May 2021

Contents Related Letters

Re: “Lost and Fonds,” by Paul Marsden

This is a good piece on the Access to Information Act, but I’m not entirely convinced we’ve seen a collapse of “out-of-town” historians at Library and Archives Canada. My anecdata doesn’t bear that out. I think digital photos equal shorter trips, and we’re not a global hub like London, Berlin, or D.C.

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This is a must-read article. Students and scholars are denied access to an enormous slice of Canada’s archives. Without change, the future of Canadian history is exceedingly bleak. It doesn’t have to be this way.

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Re: “Period Piece,” by Jeffrey Simpson

Jeffrey Simpson’s perspective on the past fifty years of Canadian politics and cultural development is worth the read. But I might be in his target group of “critics” who, he says, would characterize Canada as a “racist hellhole.” I just couldn’t accept the two main tenets of his counter-­argument: that immigration continues apace — implying that Canada must not be racist if people of colour want to move here — and the high proportion of Canadians who are “proud of health care, the passport, the flag, and the Charter.”

Now I admit I have no idea what the “prevailing discourse” of university history departments is, but the fact that many have lost interest in “sagas of success in Canadian hist­ory” is not a bad thing. Racism in Canada may be more insidious than hellish, but it exists. Simpson acknowledges the historic treatment of Indigenous peoples and the “debt” that remains there; but I got the sense that his lecture was part requiem for a narrative of stoic settlers and brave explorers — a narrative that is being pushed aside by progressives eager to out-woke one another.

Racism is as prominent in Canadian hist­ory as Confederation itself. Anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, anti-Asian, and anti-Semitic sentiments, as well as many other manifestations of xenophobia, were present at the founding and throughout the country’s development. It’s impossible to tell the story of Canada without incorporating these awful facts. Whether one takes the sneering stance of Trudeau père or the lachrymose tone of Trudeau fils is of no import. What matters is learning from our history — our real history — to make better our future.

(Simpson also notes that, according to a recent survey, “92 percent believed Canadians to be ‘polite.’ ” And I wonder: Have 92 percent of Canadians never driven in Ontario?)

Joel Henderson
Gatineau, Quebec

Jeffrey Simpson states that “one reason for inadequate productivity” is Canada’s shift, over time, “from private-sector jobs, fewer of which are unionized, to public-sector ones that are.” But according to Statistics Canada, 24 percent of Canada’s employees were in the public sector in April 1977, while only 22 percent were in the public sector in April 2021. In addition, StatsCan reports that from 1981 to 2014, the rate of unionization declined from 37.6 percent to 28.8 percent.

On the whole, Simpson’s arguments are frequently debatable — fair enough, he has a point of view. But those arguments are not always supported by facts or data. In his conclusion, for instance, Simpson refers to “a prevailing discourse” in university history departments and some major museums that “Canada’s past has been a sad saga of widespread oppression, racism, and other forms of discrimination” (the same tendency is true, he adds, of high school curricula). This reader, for one, is not convinced that a thorough examination of what is actually taught in high schools and universities would support Simpson’s sweeping generalization.

In the case of this article, caveat lector would be good advice.

Karl Nerenberg

Re: “Homeward Bound,” by Murray Brewster

I’ve always admired Murray Brewster as a journalist, but now even more so as a chronicler of pandemic life with a dachshund. (I have one too; Murray captured their spirit accurately.)

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Re: “Where Magic Is Real,” by Brad Dunne

Thank you for publishing the excellent review of Timothy S. Boucher’s The Lost Direction. It is encouraging to see a respectful discussion of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction (and their myriad of subgenres) gracing your pages.

As someone who has used fantasy many times as an escape from life, when it felt like more than I could handle, I agree with Brad Dunne’s argument that fantasy can be a way for us to cross through a liminal space into worlds where magic is ever present and real. Although I would never want to downplay the positive role the genre plays as a form of escapism, I feel that viewing it solely through its ability to let us explore other magical worlds is a disservice to the quality of work being published today.

The other great power of fantasy is its ability to reflect a world back at us that deconstructs structures that we assume to be inherent and immutable. Dunne alludes to this in his last paragraph, but I think the point is worth expanding on. Fantasy is perhaps one of the most powerful genres we have for critiquing the world in which we live. It can show us an image of how things could be, and it can take structures that actually exist in our world to their extremes — and demonstrate the consequences of institutions and ideologies being left unchecked.

In her brilliant Broken Earth series, for example, the American writer N. K. Jemisin explores the interconnected nature of racial and environmental injustice, where the group with the power to save the world is marginalized, hunted, and feared. Most residents are content to focus on self-preservation and give in to base fears rather than overcome their prejudices to heal society and the earth itself. The prolific novelist Seanan McGuire uses her stories to investigate the idea of personhood. Who is a person? Who decides what is a person? And as McGuire asks, “Are you sure you’re a person?” Finally, Evan Winter dissects issues of class, caste, peace, war, revenge, and power in his stunning debut novel, The Rage of Dragons.

This list barely scratches the surface of the breadth and depth of both the offerings of fantasy and the potential it has for the thoughtful reflection and analysis that I have come to know and love in the Literary Review of Canada. I look forward to more reviews that engage with the genre in the same way the magazine engages with memoirs, historical novels, and other Canadian fiction. And if you ever need a reviewer, to quote another fantasy heroine, I offer myself as tribute.

Shelly Nixon

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