CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 25 . . . . March 2, 2018
Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently, the creators of this series consider light bulbs to be more of a basic need than food.
I want to like these books. Good Canadian content is always valued. The key qualifier is 'good'. In my opinion, this series is okay but could have been so much better.
"Canada 150" covers Canadian history from Confederation (1867) to Canada's sesquicentennial celebrations (2017) in a total of 320 pages. There are eight books in the series dividing our history into manageable chunks: Canada Becomes a Federation: 1867-1879, Canada Unites: 1880-1913, Canada on the World Stage: 1914-1945, Canada Exercises Diplomacy: 1946-1959, Canada in Flux: 1960-1979, Canada Charters Its Future: 1980-1993, Canada Serves Its People: 1994-2000, and Canada Today: 2000-2017.
The layout of the books includes many full or half page archival photos as well as some colourful modern day photos. The books are almost 20cm x 30cm (8 ½" x 11") making the photos large enough to examine in detail. Unfortunately, there are no questions to guide the independent reader. A missed opportunity.
The accompanying text is relatively sparse. It is double spaced with some pages having less than a hundred words. As to be expected in a series covering 150 years of history in a few pages, the content comprises a series of selected highlights.
Topics include immigration, politics, entertainment, culture, economic development, as well as a few noteworthy individuals and their accomplishments. Men and women of many different ethnic backgrounds, including Canada's indigenous people, are included in the story of the growth and development of Canada. It is a well balanced collection of highlights.
The information in this series is presented chronologically. It is important to remember that as you proceed through these books because it helps explain the sometimes odd juxtaposition of some photos and text.
For example, in Canada Exercises Diplomacy: 1946-1959, page 36 has the heading "Council of the Arts" with two short paragraphs about the founding of the Canada Council for the Arts. Page 37 has a colour photo with the caption "Canada has hundreds of art galleries and museums" and a "Do You Know?" box about a Canada Council grant in 1958 that allowed the Halifax Symphony to travel to Newfoundland. The bottom third of page 36, however, contains a "Do You Know?" box about Tommy Douglas and health care.
In this example, even the chronology matches only loosely. This text box would have gone better on the previous page, which has the heading "Public Hospital Insurance Program Established". Page 35 has fewer than 100 words of text plus a picture of a couple across the desk from a woman. They may be talking about health care, or they may be talking to their investment broker, or a wedding officiant. The Tommy Douglas information would have been a more logical fit with this page. It seems very out of context in the midst of a double-page spread about the arts.
In addition to the information in the books being presented chronologically, someone (editor, or designers, or publisher) has added a number of visual clues to the layout to guide readers' understanding of the content choices. The organization of the Table of Contents is key to the visual clues. Instead of having the Table of Contents organized sequentially by page numbers, it is organized in up to six categories: "Building Toward the Future", "Changing Communities", "Constructing Canada", "Crossing Cultures", "Everyday Entertainment", and "Crisis in Canada". Each category has a colour and an icon. For example, "Building the Future" is orange with a rocket ship icon. "Constructing Canada" is green with a crossed hammer and wrench. Each page in the books has a coloured margin down the outside edge containing the matching icon. The margin on some pages changes colour part way down as the category of the information changes. This did not aid my understanding of the information contained in the books, and it was initially a distraction as I struggled to understand the significance of the colours and icons.
In addition to the organizational issues, I have three other concerns, all of which could have been improved with more careful editing. Most of the information is clear and accurate; however, some information is confusing, some is misleading, and some is incorrect.
For example, in Canada on the World Stage: 1914-1945, the topic "Women Help the War Effort" has a photo with the caption "Approximately 50,000 women enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War". The text under the picture refers to the establishment of the Women's Army Corps and says, "Before the corps was broken up in 1946, more than 21,000 women had served in Canada and overseas". The missing information, leading to some confusion, is that, in addition to the 21,600 women in the Women's Army Corps, there were 17,400 in the Women's Division of the RCAF, 7,100 in the WRENS, and 4,480 Nursing Sisters, for a total of 50,580 women enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces. Since I had to go to an outside source to clear up my confusion, why wouldn't I just skip the book and go straight to the internet?
Canada in Flux: 1960-1979 includes "The October Crisis". The final comment about the James Cross kidnapping is misleading by leaving out some relevant information.
The above statement is correct. The justice minister did say that, but the book omits the fact that eventually all of the exiled FLQ members returned to Canada, were tried, convicted and sentenced to a time in jail.
Elsewhere, in the same book, it states, "In 1967 Canada honoured its 100th birthday and held Expo 67, an international event, in Montréal. More than a decade later, Montréal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics."
This is a small detail, but unfortunately it just confirms my opinion that more careful editing was needed. 1976 is less than a decade after 1967, not more than a decade.
Listed below is a sample of the topics covered in each book.
Canada Becomes a Federation: 1867-1879
Canada Unites: 1880-1913 includes: Britain gives the Arctic regions to Canada, the CPR is completed, James Naismith invents basketball, the National Council of Women is founded, the Klondike Gold Rush, Marconi receives a transatlantic signal, and Canada's first dramatic film, "Hiawatha, the Messiah of the Ojibway.
Canada on the World Stage: 1914-1945 includes: the War Measures Act, World War I internment camps, Manitoba women vote, Halifax Harbour explosion, Agnes Macphail, the Group of Seven, Banting, Winnipeg Strike, women are persons, and World War II internment camps.
Canada Exercises Diplomacy: 1946-1959 includes: the discovery of oil in Alberta, the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, NATO, revisions to the Indian Act, Canadian TV premiers, the Suez Crisis, public hospital insurance, NORAD, and the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Canada in Flux: 1960-1979 includes: Indigenous People get the vote, Quiet Revolution, the maple leaf flag, Royal Commission on the Status of Women, Medicare, the Official Languages Act, the October Crisis, CN Tower, Greenpeace, and the hockey Summit Series.
Canada Charters Its Future: 1980-1993 includes: the first separation referendum, Ken Taylor rescues Americans from Iran, the Ocean Ranger capsizes, the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Air India Flight 182 bombing, the Montréal Massacre, cod fishing is suspended, the Oka Crisis, and Kim Campbell becomes Prime Minister.
Canada Serves Its People: 1994-2000 includes: NAFTA begins, the Quebec referendum, the closing of the last residential school in 1996, Confederation Bridge, Nunavut, and the Clarity Act.
Canada Today: 2000-2017 includes: Chris Hadfield's walk in space, Canadian troops in Afghanistan, same sex marriage, Lac Mégantic rail disaster, and the Alberta wildfires.
"Canada 150" includes a selection of highlights of Canadian events and noteworthy people from Confederation to 2017. It is selective rather than comprehensive and should not be criticized for not being more than what it claims to be. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver those highlights in a quality presentation. I recommend that you examine a copy for yourself to see if the Canadian focus is sufficiently important to you that you can overlook the shortcomings.
Recommended with Reservations.
Dr. Suzanne Pierson is a retired teacher librarian, currently instructing Librarianship courses at Queen's University in Kingston, ON.