canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


by Michael Bryson

To be a Canadian tourist abroad is to confront a common question: "Are you American?"

Recently, I was in Oxford, England, and a homeless person asked me this.

I had just given him the two pounds ($5 CDN) he said he needed for a bed for a night at the local shelter.

I said, "No. Canadian."

"Right," he said. "Cheers then."

It had been twelve years since my last trip to the United Kingdom. On that trip, the only mention of Canada in the newspapers had been a story about a British tourist mauled by a grizzly bear in Banff National Park.

On my recent trip, Canadian wildlife was again in the headlines.

HARVEST OF BLOOD was the headline in the Daily Mail, referring to the Ottawa-sanctioned killing of 350,000 seal pups in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence.

That article ended by recommending Britons hit "the Canadians where it hurts Ė economically, by banning seal products or boycotting their country."

British tourism is worth about $2.5 billion, the article said. Profits from the seal slaughter were expected to be about $25 million.

At Paul Martinís coronation last fall, Bono proclaimed, "The world needs more Canada."

The Irish rock star may feel that way. One must question, however, what the average Briton thinks of our country when the headline writers obviously canít see beyond the stereotype of Canada as a massive nature reserve.

Thank goodness, therefore, for Canadian artists.

Doing a quick survey of an Oxford bookstore, I found titles prominently displayed by Margaret Atwood, Guy Vanderhague, Jane Urquart, Austin Clarke, Rohinston Mistry, and Yann Martel. Actress Neve Campbell graced the cover of the Sunday Times Culture magazine.

A Times feature on actress Isabella Rossellini highlighted her recent role in an avant-garde film by Winnipegís Guy Maddin.

Another article highlighted Vancouverís jazz crooner Diana Krall.

Bono spoke about Canada as a beacon of light in the world. Spearheading the fight for cheap AIDS drugs in Africa. Leading the fight against landmines and helping debt-ridden countries find financial stability.

These roles do not garner Canada international headlines. A quiet, effective, internationalist approach to public policy is difficult to "sex up."

Canadians are famously proud of their hockey and slow to define their national identity.

No, we are not Americans.

Yes, we are a country with vast wilderness and abundant wild nature (except for the species weíve wiped out, or nearly extinguished).

Before an evening at the theatre in Londonís west end, I saw a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey for sale in the window of a shop near Covent Garden.

"The world is getting more Canada," I thought. Leaf Nation is expanding.

Michael Bryson is the editor of The Danforth Review.







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