards us.” The documentaries can be viewed online at the newly-launched walrustv.ca [Globe & Mail]