PORTRAIT OF CANADA by June Callwood

PORTRAIT OF CANADA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A caustic, cartoony, put-down history of Canada, by a Canadian freelancer. Canada, says Callwood, developed from ""conservatives, change resisters, traditionalists"" who fled the US; the railroads made it a nation (""the flag should show a locomotive, not a maple leaf""), only industrial Ontario and the railway builders supported federation (1867), and ""only Ontario . . . shows any real passion for keeping the country together."" Also, of course, the US owns it, dominates it, and draws away its rebels and rugged individualists. A familiar litany of self-criticism, in toto, juiced up and presented without offsetting virtues (akin to depictions of the US as crude, materialistic, aggressive, etc.). The bulk of the book is a shapeless linear chronicle of events in the same high-keyed, hip-shooting vein. For example: ""In 1783 George III picked as prime minister a brilliant twenty-four-year-old, William Pitt the Younger, addicted to two bottles of port a day and probably a homosexual, who was to steer the empire through the rocky period of liberalism unrest. Pitt decided that the remaining colonies in America should be small and manageable, with soldiers for governors."" Similarly, Joseph Howe--militant journalist and prophet of unification--is introduced as ""Nova Scotia's rough-tongued lecher,"" and, most seriously for' American readers, never acquires a historical identity. (The irony, given Callwood's gripes, is how many staunch individualists and outright eccentrics do turn up--even without her caricaturing.) Despite all the debunking of Canadian nationhood, moreover, Callwood doesn't even seem to feel obliged to account for Quebec's 1980 vote against separation. North of the border, where the course of development is understood, where the events and personalities are known, the book can conceivably be taken as an irreverent alternative to official pieties; untutored Americans, however, will be far better served by George Woodcock's unreverent but appreciative The Canadians (p. 117).

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1980
Publisher: Doubleday