Good Manners

Forum: Canadian Life and Letters, 1920-1970

edited by J.L. Granatstein, edited by Peter Stevens
University of Toronto, 431 pp., $7.50

Until I moved to Canada three years ago I had never heard of The Canadian Forum; nor had it occurred to me to be curious about Canadian politics and culture. I did not know that in 1920 a group of University of Toronto faculty and undergraduates founded the Forum, a monthly journal that, after half a century, flourishes and still occupies a unique place in Canadian letters. There is no American journal quite like it. The Nation and The New Republic come closest; but the Forum publishes fiction and engravings as well as social commentary and poetry, and its tone is different. It retains something of the style of the elegant amateur—justifiably, since it pays neither its contributors nor its editorial board. Its editors today are, as they have usually been in the past, university professors; and it draws more of its contributions from academic sources than an American counterpart would, as might be expected in a society in which prominent people still know one another personally and share a common cultural standard.

All this may make Forum a source of nostalgia to American readers despite—or indeed because of—its polish. The journal is, in any case, unfamiliar to American readers. An aphorism quoted in an article, “Uncle Sam Again,” by Kenneth McNaught in the May, 1963, issue, still seems apt: ” ‘Americans are benevolently uninformed about Canada; Canadians are malevolently informed about the United States.’ ”

Great events seldom occur in Canada; Canadians may still even be able to avoid the 1976 Olympics. No earthshaking occurrences disturbed Howard Hughes’s recent brief residence in Vancouver, as they subsequently did in the comparatively provincial capital of Nicaragua. Such significant events as do occur here, The Canadian Forum discusses fully and sometimes participates in. The December, 1971, issue, for example, was largely devoted to “an abbreviated but authentic version of the Gray Report on foreign ownership,” which is not nearly so gray as it sounds. The report discusses the extent and the workings of foreign—now largely American—domination of the Canadian economy, and suggests measures for reducing it. It was prepared for the cabinet by the then minister of finance, the Honorable Herb Gray; but the Trudeau government refused for months to release it despite repeated requests in Parliament and insistence by the press. It thus fell under the legal protection of the Official Secrets Act, and its publication by The Canadian Forum was an act of courage similar to the publication of the Pentagon Papers—and rarer in Canada, where authority is still seldom defied.

The Gray Report is in fact a highly compromising document, since it establishes very clearly the complicity of Canadian banks, which have been and probably still are more willing to lend to large American investors than to smaller, less well established Canadian entrepreneurs; and it shows how little American capital is actually invested by those firms which are usually depicted, even by their adversaries, as huge contributors to the Canadian economy.

Though the December, 1971, issue of course…

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