Canada

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Editors in the United States have more than once suggested to me that Canada is bad literary material because few Americans are seriously interested in her. When they do think seriously of Canada, they picture an empty land with cold weather, extensive wheat fields and forests, and a population quiet enough to be taken for granted. Canada—that good, gray country! If Time Magazine has not already used this phrase, it must have been purely by oversight.

Nor have many Canadians been helpful in making their country seem real. From the travel publicists who depict it as quaint and romantic, through the businessmen who exchange jovial platitudes with their American counterparts at conventions, all the way up to the politicians who are so terrified of being misunderstood in Washington (and thereby getting a bad press both in the United States and at home), the spokesmen of this strange northern land nearly all seem motivated by a compulsion to disguise themselves, often without even knowing they do so.

At the same time, the 6,000,000-odd American tourists who annually cross the border are usually so struck by Canadian resemblances to their own country that they wonder why Canada is not part of the American union. The highway billboards advertise nearly every known brand of American soft drink, gasoline, canned and packaged foods, all presented in the customary American styles, and with good reason. The firms that sell them to Canadians are American companies with branch plants in Canada. When the tourist visits the newsstand in his Canadian hotel (which may well be run by the Hilton or Sheraton people) he finds all the familiar magazines of the United States awaiting him on the racks. Later he may tune his bedroom TV set to his favorite American program, since the chances are it will be carried by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Inevitably, the American briefly visiting Canada believes that the only thing different about the country is the scenery, and that he generally likes.

Moreover, the United States’ problems with other countries are so complex and threatening that it is no wonder if she is eager to take for granted any nation that never makes trouble for her; and Canada seems to be the obvious example. If American taking-for-granted has been modified lately, it is because trouble has appeared to be brewing. Separatist bombs in Montreal and the supposed danger to the life of the Queen in Quebec City in 1964 have done more to make the world aware of Canada than her two corps d’élite in the two world wars. Will Canada survive or will she disintegrate? This question is now being asked. And as Canada is the best customer of the United States and has been her most loyal friend, it is evidently to the interest of Americans, so many of whom have heavily invested in the country, to examine their relations with their northern neighbor in greater detail than they have hitherto done. To do this requires a more than superficial probing of the Canadian character, and of the forces that have shaped it. Under the surface the average Canadian, especially in the old, settled East, is different from the average American, and different in more respects than he himself consciously realizes. What made him that way?

Canada is not a nation that grew organically, like Britain or France, nor again is she one that sprang into being out of a successful revolution based upon a specific ideology, as did the United States. Her present nationhood was created by a political construction job performed nearly a century ago on some important left-over human materials in history’s untidy workshop. The Confederation of 1867 united politically four British colonies in North America—Ontario and Quebec (then known as Upper Canada and Lower Canada, from their positions on the St. Lawrence River), and the two Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. A number of circumstances conspired to bring this union about, and some of them will be discussed later. Let it suffice to say for the moment that the principal achievement of the Confederation of 1867 was to create a political framework which would permit the French Fact and the British Fact in North America—the one a leftover from the Seven Years’ War, the other from the American Revolution —to live together and prosper economically. It was believed that the mere act of living together politically would in time develop a spirit of true national unity, but the history of the near century that followed has proved that this belief was too optimistic. The original Confederation was not a failure; it was in fact a magnificent political achievement. But, although it provided remarkably well for Quebec’s political needs at that time, it has been inadequate to serve her cultural needs today. That is why the revision of Confederation is now the most important internal necessity in Canada. And what a tangle of historical paradoxes lies behind this necessity, and how alien most of them are to the American experience!