As historians, we are excited about commemorating the 150th anniversary of the historic achievement of Confederation – the unification of our colonial provinces into ‘One Dominion’. We can probably all agree that “Canada 150” has been used to represent a lot over the last year, from government celebrations to merchandise, back-yard barbecues to hockey games. Here at the St. Catharines Museum, we want to make sure that we mark “Canada 150” in a meaningful way by making space for the untold and forgotten narratives and perspectives of our history. So, for our fall Books & Brews series, we’ll be looking at our national and community history through the perspectives of Indigenous, female, and Francophone authors and comparing their narratives with our mainstream histories.
But how did we come to select the books that we’ll read in the fall series of Books & Brews?
We began with the intent to diversify and complicate the idea of “Canada 150”. We must recognize that the creation of Confederation in 1867, and the conferences and debates leading up to it, deliberately excluded women, Indigenous peoples, and racialized minorities who had made Canada their home. As such, the new Dominion did not make space to represent the voices of those excluded. The consequences of this history continue to be ever present.
Thus, while we do celebrate Canada 150 with a sense of national pride, it is important that we take this time to also examine Canada 150 critically. Our Fall 2017 Books & Brews series opens space for the voices of Indigenous, female, and French-Canadian authors to consider the impacts of colonization on what it means to be Canadian. The books we have selected explore Canadian-ness and the Canadian experience through the intersections of race, class, culture and identity. They cross borders and cross cultures, challenging our worldviews as well as the way we think about our stories and storytelling.
Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Waters (1993)
Plot Summary: The fictional small town of Blossom is the setting for Thomas King’s high-spirited novel featuring the trickster Coyote, four time-travelling Indian elders who have escaped from a mental institution, and five Blackfoot Indians whose lives intersect in surprising ways. At its heart, this sophisticated narrative is an exploration of how native traditions and the modern world come together, and it’s as witty as it is wise.
Margaret Laurence, The Diviners (1974)
Plot Summary: Morag Gunn is a fiercely independent writer who grew up in Manawaka, Manitoba. Morag has a difficult relationship with her daughter Pique and her Métis lover Jules Tonnerre, and struggles to maintain her independence.
The Diviners presents a grand, sprawling, postmodern, self-reflexive portrait of Canadian life across several generations, races and classes. The novel circles its way back and forth from the contemporary present to the history of Canadian immigrant settlement and concomitant displacement of First Nations and Métis peoples, to an imagined future of environmentally dire yet spiritually hopeful dimensions.
Jacques Povlin, Volkswagen Blues (1994)
Plot Summary: A road novel about a middle-aged, formerly successful writer who is experiencing a bout of writer’s block. Discovering an old postcard, the protagonist embarks on a quest in search of his long-lost, rambling brother, Théo. Early in the narrative, Jack picks up a hitchhiker, a young Métis woman, as a travel companion, as well as a cat named Chop Suey.
Together in Jack’s Volkswagen Minibus, which through personification becomes a character in the story, they travel from Gaspé to San Francisco, passing through Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and the American West on their way, exploring the history of European contact with the native people of the Americas. While on the road, they discuss language, literature, American expansion, the Oregon Trail, etc., and their trip becomes an allegory for the history of the French exploration of North America. At the same time, La Grande Sauterelle, who is struggling with her own identity, presents another version of American history, as recounted by the natives, where “discovery” is viewed as “invasion.”
The Books & Brews Special
We hope that this season’s book club discussions are especially engaging and meaningful. To pair with our three evenings of conversation, our incredible partners Mahtay Cafe & Lounge are returning to serve everyone’s favourite selection of local brews: wines, beers, coffee, and tea.
We will also lead unique renegade tours of the Museum gallery, retelling the common narratives of St. Catharines history with new voices and new perspectives.
Be sure to also check out our Museum Chat Live! podcast where we delve deeper into the themes of each novel. You can find our podcast on iTunes, Soundcloud as well as on our blog.
Visit our website to learn more about Books & Brews and to register.
Adrian Petry is Visitor Services Coordinator and Sara Nixon is Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.