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Who Speaks For Canada?: Words That Shape a Country [Paperback]

Desmond Morton , Morton Weinfeld

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Book Description

Sept. 25 2001
Since our earliest beginnings, the citizens of Canada have grappled with the question of what it is that defines a Canadian. Who Speaks for Canada? brings together 200 of the most persuasive, entertaining, and commanding voices yet to be heard on the subject of being Canadian, from our greatest orators and essayists, proselytisers and poets. The texts – from the country’s literary figures, historical figures, politicians, and notables of public life – are organized by period, and range from the seventeenth century to the present.

Amongst the many well-known literary figures found in this book are: Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Denise Chong, Leonard Cohen, Gratien Gélinas, Anne Hébert, W.P. Kinsella, Margaret Laurence, Irving Layton, Stephen Leacock, Hugh MacLennan, Antonine Maillet, John McCrae, Farley Mowat, Michael Ondaatje, Al Purdy, Gabrielle Roy, and Michel Tremblay.

There are, as well, many historical figures, including: Isaac Brock, Henri Bourassa, Joseph Howe, Wilfrid Laurier, Sir John A. Macdonald, George Brown, Nellie McClung, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, and Louis-Joseph Papineau.

Politicians appear, too, including: R.B. Bennett, Tommy Douglas, René Lévesque, David Lewis, Joey Smallwood, Elijah Harper, and Pierre Trudeau.

There are public figures like Peter Gzowski, as well as some of Canada’s most celebrated entertainers: Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, and Gilles Vigneault.

Alongside the famous texts are selections that are less familiar but that nevertheless offer a wider view of what it means to be Canadian: the folktale “Le Diable à la Danse,” Moses Coady’s “Advice to Canadians and Maritimers,” the ex-slave Josiah Henson’s recollections of the Underground Railway, Ralph Gustafson’s poem “In the Yukon,” amongst others.

Who Speaks for Canada? is a compelling testament to the many ways of being Canadian.

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Who Speaks for Canada? is a compulsively readable and informative collection of more than 100 essays, stories, speeches, poems, and lyrics by Canadians from pre-Confederation to the present. The editors, Desmond Morton and Morton Weinfeld, provide brief but excellent biographical intros to each piece, which offer both context and insight. In the opening piece, Pierre Boucher, one-time governor of Trois-Rivières, describes New France in terms that sound quite similar to the Canada of today, speaking highly of the air ("extremely healthy at all times"), the water ("very good and very common in this country"), and the snow that made transporting wood on sleighs easy. John A. MacDonald, Canada's first prime minister, writes of concerns that linger: free trade, the monarchy, and French-English relations. Writer Joy Kogawa offers poignant remembrances of the Japanese internment of 1942. Poet Irving Layton comically expresses the unique difference in the way Canadians feel about themselves as opposed to their country: "A dull people/but the rivers of this country/are wide and beautiful."

The book's final section (1960 to the present), features voices most Canadians will recognize. Politicians René Lé vesque, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and Preston Manning all offer their conflicting views of Canada. As well, we hear from actor Dan George on Native people's culture and from broadcaster Peter Gzowski, who writes affectionately of our national obsession, hockey. Who Speaks For Canada? is perfect for patriots and cynics alike. As Weinfeld says, "We are so insecure that we believe in our self-worth only when the tributes flow from others." --Moe Berg

About the Author

Desmond Morton is the author of 31 books on Canada and is a frequent contributor to the CBC, Radio-Canada, the Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette, and the Ottawa Citizen. He lives in Montreal.

Morton Weinfeld is a professor of sociology and chair of Canadian ethnic studies at McGill University. He is the author of numerous works, both academic and popular, on history, ethnicity, immigration, and other topics.

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