Wilson in Canada

Edmund Wilson
Edmund Wilson; drawing by David Levine

Two years from now (LBJ willing, French Canada permitting), Canada will be a hundred years old and this, The Unknown Country, The Golden Hinge, The Uneasy Neighbor, The Giant of the North, will be transmogrified, albeit along decent Presbyterian lines, into a Disneyland that will rock ‘n’ roll from coast to coast. Put plainly, there is not a township so small or a city so cynical that it can risk being caught without a centennial project. Some of the schemes, like Montreal’s Expo 67, are very grand, indeed, even if the freshness of conception (“The theme of Expo 67 will be: ‘MAN AND HIS WORLD’ “) doesn’t exactly hit you bang in the eye. Other municipal projects, among the 2000 expected to be approved, incude a centennial salmon-spawning channel. And just in case the sapients on your town council fail to come up with something sufficiently fetching then, waiting to guide you in Toronto, rather like glorified bar-mitzvah caterers, is a centennial advisory company. In a recent issue of Saturday Night. Hugh Alexander listed, among hotsy projects already undertaken, one, by the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada, sponsoring a competition for a centennial poem and another, this from our very own Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.), announcing a contest for the best novel or play “set in one of Canada’s provinces as it is today or was in the past.” Canadian Municipal Utilities, a trade journal, suggests “it would be a very fitting Birthday Present for a municipality to have a water system or sewage treatment plant in 1967…Canada’s people in 1967 may not think of the Fathers of Confederation each time they wash their hands or flush a toilet, but…”

Meanwhile Canada, already ninety-eight years old, remains a loosely-knit, all but unmanageable confederation. There is trouble, trouble everywhere. “There is no Canadian nation,” Marcel Chaput, a French Canadian separatist leader, has written, “There is a Canadian state [which is] a purely political and artificial entity…” French Canada, quiescent for years, is in a turmoil. John Diefenbaker’s inept, but comic, federal government has been displaced by an equally inept and scandal-ridden government, this one led by Lester Pearson, of whom so much was hoped. Industry and natural resources everywhere are too often American-owned. And sadly it is not only our iron and copper ore that are going down to the States, but also, at the alarming rate of 50,000 a year, some of the people most crucial to Canada’s development. Scientists, engineers, doctors, and businessmen, too many of whom are understandably drawn to what Morley Callaghan has called “the sources of light.”

This is the climate then in which Canadians have become increasingly anxious to discover within themselves a culture-cum-national identity that amounts to something less nebulous than being nicer than Americans and not as snobby as the British; and the protracted search has made for many changes…

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