- Canadas of the Mind: The Making and Unmaking of Canadian Nationalisms in the Twentieth Century
Despite a lovely title, Canadas of the Mind is less about interesting imaginative states than pathologies of the collective mind. Or maybe mythologies, if one prefers a vaguer term.
A collection of academic essays is meant to show a range of current work in a given area. The area here is that vast, voluminous, yet often dangerous one of nationalism, but more particularly, the recent turn in nationalism studies toward cultural approaches to the phenomenon. This is defined by editors Hillmer and Chapnick, the first a professor of international relations at Carleton, the second in defence studies at the Canadian Forces College, 'not in the grand national ideal, but in more tangible practices, encounters and stories.' Both editors are members of the Organization for the History of Canada, one of a number of breakaway groups from the once-monolithic Canadian Historical Association's overemphasis on social and marxisty history. The OHC seemingly would like to put the capital N back into nationalism. But as respectable cultural historians, this means today looking at nationalism(s) as overlapping communities of meaning invented from sometimes competing, sometimes reinforcing narratives. 'Canada' is thus something fluid, contradictory, and multiple. In this light, Canada abounds in nationalisms, and the essays that make up this collection come at the topic from a variety of perspectives, approaches, and methodologies. These include the role of monuments in representing the historical; the role of commemorations of past events like jubilees; the nationalist agendas of book editors (Lorne Pierce at Ryerson Press as of the 1920s), and so on. Some of the more standard topics in cultural or communication studies also appear, like consumer culture, branding the telephone system, or contradictory narratives of economic nationalism. Stalwarts like Canadian internationalism are also analyzed. In the main, the essays in this collection are competent, well researched in archival materials, but ultimately small emendations to received stories, such as the use of politicians such as Macdonald and Laurier to 'nationalize' assorted consumer products like shoe polish.
To my reading, three essays stand out by doing something more. These are Behiels's and Newhouse's different chapters on the rise of Aboriginal nationalism and what Newhouse calls the 'new Indian problem' of how to accommodate Aboriginal self-government into the governing structures of Canada. The third essay that distinguishes itself is journalist Andrew Chung's impassioned chapter on 'the eracism' of being of mixed race in a supposedly multicultural Canada that 'has left Canadian nationalism a confused concept in desperate need of renewal.' [End Page 545]
From this, then, two possibilities emerge. Canadian nationalism was once one sort of thing and has since splintered into many other things, 'an abundance of nationalisms,' as the editors put it, and the fourteen essays here attempt to reveal the range of that abundance. The alternative view, as Chung's chapter best implies, is that Canadian nationalism was never much more than a confused concept at best, 'Canadas' being always and only of the mind. That this confusion - compounded by no common language, cultural tradition, or cohesive national history - has since metastasized in a proliferation of fragmented identities, regional and other ontological oddities may be of interest. That Canadian historians have played a key role in bringing about both these mutations is an issue that this collection does not come even close to entertaining.
Michael Dorland, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University