Login Register Our Team Submission Guidelines Contact FAQs Terms of Use

The Long Shadow Of Stephen Leacock

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 8: Mark Twain of the North?

Stephen Butler Leacock usually gets the credit for being the Canadian culture-maker. Whether he deserves all the credit is a matter for the next two entries in our series, but he is definitely an excellent place to start.

First, however, a few key details about the man and his life are in order. Because Leacock is often compared to Mark Twain, some assume he was a self-made man from humble origins like Twain. He was decidedly not. For one thing, he was born into old English money and he wasn’t even born in Canada. He attended Upper Canada College, which was and still is the premier prep school for Canada’s first families. He spent time teaching and learning at the University of Toronto and McGill University, the two most prestigious universities in English Canada, and studied under socialist academic Thorstein Veblen at the University of Chicago. He was a lifelong Canadian Tory, advocating for the monarchy, for tradition, and for the presence of whatever passed for religion in public life.

How To Build A Successful Canadian Musical Act

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 7: Who I believe to be the quintessential Canadian band

Have you ever watched Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video and wondered just what the earthly hell is going on?

How did this morose, strangely-dressed, monotone-voiced, wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube-man-dancing weirdo who can’t seem to make up his mind about whether he wants to rap or sing come to dominate the airwaves?

The Garrison Mentality: More Than Meets The Eye

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 6: Animation

The consequence free hipster odyssey of Scott Pilgrim and the gritty, blood-soaked path trod by Wolverine do not contradict one another – they are one and the same. This contradiction plays itself out in a concept called “the garrison mentality“- broadly, the idea that Canadians invent or seek out their own personal wars despite living in relative peace. But rather than explicate this confusing concept through politics or history, I will do it using two children’s cartoons with Canadian roots.

One, “Transformers: Beast Wars,” is likely well known to you. Everybody knows the robots in disguise thanks to Michael Bay’s explosion-soaked series of films. (Hilariously, and proving my point in a way, “Beast Wars” was deemed to be too violent a title for Canadians, so the show was known in Canada as ‘Beasties.'”) The other, “ReBoot,” is acclaimed in animation circles but enjoys much less popular fandom. Both were created by Vancouver-based Mainframe Entertainment.

Visually, these two series have not aged well. Being early-to-mid 1990s CGI, the uncanny valley runs deep through them. But the writing, voice acting and character development remain top-notch and surprisingly deep. And, for the purposes of our discussion, the ancient animation actually helps convey the sense of unease and low-level threat central to the garrison mentality.

Inside Quebec’s – and Canada’s – Replicant Culture

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 5: Dystopian Science Fiction

The doomed antiheroes Spawn (created by a Canadian) and Wolverine (who is Canadian) show that to separate from Canada carries with it a grave penalty, even the loss of one’s soul to Hell itself. And yet there is a region of Canada that has nevertheless flirted, dangerously closely, with separatism. I speak of course of La Belle Province – Quebec.

As this is a series on Canadian culture, I will not delve too deeply into Quebec’s history or politics. Any discussion of Quebec culture, however, must reference the year 1759 and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, just outside modern-day Quebec City, where British forces established themselves as the sole power in what was then Canada.

An obscure and quite short battle in the much larger Seven Years War, this event created the pretext for French-speaking Canadians to view themselves as a conquered and colonized people. To this day, Quebecois display “Je Me Souviens” (I remember) on the license plates of their cars, and antipathy towards the English royal family is common throughout the province while the Queen remains (mostly) beloved everywhere else. This is the result of the Quiet Revolution, a cultural and religious shift two hundred years after the French defeat at the hands of the British. The Catholic Church may have lost most of its power, but a giant cross still stands atop Mount Royal and adorns the Quebec National Assembly, the provincial seat of power, and Quebecers curse each other with religious epithets (Tabarnak! Va a diable! Crisse!).

Banished From The Promised Land: A Tale of Two Canadian Anti-Heroes

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 4: Wolverine Vs Spawn

The road from Scott Pilgrim’s Toronto, to Wayne and Tanis’ Letterkenny, and out to the farthest reaches of Essex County has turned into a Heart of Darkness journey… of sorts. This is still Canada, remember? There was, at long last, some heroism, but nothing yet that could credibly be called evil. For that, we’ll have to go abroad, and back in time a few decades, to the grim-darkest depths of the 1990s.

You know this place: everything is XTREEEEEEEME!!!! and everyone thinks in Frank Miller internal monologue balloons, wears eye-bleeding colours and more ammo pouches than ever could be considered practical, talks like a surfer, and enjoys stable employment as a vigilante contract killer. How would morally squishy Canadians hold up in this kind of environment? Pretty well, it turns out, because you probably know Wolverine, one of this era’s grittiest exemplars, and you’re probably familiar with the work of Todd McFarlane, who drew some of those badass anti-heroes.

McFarlane is Canadian, but his character Al Simmons/Spawn is an American: Wolverine is a Canadian character created by Americans Roy Thomas and Len Wein. I chose these two as a study in contrasts, but also to highlight what happens when the Canadian creator, or creation, gets sick of the aggressively dull homeland and thrusts himself into a hostile world.

The Harsh Truths of ‘Essex County’

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 3: Graphic Novel Nihilism

Down the aimless streets of Toronto in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and through the idyllic back country of Letterkenny, lies the way to understanding the way Canadians see themselves, or at least would like to be seen. Both these works are about keeping up a carefully crafted image: the studied apathy and hipsterdom of the big city, and the carefully cultivated simplicity of the country.

But beneath these polished exteriors (that do their best to not appear polished) lies the haunted world of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County. This is the Canada that we don’t talk about, rendered in stark black and white inks.

The Libertarian Fantasy of ‘Letterkenny’

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 2: “Humour”

In our last post we explored the high-energy, low-stakes, and ultimately aimless retro-gaming netherworld that was Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and found a lot of art but little matter. So for now we’ll depart the big city of Toronto and take a trip into Canada’s equivalent of flyover country into the little town of Letterkenny.

Now, I should state right up front that making fun of rustics and calling it “Canadian humour” is a trope almost as old as Canada itself, even though I do in fact know that there’s nothing uniquely Canadian about it. Letterkenny is in a tradition dating back to the grand old man of Canadian humour, the Canadian Mark Twain, Stephen Leacock (who I’ll be covering in a later installment).

‘Scott Pilgrim Vs The World’ Vs Terrance Denby and Sidequest

Deconstructing Canadian Culture, Part 1: Heroes

For a decade, I and my fellow travelers worked within my country’s political system, trying to effect change. Then, one fateful day- October 19th, 2015- the 42nd Canadian federal election came to an end, and everything we’d worked for was wiped away.

Rather than go through the process of rebuilding a broken party again, I decided to work with Liberty Island senior editor Dave Swindle to create my own culture-influencing fantasy trilogy. But as I delved deeper into Canadian culture, I began to realize that I was starting from a very different cultural reference point. I couldn’t just blindly copy American tropes of soldiers of fortune, accidental prophets, badass bikers and even SJWs who end up entangled in the American political system.

When I read Liberty Island novels featuring these protagonists, I keep noticing differences that take me out of the story. It’s not hard to imagine other Canadians getting hung up on these differences, too.