Welcome to the beginning of Canada 150
National Post, 6 January 2017
I began the New Year on the West Coast thinking about the East Coast. My thoughts were with the people on the island of Ramea, a speck off the southern coast of Newfoundland
VICTORIA, B.C. – I began the New Year on the West Coast thinking about the East Coast. On Vancouver Island, which is about the size of the state of Israel, my thoughts were with the people on the island of Ramea, a tiny speck off the southern coast of Newfoundland. A massive storm before Christmas had brought ocean water into their reservoir, threatening the supply of drinking water. A state of emergency was declared, and it caught my eye on the CBC because I visited there last year. It provoked this thought: What is it that unites people nearly 5,000 kilometres apart as the crow flies? Why is Ramea national news? What is that nation? My Christmas reading, in anticipation of the Canada’s sesquicentennial year, had made me inclined to think of such questions.
Charlotte Gray’s The Promise of Canada is one of the first of the Canada 150 books to hit the market, released in the fall. A gifted biographer in her adopted country, she has produced a marvellous read that will make Canadians more proud of our distinctive history. And she certainly has a distinctive way of telling it. I was not surprised that she chose to present the history of Canada as a series of biographical sketches. She chose not to choose the obvious figures — the prime ministers — and instead chose major events and presented them biographically. So we have Confederation and the railway (Georges-Étienne Cartier), the Mounties (Sam Steele), the vastness of the west (Emily Carr), the fur trade (Harold Innis), medicare (Tommy Douglas), the charter (Bertha Wilson), aboriginal issues (Elijah Harper) and CanLit (Margaret Atwood). It is an excruciatingly curated — as the word is now employed — world view from Ottawa. She even quotes newsman Craig Oliver, who has never in his long decades whispered a word dissenting from the official Ottawa consensus.
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