I think about Canada a lot. Not constantly, mind you, but more often than on those occasions when somebody gets upset about something that’s happened in U.S. politics/culture and threatens to move there. It stymies me that Canada simply isn’t on most Americans’ radar. I mean, it’s right there, but it hardly ever crosses our minds. Nor do we learn about it in school. At least, I didn’t. Kudos to you and your teachers if you spent longer than one day in social studies pondering a Canadian curriculum. All I know about Canada is that it has trees, maple syrup, and hockey and that Margaret Atwood‘s visions of the future are Somewhat Bleak. I can also name a handful of random celebrities who hail from there, but this doesn’t exactly make me Jeopardy champion material.
Clearly, this ignorance will not do, especially since Alice Munro recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature, thus forcing me, you, and every red-blooded American citizen with even a drop of conscience to learn a thing or two about our neighbors to the immediate north. Let’s get cracking!
Make the Government of Canada portal your first stop, to get information directly from the folks who live and govern there. Contains sections on culture and the arts, individual provinces and territories, history/genealogy and much more.
The CIA World Factbook is a nifty website to know about if you need fast, credible data on a specific country. Did you know that Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867, has an area of 9,984,670 square kilometers (making it the world’s largest country that only borders one country) and maintains 3.2 hospital beds and 2.069 physicians for every 1,000 people (last measured in 2010)? Très intéressant!*
Canadian Geographic, a publication of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, is a great all-purpose journal for initial leisure reading/research about Canada. For other national publications, as well as province-specific journals, click here.
For a quick peek at the Carnegie Library’s research holdings, grab your library card and search for Canada in our digital general reference resources. The Gale Virtual Reference Library, in particular, is a smashing way to learn more about a given topic without leaving the comfort of your home (which is key for getting smart in spite of snowfall). If you can make it in for a visit, search Reference Universe, too, which will allow you to search inside all those books on the shelves and only open the ones that will be truly useful to you. Kids (and parents!) should test-drive the Grolier encyclopedias, as well as the World Book Almanac for Kids.
If you’d rather take something home, you’ll be happy to know that Main library alone holds over 2,600 books on Canada. Here are a few collection highlights:
Folklore of Canada, Edith Fowke. You can tell a lot about a nation from its mythologies, fairy tales, customs, and other folkways. Fowke’s collection includes tales from tribal/aboriginal cultures, as well as those of French and British origin.
A History of Canadian Culture, Jonathan Franklin William Vance. Vance’s work, which won the Lela Common Award for Canadian History, covers quite a bit of ground, from Inuit clothing design to the Barenaked Ladies. That’s a lot to swallow, but Vance also explores themes and concerns common across eras: what does it mean to be Canadian, how should the arts be funded, what role does/should copyright and other forms of artist recognition/compensation play? A roller-coaster romp of a history book.
The Illustrated History of Canada, Craig Brown, ed. A popular book that has been released in several editions, Brown’s work includes engravings, lithographs, cartoons, maps and posters, as well as photographs, taking this text to the full extent of what “illustrated” can mean. Though it only contains six chapters, each one is written by a prominent historian or geographer, which efficiently augments your knowledge of, say, native cultures or the history of U.S./Canadian relations.
Canada’s Fifty Years in Space, G.G. Shepherd. Wait, what? If, like me, you did not know Canada had a space program, pick up this volume and prepare to be amazed. Just one of the many niche history books you’ll find in our collection, Shepherd’s chronicle tells the story of the Canadian Space Agency, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), Canada’s involvement with the NASA Phoenix mission, the ISIS-II satellite and much more. What does that mean? It means science, my friends. Loads of space-tastic science. A keen read for space geeks.
Want to read books by Canadian authors? Here are some writers and titles you should try on for size, recommended by actual Canadians!**
Robertson Davies. One of Canada’s best known and most popular authors, and a distinguished man of letters known for his work as a playwright, journalist and critic, to boot. Start with The Depford Trilogy, then take a side trip into criticism to ponder The Merry Heart: Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books.
Will Ferguson. Best known for his witty observations on Canadian history and culture, Ferguson frequently takes on an outsider’s point of view to paint a more robust picture of his subjects. Try Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw.
Margaret Lawrence. Not only one of Canada’s most prominent novelists/short story creators, but also a founder of the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Make sure to seek out The Stone Angel and The Diviners.
Stuart McLean. This host of CBC Radio‘s “Vinyl Cafe” has been described as “the Canadian Garrison Keilor.” Although he has written serious pieces as well, he’s best known for his humor. Take a gander at Secrets From the Vinyl Cafe.
Louise Penny. If you’ve met Armand Gamache, well, then, you already know. If you haven’t completely fallen in love with the man–or with the bucolic town of Three Pines–start with Still Life.
Gordon Korman. This Canadian-American author writes for children and young adults. The first book in his well-liked “Bruno and Boots” series, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, grew out of an assignment written for English class when he was just twelve (!) and was published in 1978, when Korman was only fourteen (!!). Since then he has written over 75 books, so you’d best get started with “Bruno and Boots” right now!
Tanya Huff. A sci-fi / fantasy author with seven series under her belt, a handful of stand-alone novels and a solid handful of short story collections as well. Because it was adapted for television, some people may be familiar with the Blood Books series, which pairs private detective Vicki Nelson with vampire/author Henry Fitzroy for crime-solving shenanigans. Start with Blood Price.
There: I feel somewhat smarter already. Obviously there’s more to learn, and I’m sure plenty of you could take me to school on the subject. So, spill: what should I know about Canada? What do you know about Canada?
currently jamming to Moxy Früvous
* Very interesting. French is one of Canada’s official languages, and is spoken primarily in Quebec, with a smattering of usage in New Brunswick, Ontario, and in smaller indigenous communities throughout the country. Click here for details.
**Many thanks to my Canadian Facebook contingent, who graciously contributed authors and titles to this blog post!