I want to grab a volume of Pierre Berton, shove it into the arms of an unsuspecting passerby, and shout, “read this!” There are many skillful Canadian writers, but I’m inclined to think that Berton was the consummate Canadian storyteller. He wasn’t an academic or a literary icon, but there are very few who rival his ability to take the whole of the Canadian experience and turn it into an engaging story.
I picked this book up from the United Way shelf at my last job, along with a copy of the Last Spike, which I am not reading for Bookstravaganza because when I start reading about the railroad I don’t stop. He briefly mentioned the railroad in Why We Act Like Canadians, and it almost sent me down an irreversible path. Hello, my name is Dorothy and I am a railroad junkie. Last June, I drove two hours out of my way to visit Hell’s Gate because of a book about the construction of the CPR railroad pass that I read when I was twelve. There were many salmon and educational displays about Simon Fraser and a fudge factory. Totally worth it.
And there I go, digressing. This book is fairly standard Berton. In other words, it’s a straightforward book that accurately depicts the Canadian identity and experience. First published in 1982 (the year of the Constitution Act), it’s written as a series of letters to his American friend, Sam. Berton touches on lots of things you’d expect – the history of the RCMP (Sam Steele!), multiculturalism, winter, peace, order, and good government. We seem to forget about those things or at the very least not talk about them. If I asked most people in my demographic about whether winter instills Canadians with a sense of austerity and a lack of romanticism, I’d get strange looks. I’m not sure whether it’s a normal thing to spend time at 3AM on a Sunday reflecting on the Canadian identity, but that’s what I’m doing. I think you should, too.
Books read: 2