Canadian History is actually fascinating

Canadian history is not boring. In fact, it is far more interesting and dynamic than one might expect. In contrast to many countries, we are a country formed not so much by war and violence, but by flexibility, negotiation and a tireless work ethic. We might lack dramatic civil wars, bombings or martyrs, but we should stand proud that we live in a country that prefers the pen and the word to the sword and the bomb.

Cicero once said, “Not to know what happened before you were born is to be foreverchild.” It is with that spirit that I set out to brush up on my canadian and quebec history. Below are four books that I recently read and highly recommend. After reading these books I have a deeper, though still superficial, understanding of what it took to build our country and the trials all the men and women had to overcome. Canada remains a country unfinished – we lack a finalised constitution and still have strong unity issues – but we need to know where we came from to know where to go.

Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fisher

This fascinating book tells the story of Samuel de Champlain, undoubtedly the father of Quebec and by extension, Canada. He was a man who devoted his life to the establishment of a permanent colony in Canada, he regarded First Nation people as his equal, and managed to succeed in the both the politicized French courts and the harsh Canadian winter. What really sticks out is just how precarious Québec was, the French were by no means enthusiastic colonisers and Québec was largely financed by venture capitalists. His efforts to maintain peace with the first nations were instrumental to the survival of Europeans in Canada, his form of peace-building would later be emulated by other Canadian leaders and has become a defining part of what it is to be Canadian. Champlain was also a talented cartographer, manager and seaman, a true renaissance man. If not for Champlain, there would be no Québec and no french speaking people in North America. The book should be mandatory reading for all Canadians.

 

Extraordinary Canadians – Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin by John Raulston Saul

This excellent, though short, book delivers an insight into the partnership and friendship the two men formed. L-H Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin were the key creators of a bilingual and responsible government in the 1840s. Their efforts to appease sectarian urges in Upper and Lower Canada in the 1830-1850 period paved the way for a peaceful confederation in 1867 and the birth of a nation that included English and French. Their work also set the tone for future generations of Canadians who would continuously face the challenge of national unity. Though not a detailed historical work, it does give you a greater appreciation for the precariousness of the Canadas in the mid 19th century and how we nearly became an American state or an English speaking nation. These two men doggedly negotiated their way through mobs and racism to help birth the nation.

A Short History of Canada by Desmond Morton

This is a whirlwind tour of Canadian history from the first European settlement to 2005. It focuses on the national leaders and prime ministers that shaped this country and is a great overview of the formative parts of our history. It sadly skips over certain important treaties and dates, but nevertheless delivers a well balanced overview of our country.

Une Histoire du Quebec par Jacques Lacoursière

Ce bref livre offre une histoire fascinante du Québec, de Jacques Cartier à Charest. C’est un excellent survol de notre histoire nationale, des hommes et des femmes qui ont bravé la neige et les conflits religieux pour créer une ile francophone et progressive dans une Amérique du Nord anglophone. L’histoire reste parfaitement factuelle, M. Lacoursière vous offre un excellent survol de notre histoire pour ceux qui ont possiblement oublié leurs cours de secondaire.

Published on June 30, 2011