Monday, 3 August 2009

Canada 3 Challenge - first book done!!

I am a
I took the 43 Things Personality Quiz and found out I'm a
Spiritual Romantic Tree Hugger

Fun! Not many people are like me, only .14%! Well, of those who took this quiz, anyway. I also made my list up, 43 Things To Do in My Life, it's on my sidebar now. Rhinoa at Rhinoa's Ramblings has had something similar up on her blog for quite some time now, and I'm in awe of everything she has accomplished, as well as what is on her list. As I do things,I will cross them off, though some are ongoing, for every year. Like read 100 books a year!

As to that, well, I've made it to 50! Hurray! I'm still behind, but after reading 12 books in July - this is an all-time high for me, I think! - it's not looking quite so bad now.

Canada 3 Challenge

It's about time I posted about the Canada 3 Challenge! Hosted by John at The Book Mine blog, this is the third year of this challenge which celebrates everything good about Canadian writing. This year I am taking a different attempt to get to 13 books - 13 because we have 13 provinces and territories that make up Canada - I am reading a wide variety of authors and kinds of writing that interest me. Thus, I already have poetry - Slip/Strike, by Don McKay, from Newfoundland; a play - The Rez Sisters, by Thomson Highway, and for the first time Aboriginal writers are represented - not because I haven't read any, but because I had wrote much of what had been in print already, and now there's new books come to my attention: Monkey Beach, by Eden Robinson, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, and the aforesaid The Rez Sisters. The Rez Sisters is a reread for me, and I found it both hilarious and tragic the first time I read it, long ago in univerity. I have listed the books on my sidebar, and have left blank spaces for books to come to my attention this year. I might read some Lucy Maud Montgomery, or some Robert Munch with my kids, and catch up on Tanya Huff's fantasy series, as well as some books by Charles de Lint that I didn't get to last year.

Despite the fact I have not succeeded yet at this challenge, every year I am determined to, and this year is no different!

And to that end, I am very proud to say, I have already read one book!!! I am so delighted.

Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, by Anna Brownell Jameson

This is not my cover, as I found a used edition that is out of print now. It is the journal of a woman who came to Canada in Dec 1836 to Sept 1837, to join her husband the Attorney General of Upper Canada. Their marriage was not a happy one, and this was one of her attempts to make the marriage look good. When she went back to England, it was with a settlement from him; they never divorced, but their marriage was over. While she rarely refers to him - at least in this abridged version - there is an air of painful loneliness relieved by the friendly people she met on her travels. The journal wasn't written to him, and it is full of matter-of-fact observations of everything she saw around her. It is now an invaluable record of early pioneer life in Ontario, and a glimpse of what the largest cities first looked like.

For those of us in Canada, there are those who are from Toronto, and those who are not. I'm one who is not, and I really loathe it. I've been several times, and it's one of the most unremarkable cities in the world. I was so happy when I read the very first paragraph of Winter Studies:

"Toronto - such is now the sonorous name of this our sublime capital - was, thirty years ago, a wilderness, the haunt of the bear and deer, with a little ugly, inefficient fort, which, however, could not be more ugly or inefficient than the present one. Ten years ago Toronto was a village, with one brick house and four or five hundred inhabitants; five years ago it became a city, containing about five thousand inhabitants, and then bore the name of Little York; now it is Toronto, with an increasing trade, and a population of ten thousand people.
What Toronto may be in summer, I cannot tell; they say it is a pretty place. At present its appearance to me, a stranger, is most strangely mean and melancholy. A little ill-built town on low land, at the bottom of a frozen bay, with one very ugly church, without tower or steeple; some government offices, built of staring red brick, in the most tasteless, vulgar style imaginable; three feet of snow all around, and the gray, sullen, wintry lake, and the dark gloom of the pine forest bounding the prospect; such seems Toronto to me now. I did not expect much; but for this I was not prepared."

Two months later she writes:
"There is no society in Toronto", is what I hear repeated all around me - even by those who compose the only society we have. "But," you will say, "What could be expected in a remote town, which forty years ago was an uninhabited swamp, and twenty years ago only began to exist?" I really did not know what I expected, but I will tell you what i did not expect. i did not expect to find here in this new capital of a new country, with the boundless forest within half a mile of us on almost every side - concentrated as it were the worst evils of oour old and most artificial social system, with none of its agrements, and none of its advantages. Toronto is like a fourth- or fifth-rate provincial town with the pretentions of a capital city."

The bold last sentence is mine. Because, that pretty well describes Toronto ever since. Even after the capital of Canada was moved later to Ottawa - chosen by Queen Victoria when she was blindfolded and picked out the capital with a pin, or so one legend goes - the more real version is that Kingston was too close to the US, and so was Montreal, both of whom were more logical choices due to their water proximity, but we had just fought two separate battles with the US, (1812, and the Rebellion of 1837) so Ottawa, which was far enough away that it couldn't be attacked within a day's march or so after landing on Canadian soil - was picked. I do wonder what she would have made of Ottawa, but she never came back to Canada. And despite becoming the provincial capital of Ontario, Toronto still acts like it is the central body of Canada, the most important city, through which all news and views of Canada should come. There is Toronto, and then there is the rest of Canada. Of course, in every province, there is that feeling! But Toronto is proud of the TV and movie industry centrally located there, the stock market located there, the big Bay Street Firms, and still imagines itself the center of Canada. So the rest of Canada hates it.

There, a quick lesson in Canada! Back to the book:

Anna spends a long cold winter in Toronto. The first part of the book is entitled Winter Studies because from Dec to April it is, of course, winter in Canada, and she could not really travel far. She takes one trip to Niagara Falls, but other than that she is house- and city-bound until spring finally, at last, arrives. As soon as the first steam-boat arrives from St Catharines and the south side of Lake Ontario, she is off exploring more of Upper Canada, and this is where the books becomes an absolute wonder and joy to read. From darkest coldest depths of winter, Canada changes to hot, humid summer days with frequent storms. Anna is tormented by mosquitoes and black flies as she journeys down to London, to Windsor, Detroit, and then up to Fort Michillimack, Sault Ste Marie, Manitoulin Island, and back down again to Toronto. She did this in four amazing months of traveling, mostly by canoe. This was an extraordinary voyage. She is witness to meetings between Indian agents and different Aboriginal tribes, and records the speeches, what the different kinds of people wore - she noted that Cree were different from the Huron, and from the Chippewa. She made friends easily wherever she went, and she is interested in everything she saw, and tried to record it as accurately as she could.

This is an interesting record of Upper Canada in 1837, as it was still being settled. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys history, who is curious about the early days of Canada, who likes reading journals, or enjoys travel books. It is filled with Canadian beauty - our forests, our rivers and lakes, our lovely islands in the Great Lakes that are synonymous with images of Canada, especially as painted by The Group of Seven, the most famous artists to come out of Canada.

And for those of us who love books, I was heartened to read that in the depths of her only winter in Canada, Anna Brownell Jameson turned to books to get her through the darkest and coldest days.

It's a holiday Monday here in Ottawa, and it is rarely, a sunny day! So I'm off to my garden before I do some more reading: Book #52: In the Woods, by Tana French. Over half-way to 100 books now!!

I leave you with one of my favourite passages from Winter Studies and Summer Ramblings:

"We breakfasted this morning on a little island of exceeding beauty, rising precipitately from the water. On front we had the open lake, lying blue, and bright, and serene, under the morning sky, and the eastern extremity of Manitoolin Island; and the islands all around as far as we could see. The feeling of remoteness, of the profound solitude, added to the sentiment of beauty......Our island abounded with beautiful shrubs, flowers, green mosses, and scarlet lichen.....
This day we had a most delightful run among hundreds of islands; sometimes darting through narrow rocky channels, so narrow that I could not see the water on either side of the canoe; and then emerging, we glided through vast fields of white water-lilies; it was perpetual variety, perpetual beauty, perpetual delight and enchantment, from hour to hour."


Cath said...

What a gorgeous post! I saw this book talked about somewhere and seem to recall I checked it out on Amazon and that it was some awful price. I'll look again because it just the kind of thing I love to read. I also enjoyed your thoughts on Toronto. My mother-in-law went there years ago and said she liked it better than the US cities she visited on the same trip but that it was a bit souless. To be honest I think she was not really a North America sort of person, whereas I am.

I hope you enjoy In the Woods... I read it at the beginning of the year and thought it was superb.

Booklogged said...

Lovely review, Susan. We visited Toronto a couple of years ago. We really enjoyed our days there, but we fell in love with Quebec City. We spent most of our time in Old Town Quebec. We also visited Ottawa and watched the changing of the guards. I love reading Canadian books and need to join the Canada Challenge again - maybe next year I'll feel ready to participate in challenges again.

Table Talk said...

We have had a student on one of our MA courses this year who comes from somewhere not far from Toronto. If she's still around in September I must ask her if she knows about this book and where she stands on the Toronto debate.

Susan said...

Cath: I think your mother is right, it IS souless! She should try Vancouver, or Montreal, or Halifax (the city my husband loves over here). They are all much more interesting, fun, alive in a way Toronto isn't. Then again, I love London, and not many cities compare to it! thanks for the comments on the post, and if you like, I can find a much cheaper version and send it to you - I owe you a book for being so patient with me this summer! $4.00 Can is much cheaper than the exorbitent price on amazon.....

I'll come see your review on In the Woods. My mother didn't like it as much as Mistress of the Art of Death, which she loved, so I'm curious at all the different reviews (mostly raves like yours) this book has gotten.

Booklogged: Oh, I'm so glad you saw some of our better cities!! Quebec City is much, much better than Toronto! and you know Ottawa, at least we have the river to give us a view of Parliament Hill, even if the city itself is unexciting (and it is!). I hope you do feel ready to do challenges again soon, but then again, it is fun to read completely for pleasure, with no pressure at all.

Table Talk: I'm hoping to get to your link later tonight (I'm making supper as I answer the comments here - and I fell asleep early last night, no computer at all!) - to come see you again! Please do ask the student - I know people who LOVE Toronto, and those like me and my husband who detest it. At least people pay attention to it!! That's exciting for Canada!! lol

Kailana said...

Congrats on finishing your first book for the challenge! Sounds like a really interesting book, actually.

Debi said...

What a fun little quiz...I was "a Romantic Tree Hugging Self-Knower." Hmmm. Okay.

Now I'm going to have to apologize, because I can't find your list of 43 things to do. I searched and searched your sidebar, but I can't find it. :( And I really want to read it! I made a blog of 50 things to do by the time I reach 50 years. Doing okay on some, not so great on others. Anyway, could you point me in the right direction so I can read your list? Sorry to be such a dingbat.

Jodie Robson said...

And there I was feeling all bad and apologetic about not liking Toronto! But I really like Ottawa and Montreal, so I was coping with the guilt. You remind me that I've got a similar book of ladylike travels across Canada somewhere, I must look it out (I think it's Lady Aberdeen...)

Bybee said...

This sounds like a wonderful read, and congrats on finishing your first Canadian Challenge 3 book. I'm stockpiling Canadian books -- 1 book of short stories by L.M. Montgomery, 2 novels and a book of nonfiction about pregnant unwed moms in Canada in the 50s and 60s.

A friend of mine from Penetanguishene was once laughing about how people from Toronto would come there and say "Oh, I'm from the city" and generally give themselves airs, as if it were Paris or London.

Susan said...

Kailana: thanks! and it is an interesting book. I'm just as excited that i read the first book for the challenge though, too!

Debi: I haven't posted it yet, so that's next...sorry, I got sidetracked that evening, and haven't been on since. I'm glad you want to see it though! I didn't want to be pushy.... Where's your blog on 50 things to do? That sounds interesting too :-D
I like your result from the quiz too!

Geraniumcat: oh, you didn't like Toronto either! Hurray! and if you can find that book by Lady Aberdeen, let me know the title - I haven't heard of it, and close by where I work in Hull (now called Gatineau in a horrible renaming, and Hell by those of us who dislike working over there, like me)is the bridge named after her - Lady Aberdeen Bridge. I've been over it, and seen it from the water in one of our tour boats on the river.

Bybee: you can spell Penetanguishene!! you become an honorary Canadian right there!!!! And people from Toronto do give themselves airs, and think that only the news from Toronto counts in the rest of the country!!

I like that, stockpiling Canadian books :-D You have to read some Farley Mowat, though!!! lol