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Monday, June 28, 2010

Canada A Portrait


July 1 is also Canada Day; also in July, I complete two years in Canada.

Here’s a passage from
Canada A Portrait describing the glory of the land.

“As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario. In the splendid autumn sunshine the bounty of the land is almost overwhelming as if it is the manifestation of a poem by Keats.”

In these opening lines from his fine novel
No Great Mischief, the Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod illuminates the splendour of a Canadian season and the richness of the Ontario countryside. MacLeod, who hails from Cape Breton, believes “you carry a landscape within you” and the truth of his ringing statement is at the heart of Canada’s story. That story begins with the land, and within every Canadian, new and old, is an appreciation of it, based on their experience of this tough, glorious, vast northern landscape.

Alistair MacLeod is just one of a long line of writers who have articulated their experiences of Canada, the look of it and the rhythm of its seasons – seasons that change like a set in a history play.

“Wait a while; you know nothing of a Canadian winter,” a neighbour told Susanna Moodie in 1832, shortly after she had immigrated to Upper Canada, as Ontario was then known. “This is only November; after the Christmas thaw, you’ll know something about cold.” Moodie came to know the winters well, and wrote of them in a book whose title could be a bumper sticker for early Canadian immigrant history,
Roughing it in the Bush.

Almost two centuries and one season later, Sharon Butala of southern Saskatchewan wrote, in
The Perfection of the Morning,

“On a warm spring day riding a horse, walking or travelling in a truck across true shortgrass prairie that had never known a plow in all its history since the glaciers, I thought I had never smelled anything so wonderful in all my life...” After the prelude of spring comes the season when, according to Nova Scotian poet George Elliot Clarke, the fields are “maddened, by chlorophyll” and we can “stray outside, bumble around a geyser of raspberries that erupts crooked from black soil.”

(Canada A Portrait Editor-in-Chief, Jonina Wood; published in 2002 by Ministry of Industry, Statistics Canada; all images from the book)

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