I really had the best job in the country, as editor of Canada’s national encyclopedia.
It was kismet for a boy whose irritated mother sarcastically called him “know it all!” As a kid in West End Toronto, I was obsessed with the only two books in our house, a one-volume encyclopedia and a small pocket dictionary my father carried with him in the war. I memorized maps and capitals and painters’ names from the encyclopedia—30 years out of date as it turned out. My father, who claimed to have memorized the whole dictionary, would rouse me from sleep in the middle of the night and make me query him on definitions (I had to be diplomatic about wrong answers as he was an agitated man when drunk and accused of error).
Another happenstance struck when a misguided teacher in high school determined to punish me by sentencing me to the school library to hand copy articles from Encyclopedia Britannica. Bliss.
When in 1887 a Canadian delegation went to Washington to negotiate a treaty with the United States, their hosts treated them to a boat ride on the Potomac. One Canadian delegate arrived early and while waiting for the others struck up a conversation with a lady, the wife of a US senator.
The dexterous robotic space exploration tool known as the Canadarm celebrates the 31st anniversary of its launch today with a Google doodle on Google.ca.
Launched on November 13, 1981 on the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia, the Canadarm was used to retrieve and repair satellites, move cargo, and support astronauts on spacewalks. At 15 metres in length, it operated like a human arm with six joints: two at the shoulder, one at the elbow, and three at the wrists. Its “hand” is cylindrical.
In this week’s Canadian news roundup, a beloved politician passes, a minute launches, and Lily of the Mohawks gets canonized in Rome. It’s Canada Soup!
Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first black MP and former Ontario lieutenant governor, has died at the age of 90. The son of a hotel maid and a railway porter, Alexander overcame racism to become a lawyer, a politician and Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, a post he held from 1985 to 1991. In the video above, he calls himself the “Obama of Canada” and praises Canada as “the greatest country in the world, bar none.” Alexander is survived by his wife Marni, his son Keith and his extended family. [Globe & Mail]
[Editor's Note: Saturday, October 13 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Sir Isaac Brock, the hero of the War of 1812.]
In the very early morning of October 13, 1812, Major General Isaac Brock was fast asleep in his bunk at Fort George, on the Niagara Frontier. About 4:00 am he was awakened by the distant thud of cannon fire. He rose in a flash, dressed, mounted his horse Alfred and dashed through the fort gate towards the sound of the guns.
Brock knew that the Americans, who had declared war on Britain in June, would try to invade somewhere along the frontier. Former US president Thomas Jefferson told President James Madison that taking Canada would be a “mere matter of marching.”
On Saturday, September 29, the Bluenose II, a reconstructed version of Canada’s most famous ship, the Bluenose, will launch in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia!
In Eugene Forsey, Canada’s Maverick Sage (Dundern Press), Helen Forsey talks about hearing her father’s typewriter as he banged away on it in his study. Eugene Forsey was a prolific writer—the sound of that typewriter must have comprised the background noise of Helen’s childhood. It is also something of a keystone for her current awareness of her father, for it is through his writing that she explored his life to produce this book, which is not exactly a biography, though it tells the story of a life. It is much more—a book about Canadian history and public policy and what Ms. Forsey calls “a kit filled with the tools that he left us”—a manual for pursuing a true state of democracy.
Leonard Cohen was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize on May 14, an honour that has been called “the Nobel Prize of the Arts.” The prize confirmed what the world already knows: that he is a beloved and respected performer, a Canadian whose fame and reach are global. His words and his music are a part of our lives.
This week Pierre Juneau, the head of the CRTC and an early champion of Canadian content, passed away. Under Pierre Trudeau, Juneau mandated minimum standards for Canadian content (CanCon) on the TV and radio, winning him few friends among broadcasters but the loyal support of Canadian performers. He forever changed what Canadians watched and heard, and his legacy of promoting and carving a space for Canadian artists has lasted to this day. [CBC]
“If David Cronenberg did not exist, would we invent him? Could we invent him?” – Tom McSorley, Take One: Film in Canada
Living in this peculiar, fractious confederation called Canada, it is satisfying to observe the slow but certain ascension of David Cronenberg to the status of full-blown Canadian cultural institution – to see him in the polite, lofty company of Margaret Atwood, Peter Mansbridge or Robert Lepage. For this is a country of supremely timid and conservative cultural inclinations, which tends to favour longevity over vitality, and cast its more indelicate cultural voices into permanent exile from the mainstream.
I interviewed Canadian music legend Gordon Lightfoot over the phone for 20 minutes in April 2010. Jealous? You should be! It was as unforgettable encounter.
The Set-Up I had the chance to see Gordon Lightfoot in concert at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, April 2010. As a grad student at the University of Toronto, I had written a paper on his “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” My fiancé Brandon and I were granted backstage access after the show and by chance stood beside Lightfoot’s cousin. As we struck up a conversation, I told her about my paper.
Pierre Trudeau and I got off to a bad start. I left Canada in 1967 to study in England. Robert Stanfield had just become leader of the Progressive Conservative party and he struck me as an intelligent progressive politician. The British newspapers have never carried much news about Canada, so I knew little about the former justice minister who won the leadership of the Liberal party in 1968. I was astounded when he led the Liberals to victory.
In 1970 I completed my PhD and, in September, I accepted a teaching position at Mount Allison University in the tranquillity of rural New Brunswick. Within two months or so of arriving home, Pierre Trudeau proclaimed the War Measures Act and stripped me of most of my civil liberties.