This week is the official publication date of Canada With Love, a collection of 50 photographs culled by Lorraine Monk from among the 50,000 entries in a nationwide contest sponsored by McClelland and Stewart, the book’s publishers. Monk, whose Canada: A Year of the Land set new standards for photojournalism, has put her winning pictures together with appropriate epigrams collected by John Robert Colombo to produce a stunning look at this country’s natural beauty. Maclean’s presents this exclusive excerpt as well as the book ’s introductory essay by artist Harold Town:
Canada is a vast, half-frozen landscape in search of a country. As a people we are chained to the mystery of our endless sky, to the sudden flooding rush of spring, the fat buzz of summer, and the ruthless death of winter through which in every crack of ice we see the green promise of a mystical tomorrow. We are wanderers in the largest uninhabited country in the world, refusing to weld ourselves into a specific people who bear a banner of race and mission. Unlike nations with a perceived destiny we do not push out from our frontiers to claim a larger part of the planet either through
I’m standing here before you I don’t know what I bring If you can hear the music Why don’t you help me sing. —Leonard Cohen
war or cultural influence. Having journeyed to the mountain, forest, and plain, we stay here.
As frontier people we marvel at our good fortune and do very little about it. Refusing to squeeze our lovely land into one substantive racial symbol we stand on the threshold of identity, scuffing our feet on the world’s longest undefended border, imagining we are tap dancing to a universal beat. In fact, we jig to another time, another beat: the keening cry of the loon, the crunch of frost-cooked snow, the wispy attic scuffle of fallen leaves rolling towards winter on the dying grass. Weather has been substituted in our ethos for a national symbol; not for us, the beret, kilt, or star-bound top hat of instant identity. We are a nation of thermometers monitoring cold fronts as if we had to harvest the knowledge of the world before the next snowfall. Our seasons are nature’s guillotine. Summer ends with a chop and we drop into the basket of fall, barely tanned enough to remember the sun, and quickly fade in winter cold, waiting for a spring that whips the snow to
slush in a blink, turns the air into a breathable meal, yanks crocus out of the ground by the hair, and sneaks off leaving us with dreams of Jeanette MacDonald singing amid apple blossoms.
Having opted for the cultural mosaic, we comprehend landscape as the mirror image of the ethnic patchwork that is Canada. For us, nature and her agent weather are the yeasts that make the blood rise. Canadians are inveterate, even compulsive, travellers. They seem bound to take in the whole world just to prove how large Canada is. Nevertheless, Canada goes with them. I know a man who took a Tom Thomson calendar to Paris to remind him of Algonquin Park, which is like confronting Fort Knox with a gold ring.
Though ethnicity brings many tensions to the declared national dream of a cultural checkerboard, conflict is inevitably overwhelmed by two feet of snow, a February chinook, or the early arrival of the Bohemian Waxwing. In the middle of a Constitutional controversy that many Canadians politely avoided, the first forest fire, a cat stuck atop a dead elm, or the opening of the fishing season were matters of greater concern to our citizens.
E.J. Pratt was the one Canadian poet who had the size in him to surround this immense land with a personal vision of grandeur and destiny. On February 4,1982, we celebrated the
centenary of his birth by ignoring him. Instead, we choose to be symbolized through the Group of Seven and their paintings, impasto memories of a landscape that never seems to leave the mind, or the salesrooms, and which are finally just as effective on a postage stamp.
No matter what economic or political crisis threatens our social order, we shake our fists at the sky and rail against fate, but there are not enough of us to dint the clouds or muddy the blue underbelly of the heaven that is really Canada. Our troubles are minuscule when compared to the space we inhabit; our ideas, if not caught immediately, roll on indefinitely past miles of shimmering wheat, through giant gorges and over mountains into outer space. There are no bleachers to bounce a distant perception of nationhood against. We cannot thump about in a province for a few hours and declare, “This is Canada!”
Scientists believe that North America was formed when a giant meteorite crashed into what is now central Canada. This stupendous collision set off a series of volcanic eruptions that lasted for millions of years and formed a ripple effect of granite rock emanating from the point of impact through the rest of the continent. Canadians seem, as if by osmosis, to have absorbed the fact that our land was once the very centre of continental creation and that the slowly moving mass of liquid
Each mountain its own country in the way a country must he
A state of mind —Sid Marty
rock was our final expansionary geographic move. In the great countries of the world, those nations that are old in death and resurrection, in feud and compromise, in miracle and squalor, all roads lead to the cities, cities that have suffered conquest and destruction only to be built again on layers of history. In Canada all roads lead away from cities. We have an extraordinary urge to build in the bush, as witness the lemming rush to cottage country at the end of the school term, an urge to cleanse ourselves outside the city. There are in Canada no superb urban centres to soundproof us from the call of the wild. We possess clean cities, pretty cities, even quaint cities. But we do not have a city that is greater than its myth, a city that dangles in the imagination of the world. Seemingly, revitalization comes from lakes and trees, bracken, brush and rock. Nothing can stand against the sensory blast of maple red in autumn, or that moment when the double distilled air magnifies vision and fills the nose with all the unseen mysteries of water and earth, in that poignant dying time before the final purple haze of fall transforms the land into a velvet cushion, in those days of midsummer when the air rises in shimmering columns steaming from the growth beneath, when birds have to cut their way through the richness of the time, and the long, gentle evenings of golden dusk are pasted forever on the mind. And then in winter, with snow so white and intense it seems to drive the eyes back into the skull, life goes on beneath the soft insulating cover, in mice-ways as intricate as freeways, and watercress lives under ice in the stiff flow of a frozen stream.
Canadians give themselves completely to the seasons; our seasons surround and encapsulate a historical vacuum. In this we are eccentric, for without plan or reason we have avoided civil war and mad international excursions. Canada has no
dream of empire, no wish to control or manipulate. Our foreign gardens are in the eye; we marvel at our luck.
We are not a nation in any ordinary sense but a collection of bands, wanderers in a defined and bordered land. Most countries exist beyond landscape, past a precise geographical location. We exist behind ours.
In many ways we are similar to the Celts in our mythical determination to remain in flux, in movement with the wind. Though Canada has an immense government we have no sense of being governed. We believe in earth, trees, and sky, and it is possible that by refusing to become a nation in the ordinary historical sense we have become something more.
®1982 The Canadian Publishers, McClelland and Stewart Limited
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