History
In the News
Punxsutawney Phil
(Corel Professional Photos).

On February 2, the groundhog becomes a weather oracle. (Corel Professional Photos).

February 2 is Groundhog Day, a celebration where those driven mad by the long winter pin their hopes for an early spring on the Marmota monax, known as the groundhog, woodchuck and, in certain circles, a whistle-pig. On February 2, the humble rodent is imbued with the powers of meteorological prognostication, divining an early spring or a prolonged winter.

According to legend, the groundhog emerges from its burrow at noon on February 2 to look for its shadow. If the day is sunny, the groundhog will see its shadow, become alarmed, and return to its burrow to sleep, thus prolonging winter for six more weeks. But if the day is cloudy and the groundhog does not see its shadow, it will leave its burrow, ushering in an early spring.

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Music
Music Mondays
Joni Mitchell "Songs of a prairie girl"
Iceberg Near Pond Inlet (photo by Mike Boedel/courtesy Govt of NWT).

Iceberg Near Pond Inlet (photo by Mike Boedel/courtesy Govt of NWT).

Winter. The most Canadian of seasons. Like sunshine in Florida and fog in London, winter defines Canada. From November to February, it blankets the country in snow, ice, wind, rain, grey skies and blistering cold, turning the landscape into a winter wonderland or an icy hell. To help with your winter hibernation, we’ve rounded up a handful of Canadian winter songs that reflect the mood of the season: reflective, melancholy and restless, but also joyful and bursting with frenetic energy. So, settle into a warm corner and listen to the many faces of winter, as interpreted by some of the country’s most beloved musicians. Happy hibernating!

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carnival-header

Snow palace (1988) at the Québec Winter Carnival (courtesy Carnaval de Québec Inc).

Québec City became my “home” after I left my parents’ house, and even though I don’t live there anymore, I still consider it as such. This French-speaking city of just over half a million people feels like a big village bustling with activity. Among all the events that take place there, one of the most important is no doubt the Québec Winter Carnival. Since 1894, this winter celebration warms and cheers Quebecers during the peak of the cold (and sometimes grey) season. I only recently became aware that the carnival originated from an ancient tradition carried out by the people of New France, who feasted from late January to mid-February (this is when the carnival is held), before the beginning of Lent – you’ve got to have joy in stock for hard times!
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History
Literature
Reading In Canadian
Civil War Christmas Thomas Nast
Civil War Christmas, Thomas Nast 1863. Note Santa climbing into the chimney at top left and Santa in a sled pulled by reindeer at top right (public Domain).

Civil War Christmas, Thomas Nast 1863. Note Santa climbing into the chimney at top left and Santa in a sled pulled by reindeer at top right (public Domain).

Christmas holidays: the perfect time to find another reason – if one is ever needed – to settle into a warm corner on a winter’s night with a book. Perhaps with the wood stove on, the tree lights glinting in the corner and a warm mug at my elbow. I’ve been mulling on “the classic” Canadian Christmas story, and have found myself surprised, and then unsurprised, by the difficulty of locating one.

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History
singing-tree
A Christmas tree for German soldiers in a temporary hospital.

A Christmas tree for German soldiers in a temporary hospital.

On December 25, 1943, the acrid smell of cordite hung over the rubble barricades of Ortona, Italy, where Canadians and Germans were engaged in grim hand-to-hand combat. Even amid the thunder of collapsing walls and the blinding dust and smoke darkening the alleys, the men of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and The Loyal Edmonton Regiment were determined to celebrate Christmas. They chose the abandoned church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli as their banquet hall.

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Film
History
a-christmas-story-header

The tag line for Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story is: “A Tribute to the Original, Traditional, One Hundred Per Cent, Red-Blooded, Two Fisted, All-American Christmas.” Except that the film isn’t. American that is. It’s a 100-per-cent Canadian production, shot on location in St. Catherines and Lindsay, Ontario, and studios in Toronto.

This is the story behind one of the most popular Yuletide movies that’s right up there with the holiday holy trinity of A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street

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History
Music
Music Mondays
mummers
Mummers. Bodleian Library MS. Bodl. 264, fol 21v.

Mummers. Bodleian Library MS. Bodl. 264, fol 21v.

On a wall in my home is a print by David Blackwood. It features a line of humans dressed in various swaths of fabric, masked and guided by lanterns. It is titled, “Mummers Group at Pound Cove”. It is an eerie picture that conjures up images of medieval, Breughelesque, ceremonies. Mummering goes back to medieval times and, according to some scholars, to the back of beyond. No one really knows for sure. What we do know is that mummering, done by mummers, arrived in what is now Canada with the first English and Irish settlers and remains part of the Christmas tradition in at least Newfoundland and Labrador, although a friend from Prince Edward Island tells me it is still happening there, too.

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Sedna

The Inuit are an “imaginative, hardy and resourceful people” wrote famed Igloo Dweller James Houston. The Inuit (meaning simply “the people”) make their home in the Arctic, encompassing the vast, rugged land from the Bering Sea through Alaska and northern Canada to Greenland. Theirs is a semi-nomadic life that traces back to as early as 1000 AD when their ancestors (the Thule) moved eastwards from Alaska to the Arctic.

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Inside TCE
TCE-Gift-Guide-header

Encyclopedia editors have long been pegged as crusty, humourless academics, too busy researching facts and figures to enjoy the fun and quirky material world. This holiday season, The Canadian Encyclopedia staff is happy to dispel this notion with a very Canadian gift guide made up of their favourite things, from handcrafted pens to plush toys and potato vodka. Crusty and humourless? We think not!

vodka-1Schramm Organic Potato Vodka
Pemberton Distillery, $30–$62
Everyone knows where Bud the Spud is from—think of PEI, and one thinks of potatoes. But tucked away in an idyllic, isolated valley, in the Coast Mountains of BC, is a village also famous for its potatoes. Pemberton, just 20 minutes north of Whistler, has long been a key supplier of high grade seed potatoes—they are used all over North America. Pemberton is a controlled agricultural area to keep its seed stock free of viruses—no outside potatoes allowed! One enterprising company is using the pristine Pemberton potatoes for a different purpose—making vodka and other spirits. While the distillery has been producing its Schramm Organic Potato Vodka since just 2009, it has already won rave reviews and double-gold at the 2010 World Spirits Awards. Sheila Keenan, Copy Editor Read More

Inside TCE
snow diary
The view from my backyard.

The view from my backyard.

Having told friends, family and colleagues that I dislike winter, I’ve received endless advice on how to turn my chilly frown upside down. My dear friend Myriam even provided a list of reasons to like winter. So I’m going to try again to change my attitude, and to chart my progress I’m going to keep a snow diary. All I need is some snow.

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History
inuk-hunter
Building an Igloo

Traditionally, Inuit lived in igloos during the coldest months and tent like huts during the warmer months. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs, Photograph by Frank E. Kleinschmidt

It is often said that the Inuit have dozens of words to refer to “snow” and “ice.” Intrigued, I researched the topic on the web, to get more information. I found different sites treating the subject, but I think that unfortunately, the majority of those who say something about it do not have much expertise about the Inuit, either at the linguistic or cultural level.

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In the News
Literature
Reading In Canadian
canlit-is-sexy-header

January is so often bad news, and the news of M&S’s absorption into Random House dimmed the fugitive light that much more for many readers interested in Canadian literature. But one aficionado’s “misguided” response to the news has captivated the Canadian googling public this week:  Read More