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From the archives

The Other Side of “Irish Eyes”

Brian Mulroney abroad and at home

The Ramble

Memories from the PMO

Vintage Years

Two political memoirs

Kyle Wyatt

Kyle Wyatt is the editor-in-chief of the Literary Review of Canada.

Articles by
Kyle Wyatt

Errata

An error nobody could miss March 2024
Back in November, a real estate developer in New York purchased a single twenty-four-cent stamp for $2 million (U.S.). Issued by the United States Post Office in May 1918, the design places a red frame around a blue Curtiss JN-4, a First World War training aircraft that the postal service had just started using to deliver…

Debatable Material

A century after they gathered January | February 2024
Charles Dickens was addressing a small fictional child when he wrote, “It is a trite observation, and one which, young as you are, I have no doubt you have often heard repeated, that we have fallen upon strange times, and live in days of constant shiftings and changes.” Surely all of us — no matter our age — can relate to that sense of strangeness as we turn the last calendar page over once…

They Doth Protest

Of castles and capitulations December 2023
Gravensteen sits between two branches of the Lys, in the middle of the Belgian city of Ghent. Philip of Alsace, a crusader and the Count of Flanders, built the castle toward the end of the twelfth century, on the site of earlier fortifications going back to the time of Arnulf the Great. With a name that means “count’s stone” or “castle of the counts,” Gravensteen has all the expected trappings of a medieval citadel: a …

Grain Drain

Saskatchewan and the family farm December 2023
When naming new communities along its tracks, the Grand Trunk Railway kept things simple. As it moved west from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, the settlements would follow in alphabetical order: Arona, Bloom, Caye, Deer, Exira, Firdale, and so forth, all the way to Victor. In Saskatchewan, the Grand Trunk named its next three stations Welby,…

Fowl Lines

Speaking of speakers November 2023
Anthony Rota stepped down as Canada’s thirty-seventh Speaker of the House of Commons on September 27, for reasons pretty much the entire world knows. Between his unprecedented resignation and the election of Greg Fergus to take up that fancy oak and velvet chair, the electorate was treated to some familiar headlines. “Who Can Bring Back Commons Decency?” the Toronto Star asked on its front…

A Supposedly Fun Trip to Ohio

Loop-the-loops and other upheavals October 2023
If memory serves, I rode my first roller coaster sometime in the late 1990s on a trip to Oklahoma to visit my aunt and uncle. Bell’s Amusement Park was located on the Tulsa State Fairgrounds, with a large wooden coaster designed by John C. Allen as its main attraction. Zingo stood eighty-six feet high and featured trains that reached speeds up to forty-six miles per…

Ceremonial Matters

On King and country September 2023
William Lyon Mackenzie King was born in southwestern Ontario on December 17, 1874. In 1921, two weeks after his forty-seventh birthday, he became our tenth prime minister, eventually holding the office longer than any other. But King was not formally made a Canadian citizen until much later, on January 1, 1947. “I signed a letter acknowledging one from…

Smokes Person

The mascots and the message July | August 2023
Addressing his colleagues on the Northwest Territories Legislative Council in July 1960, Robert “Bobby” Porritt of Hay River took aim at “an unwelcome immigrant to Canada” who went by the name Smokey Bear. “Is the forestry division so short of funds, or so lacking in initiative that it has to adopt an American fire prevention program and has to use posters that come straight from government departments from across the border?”…

Face Value

Content and cancellation June 2023
Princess Elizabeth first appeared on a Canadian stamp on May 4, 1935, the same day that her father, the Duke of York, not yet the heir apparent, appeared on one of his own. Both stamps, part of a series of six to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of King George V’s ascension to the throne, were designed by Herman Herbert…

Sweep Stakes

The subtleties of geopolitics May 2023
Among the thousands of pieces on display at the Grand Palais as part of the 1961 Salon des Indépendants hung an oil painting by Madeleine Luka. In Les KK, an expressive Nikita Khrushchev sits in an inviting chair, sporting a green army shirt but no shoes (presumably because he had forgotten to put them back on at the United Nations the year…

Dissemble No More

Steven Heighton’s final collection May 2023
Edgar Allan Poe first published “The Tell-Tale Heart” in 1843, and despite the short story being 180 years old, it still grips our attention. We know from the opening line that the unnamed narrator has done something awful, and we know that he is desperate to somehow justify it: “True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and…

Gobblefunking

To tinker with an icon's prose April 2023
I was ten when the Big Friendly Giant sauntered into my life, along with James Henry Trotter, Charlie Bucket, Matilda Wormwood, and Danny, the champion of the world. I do not remember the order in which they arrived, but I do remember where I was when they did: Mr. Dickey’s grade 5 classroom. Hardly precocious, I had long struggled with…

Aggregate Score

To move forward and remember March 2023
Much of this issue of the magazine came together from a rented apartment in Buenos Aires, which I have visited almost annually since my first trip in 2011. Initially, I was drawn by curiosity — about the steak, the Malbec, and the gauchos. Beyond the existence of those three things, and some pseudo-political lessons gleaned from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita

Directions

To the corner of then and now March 2023
As she reflects on her own sense of place, Lauren Beck points to Tom Longboat Junior Public School, in Scarborough, Ontario. “His connection with the city of Scarborough remains unclear,” she writes, suggesting her alma mater is just another example of how, when it comes to the history of Canadian toponymy, Indigenous names have been “appropriated in ways that nativized the settler-colonizer.” This is an astonishing and surely disingenuous…

Shell Game

On moving too slow January | February 2023
Robinson Crusoe certainly has a rough time of it, and that’s even after the seventeenth-century castaway has “found a large tortoise or turtle” while exploring the back side of the Island of Despair. But find one he does, and soon he is feasting on the “hundreds of them” that roam the opposite beach — their eggs and their…

For All the Marbles

An iconic photograph turns fifty December 2022
As 1972 came to a close fifty years ago this month, so too did an era. “This issue of Life is the last of 1,864 issues,” Hedley Donovan, the long-time editor-in-chief of Time Incorporated, wrote in the December 29 edition of the iconic weekly magazine. “In part because of Life, we live in an age of pictures.” While the ninety-six pages of volume …

The Undersigned

On staying ahead of the curve November 2022
This spring, eighty-two students at New York University signed a petition against their organic chemistry professor, Maitland Jones Jr., who literally wrote the 1,300-page textbook on the notoriously difficult subject. “We are very concerned about our scores, and find that they are not an accurate reflection of the time and effort put into this class,” protested the…

It’s Your Nickel

A supplemental argument November 2022
In August 2001, the Omaha World-Herald opened a gleaming production facility, clad in glass so that downtown passersby could watch the miracle of 75,000 newspapers being printed and folded per hour. In September 2007, Toronto’s Globe and Mail joined Twitter, four months before the Toronto Star but six months after the Washington Post

Rumour Has It

A healthy correspondence October 2022
As regular readers know, more often than not, I assign books to outside reviewers rather than review them myself. But from time to time, I will take on a title, which is what I did in our June issue with Chad Reimer’s Deadly Neighbours: A Tale of Colonialism, Cattle Feuds, Murder and Vigilantes in the Far West

La moutarde me monte au nez

On the spice of life September 2022
In 1952, the very American-sounding French brand Frank’s Mister Mustard took out an unassuming ad in the pages of The New Yorker. “Try It Free!” the copy read. “Write name, address of your grocer; your name, address. We will send you a generous trial jar.” Years later, Will Smith starred in the blockbuster Men in Black

Without Great Seriousness

My tadpoles, my goldfish, and I July | August 2022
Nearly twenty years ago, not long before I headed north to make my home in Canada, I was named an admiral in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. The elaborately designed commission, which hangs framed on my office wall, puts me in charge of various “officers, seamen, tadpoles and goldfish,” who are commanded to obey any orders I might…

Stock Exchange

Trying to get our hands around it June 2022
This January, archeologists in northwest Spain credited a badger with digging up a stash of ancient coins, minted in faraway places like Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Lyons, and Rome. Around the same time, not to be outdone by a burrowing animal operating in the dark, an amateur sleuth with a metal detector found a Henry III gold penny on a farm near…

Plain Injustice

The murder of Louie Sam June 2022
Located in downtown Montgomery, not far from the Alabama State Capitol, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in April 2018, to honour thousands of victims of racially motivated lynchings. At the centre of the large hilltop site, 800 weathered steel columns fill the air, representing every individual county in the United States where a “racial terror lynching took place” between 1877 and…

With Such Precautions

Trying to put it behind us May 2022
Many of us worried that the pandemic would last a full two weeks, which seemed like an eternity back in 2020. To prepare, we stocked up on non-perishables and toilet paper. To stay safe, we wrapped playgrounds in caution tape and wiped down our deliveries. To keep in touch, we downloaded Zoom and enjoyed cocktails with our neighbours — from our own stoops or…

Imaginary Futures

Nothing will be like before April 2022
When protest, occupation, and civil unrest crippled a capital city and, to some extent, crippled a nation, Mavis Gallant began to chronicle the moment so that she might work out something of a “theory of siege psychosis.” She watched as confusing if not conflicting demands were made of a government many thought had lost its…

Editorial Restraints

On various conflicts of interest March 2022
Silvina Ocampo’s debut short story collection, Viaje olvidado (Forgotten Journey), came out in 1937. Her publisher was the book-making arm of Sur, the influential literary magazine — the same magazine that went on to trash the book when it hit the shelves. The reviewer commented on the “irritating ­mistakes” that filled Ocampo’s colloquial Argentine prose and described the imagery as “attacked by ­torticollis.” The reviewer was the editor of Sur

Those Lessons Many

All that we pick up in person January | February 2022
Years ago, on a stint in the world of corporate communications, I did some editorial work for a major pension plan. One brisk morning in January, I rode an elevator up a tower in downtown Toronto to kick off the project with several key executives. And although she would not be intimately involved with the details of the…

Metamessages

The reality of the situation December 2021
No doubt the best satirical reaction to Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that his company, Facebook, would henceforth be known as Meta came from the keyboard of Caroline Suzuki, who runs the Twitter account for ECW Press, the independent publisher in Toronto. “ECW Press is changing its name to Facebook now that it’s up for grabs,” she tweeted in late…

The Infernals

If they want to have a war, let it begin here December 2021
As a 2,000-pound cracked copper bell, hung high in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House, announced the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on a summer’s day in 1776, a battered army, “driven to the sad necessity of abandoning Canada,” trudged south toward Lake Champlain. Its retreat did not bode well for a nation a mere four days…

Waiting Game

When the chips are down November 2021
The seaport, Herman Melville reminds us in Moby-Dick, offers “safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities.” The ships that come and go may change, but the appetite for those offerings never subsides. Perhaps that’s why the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is spending $4 billion (U.S.) to acquire full ownership of Ports…

Foot in the Bucket

It's time to call the play October 2021
From time to time, no matter how entrenched and steeped in tradition they may be, the rules need to be updated or, at the very least, debated. Consider sports, where second looks happen for both the health of the athletes and the entertainment of the fans. In baseball, the powers that be banned the spitball after the Yankees pitcher Carl Mays struck Cleveland’s Ray Chapman in the head on August …

Connect Four

Linden MacIntyre’s new novel October 2021
Toward the end of The Winter Wives, the first-person narrator, Byron, finds himself in the middle of the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge. “The water, even from where I was standing, high above it, chilled me,” he confesses. “I could feel pressure in my bowels.” Is acrophobia the fear of plummeting from high places or the “irrational fear of the urge to jump,” as Byron has sometimes…

Down the Road

The challenge of changing gears September 2021
When my father was seventeen, he bought a used 1951 Chevrolet Styleline Deluxe, a three-speed coupe that was four years older than him. He paid a junkyard $35, which he earned over three days baling hay. I thought of my dad and his car — with a dashboard clock that he had to wind manually — as I fell into the pages of Thaddeus Holownia’s Headlighting: 19741978

Nor Any Drop to Drink

An astronomical problem July | August 2021
After the Swedish mystic and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg had visions of celestial worlds “in the universe beyond our solar system,” he wrote of an inhabited planet with a “trough that was supplied with water by a small ditch from a lake.” That was in 1758. More than a century later, in 1880, the British writer Percy Greg described an unnamed explorer who travelled to Mars aboard the Astronaut

Clippings

A little here and there June 2021
She sent me the stewed tomato and pappardelle recipe in the form of a sloppily photocopied clipping from the Wall Street Journal, which she annotated in her rather loopy handwriting, using pencil, of course. It was one of the countless recipes she passed along over the years. “She” being my grade 6 English…

Consider the Snark

Navigating the third wave without a map May 2021
When future historians tell the tale of this unending nightmare, they will have plenty of primary source material from which to draw. But to save themselves some trouble, those distant scribes might simply lift passages from The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll’s wonderful nonsense poem from 1876. On the constancy and conviction of Doug Ford or Jason Kenney or François…

Made of the Mist

Going behind the curtain May 2021
From time to time, something goes wrong with a taken-for-granted piece of infrastructure, and we remember the crucial, unheralded role it plays in our interconnected world. Perhaps, for example, we have forgotten that the Suez Canal carries 10 percent of global trade. But then the Ever Given gets stuck, with its 20,000 shipping containers full of…

The Roundup

On Canada's literary landscape April 2021
In 1980, the Beat writer William S. Burroughs gave a public reading at the Centennial Planetarium, in Calgary. Eight years later, another counterculture icon, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, attended a gala as part of the Olympic Writers Festival. In 2009, the humorist David Sedaris grabbed one of those famous milkshakes at Peters’ Drive-In. Spider-Man once attended the…

A Pronounced Problem

Hearing the stories closer to home March 2021
The CBC, the BBC, and NPR are all part of my daily radio diet, but I tend to indulge in more lighthearted fare early in the mornings, especially if I’m about to head out for a hard run. Grinding through fast kilometre repeats is just easier with a pop song stuck in my head than with the reality of the latest newscast settling in (that can wait until I’m back at my…

Shot in the Arm

Living in a time of crises January | February 2021
In To-morrow, dated August 1803, the Anglo-Irish writer Maria Edgeworth portrays a couple weighing the pros and cons of various preventive measures against smallpox. The wife, Lucy, wants to have her only son inoculated in the “common way,” by which she means variolation, a mild but (hopefully) preventive infection. Her husband, Basil, knows there’s something a little more cutting-edge out there: “I think we had better have him vaccined.”…

The Hole Truth

A metaphor for the year past December 2020
In his monumental work, A Display of Heraldry, first published in London in 1610, the antiquarian and officer of arms John Guillim wrote of a stone “that being once kindled and set on fire” will “never extinguish or goe out.” Such a stone possessed “admirable vertues . . . whereby strange and unwonted effects may be wrought.” Guillim thought this unusual…

American Judge

The normal is gone November 2020
Seventy years ago, Heinrich Cramer sailed into New York Harbor aboard SS American Judge and passed the Statue of Liberty. The twenty-seven-year-old ­former soldier of a defeated army then spent five weeks in limbo, on Ellis Island, unsure if the United States would admit him. He spoke Low German, High German, and Russian, but not…

A Divided Nation

The growing gulf between Canada’s digital haves and have-nots October 2020
I was in Iqaluit the last time I watched a movie on VHS. It was mid-December 2014, and while I was a whiz at downloading and streaming content back in Toronto, Nunavummiut didn’t have access to broadband internet service. What they did have was the local Northmart and a bin of used videotapes. My hosts were on a Kevin Costner kick at the…

Adventures of the Dynamite Kid

Tyler Enfield’s new novel September 2020
Francis Blackstone, the young hopeless romantic and charming dime-novel star of frontier Arizona, “has never found it easy to discuss his own place in the world or his aimless wanderings or, most of all, the decisions he makes.” And as the protagonist of Tyler Enfield’s new novel, he sure doesn’t make it easy for us — the readers — to discuss his place in the Old…

What’s in a Name?

The divisiveness of public commemoration September 2020
This month, back in 1858, a forty-nine-year-old candidate for the U.S. Senate had to defend his position on racial justice, after a man approached him in a hotel lobby and asked, somewhat incredulously, “whether I was really in favor of producing a perfect equality between the negroes and white people.” That same day, on a public debate…

Summer School

Acknowledging and talking about uncomfortable truths July | August 2020
Two summers ago, I drove to Utica, New York, for my favourite road race. As I was picking up my bib, I happened to meet one of my heroes, the four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers. He noticed the Capricorn tattoo on my right arm and fancied a chat. I couldn’t believe my luck — Boston Billy is also a…

Don’t Stop the Presses

Finding a newspaper model that works June 2020
After thirteen years as Nova Scotia’s sole newspaper, the Halifax Gazette doubled its size in 1765, taking advantage of a full sheet of paper instead of half. It was in the expanded Gazette that an idealistic young journalist, Isaiah Thomas, began to criticize the British Stamp Act. ( Thomas would later report from the Battles of Lexington and Concord and perform the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.) This was risky business for a tabloid that depended on government…

Mapping What Ails Us

Intimidation and lies just spread May 2020
Dictatorial sway over the press so alarmed Carl W. Ackerman, the first dean of the Columbia School of Journal­ism, that he set out to map it. From his office in Morningside Heights, Ackerman observed a “world-wide epidemic of governmental domination” radiating out of China and the Soviet Union and spreading throughout Asia, Europe, and parts of Africa. By the time he…

Coming to the Table

When patience matters April 2020
Before I immigrated to Canada, I helped a University of Nebraska journalism professor research a book about Standing Bear, the Ponca chief who sued the U.S. federal government in 1879. Argued pro bono by Union Pacific’s chief attorney, his was a ­landmark court case  —  the one that finally recognized American Indians as “persons within the meaning of the law.” Standing Bear’s story revolves around the government’s…

For the Record

Running commentary March 2020
On a rainy Sunday morning in 2018, I completed the Chicago Marathon with a time of 2:18:55, qualifying for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials. Twenty seconds ahead of me, Brigid Kosgei of Kenya won the women’s race. After she crossed the finish line, she put her hands on her hips, turned around, and watched me fulfill a dream I’d had since I was in high…

Fake Views

The splinternet of modern cartography January | February 2020
Early in Moby-Dick, Ishmael tells us, while describing Queequeg’s island home, “It is not down in any map; true places never are.” His point is that a map cannot replicate the full truth of a place —“far away” or otherwise — because it is inherently a subjective form, one that reflects the biases and world views of its…

Prize Fighters

December 2019
Every once in a while, a prestigious literary award sparks controversy. The jury is seen to have flouted the rules, ignored the spirit of the prize, and made its decision based on personal sympathies rather than merit. Something that’s maybe a bit mass-market triumphs over something more cultivated. The result is outrage for some, despair for…

Citizenship Test

September 2019
Before I became a Canadian citizen, I had been examined and X-rayed and put through the bureaucratic wringer. I had spent thousands of dollars on paperwork and passport photos and fingerprints and background checks. I had been given an English proficiency test in a part of Toronto I had never seen, even though I was teaching Canadian students works of Canadian literature at a Canadian university at the…

High Steaks

July | August 2019
In April 1902, Owen Wister published The Virginian, widely considered the first cowboy novel. Dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, the bestseller contained many of the tropes we associate with the Western — the open range and the gunfights at high noon — and established a genre that would make Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and countless others…
In 1992, I landed my first job, such as it was, at the public library in Albion, Nebraska, population 2,000. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the elegant Beaux-Arts library was constructed in 1908, one of sixty-nine in the state supported by Andrew Carnegie. I knew none of this at the time, as I was ten years…

The Tools of Engagement

January | February 2019
The Literary Review of Canada announced “The First Issue!” in December 1991 with confident, unadorned typography, a four-column grid, and simple house ads inviting readers to “treat yourself to the best discussions of Canadians.” The second issue, two months later, described itself on the back page as “what you thought was always needed!!” As an undergraduate English major at the University of…