Naturalizing the Nation

Naturalizing the Nation: Northern Landscape and Canadian National Identity

The Perception of Landscape in Canadian Identity in the Pre-Confederation Period

In Canada, the celebration of untamed nature did not occur until the middle decades of the nineteenth century, and even then, took half a century to consummate. In the eighteenth century, for instance, English-Canadians (the principal narrators of Canadian identity) [1] , like their American counterparts, viewed their land through the Protestant lens of the Old Testament. As a consequence, for the Loyalists who founded English Canada, their new Canadian home was interpreted partly as a foreboding Wilderness, and partly as a new Garden of Eden. Dennis Duffy aptly describes the latter mood: ‘Loyalists…proved themselves good, inescapably good, Americans in extending the [Calvinist] tradition [of election] to include their particular variant’. The sense that Providence has blessed His elect with prosperity is conveyed in a letter from Michael Grass, captain of a New York Loyalist militia company and a leader of the first arrivals at the Bay of Quinte, who wrote to the Kingston Gazette in 1811, praising ‘HE who causeth the wilderness to smile and blossom like a rose’ (Duffy 1982: 93, 95). These traditional utilitarian and biblical attitudes toward the land are clearly analogous to those in the eighteenth century United States from which the Loyalists had fled.

English Canadians also expressed the traditional agrarian/biblical fear of wilderness depravity. Trans-continental explorers David Thompson, Samuel Hearne and Alexander Mackenzie, for instance, in their travel journals of the late eighteenth century, described the ‘convulsion[s] of nature’ they found, and waxed eloquently about the desolation and barbarity of Canada’s Northwest (New 1989:, 43-5). [2] Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush (1852) and Catharine Parr Traill’s children’s book, Canadian Crusoes (1852), extended this tradition to the more settled context of Upper Canadian pioneer agriculture. Here again, the narrative is one of ‘nationalization’, stressing the advance of civilization against nature, while retaining a social distance between narrator and subject matter (New 1989: 54-7, 70-1). In general, therefore, treatment of the north (and the Canadian landscape in general) in the early nineteenth century was traditionalist in tone: it treated nature as a challenge to be overcome. Never was there a hint that untamed landscape was an asset or a source of primeval energy.

This all began to change by mid-century as Romantic ideas spread to Canada from Britain and the United States. From the beginning, this new sensibility involved an emphasis on the elixir of the New World environment and its uplifting effects. Perhaps the first writer to express the new zeitgeist was Major John Richardson: part-Indian, Loyalist, and a veteran of the war of 1812. Influenced by the work of both Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper, Richardson began writing wilderness adventures from a romantic point of view. These tended to mix British-Canadian nationalism with primitivism and a sense of the sublime.

For example, his first important work, Tecumseh; or, the Warrior of the West (1828) glorified an Indian chief who fought with the British in the War of 1812. Dennis Duffy remarks that Tecumseh’s character represented a departure from pre-existent forms, and represents the first Canadian pagan hero: ‘Here is no nationalist St. Isaac Brock, a Christian knight to be prayed into his monument, but the savage vengeance-seeker Richardson would later immortalize in Reginald Morton/Wacousta’ (Duffy 1982: 60). The latter reference – to the protagonist in Richardson’s most famous novel, Wacousta (1832) – describes a renegade Briton who, echoing Cooper’s Leatherstocking, had ‘gone native’, again demonstrating Richardson’s keen sense of naturalistic nationhood [3] (Smith 1994: 54; New 1989: 78; McGregor 1985).

More explicitly cleaving to the naturalistic-nationalist axis was William Kirby, a staunch Loyalist intellectual. Writing in 1846, he declared that the old country, now dotted with the marks of industrialism, might renew its contact with the landed traditions that made it great by finding new life in Canada. In a similar vein came the idea, in the 1850’s, that the Canadian Loyalists were ‘a superior breed of loyal Briton’. [4] This was due, Colonel George Taylor Denison later wrote, to the fact that the British race required ‘the new blood in the Colonies [to] leaven the mass’ (Smith 1994: 34). Carl Berger sums up this aspect of Canadian distinctiveness as follows: ‘Because of the inevitable deterioration that was creeping over the urbanized and industrialized Englishman, cut off from the land, Canada was to be a kind of rejuvenator of the imperial blood’ (Berger 1966: 17).

This period also brought forth the first calls for a native art and literature – comparable to the clarion cries of the New York literaries in the 1830’s. In 1858, for instance, Lower Canadian statesman Thomas D’Arcy McGee crowed: ‘We have the materials – our position is favourable – northern latitudes like ours have been famed for the strength, variety and beauty of their literature’ (Staines 1977: 8). In 1864, McGee’s call was echoed by Upper Canadian clergyman Edward Dewart, who declared that ‘a national literature is an essential element in the formation of national character’ (Woodcock 1987: 10). These writings, though eloquent, should not, however, be taken as an indication of the widespread development of naturalistic nationalism in Canada. Not only had the country yet to be officially born, but its wilderness was too overpowering and its colonies were as yet too isolated from each other to generate a widespread sense of common nationality.

Canadian Identity and Northern Landscape in the Post-Confederation Period

In 1867, the colonies of Canada East, Canada West, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick united to form one united Canadian Confederation. This event generated the first significant stirrings of Canadian national sentiment, though this new nationalism took place largely within imperial confines (New 1989: 24). The first such movement was Canada First, formed in 1868. The brainchild of W.A. Foster, Canada First expressed a Canadian national sentiment that was remarkably free of either British or American influence. [5] ‘It is the duty of all Canadians,’ Foster insisted, ‘whether by birth or adoption to recognize the pressing necessity for the cultivation of a national sentiment which will unite the people of the various provinces more closely in the bonds of citizenship…That an organization which will draw the line between Canadians loyal to their soil and those who place their citizenship in a subordinate or secondary position, affords the surest means of cementing a confederation and securing political action in the interests of the whole Dominion’ (Smith 1890: 6).

From the beginning, the new nationalism looked to Canada’s northern climate and location for inspiration. For example, Canada First associate Robert Grant Haliburton, a Nova Scotia lawyer and provincial historian, proclaimed, in an 1869 address to the Montreal Literary Club that ‘We are the Northmen of the New World’. The gist of Haliburton’s argument was that Canada’s cold climate and forbidding terrain would give birth to a ‘healthy, hardy, virtuous, dominant race’ (Berger 1966: 6; 1970: 53).

Drawing on Haliburton’s work for the 1871 inaugural address of Canada First, William Foster further wrote, in a conscious attempt to distinguish Canadians from Americans, that ‘The old Norse mythology, with its Thor hammers…appeals to us,-for we are a Northern people,-as the true out-crop of human nature, more manly, more real, than the weak marrow-bones superstition of an effeminate South’ (Foster 1888: 25). Cast now in a new Darwinian vocabulary, such statements illustrate the close association that Romanticism had begun to foster between Canada’s northern wilderness and its new national identity.

Northern Landscape and Canadian Cultural Nationalism

In parallel with the political nationalism of Canada First came a cultural nationalism centred on the arts, taking the Canadian landscape as its subject matter. Prior to Confederation, the Canadian terrain was generally considered ‘a vast, hostile, dimly seen, unpoetical mass’. [6] Meanwhile, poets tried ‘ineffectually to catch and express its [the land’s] feeling in imitations of the clear, regular, elegant couplets and poetic diction which Pope and his school bred to civilized perfection in the garden of England’ (Watt 1966: 243). Similar attitudes were prevalent in Canadian visual art. For example, British Army officers of the eighteenth or nineteenth century regularly painted Canadian forests in which ‘the grass seem[ed] recently to have been clipped and the bushes trimmed’ (Fulford 1991: 3).

After this period, however, change began to take place. In the forefront of the new change in aesthetic was the ‘Confederation School’ of poet-critics: men like Archibald Lampman, W.W. Campbell, Bliss Carman, Charles G.D. Roberts and D.C. Scott ‘enjoined Canadian writers and painters to head to the ‘cleanly’ North, rather than to disport themselves in the jaded fleshpots of Europe’ (Woodcock 1987: 10). Thanks to the efforts of this school, writers and poets by the 1880’s no longer were ‘bemoaning the inhuman and unpoetical nature of Canadian landscape’ but instead began to celebrate it (Stacey 1991: 52-3; Watt 1966: 243).

This comes across clearly in an anthology of poetry entitled Songs of the Great Dominion edited by William Douw Lighthall, which struggles to naturalize the Canadian nation while simultaneously eulogizing its transformation into an agrarian idyll. ‘The poets whose songs fill this book are voices cheerful with the consciousness of young might, public wealth, and heroism’, he wrote in 1889, ‘through them…you may catch something of great Niagara falling, of brown rivers rushing with foam, of the crack of the rifle in the haunts of the moose and caribou …The tone of them is courage;- for to hunt, to fight, to hew out a farm, one must be a man!…Canadians are…the descendants of armies, officers and men, and every generation of them has stood up to battle…Canada, Eldest Daughter of the Empire, is the Empire’s completest type!’ (New 1989: 113).

In the visual arts, meanwhile, the Toronto Art Students League of 1886-1904 took up the torch of nationalism ignited by the Confederation School. Publishing in annual exhibitions and calendars between 1893 to 1904, this youthful organization made sketching outings to rural Canada to depict northern landscapes and folk life (Tooby 1991: 15). Around this period in the late nineteenth century, there also appeared a rising volume of northern adventure novels, often centering on such themes as ‘life in the isolated Hudson Bay posts and the exploits of the lonely trapper’ (Berger 1966: 20). This spiritual shift may be traced in the editorial transformation of the work of Catherine Parr Traill. As W.H. New observes, the 1882 Nelson revision of her Canadian Crusoes (1852), entitled Lost in the Backwoods, ‘distort[ed] the book by cutting the journal passages, truncating the text, and emphasizing the romance of conventional wilderness both in its preface and in its illustrations. (By the 1900’s, Nelson editions of Lost were reproducing ‘wilderness illustrations’ indiscriminately from other Nelson books, portraying the Rockies [and] western gunmen… as if they were all features of the Ontario backwoods….)’ (New 1989: 56).

The period between 1896 and the first world war continued these patterns, and witnessed the northern theme’s most rapid literary advance, with Ralph Connor, Robert Service and William Fraser, some the most popular figures in Canadian literature, serving as exemplars (Berger 1966: 20-21; Woodcock 1977: 78-9). Many of these stories (which together sold in the millions) were openly linked to the promotion of a naturalistic Canadian nationalism, as with Service’s derision of American softness in ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’ or Ralph Connor’s assertion that a new Canadian type was forming in the northwest (Smith 1994: 138). Given all of these developments, it is perhaps unsurprising that Robert Stanley Weir’s 1906 English language version of O Canada, the unofficial Canadian national anthem (alongside God Save the Queen) included the stanza: ‘the true north strong and free’.

Certainly, as the previous paragraphs show, the northern idea had been amply expressed prior to the first world war. However, during the 1920’s the northern ‘naturalization’ of the Canadian nation reached its apogee. This process was spurred on by a new English-Canadian cultural nationalism that sought to make a clear break with the British connection. Given the imperial attachments of the bulk of the English-Canadian population, this movement was, at first, largely confined to critical intellectuals. World War I, especially Canadian exploits like Vimy Ridge, had generated in them a heightened sense of Canadian (as opposed to British) identity while the carnage of war had dramatically dampened Canadian Imperialist fervour (Francis 1986: 83, 93; Vipond 1980: 43). Meanwhile, radicals like historian Frank Underhill came to be persuaded by the arguments of anti-imperialist academics like the British-based Union of Democratic Control, which began to influence Canadian historiography (Kennedy 1977: 91-2). The upshot of the preceding was the growth of an independent, sometimes anti-imperial, Canadian nationalism (Bashkevin 1991: 8).

Underhill and other English-Canadian intellectuals also began to consolidate their links through four associations: the Canadian League, the Association of Canadian Clubs (ACC), the C.I.I.A. and the League of Nations Society in Canada. These generally had memberships in the thousands, though the ACC’s membership rose from the brink of collapse in 1919 to roughly 40,000 by the end of the 1920’s. These associations tended to have interlocking memberships, academic links, well-circulated member journals and were centrally concerned with the question of Canadian national identity. For example, Margaret Prang, a participant in these nationalist currents, observed that there was a spirit of ‘Canada First’ to be found among ‘the small groups of young university teachers and professional men…who established the Canadian Forum and debated public issues through its pages and who founded the Canadian League and later the Canadian Institute of International Affairs…’ (Vipond 1980: 33).

The magazine Canadian Forum, for instance, stated as one of its aims ‘to trace and value those developments in the arts and letters which are distinctly Canadian’. More explicitly, its first issue editorialized that ‘Real independence is not the product of tariffs and treaties. It is a spiritual thing. No country has reached its full stature, which makes its goods at home, but not its faith and philosophy’. Literary critic W.A. Deacon expressed a similar sentiment in the mid-1920’s when he declared that ‘our struggle for nationhood needs writers and national magazines with native force behind them…’ (Vipond 1980: 42-4, emphasis added).

One coterie of artists that brought Deacon’s romantic ‘native force’ to life was the Group of Seven. Composed principally of Ontarian artists, this group of landscape painters first met during 1910-11, though they did not exhibit together until 1920. In the intervening years, the future Group members painted largely independently of each other, but began to explore northern themes, as with A.Y. Jackson’s Terre Sauvage (1913), Tom Thomson’s Sketch for Northern River (1912) or J.E.H. MacDonald’s March Evening, Northland (1914). [7]

After 1920, the Group came together as a unit in what some view as a political act inspired by the cultural nationalism of the period. For example, the Group spent a large amount of time writing and speaking to the public as a means of proselytizing their work. Group members also explicitly set out to paint the rougher, rawer elements of the Canadian north (primarily the Shield country of northern Ontario) in vivid, sublime strokes. In doing so, they quickly incurred the ire of the genteel, Imperial Canadian art establishment. Nevertheless, the group used this conflict to symbolize the tension between Canadian and British identity and became active propagandists for the cause of an independent Canadian cultural nationalism (Woodcock 1977: 73). For example, the Group had strong links with Canadian Forum and Canadian Nation, the official organ of the rapidly growing ACC. Canadian Forum was perhaps the Group’s strongest backer, and its relationship with the Group has been called ‘symbiotic’ by some observers (New 1989: 137-9; Vipond 1980: 41-42).

More germane to this discussion is the way in which the public statements of Group members reflect the prominence of the northern idea in the new, ‘naturalized’ Canadian nationalism. For instance, one member commented that in the minds of the Group, Canada was ‘a long thin strip of civilization on the southern fringe of a vast expanse of immensely varied, virgin land reaching into the remote north. Our whole country is cleansed by the pristine and replenishing air which sweeps out of that great hinterland.’ (Berger 1966: 21).

The Group of Seven’s travails were soon given mythical interpretation. This began with F.A. Housser’s widely read A Canadian Art Movement: the Story of the Group of Seven, published in 1926, in which Housser depicted Group members as heroic battlers for Canada fighting against the dead weight of Old World tradition:

‘Our British and European connection, so far as creative expression in Canada is concerned, has been a millstone around our neck…For Canada to find a complete racial expression of herself through art, a complete break with European traditions was necessary…what was required more than technique was a deep-rooted love of the country’s natural environment…The message that the Group of Seven art movement gives to this age is the message that here in the North has arisen a young nation with faith in its own creative genius’ (Cook 1986: 185).

Housser’s stance was clearly informed by his links with several nationalist associations – his wife even edited the art page of the Canadian Bookman, the journal of the Canadian Author’s Association. The myth of the Group was also enhanced by the legend of Tom Thomson, a figure that had influenced the Group of Seven by painting landscapes around the Algonquin Park region of Ontario. Thomson often ventured deep into the park by canoe, and drowned there while on a sketching trip in 1917. Thomson was thus viewed as an organic individual, an artist of the land who incarnated the virtues of the Canadian north, and hence the nation (Cook 1986: 205). In an essay entitled ‘Canadian and Colonial Painting’ (1940), for instance, Northrop Frye contrasted the genteel pastoralism of Horatio Walker with the ‘twisted stumps, sprawling rocks and strident colouring’ of Thomson, whom Frye believed had captured the ‘sphinx’-like spirit of the mysterious north, a subjectivity that linked him, in Frye’s mind, to explorers like Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser (Frye 1971: 200).

Gradually, as a consequence of their work’s popular resonance and as a result of their self-promotion and mythologization, the Group became the first (and probably only) Canadian art movement to communicate with the broader public. In fact, the Group’s popularity rose to such an extent that R.H. Hubbard could write, in his introduction to a 1964 Tate Gallery catalogue that ‘by 1938 the group’s influence had spread to all parts of the country. In its own generation only a few resisted its hegemony’ (Tooby 1991: 26). Meanwhile, the northern theme continued to act as a chrysalis for Canadian literature. Frederick Philip Grove, for instance, and a related school of ‘prairie realists’ in the 1920’s and 30’s, played incessantly on the relationship between the Canadian land and its folk. ‘We [Canadians] are not surfeited at any time with the sweets of the seasons’, wrote Grove, ‘our appetites are kept sharp; and what we lack in the breadth of our nature-experience, we make up for in depth, in intensity. I doubt whether people in the south ever become quite such ardent lovers of even the most trivial things in nature as we do’ (Mitcham 1983: 68; Woodcock 1987: 11).

The Northern Theme in Post-1918 Canadian Historiography

‘Sooner or later’, wrote historian A.R.M. Lower in the 1920’s, ‘our rigorous climate working on sterling stock [will] hammer out a vigorous and distinctive people, true men of the north…’ (Levitt 1981: 3). As Lower’s remarks illustrate, the northern ‘naturalization of the nation’ emerged strongly within English-Canadian historiography after the ‘Great War’. Here, many Canadian writers drew upon a more established vernacular tradition which viewed Canadian farming as a struggle against nature in a harsh, isolated northern environment (Harris 1966: 34; Morton 1961: 89-90). In this respect, the seminal figure was Harold Innis. Innis, a professor of history at the University of Toronto, developed a Canadian variant of Turner’s ideas known as the Laurentian Thesis in his work, The Fur Trade in Canada (1930).

The Laurentian Thesis postulated that the Fur Trade held the key to understanding Canadian history. Innis outlined two main reasons for this importance. To begin with, he wrote that Canada ‘remained British because of the importance of fur as a staple product’, and added that the British-run Northwest Company laid the foundations of the future dominion of Canada (Innis 1930: 265, 396). Moreover, while the agrarian movement westward defined the American experience, the great Laurentian Shield blocked a similar destiny for Canada, forcing it to remain tied to the French-Indian influenced staple economy of the Northwest. The staples gradually evolved, from fur to timber and minerals, but the essential point is that Canadians were participants in an inhospitable, rather than abundant land. Instead of settling the west, Canadians therefore remained ‘directly involved in the production of the staple’ (Innis 1930: 388). Theirs was hence a northern, not western destiny. More to the point, the newly historicized Shield, which extensively speaking, covers the vast Hudson’s Bay drainage system, linked the North with the destiny of the populous South in one great national epic.

Innis’ ideas proved immensely appealing to other Canadian historians, notably Donald Creighton, whose Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence (1937) reaffirmed Innis’ conclusions in the strongest terms and described the first true ‘Canadians’ as the fur traders of the North West Company – French and English heroes who, together, won the north for Canada (Creighton 1937: 67-73). After the second world war, Arthur Lower expanded on this idea, claiming that ‘if the Canadian people are to find their soul, they must seek for it, not in the English language or the French’, but in regional landscapes and in the ‘unconquerable vastness of the north. From the land, Canada, must come the soul of Canada’ (Levitt 1982: 140). [8] The Laurentian theme also ran through the work of other prominent Canadian post-WWII historians, notably William Morton, president of the Canadian Historical Association. Morton, for instance, in his Canadian Identity (1961) asserted that:

‘Canadian history began when the Vikings crossed the frontier of fish, fur and farm across the North Atlantic…From that obscure beginning Canada had a distinct, a unique, a northern destiny. Its modern beginnings are not Columbian, but Cabotan. And when the French followed Cartier up the St. Lawrence, they were at once committed by the development of the fur trade to the exploitation of the Canadian Shield…The Canadian or Precambrian Shield is as central in Canadian history as it is to Canadian geography, and to all understanding of Canada…And this alternate penetration of the wilderness and return to civilization is the basic rhythm of Canadian life, and forms the basic elements of Canadian character’ (Harris 1966: 28; Morton 1961: 4-5).

Morton’s work thus represents the consummation of the northern idea, in which Canada is seen to have its origins in distinct, northern voyages of discovery, in contrast to the rest of the (Columbian) new world.

Northern Landscape and the Arts after 1945

In the post-war era, modernist abstraction came to the fore in Canadian art, repudiating the work of the Group of Seven much as Abstract Expressionism repudiated Regionalist art in the United States in the late 1930’s (Woodcock 1987: 11-12; Doss 1993: 112-13). Nevertheless, Robert Fulford, a prominent member of the contemporary Canadian arts community, claims that each new generation of Canadian artists, though setting out to transcend the work of the Group of Seven, invariably ‘return[ed] to the forests and even to the Group of Seven itself’ (Fulford 1991: 10). Moreover, the Group still enthralled cultural critics like Northrop Frye, who stated in his introduction to a work on Lawren Harris (1969) that ‘they [the Group] felt themselves part of the movement towards the direct imaginative confrontation with the North American landscape, which, for them, began in literature with Thoreau and Whitman…While the Group of Seven were most active, Romanticism was going out of fashion elsewhere. But the nineteen-sixties is once again a Romantic period…so it seems a good time to see such an achievement as that of Lawren Harris in better perspective’ (Frye 1971: 208).

The new internationalist modernism of the post-war era also failed to stem the continuing tide of northern influence in Canadian arts and letters. Hugh MacLennan’s Two Solitudes and Precipice, for example, which helped define Canadian literature in the 1940’s and 50’s, eagerly drew upon the now standard theme of Canadian naturalism (Woodcock 1987: 12). This trend continued into the 1960’s and 70’s in the work of prominent writers like Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, André Langevin, Yves Thériault, Gabrielle Roy, Robert Kroetsch and Harold Horwood, prompting Alison Mitcham in 1983 to proclaim, somewhat ahistorically, that: ‘Perhaps the most exciting creative force in contemporary Canadian fiction – French [9] and English – is the Northern Imagination. Increasingly, our most perceptive novelists have shown that the Canadian imagination in many of its most original flights is inspired by the North’ (Mitcham 1983: 9). Some years later, George Woodcock extended this naturalistic Canadian narrative into the present, asserting that: ‘An especially interesting trend (it is not organized enough to be called a movement) among the younger poets has been toward a return to the landscape, though in much less conventional ways than the confederation poets a century ago. The writers representing this trend-among them some of the best of younger Canadian poets-include Patrick Lane, Dale Zieroth, Sid Marty, Tom Wayman and Susan Musgrave’ (Woodcock 1987: 16).

Even in the world of classical music, the pull of northern nature has been felt. For example, the famous Toronto pianist Glenn Gould ‘found himself constantly preoccupied by the Canadian North, and the wilderness’ despite his European training and big city roots. Gould even claimed that the north inspired his work, and Gould studied, wrote about and made radio documentaries on the North in the 1960’s (Fulford 1991: 8). More recently, in 1991, Robert Fulford, in commenting on the impact of the north on the Canadian psyche, insisted that ‘It is geography which sets the tone of Canadian culture just as it sets the rules of our working lives and governs our economic relations with other countries’ (Fulford 1991: 11). Furthermore, John Ralston Saul, a prominent Canadian essayist and novelist, appealed to Canadians to reject southern (American) commercialism and the divisiveness of language (French vs. English) whilst uniting via the medium of northern landscape: ‘Our destiny is tied to the territory of which we are custodians-that is, the northern half of the continent’, wrote Saul in 1997. ‘Not religion, not language, not race, but place is the dominant feature of civilizations…In more temperate, central countries, place is eventually dominated…[but] out on the margins, place is never dominated’ (Saul 1997: 69, 158).

Bearing these ideas in mind, it is evident that the north continues to resonate as a theme in Canadian culture, even amongst those professing a more abstract modernist (or post-modernist) orientation. For the broader Canadian public, a similar truism holds, as is evident in the popularity of exhibitions of the Group of Seven’s work (as with the permanent McMichael collection or in temporary showings such as that held in Vancouver during the summer of 1996), in the writings of novelists like Farley Mowat or in the painting of artists like Alex Colville, Robert Bateman and Paul Calle. [10]

The Northern Sensibility and Post-War Canadian Identity

‘Climate plays a great part in giving us our special character, different from that of our southern neighbours’ announced Governor General Vincent Massey in his 1948 work On Being Canadian, ‘it influences our mentality, produces a sober temperament …Nothing is more characteristic of Canadians than the inclination to be moderate’. As Massey’s statement shows, the rhetoric of Canadian political figures, like that of its historians, continued to resound with northern imagery after the second world war. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, for example, played upon the northern theme frequently during the 1958 election campaign: ‘I see a new Canada…A Canada of the North!’, thundered Diefenbaker, whose successful bid for office nicely demonstrated the cultural resonance of this idea with the Canadian electorate (Berger 1966: 23). And in the late 1970’s, the title of Thomas Berger’s important federal report on cultural policy was entitled Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, demonstrating how firmly embedded was the naturalistic notion that northern nature was a vital force behind Canada’s cultural distinctiveness (New 1989: 214). Finally, and perhaps of greatest significance, with the decline of Canadian Britannicism, the northern myth stood ‘shakily alone’ as the only pillar of Canadian identity to emerge secure from the cultural tumult of the post-1945 period (Harris 1966: 41-2). [11]

To summarize, the efforts of Canada First in politics, the Confederation School in literature, the Group of Seven in painting and the Laurentian School in historiography helped to ‘naturalize’ Canadian national identity along northern lines, a feature which has persisted to the present day.

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