CanCulture elite still propping up old, tired icons

The Toronto Star‘s publishing reporter, Vit Wagner, takes a look at a new Penguin series called   Extraordinary Biographies, penned by stars of the Canadian CanLit elite.  There will be eighteen books in all, and seventeen of the subjects have already been selected.  Have a gander at the pairings:

FUN CANLIT MONOCULTURE FACT: Thirteen of the seventeen authors selected live in either Toronto or Ottawa.  As does series editor John Ralston Saul.
1 Lives in Toronto (or divides time between Toronto and elsewhere)
2 Lives in Ottawa (or divides time between Ottawa and elsewhere)

Haven’t we already had volumes written and Heritage Minutes aired for a whole lot of these folks?  Why yes, but don’t be such a fargin’ peasant.  You can always afford to learn more about the pantheon of CanCulture saints.

“Only a Canadian would ask that question,” says John Ralston Saul. “If you go to other countries – Britain, the United States, France – there are biographies every year on (familiar subjects). Why? Because in a real country, which Canada is, people need to be looked at in different ways.”

Saul, as general editor of the new Penguin Canada biographical series Extraordinary Canadians, has a vested interest in assuming that readers are hungering for more illumination on the lives of Gould, Marshall McLuhan and others, especially if it comes with the promise of an intriguing, even unconventional, perspective.

— Vit Wagner, “Can big names bring dead icons to life?“. Toronto Star, March 30th, 2008.

I have to take my hat off to Mr. Wagner for at least asking the question, and for suggesting some truly unconventional subjects for the as-yet undetermined eighteenth biography.  You know who’s missing from the list, though?  Industrialists and philanthropists.  Soldiers, sailors and airmen.  There are painters, authors, musicians, politicians and socialists aplenty, but none who spent a lifetime wearing dress greens, blues or whites.  For all the good work the CF has done lately in resurrecting the profile of our men and women in uniform, they are still virtual non-entities in the minds of the CanCulture Establishment.  As is anyone who wore a suit to the office or overalls to the factory to help create our economic prosperity.

If I were publishing a series of Extraordinary Biographies, here are some of the people (from all walks of life) I would consider for my own list of eighteen:

This is a big country, with plenty of Ordinary Joes and Janes doing extraordinary things.  It would be nice to hear a little more about them.

GOLD, JERRY!  GOLD! UPDATE: John Ralston Saul provides feeble justification of his choices to Globe & Mail journalist James Adams.

Saul, who was approached to oversee the series three years ago, said he had no interest in commissioning works about individuals “from the deep past.” That kind of history was done a century ago with The Makers of Canada, a 20-volume biography series featuring such now mostly forgotten luminaries as Sir Frederick Haldimand and Lord Sydenham. Rather, Saul says, “my interest was in those who helped produce the country we live in now.”

[emphasis mine]

That is an interesting definition of “deep past”.  Robert Baldwin, politician and Extraordinary Biography subject, born 1804, deceased 1858.  Lord Sydenham, from the “deep past”, born 1799, deceased 1841.  Besides, I thought in other countries, there are biographies every year on familiar subjects.  Because in a real country, which Canada is, people need to be looked at in different ways.  Unless of course you are from the “deep past”—which apparently somehow overlaps the more modern past—and the recounting of one’s major accomplishments in print 1) already happened a century ago and 2) doesn’t happen to line up with the narrative certain editors wish to portray of helping to “produce the country we live in now”.

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5 Responses
  1. Alan says:

    I’m no Tory but funny how Lester B Pearson is the most reactionary politician on that subject list. Where is Dief? Where the hell is Sir John A?

  2. Patrick B says:

    It’s the Toronto Elite laying down the New Official Version of Canada’s past, rewriting history to suit the Revealed Truth of Today. Ralston Saul would have been a superb Editor-in-Chief of the Great Soviet encyclopedia.
    With Bob Rae being anointed by the Globe and Mail as the next Liberal Prime Minister of Canada (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Power Corpopration), there is need for the party dogma and history to be updated.

  3. Chris Taylor says:

    Alan: In light of Mr. John Ralston Saul’s pronouncements to the Globe, I am left with the impression that Dief and Sir John A. both reside in that well of history known as “the deep past”.

  4. Alan says:

    There is something deep about the whole process…and I think there is some still stuck on my boots!

  5. Kateland says:

    And since the list is to be heavy on ‘creative’ types, just pray tell where is Robertson Davies? And isn’t Lucy MM a little old to make the list being born in 1874? Besides, I loathe Anne of Green Gables.