Friday, August 29, 2008

What would you tell someone to read about Canadian History?

I went downtown yesterday to meet Australians Study Abroad, a cultural tour group here in Canada from Oz and keen for an orientation to Canadian history. By tour bus and cruise ship, they will be travelling from Toronto via Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia before wrapping up in Boston. I confess I envy them their cruise down the St. Lawrence and into the Gulf.

How do you introduce Canadian history in an hour to non-historian, non-Canadian, interested visitors? Fortunately this was one of those ideal audiences: interested, knowledgeable, full of questions. The organizers, taking their cultural-tourism mandate seriously, had given every traveller a copy of The Illustrated History of Canada. I floated a few ideas and we had a lively enthusiastic discussion. No Australian can miss finding contrasts and comparisons in Canadian experience.

I thought I would leave them with a short list of some representative works in Canadian history. Not that I was expecting anyone to read them all (or even any), just to give some sense of what Canadians have written, scholarly, literary, popular, about our history. Amazing how tough it was. Anywhere, here's a dozen I settled on.

A Dozen Books about the History of Canada selected by Christopher Moore

An alternate Survey History (ie, in addition to the Illustrated History):
Janet Lunn, Christopher Moore, Alan Daniel, The Story of Canada
A history of Canada for kids (readability: popular)

Social History/ Haute Gossip:
Sandra Gwyn, The Private Capital: Ambition and Love in the Age of Macdonald and LaurierBeautifully written account of Victorian/Edwardian Ottawa insiders (readability: literary)

First World War:
David Macfarlane, The Danger Tree.
Newfoundlanders go to the Western Front (readability: literary)

The North:
Pierre Berton, The Arctic Grail
North-west Passage and North Pole by the most popular, most prolific writer of Canadian history (readability: popular)

Military History:
C.P. Stacey, Quebec 1759: The Siege and the Battle.
Canada’s official war historian indulging a hobby (readability: serious/popular)

Aboriginal History:
Bruce Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660
Very heavy going, but powerful on the complexity of pre-European North America (readability: very serious)

Recent Biography:
Richard Gwyn, John A: The Man Who Made Us
Lively recent bio on the first prime minister, by a journalist (and husband of Sandra Gwyn above). (Readability: popular)

Women/Micro-history/British Columbia
Jean Barman, Sojourning Sisters
Two Presbyterian spinsters from rural Nova Scotia go to teach in backwoods British Columbia in the 1880s; based on their letters home. (readability: serious)

John Duffy, Fights of Our Lives
A backroom politico analyses Canadian electoral history through sports metaphors (readability: serious/popular)

Graphic Novel:
Chester Brown, Louis Riel
A comic-book history of the western M├ętis people (readability: popular)

The Beaver: Canada’s History Magazine
(readability: popular)

Some Canadian History Online: The Canadian Encyclopedia The Dictionary of Canadian Biography The Historica Foundation Library and Archives Canada
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