[To read the introduction and first fifty selections of this feature, published in our January/February 2006 issue, click here.]
51. Fifth Business (1970)
by Robertson Davies
Rich, wolfish, charming Boy Staunton throws a snowball with a stone in it at his pal Dunstan Ramsay on the streets of Deptford, a small Ontario town. Like the chaos theory butterfly whose wingbeat ultimately triggers tornadoes, so is this snowball, which hurtles on to fell a pregnant woman and cause madness and a premature birth that create saints, sinners, magicians and suicides. Fifth Business also created an international reputation for Davies, and ultimately led to comparisons with Thomas Mann and Charles Dickens and talk of a Nobel Prize for literature. But its most significant impact, and that of the other two volumes of the Deptford trilogy, was the realization that one could be struck by grotesqueries and grandeur even in small-town Anglo Canada.
52. Gentlemen, Players and Politicians (1970)
by Dalton Camp
This is surely one of the most charming and most perceptive memoirs written on Canadian politics. Camp redeems a dismal though very popular genre. He is light, modest, amusing, penetrating. His account of the Tory campaign in the 1953 federal election (disastrous for them but lucky for the country) is a classic on how Canadian elections were actually run in mid century, and will endure long after the worthy, oh so worthy, books by Meisel and Regenstreif are consigned to the inaccessible stacks. The very great pity is that Camp never wrote a second volume.
53. Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada (1970)
by Kari Levitt
In the tumultuous times of the 1960s and ’70s, this book took Canada—and especially college campuses—by storm. It explained better than anyone has before or since the power of multinational corporations in this country, notably their ability to get access to Canadian resources on their terms. Levitt has proven prophetic on Canada’s fate: North American economic integration (through free trade agreements) accompanied by Canadian political disintegration (Quebec’s nationalism and Alberta’s petro-provincialism). It helped inspire Canadian concern about foreign ownership, which led to a spate of new Trudeau-era policies. The spirit of Levitt’s writing lives on in the national movement against corporate globalization and “deep integration” with the U.S. economy.
54. The Blacks in Canada: A History (1971)
by Robin Winks
This pioneering historical study details the diverse experiences of black immigrants to Canada, including slaves brought to Nova Scotia and the Canadas by Loyalists at the end of the American Revolution, refugees who fled to Nova Scotia following the War of 1812, and Jamaican Maroons and fugitive slaves who escaped to British North America. Winks also looks at the black West Coast businessmen who helped found British Columbia (particularly Victoria), and black settlements in the prairie provinces. The Blacks in Canada deserves recognition as a landmark in the historiography of the African Canadian experience.
55. The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (1971)
by Northrop Frye
This eloquent exploration of the Canadian imagination gave much-needed veracity to the poets and writers of the 1960s and 1970s, when Canadian literature was just beginning to be taught at universities. Frye is articulate and challenging and provocative even when you don’t entirely agree with him. He gave us the language to talk about ourselves and concepts such as the “garrison mentality” that became part of our national consciousness. His observations on the isolation of the creative mind in Canada made our writers see themselves in new ways. He told us our ideas mattered.
56. Lives of Girls and Women (1971)
by Alice Munro
This remarkable and complex narrative explores the lives of girls growing to adulthood in southern Ontario. It honestly catches the fragility and the tenacity of Canadian women’s lives beginning in the post-war period, when parochial Protestant values and prohibitions still exerted much force but were giving way to middle class success. Lives of Girls and Women exemplifies Munro’s approach to crafting “stories”—a genre somewhere between short fiction and novella. They evoke a detailed sense of Ontario places and celebrate the extraordinary in their inhabitants’ experiences, mythologizing the everyday. By persuading women to take their personal and sexual lives seriously, to ceaselessly reinvent their own stories, Munro helped shape the Canadian cultural tradition. In particular, she strongly influenced younger women writers such as Jane Urquhart and Janice Kulyk Keefer.
57. Paul Kane’s Frontier (1971)
by J. Russell Harper
Harper’s massive and scholarly tome on Paul Kane (1810–71) is a triple-crown winner: it combines a thorough study of the artist’s work and career, a catalogue of all his known works (the first for any Canadian artist), and the full text of Kane’s Wanderings of an Artist (1851) describing his three-year passage (1845–48) across the West, itself a major text by any Canadian painter. Kane’s chief aim was to document, before their assumed disappearance, the numerous Indian tribes—their people, customs, dress and rituals—which he did with panache and great fidelity. Harper’s achievement set the standard for works on other Canadian artists.
58. Red Lights on the Prairies (1971)
by James H. Gray
Red Lights marked an important step in bringing Canada’s untold social history to public attention: as well as being a serious sociological study, Gray’s book was entertaining. It dispelled the prevalent academic myth that the West had been settled by upstanding Bible-reading settlers, and demonstrated convincingly that the settlement years were, in fact, the raunchiest period in the history of the Prairie provinces—a time when the proliferation of officially sanctioned brothels “stirred the guardians of public morality to outraged protest.” Along with considerable domestic success, Red Lights sold an unprecedented 30,000 copies in the United States. Ultimately, Gray showed the book-buying public that the early Canadian West—while tamer than the American frontier—had a colour and a flavour all its own.
59. La Sagouine (1971)
by Antonine Maillet
The plays of Molière and Shakespeare set the stage for the French and English literary traditions. La Sagouine does the same for Acadian literature. It is extraordinary in both setting and content: there is nothing on the stage but an old washerwoman with her pail and mop, no drama but her thoughts on life, marriage, death, priests—all brought to life on stage by Viola Léger, in a voice Acadians recognized as their own. The play’s fatalism, humour, gritty realism and rich language made it an immediate, immense hit in both Canada and Europe. With La Sagouine, the Acadian people stepped out of the boat and into the world.
60. The Last Spike (1972)
by Pierre Berton
If the notion of distinguishing a Canadian consciousness from an American one retains any currency, a psychology-test question could seek a reaction to the words “the last spike.” With his book of that title, Berton drove the phrase deep into the national psyche. Elaborating on the Laurentian thesis of Donald Creighton and Harold Innis, Berton created a vivid epic of how Canada was forged into a single nation by the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway—a saga that culminated in an historic moment on November 7, 1885, with the driving of a symbolic “last spike.” Along with its companion volume, The National Dream, this book—and the CBC-TV series it spawned—transformed the idea of “Canada” in the popular imagination.
61. Leaving Home (1972)
by David French
Leaving Home, if not the fons et origo of that alltoo- familiar Canadian trope, the displaced family, is its archetypal dramatic expression. It influenced English Canadian drama for two decades much in the manner that The Waste Land influenced English poetry in the two decades before World War Two. Dealing in an earnest, naturalistic manner with the travails of a displaced Newfoundland family, it imbued a specifically Canadian ambiance with a sense of high seriousness, a recognition that attention must be paid. It also underlined, and indeed helped to foster, some of the most consistent themes in 1970s Canadian playwriting—a decade of explosive creativity whose influence has, for good or bad, continued to influence what is recognizably distinctive Canadian drama.
62. Survival (1972)
by Margaret Atwood
If American culture has The Frontier at its core and British culture The Island, then Canada’s informing symbol is Survival—against weather and wilderness to begin with, later against foreign influences and the chaos of too much freedom. This book is so important because it nailed the relationship between wilderness, Canadians and myths. Even if it seems out of date now, with its Victim Positions One through Four and chapters on wounded animals and failed artists, it was necessary for Canadian readers to examine these themes of wilderness and survival so that we could move on to establishing some comfort with urban and many-cultured settings in our literature.
63. Howie Meeker’s Hockey Basics (1973)
by Howie Meeker
Meeker’s book was hugely influential in shaping the way Canadians play hockey today. A former NHL player, Meeker was a commentator for Hockey Night in Canada in the early 1970s—a sort of anti–Don Cherry who decried the goonery in the game and the lack of basic playing skills. When Meeker was a commentator for the 1972 summit series with the Soviets, his arguments were borne out when the best hot-dog talent in the NHL very nearly lost to a disciplined Russian team. The shock prompted a searching reappraisal of how hockey was taught to youngsters, and Meeker’s book, written in the aftermath of the 1972 series, became the blueprint for how to do so.
64. The Temptations of Big Bear (1973)
by Rudy Wiebe
Novel, epic, tragedy and revisionist history combine in this work of fiction to become a landmark in the Canadian consciousness. Juxtaposing the historical (white) records with imaginative recreations of Cree viewpoints and experience, it reinterprets the story of Big Bear, the Plains Cree chief who opposed the signing of the Indian treaties. Wiebe’s Mennonite background enabled him to respond to the Native people’s understanding of the relationship of human beings to the land with full empathy, and to record the inevitable clash between political power and religious vision. This is a stylistically challenging book that transforms a uniquely Canadian story into art.
65. Ten Lost Years: 1929–1939 (1973)
by Barry Broadfoot
People tell their stories. You tape them and turn them into a book. That was the simple formula that produced volume after volume of oral history for newspaperman Barry Broadfoot. It started with Ten Lost Years, for which Broadfoot crisscrossed Canada recording accounts of the Depression from the people who lived through it. Many of those accounts are about hardship and cruelty, but there is also love and joy; the Dirty Thirties had their moments. By themselves the tales—told in a fast-vanishing diction and idiom—are exquisite vignettes. Taken together they constitute a literary epic: the collective testament of a resourceful, resilient people.
66. Alligator Pie (1974)
by Dennis Lee
Here is the book that put Canadian children’s literature on the map. No more British or American imports, no more Anne of Green Gables. We could produce our own contemporary writers and send them across the country to read to thousands of excited children—all of this long before Harry Potter. And what excitement this book brought, with its visceral sounds and catchy rhythms. Things squished and popped and wiggled, the very words conveying the messy feelings of childhood. No wonder adults who grew up on this book love to read it to their own children.
67. The Siren Years: A Canadian Diplomat Abroad (1974)
by Charles Ritchie
This is Ritchie’s account, in the form of a diary, of appeasement and the Blitz as seen by a young but very sophisticated Canadian diplomat. Ritchie catches better than anybody else scenes that do not often appear in the “heroic” accounts of World War Two: the panic that swept London when France fell, and the frantic manoeuvrings to secure passage across the Atlantic via the Canadian High Commission, where Ritchie was serving. Ritchie’s book is a contribution—not just a “worthy Canadian contribution,” that death knell—to what we should know about World War Two. And witty to boot.
68. Bear (1976)
by Marian Engel
The concept was audacious and many considered the novel pornographic, but Engel’s romance about a lonely and randy archivist named Lou, who consummates a love affair with an ancient and shaggy bear, is a totem in Canadian literature. It won the Governor General’s literary award for fiction in 1976. The writing is spare, the metaphors are earthy, and the symbolic underpinnings are richly ironic. The unjustly obscure Engel, who died of cancer in 1985 at the age of 51, was well versed in the tropes of Canadian literature. She brings that knowledge to bear in a postmodern and highly readable novel that links the primeval spirit of the wilderness to erotic feminism and thereby links our largely male and colonial literary history to the flowering of women’s writing and cultural nationalism in the 1970s.
69. A Very Double Life: The Private World of Mackenzie King (1976)
by C.P. Stacey
In his lifetime, Mackenzie King was regarded as a wily politician, a prudent statesman and an asexual bore. Poring through King’s personal diaries after his death, Stacey revealed King’s obsessive pursuit of women, including prostitutes and other men’s wives, his peculiar adoration for Mother and his (male) dogs, and his habit of communicating with deceased “dear ones” and political celebrities through séances. A Very Double Life smashed the convention that a politician’s personal life was “private,” and it made Willie King a more attractive, if comic and frightening, human being. Stacey was right when he predicted in 1976 that King’s diary, “the most important single political document in twentieth-century Canadian history,” would fascinate researchers, among them novelists, poets and psychiatrists, for generations.
70. Duplessis (1976)
by Conrad Black
In this path-breaking biography, Canada’s best known plutocrat-cum-polemicist provides a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of an historical figure who for many English Canadians symbolizes the most regressive aspects of Quebec society before the Quiet Revolution. Written during the rise to power of the province’s first avowedly separatist party, the book showed how integral Duplessis was in shaping francophone Quebec’s still active search for “a middle ground between assimilation and separation, between utter docility and armed revolt.” In doing so, Black imbued the province’s political history with a sense of continuity— one that even the Québécois themselves too often overlook.
71. A New Athens (1977)
by Hugh Hood
This is the second novel in Hood’s twelve-volume series The New Age/Le nouveau siècle, the most ambitious fictional project ever attempted in Canada. It can be read, however, on its own without difficulty. Moreover, although the bilingual title of the series indicates locations in Ontario and Quebec, the language is always English. The Athens in question is Athens, Ontario, a small town near Brockville. The novel explores the nature of history in Canada (“How much past is past?”), and develops into a lucidly written, visionary narrative about the relation between art and life, and life and death.
72. The Wars (1977)
by Timothy Findley
Robert Ross, scion of a great Ontario manufacturing empire, heads off to World War One as a green young officer, encountering raw nature, sexual sophistication, human brutality, poison gas and flame throwers, and many beautiful horses along the way. His final act of “madness,” trying to save dozens of these cavalry steeds from deadly bombardment, plays out as an eloquent last song of civilization before the darkness of the 20th century descends. In this most compelling of Canada’s “war is hell” novels, Findley captures our loss of innocence and coming of age with subtlety, compassion and impressive craft.
73. Obasan (1981)
by Joy Kogawa
After Pearl Harbour, Canadian-born Naomi Nakane and her immigrant Japanese relatives are stripped of their property and dignity, sent to internment camps, then relocated to ghost towns in the British Columbia interior. The finely written story unfolds bit by bit, as the adult Naomi uncovers the traumatic experience of persecution and its effects. While Shizuye Takashima’s memoir A Child in Prison Camp (1971) was probably the first book to describe Canada’s internment of 18,000 of its own citizens, Kogawa’s novel nevertheless created an unprecedented awareness of their story. Using memories, letters and actual documents, her work affected readers deeply and left them ashamed. Reading it has stiffened many ordinary Canadians’ resistance to government acts that would make us again “the country that plucks people out like weeds and flings them into the roadside.”
74. None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933–1948 (1982)
by Irving Abella and Harold Troper
In 1982, Canadians were accustomed to thinking of themselves as compassionate providers of sanctuary to refugees. Abella and Troper’s study of our behaviour during World War Two forced a reckoning of the Canadian conscience and policy, however, by revealing that we had the worst record in the world for accepting Jews from Hitler’s Europe. Between 1938 and 1945, when the Canadian government knew of Hitler’s extermination plan, only 500 Jews were admitted. Civil servants and politicians—including Mackenzie King and Vincent Massey—consciously clamped the doors shut. This book’s power was such that, even before its publication, a manuscript copy helped convince Ron Atkey, Minister of Employment and Immigration in Joe Clark’s government, to grant 50,000 “boat people” asylum in Canada in 1979, during the Southeast Asian refugee crisis.
75. Radical Tories: The Conservative Tradition in Canada (1982)
by Charles Taylor
This book looks like a simple series of journalistic sketches of notable Canadians such as Donald Creighton, George Grant, Stephen Leacock and Robert Stanfield. It begins as one man’s journey to the roots of Canada’s conservative tradition, but Radical Tories ends up as a lucid recipe for conservatives of any era. Take John A. Macdonald’s support for a strong central government, add a little of John Diefenbaker’s wariness of Washington’s continental hegemony, a dash of Eugene Forsey’s civil liberties and even a sprinkle of Al Purdy’s respect for the land, and you have the radical, or “Red,” Tory formula most to the taste of the modern Canadian nation. Governments, generally Liberal, may come and go, but these conservative values endure and, 25 years after it first appeared, so does Taylor’s trenchant analysis.
76. Banting: A Biography (1984)
by Michael Bliss
Surely insulin is one of Canada’s greatest contributions to the world. We still regard Frederick Banting, the physician and scientist credited with its discovery, as one of our national heroes. Reputations are not always founded on the facts, however, and medical historian Bliss provides a detailed and accurate explanation of how insulin was discovered by a team that included Banting, but he came to receive the bulk of the credit for it. In realistically conveying the palpable sense of a complex man struggling with his private demons, Banting shows us that nobody—including Canada’s first Nobel Prize winner—is worthy of hero worship.
77. Neuromancer (1984)
by William Gibson
With more than 6.5 million copies sold, this novel introduced Gibson’s vision of a noir future to readers worldwide. It follows a burned-out hacker named Case through the Sprawl, a dystopic latecapitalist megacity, and into the layered conspiracies of a rebel artificial intelligence. Neuromancer showcased Gibson’s keen technological imagination; it popularized the term “cyberspace,” for example, which he invented. Blasé descriptions of cybernetic implants, genetic tinkering and electronically archived personalities also called into question what it means to be human once technology can casually remake our “meat”—or simply leave it obsolete. The template for an entire genre of cyberpunk science fiction, Neuromancer has had a pervasive influence on popular culture that is visible everywhere, from drum-and-bass music to films like The Matrix.
78. The Canadian Encyclopedia (1985)
The Canadian Encyclopedia was an audacious undertaking by a private company to produce a reference book that was readable, accurate and informative. There was nothing else like it either in this country or about this country in the days before the Internet. It provided enough information in more than 8,000 entries to settle dinner table disputes; it whetted the interests of students who wanted to know more about the country they called home; and it provided quick background facts for countless journalists, essayists and academics straining against deadlines.
79. The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
by Margaret Atwood
In Atwood’s famous dystopia, a rigid, white-male, fundamentalist, theocratic junta rule over Gilead, a territory formerly known as Maine. A large majority of the female population is sterile, and fertile women are forced into surrogate motherhood as “handmaids” to privileged but barren couples. Precisely because surrogate motherhood does not involve new technologies but still results in a world in which people and their most intimate relationships are grossly dehumanized, the novel sounds powerful warnings about similar—but massively augmented—risks from the new techno-sciences. Atwood captures both the horror of such a future and the power of the human spirit to break through the tiny cracks that can open up even in an environment of total repression.
80. Report on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada (1985)
by Macdonald Commission
We live in an era of free trade agreements. But we tend to forget that in Canada, acceptance of free trade meant reversing more than a hundred years of economic policy. A radical transformation had to take place in the body politic before it could become the cornerstone of Canada’s development strategy. This came about largely as a consequence of the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Canada’s Development Prospects (the 1985 Macdonald Royal Commission) whose signature recommendation inspired a bold “leap of faith” into free trade with the United States. The Commission’s significance—and that of its report—as an agent of transformative change cannot be overstated in launching Canada on this process of “continentalization.”
81. Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (1989)
by Modris Eksteins
Approaching early 20th-century history in the same spirit as that era’s painters and composers, Eksteins wrote a fractured, multifaceted vision of creative deconstruction and destruction. The book begins with the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, a ballet about pagan human sacrifice, and ends with fox-trotting Nazis in Hitler’s bunker. The first and final images are linked, says Eksteins: National Socialism was modernism’s mutant child, “irrationalism crossed with technicism.” The power of this book is not only its thesis but also Eksteins’s sometimes dazzlingly avant-garde presentation. It has appeared on curriculums across the continent, been cited as an influence by screen actors and moviemakers, quoted in publications from American Music to the British Journal of Psychology, and its author has been hailed across the Englishspeaking world as a major cultural historian.
82. Solomon Gursky Was Here (1989)
by Mordecai Richler
Pungent aromas introduce this story: a murdered pet raven, rangy sleigh dogs, a charismatic Jew and fish. Richler takes a sweeping ride across the entire geography of Canada in this novel, stopping at unmentionable thinly disguised outposts, from anti-Semitism to unbridled capitalism to twofaced politicians and a brilliant hard-drinking son, badly loved by a jealous father. This is a novel with the epic grace and psychological complexity of a Bertolucci movie, one that shows the original, and less original, peoples of this nation jockeying for position. Until I read this book, I had not quite felt that I lived in a real place. Since then, I have never relinquished that sense of belonging. Solomon Gursky was here, and so are we all.
83. Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing (1989)
by Tomson Highway
Playwright Highway uses a form borrowed from western culture to give eloquent voice to the aboriginal experience. The location is once more Wasaychigan, the imagined reserve of The Rez Sisters, but the mood is much bleaker. Seven Cree men, through violent acts or escape into alcoholic oblivion, live the nightmare of cultural loss. By assuming the comically exaggerated shapes of Wasaychigan’s various women, however, the trickster Nanabush offers hope of transformation: Dry Lips closes with the resonantly optimistic image of one of the men, Zachary, playing with his laughing, beautiful and naked baby. As the first major theatrical production in Canada of work by an aboriginal author, the play’s critically acclaimed 1989 run at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre was a national cultural breakthrough.
84. Trudeau and Our Times: The Heroic Delusion (1990) and The Magnificent Obsession (1994)
by Stephen Clarkson and Christina McCall
“He haunts us still” is the best opening sentence in Canadian letters. Trudeau and Our Times builds on this insight to create a compelling biography of a compelling prime minister. It was Lytton Strachey who first made biography art: the four lives examined in his landmark Eminent Victorians capture the contours of an age. So too with Trudeau and Our Times. Using interviews from hundreds of associates (many now passed away), the two volumes sketch a portrait of late 20th-century Canada through the lens of a dominant personality. McCall and Clarkson wrote the indispensable source on the last century’s most intriguing Canadian.
85. The Malaise of Modernity (1991)
by Charles Taylor
What appears to be a gentle disquisition on authenticity, delivered as the 1991 Massey Lectures, is in fact a sizzling jeremiad. Taylor, professor emeritus at McGill and one of the eminent political philosophers of our age, points out how our preoccupation with self-fulfillment on the one hand and technical efficiency on the other has produced a moral neutrality and political apathy that have brought us to the brink. Only if we recognize that individualism is a concept with abiding responsibilities—to history, community and nature—is there hope. Fifteen years after Taylor’s widely applauded sermon, the crisis of civil society continues, and his mordant analysis remains painfully pertinent.
86. Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism (1993)
by Michael Ignatieff
On one level this is simply a series of well-written reportages of insurgent nationalism in the Balkans, Germany, Ukraine, Quebec, Kurdistan and Northern Ireland by a journalist with a keen and probing mind. But appearing as it did just shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was a book that redefined world affairs for a popular readership, declaring—and this felt new at the time—that “the key language for our age is ethnic nationalism.” From a Canadian perspective, the inclusion of Quebec along with other much bloodier conflicts both shocked Anglo-Canadians and led them to a deeper understanding of Québécois aspirations.
87. Green Grass, Running Water (1993)
by Thomas King
No writer of this generation has so competently and enjoyably created such a potent mixture of traditional Native narrative with a postmodernistic style. While part of the book follows the lives of five Blackfoot Indians in Blossom, Alberta, their everyday stories are interwoven with more fantastic voices—the trickster Coyote’s interruptions, for example, or a retelling of Genesis with extra-crispy fried chicken. This book, so complex yet so simple, is extremely well written. It has managed to become a favourite of both academics and the average reader, which is not easy to do.
Drew Hayden Taylor
88. The Stone Diaries (1993)
by Carol Shields
Shields’s masterwork won the Pulitzer and Governor General’s awards, was nominated for the Booker, but should be read and reread for its exquisite fabric of 20th-century domestic and social life. Its most ordinary heroine, Daisy Cuyler Goodwill, merely aspired to the womanly arts of home and garden according to contemporary dictates of taste and etiquette. From the elaborate family tree, drawn like a lace curtain at the beginning, through clutches of clippings, recipes, letters and even must-do lists at the end, Shields builds a monument to the trajectory of life for white, waspish, pre-feminist, middle-class women. Every chapter is a virtuoso turn. What could be viciously satirical is drenched in compassion, drawn with a fine brush on the smallest bit of ivory.
Marian Botsford Fraser
89. A Fine Balance (1995)
by Rohinton Mistry
A Fine Balance would certainly place Mistry on any list of Canada’s best writers, but its influence goes beyond its quality. This tragic story of four mismatched Parsis sharing a home in Mumbai during the violence of the 1970s Emergency was far from being the first Canadian novel about another country. But it achieved an unprecedented level of critical and particularly popular success. Mistry was already well known to Canadian and British readers of serious fiction, but A Fine Balance lifted him to an entirely different plane of celebrity, thanks to the Oprah Book Club. This was the book that transformed, at home and abroad, the general public’s sense of Canadian fiction. Goodbye Survival; hello multiculturalism.
90. The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation (1995)
by Charles Hill
This catalogue commemorates the 75th anniversary of the founding of a nationalistic movement that dominated Canada’s art scene for most of the last century. Hill’s exhibition and book focus on the actual span during which the Group existed formally (1920–1933), held eight exhibitions and grew in number to ten, before disbanding to make way for others. His detailed research is thorough and judicious, well illustrated and sufficiently objective to dispel some of the exaggerated—and unnecessary— myths that have clung to the Group through the years.
91. The Jade Peony (1995)
by Wayson Choy
“In Gold Mountain, simple is best,” is a saying repeated often in this novel. But the mantra (using the colloquial Chinese expression for North America) sets an impossible standard for three young siblings in Vancouver’s Chinatown during the 1930s and early ’40s. Immersed in Old World myths and unspoken hierarchies, each reacts differently to the cultural complexities beyond their protective bubble. Choy’s finely modulated treatment of the ways we adapt to cultural loss centres on the experience of one of the first waves of non- European settlement in modern-day Canada. But it evokes the challenges faced by all immigrants to this country, as they grapple with the undeniable magnetism and hidden dangers of Gold Mountain.
92. Nationalism Without Walls: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Canadian (1995)
by Richard Gwyn
Gwyn argues that English Canada must defend itself against the ideology of globalism by recalling the British-based values on which it was founded. To do this, multiculturalism must be superseded by “a nationalism without walls,” in which all English speakers work to create a strong English Canadian identity. These are bold claims: many historians believe that the ideology of British imperialism actually delayed and weakened the emergence of an English Canadian identity, while recent events have demonstrated that Quebec nationalism can not be managed as easily as Gwyn assumes. Nonetheless, the book continues to speak powerfully to English Canada’s yearning for a “normal” sense of national belonging.
93. The Unconscious Civilization (1995)
by John Ralston Saul
In earlier works such as Voltaire’s Bastards and The Doubter’s Companion, Saul elaborated a sweeping critique of modern western society; in particular, he bitingly dismissed the utopian promises of worldwide economic liberalization as a dangerous illusion, camouflage for the ruling elite’s retreat from political leadership to technocratic management. The Unconscious Civilization is a powerful distillate of these writings. Based on his 1995 Massey Lectures, the slim polemic not only won the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction but also topped the national best-seller list. This success created a new awareness of Saul’s humanist vision— the Canadian edition of Time later dubbed him a “prophet”—and gave popular intellectual support to a growing anti-globalization movement.
94. Yankee Go Home? Canadians and Anti-Americanism (1996)
by J.L. Granatstein
For 200 years, anti-Americanism served as the leitmotif of English Canadian national pride. So argued Granatstein in his lively history of the ways in which Canadians have suspected, distrusted and often detested their behemoth neighbours. Between Confederation and the 1990s, no decade was untouched by this phenomenon, and at least four national elections were defined by it. Writing in the mid 1990s, Granatstein concluded that anti- Americanism was all but dead. If the letters pages of our newspapers since September 11 suggest that this judgement was premature, his book nonetheless continues to provide a clear window onto an essential element of the Canadian soul.
95. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (1998)
by Wayne Johnston
This book’s lyrical name—is it not the best Canadian title ever?—catches the sadness of Johnston’s novel about 20th-century Newfoundland when the British colony, while aching for glorious nationhood, was on the road to becoming a mere province. Johnston describes the real-life Joey Smallwood as a puny, poor, beaten-upon child who becomes a small but tightly wound, ambitious adult—and ultimately ushers Newfoundland into Confederation. Sheilagh Fielding is the fictional object of his passions, an alcoholic, funny, suffering newspaperwoman. While her work on a condensed history of Newfoundland helpfully gives ill-informed mainland readers an historical anchor, Fielding herself is as real and permanent a Canadian character as Duddy Kravitz. As in Johnston’s other fictions, she adds emotional heft to the facts, so that they stick to the ribs and, paradoxically, ring more true.
96. A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986 (1999)
by John Milloy
Based largely on unprecedented access to federal and church archives, A National Crime provides documented proof of the rampant racism, forced assimilation policies, and physical and sexual abuse endured by thousands of Native children in Canada’s system of residential schools—which operated for more than a hundred years. Milloy’s book ended long-standing debate as to whether First Nations accusations of abuse in the residential schools were legitimate. His research also led to an unprecedented “Statement of Reconciliation” (no colonial government has ever taken such measures toward a colonized indigenous people) by Jane Stewart, then Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, in January of 1998 and the establishment of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation with a $350 million grant. This book changed the misconceptions of a nation.
97. No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (1999)
by Naomi Klein
No Logo is a 500-page gripe about brands—specifically, about their growing presence in everyday life. It’s not the kind of stuff that usually captures the imagination of those outside advertising agencies, but this book unquestionably struck a chord. Condemning the poor working conditions behind slick marketing campaigns, it became the manifesto of the anti-globalization movement and got under the skin of the corporate world. It provoked a response from Nike—a highly unusual event in itself—and spurred The Economist to publish a rebuttal, featured on its front cover in September 2001. And, in the process, it became a global brand in its own right, with a loyal following: check out
98. Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History (2000)
by Erna Paris
Long Shadows looks at the way nations remember or choose not to remember their history. Although not specifically about Canada, the book raises issues of morality, justice and remembrance directly relevant to our country. It speaks to Chinese Canadians who are struggling for an official acknowledgement from Japan of war crimes, for example, and equally to those people trying to resolve Canada’s difficult history of aboriginal residential schools. Beyond the two radio documentaries based on Long Shadows that I produced for CBC Radio’s “Ideas,” the book has won many prizes and been honoured, in the words of one jury, as “a magisterial, yet highly readable, book of true and lasting importance.”
99. Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values (2003)
by Michael Adams
Fire and Ice essentially argues from polling research that Canada and America’s cultural values are diverging, despite increased economic integration. This thesis is especially attractive to English-speaking Canadians because it offers objective evidence that perfectly supports our deep need to feel that our society is different from America. Adams does infer too much from too little, substituting one narrow bandwidth of the values spectrum for wider claims about national divergences. However, he rightfully discerned Canada-U.S. differences in attitudes about family, gender, morality and religion that have, by 2006, become simply too large to ignore. Fire and Ice likewise revived professional research on, and stimulated public interest in, comparative values as a way to foretell the political future of North America.
100. Dark Age Ahead (2004)
by Jane Jacobs
With her last book, Jacobs moved from restrained optimism (Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961) to passionate pessimism, while shifting her focus more explicitly to her adopted homeland. Perhaps this latter shift explains the book’s particular resonance within Canada. Or maybe Canadians were simply ready to consider Jacobs’s warnings of societal collapse. Whatever the reason, Dark Age’s popularity reveals something about the self-satisfied mood now found in this country: beneath the celebration of distinct national values lies a fear that such rhetoric will soon prove hollow. If so, Canadians will find themselves returning to Jacobs’s incisive reminders of past accomplishments squandered and future promise unfulfilled.
Download “The LRC 100: Canada’s Most Important Books” in PDF format HERE.
Download “The LRC 100: Canada’s Most Important Books” in PDF format HERE.