________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 18 . . . . May 10, 2002

cover George Grant: Redefining Canada. (The Quest Library, 15).

T.F. Rigelhof.
Montreal, PQ: XYZ Publishing, 2001.
179 pp., pbk., $15.95.
ISBN 0-9688166-8-1.

Subject Headings:
Grant, George, 1918-1988.
Philosophers-Canada-Biography.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Alexander Gregor.

**** /4

excerpt:

Lament for a Nation is a true lament, a passionate expression of grief, regret, and sorrow. The Canada whose death he mourns is the country that George saw personified in his own mother, a country tied to European values as it is to the physical realities of the New World in order to create a society of free and equal people who are less disordered, unstable, undemocratic, and violent than Americans. To be truly Canadian, we are forced to be more British than the British, more French than the French, and more American than the Americans in putting our ideals into practice. Growing up in Ontario when he did and coming to know Quebec as well as he does, George had taken it for granted that to be a Canadian is to be a unique kind of North American. Being northerners, being British and French and European, have made Canadian tough rather than pretty, have given us a greater loyalty to being good than to being free. This Canada, his Canada, has been extinguished by politicians who gave their allegiance to multinational corporations rather than their fellow citizens.

It would seem a particularly challenging undertaking to attempt making the life of a Canadian humanities scholar the stuff of popular reading, but in this task T.F. Rigelhof has succeeded superbly in his examination of one of Canada's most important intellectuals, George Grant. His book is another in the very impressive "Quest Library," issued by XYZ Publishing. In the fashion of these biographies, the subject's life is told with a colour and detail, and with an effective use of conversations and quotations making the story seem at times as much a novel as a history. Yet the scholarship is sound and accurate, and a fair and balanced portrait offered. And again like the other books in the series, this study is at once the very personal story of an individual, as well as a framework for understanding the larger national and international context in which the individual lived, and the more specific setting and profession to which the individual belonged in this case, the Canadian university during a critical period in its development.

     George Grant belonged to a family that had played a major part in Canada's history and one which expected him to accept the same responsibility for public service. Grandfather and father were headmasters of Upper Canada College; another grandfather was Principal of Queen's University; one uncle was Raymond Massey, Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom during World War II, and subsequently Governor-General of Canada. The play of these "nurture and nature" influences is explored in a fascinating way, as is the influence of the larger world forces: the experience of total war in the London of the Blitzkrieg; the experience of the unremitting apprehension brought by the subsequent Cold War, so-called; and the experience of watching the rise and dominance of a postwar cultural, economic and military superpower to the south. This cauldron of personal and global influences brought George Grant to pacifism, to an intense religiosity, to a commitment to public education, and to a profound sense of Canadian nationalism. A very effective teacher in his professional settings: MacMaster, Dalhousie, and Queen's, Grant was perhaps even more effective in his role as "public intellectual." His seminal publications, Lament for a Nation and Technology and Empire, explored and brought to a wide audience the impact of business and technology and the new "global" (that is, American) culture on the character and future of Canadian society. His commitment to public enlightenment carried him to roles of leadership in the Canadian Association for Adult Education, in the CBC, the Civil Rights Association, the Citizen's Housing and Planning Association, the "Great Books" series, and in the company of Pierre Trudeau and others the establishment of the NDP. His influence was an enormous one, shaping in large measure the emerging discussion about Canadian independence and Canadian identity (or the end thereof).

     If any criticism is to be made of the book, it would have to be in what seems to be an implicit acceptance, on the part of the author, of Grant's basic arguments and conclusions. It is difficult at times to discern where Grant ends and the author begins; and little opportunity is provided for rebuttal. At the same time, however, this general endorsement does not appear to detract from the basic accuracy of the portrait.

     Like the others in the series, the book offers a collection of photographs as well as a useful chronological appendix which places the events of Grant's life, in this case, against the parallel events occurring in Canada and the larger world. In addition to that chronology, this particular volume offers an extensive annotated bibliography which will be of use to anyone wishing to pursue various of the issues raised in the biography. And it is likely that such further investigations will, in fact, have been spurred by this book; the author has presented an engaging and informative study of one of Canada's most important social commentators and has provided an informed insight into the issue of Canadian identity in the contemporary world.

Highly recommended.

Alexander Gregor is a professor of higher education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364

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