National Identity

Canada and the Idea of North

David Solway
December 30, 2022
In these, the longest nights of midwinter, Canada feels as “northern” as it ever gets. Though we may dream of beaches and warm sunshine, our nation is second only to Russia in its sheer northern expanses, and most Canadians still seem to think of themselves as northerners, even if reluctant ones. But what is the north? Does it, in one writer’s words, dazzle with the promise of “the luminous, pearl, interior day”? Is it, as another put it, “a physical challenge and a hard thought”? Or does it signify something else entirely? David Solway harnesses an impressive troupe of writers and artists to help him explore these questions, finding that, for some, heading North can be a one-way journey.
National Identity

Canada and the Idea of North

David Solway
December 30, 2022
In these, the longest nights of midwinter, Canada feels as “northern” as it ever gets. Though we may dream of beaches and warm sunshine, our nation is second only to Russia in its sheer northern expanses, and most Canadians still seem to think of themselves as northerners, even if reluctant ones. But what is the north? Does it, in one writer’s words, dazzle with the promise of “the luminous, pearl, interior day”? Is it, as another put it, “a physical challenge and a hard thought”? Or does it signify something else entirely? David Solway harnesses an impressive troupe of writers and artists to help him explore these questions, finding that, for some, heading North can be a one-way journey.
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It seems the fabled northwest passage and

the fabled northeast passage meet;

at the arctic centre of starved men’s minds

under a white-stunned sun circling the white,

boundless, featureless, white-wired-horizon:

in the absolute cold of a man’s absolute death.


—Richard Outram, “Expedition,” South of North 

The Finnish town of Ylivieska (latitude 64.07°) is the furthest north I’ve been. In Canada the “honour,” such as it is, goes to Edmonton and, before that, Mont Laurier, Québec. But having grown up in the small Laurentian town of Ste. Agathe des Monts, I do know all about ice and snow – and about so-called climate change as well. When I was a teenager entering high school, the experts were beginning to talk about global cooling, which eventually became one of the ecological leitmotifs of the time – a new, encroaching ice age that would turn much of the northern hemisphere into an Arctic wasteland.

Climate changes, and so do our obsessions about climate change. I remember walking down Principal Street around 11 o’clock one night, munching an Oh Henry chocolate bar that resembled a dark, sweet icicle, and muffled in my father’s fur coat against a 30-below onslaught of seemingly unparalleled vindictiveness. I wondered what I was doing there, awaiting an impending ice age. The cold stellar flag above me inspired no sense of boreal patriotism.

“I’d feel lonely without it”: Novelist Stephen Leacock (top left) described Canada’s north as “the desolate region of barren rock and the battlements of shining glaciers,” but never actually went there. Shown at top right, Coronation Gulf, Nunavut; at bottom, Ellesmere Island, Canada’s most northerly land. (Source of top right photo: Andrew Johnson, licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Later on, I could only groan inwardly whenever I heard Québécois poet and singer-songwriter Gilles Vigneault chanting “L’Hiver, c’est mon pays” – a sentiment clearly not shared by the sun-seeking hordes of snowbird Québécois pouring into Florida for the winter. Myself, I sympathized with Leonard Cohen’s elegiac complaint: “Winter is all wrong for me.” Instead of renting a psychological igloo on King William Island in the Arctic, Cohen bought a physical house on the Greek island of Hydra. When his partner offered me her own house on the island if I consented to tutor her son, I jumped at the chance. The Saronic Gulf was far more an object of desire and interest than Coronation Gulf.

From that point on, whenever I could, it was baklavas in hot, sunny climes rather than balaclavas in sub-freezing darkness. You might say I was in prestigious company. After all, Glenn Gould “pulled up his parka” and, as the pianist and composer tells us in the prologue to The Idea of North, went north only once, by rail from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, hardly what we’d call an expedition. And Stephen Leacock, who waxed eloquent about the north, admitted that he’d never gone there and never would. “But somehow,” he mused, “I’d feel lonely without it.” As Leacock wrote in Adventures Of The Far North, “The desolate region of barren rock and the battlements of shining glaciers” held no fascination for him, though he was clearly attracted to the annals of Arctic exploration, the pilgrimage across the buckling hummocks and gray massifs, the attempt to probe the Arctic’s “empty mystery.”

Of course, as it should go without saying, for the native inhabitants of the north, there was no such “empty mystery.” The north was where they lived, struggled, tamed the elements, and elaborated their own mythology explaining its nature and their place in it. It wasn’t a destination they journeyed to, it was where they were from, and so it lacked the sense of otherness needed to trigger the kind of metaphysical journey it prompted in whites.

As in, for example, Canadian poet Richard Outram’s last book, published posthumously, accompanied by the drawings of Thoreau MacDonald, son of Group of Seven member J.E.H. MacDonald. Outram’s book is significantly entitled South of North. For Outram, the north is a region, but North is a metaphysical Idea, a symbolic dimension different from the beckoning South, the emblematic West or the fabled East. The two “markers,” north and North, are often conflated and used interchangeably, intersecting in our thinking, but they are essentially distinct, as Outram’s poetry attests.

A place, a challenge, a journey or an idea? In South of North, poet Richard Outram (middle) portrayed the north and the North as two distinct concepts, the latter representing “an existential finality” – the metaphysical point reached by everyone at the end of earthly life. (Sources of photos: (left) Shutterstock; (middle) Wardsislander, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Considered as a metaphorical analogue, North is the meridian of a condition, not a geodesic location. It is a timeless concept bearing a singular resonance. After all, there is no time zone at the North Pole. The discrimination is a subtle one, referring on the one hand to a particular terrain and climate and, on the other, to the icy presentiment of the human condition – “North,” as Outram wrote, “of Point-No-North” – an existential finality. It is, so to speak, where absolute cold and human destiny are one.

Nevertheless, on the more domestic plane where we are neither poets nor metaphysicians but simply going about our everyday affairs, and north is a latitudinal zone, some might feel that in opting for the hot midday rather than the cold midnight sun, I was betraying my patrimony, denying my identity, churlishly seeking the easy way out. I think of historians of the north like Robert Grant Haliburton and Carl Berger, who saw the north as creating a special race of men, strong, self-reliant, independent-minded, exemplifying courage and the imperial temper. Such men would, presumably, build a unique and vigorous nation like no other. Historians like Haliburton and Berger were of course writing from a Eurocentric standpoint, paying only modest attention to the settled peoples who no longer needed to discover or explore a place to which they had a different physical and mythological relationship.

Place of purpose: Canadian historians Robert Grant Haliburton (top right) and Carl Berger (bottom right) ascribed a special role to the north in creating strong, courageous and self-reliant men to build a new nation. (Source of bottom right photo: Dick Darrell/Toronto Star Photograph Archive)
Place of purpose: Canadian historians Robert Grant Haliburton (top right) and Carl Berger (bottom right) ascribed a special role to the north in creating strong, courageous and self-reliant men to build a new nation. (Source of bottom right photo: Dick Darrell/Toronto Star Photograph Archive)

Be that as it may, Canada, Haliburton enthused, “would ever be…a Northern country inhabited by the descendants of Northern races,” arguing – wrongly, as it turned out – that “diverse nationals within the nation all shared in a northern destiny.” Berger quotes William Foster, author of the 1871 address Canada First, or Our New Nationality, who asserted that, “We are a Northern people, more manly, more real, than weak marrow-bones superstition of an effeminate South.” (The use of upper case “N” is a stylistic feature of earlier centuries, not a conceptual designator.) Haliburton’s The Men of the North and Their Place in History and Berger’s The Sense of Power make for indispensable reading as part of the knowledge base of this country.

Such writers would no doubt endorse novelist Rudy Wiebe’s dictum in Playing Dead: “Until we grasp imaginatively and realize imaginatively in word, song, image and consciousness that North is both the true nature of our world and also our graspable destiny we will always go whoring after the mocking palm trees and beaches of the Caribbean and Florida and Hawaii, we will always be wishing ourselves something we aren’t, always staring south.” And, as Wiebe might have added, the pleasure of lolling on the honeyed littoral of the Aegean, where so many Canadian poets have roistered, declaimed, imbibed, wenched, and occasionally indited a line or two, was not an option for the hardy patriot.

Child of the north, man of the Aegean: Although the author became intimately familiar with -35° winters at a young age, he greatly preferred life in the “honeyed littoral,” where he taught, travelled, wrote and indulged. Still, he came to recognize the pitfalls of the Mediterranean Weltanschauung and still appreciates the beauty and allure of cold-weather activities, like seeing the aurora borealis or downhill skiing. (Sources of photos: (top left and right) Pexels; (bottom left) Arctic Kingdom)

Peter Maneas’ video documentary My Greek Odyssey serves as a counterpoint to the harsh and forbidding northern terrascape, revealing both the seductive charm and historical inventory of the Greek perivallon, or surrounding. It is not easy to resist the call of the Aegean, the varied landscape and the rich culture of the people on offer to the indolent traveller or tourist. Where else would I come across a taxi driver with whom I could exchange lines from a national poet or a restaurateur who proudly fetched a copy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra from his counter till and confided: “I teach theology on the side.” One thinks of the larger-than-life characters in Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell or Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi, which seek to capture the natal exuberance of the people.

I must confess that I do not find my identity in nordicity, in the so-called “northern imaginary,” or in the enunciative field of septentrional discourse. What “north of sixty” really means for me is the shuddering recollection of previous birthdays. Nevertheless, I did spend much of my life in the north, even if it was sub-tundra-and-taiga. I can understand the attraction of winter, of sharp, clear cold, of dancing under the aurora borealis (which I have done, ungainly in my mukluks), of the hiss of skis on packed snow and the sweep of skates on an icy pond. I can understand, too, having suffered from time to time from the excesses of the Mediterranean Weltanschauung, that Glenn Gould, irrespective of his avoiding the north, “was uncomfortable with the Mediterranean temperament that manifests itself in bright colors, displays of passion, and personal display.”

Northern man, aesthetically though not physically: Iconic Canadian pianist and composer Glenn Gould’s works are described as conveying “the condition of solitude,” “piercing the listener like the cold.” (Source of photo: The Estate of Jock Carroll, courtesy The Glenn Gould Foundation)

At the end of the day, Gould was north in his artistry. Keven Bazzana in Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould points to the quality of “northerliness” in Gould’s recitals. Gould has been described as “a northern Bach piercing the listener like the cold” as he explores “the condition of solitude.” For Gould, as for Outram, “north” is both a territory and a state of mind.

The prospect of North, however we interpret and respond to it, is not for many particularly enticing. William Blair Bruce has an extraordinary painting, executed in 1888, originally entitled The Phantom Hunter (now The Phantom of the Snow), which hangs in the Hamilton Art Gallery. It depicts a trapper or explorer, dressed in brown – the only strong colour on the canvas – who has collapsed in the snow, looking as if about to give up the ghost. Indeed, he is gesturing toward a pallid, greyish-white, phantom-like figure that is obviously his spirit, barely visible against the white backdrop, moving eerily away from him.

I once visited the Gallery only to find that, like the phantom figure, the painting had also moved away and was now on tour. I emerged with a postcard print that serendipitously encapsulates my relation to the idea of North: a shrunken copy of the original for which I paid next to nothing and which I can scan without effort. Farley Mowat may have had the poem and its title in mind when he wrote his well-known The Snow Walker, which partly reverses the thematic drift of the poem, celebrating the courage, vitality and endurance of the native peoples.

We’ve got this covered: For the Indigenous peoples of the north, the white man’s physical difficulties and metaphysical yearnings were bemusing or merely irrelevant. They had long ago adapted to the north’s severe challenges and developed their own cosmology and spirituality to explain their place in it.

Be that as it may, the painting – and a great one it is – was inspired by a poem entitled “The Walker of the Snow” by the Irish poet Charles Dawson Shanly who spent 15 years in Canada in the office of public works. Written in 1867, the poem appeared in various periodicals of the time, including The Atlantic Monthly, coming to roost in Edmund Clarence Stedman’s famous 1895 A Victorian Anthology. It is an extremely haunting and powerful piece, despite its doggerel vibes and its occasional lapse into sentimentality and verbal pleonasm.

       The Walker of the Snow


Speed on, speed on, good master;

   The camp lies far away;

We must cross the haunted valley

   Before the close of day.


How the snow-blight came upon me

   I will tell you as we go,

The blight of the shadow hunter

   Who walks the midnight snow.


To the cold December heaven

    Came the pale moon and the stars,

As the yellow sun was sinking

    Behind the purple bars.


The snow was deeply drifted

    Upon the ridges drear,

That lay for miles around me

    And the camp for which we steer.


T’was silent on the hillside,

   And by the solemn wood

No sound of life or motion

   To break the solitude,


Save the wailing of the moose-bird

   With a plaintive note and low;

And the skating of the red leaf

   Upon the frozen snow.


And said I, Though dark is falling,

   And far the camp must be,

Yet my heart it would be lightsome

   If I had but company.


And then I sang and shouted,

   Keeping measure as I sped,

To the harp-twang of the snow-shoe

   As it sprang beneath my tread.


Nor far into the valley

    Had I dipped upon my way,

When a dusky figure joined me

    In a capuchin of gray,


Bending upon the snow-shoes

    With a long and limber stride;

And I hailed the dusky stranger,

    As we traveled side by side.


But no token of communion

    Gave he by word or look,

And the fear-chill fell upon me

    At the crossing of the brook.


For I saw by the sickly moonlight,

    As I followed, bending low,

That the walking of the stranger

    Left no foot-marks on the snow.


Then the fear-chill gathered oer me,

    Like a shroud around me cast,

As I sank upon the snow-drift

    Where the shadow hunter passed.


And the otter-trappers found me,

    Before the break of day,

With my dark hair blanched and whitened

    As the snow in which I lay.


But they spoke not as they raised me;

    For they knew that in the night

I had seen the shadow hunter

   And had withered in his sight.


Sancta Maria speed us!

   The sun is fallen low:

Before us lies the valley

   Of the Walker of the Snow!

The Phantom of the Snow (1888) by William Blair Bruce inspired a poem of the same name by Irishman Charles Dawson Shanly (right). Both works have haunted this essay’s author.

The pleonasm, of course, is “blanched and whitened” but perhaps the effect is a significant one, a calamitous doubling picked up in Bruce’s painting. The north is sometimes viewed as the “white man’s calamity,” the theme of a lecture I once attended. White men exploring the north generally get themselves into serious trouble from which they have to be rescued by the Indigenous inhabitants.

The real calamity, perhaps, is that all men turn white in the North that shadows the north. In that sense we are all white men (and women) once we have entered the circumpolar semiotic, the region which expresses our condition as perishable creatures the knowledge of which we do everything we can to suppress – and yet which we are incongruously drawn toward.

We turn white with fear, we turn white with age, we are all “blanched and whitened,” we are whited out as we seek to cross the Northwest Passage as a form of triumph over the inescapable limits of our condition. This is the passage that never really melts. Like the proverbial moth to the flame, the human spirit is drawn to a sheet of ice, which functions as a kind of mirror that reflects back to us the wan phantasms as well as the indomitable voyagers we finally are. I tried to capture this pivotal recognition in one of the poems from my Franklin’s Passage:

They come in all forms

and different orders of magnitude:

pocket-sized, framed in cherrywood,

giving back the common lineament;

the tropic device of thickened panes

painted with sooty translucence

and the frost of approximate discernment;

sheets of ice rising clear and stark

to startle with a long-forgotten shape

in the sunlit, unaccustomed night

of alien latitudes;

even the sky with its polished tain of cloud

assembles a ghostly embodiment

and lamps the visceral pitch of design.

But the voyage itself is the truest glass.

Scoured of flaws, smoke and biases,

it peels back the skin of the customary

to reflect an interior figure

vaguely intuited and routinely misconceived,

like a ship’s completed manifest

accounting for the arc of discovery and loss

and bearing us back, astonished, to ourselves.

“The voyage itself is the truest glass”: In this book of poetry David Solway (right) explores the Northwest Passage as a life journey that we “indomitable voyagers” eventually all take.

“North” is not only a place, shifting and indefinable as it may be, nor what Sherrill Grace in Canada and the Idea of North calls, following Michel Foucault, a “discursive formation,” that is, a group of statements referring to a system of themes and descriptions. It is also a literary and existential trope, a metaphysical compass in which every point is marked N, which summarizes our condition as frail, beleaguered, transient creatures struggling against the harsh environment not only of our corporeal presence but of our conscious presence as well. The Idea of North portends the mystery of our being here as denizens of a cold and implacable epistemology, involuntary explorers, as Leacock wrote, of the “hollow North [that] stretches silent and untenanted,” for all its basalt spires and shining palisades.

In this regard, I often think of a wayback encounter with Anthony Dalton, who attempted a transit of the Northwest Passage in a 14-foot inflatable boat and nearly paid with his life for his audacity – the name of his little craft. His journey was no less ill-advised than S.A. Andrée’s 1897 pixilated attempt to reach the North Pole in a hydrogen-filled balloon, which crashed after two days in the Svalbard archipelago, killing him and his two companions. Undaunted by his own failure, Dalton remains passionate about the north, having sailed close to the Pole – “the spot on earth where everything else is south,” as he writes in Alone Against the Arctic. The north, for him, is both an actual place and a mystical idea, or as he put it to me, “a physical challenge and a hard thought.”

“A physical challenge and a hard thought”: Almost as ill-advised as S.A. Andrée’s fatal 1897 attempt to reach the North Pole in a hydrogen-filled balloon (top left), Anthony Dalton’s (top right) voyage through the Northwest Passage (bottom) in a 14-foot inflatable boat ended in failure. This did not, however, end his exploration or love of the north.

In our conversation we agreed on three fundamental issues: the need to go against the flow, as he often did in the tempest-tossed course of his adventure; the fathomless mystery of North from which even the north is south; and the life-affirming property of Glenmorangie Scotch whiskey, a Fifth of which he carefully stowed under the narrow foredeck. Although I, too, swore by Glenmorangie as far as Scotches go, I preferred Metaxa Brandy, which reminded me of the vibrant phantasmagoria of the Aegean archipelago where the spirit is drenched in the illusion of plenitude and opulence – the sea undulating with fish and mermaids, the storied past present at every turn, the great poets from Homer and Aeschylus to Seferis and Elytis ventriloquial on the wind. You won’t get much of this north of sixty, Glenmorangie notwithstanding, even if the favonian latitudes are to some extent a nostalgic mirage.

At the same time, paradox, as usual, ruffles our convictions. The actual north may also have a welcoming side, as Vilhjalmur Stefansson insisted in The Friendly Arctic, while the Aegean islands, all shale and limestone and long deforested, dry as Ezekiel’s bones under the pitiless summer sun, may also initiate us into the frozen barrenness of existence. As Laureate Odysseus Elytis wrote in Maria Nephele:

That even in your death

you shall be again like water in the sun

that turns cold by instinct.

Perhaps it all comes down to a personal decision between two different ways of confronting truth: fire or ice. As Robert Frost wrote, belying his very name:

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire

Of course, Frost is also aware

…that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

But these are tragic themes that are probably out of place in the more pragmatic framework of our daily life. The practical question for many of us has to do with the ever-popular issue of Canadian identity. Indeed, the question of identity is a vexed and complicated subject.

From some Indigenous perspectives, Canada is a portion of Turtle Island as, for example, in two-spirit member of the Peguis First Nation Joshua Whitehead’s recent Making Love with the Land. It mixes issues of queerness and sexual politics involving the postmodern buzzword the “rupture of identities” and hyping the physical body as a “hinterland,” as a fricassee of “elements making love with one another” or enjoying via ingestion “a type of coupling” with makwa (Cree/Ojibway for “bear”) – shades of Marian Engels’ Bear and Sir Charles G.D. Roberts’ The Heart of the Ancient Wood. Unfortunately for this discussion, the book resembles an ideological idyll more suited to the contemporary preoccupation with identity politics than to an inquiry regarding what constitutes a national identity and the enigma of North.

Or is Canada part of Turtle Island? This sub-Arctic Indigenous view is expressed by, among others, Joshua Whitehead, author of Making Love with the Land and a member of Peguis First Nation. (Source of left photo: Shutterstock)

This is a question famously taken up by Margaret Atwood in her best-selling Survival, which argues that we are defined by the harshness of our climate and geography, or rather, by our resistance to it. James Lotz, one of the voices in Mickey Vallee’s monograph Glenn Gould’s The Idea of North: The Cultural Politics of Benevolent Domination, states apodictically: “It’s northerness that binds Canadians together.” This is the position that a pleiades of Canadian writers and artists have adopted.

My own experience suggests that in holding up “northerness” as the glue of Canadian identity, as the element or collagen which unites us and presumably makes us a single and coherent nation, we are only, pace Wiebe, “playing alive.” Canada is increasingly becoming an amnesiac country, a patchwork quilt of immigrant communities very few of which cherish a nuptial or filial or historical relationship to the physical north (let alone the Idea of North).

Source of cultural unity? Numerous writers and artists have proposed the idea that, as one put it, “It’s northerness that binds Canadians together.” But for millions of immigrants from warmer climates, is this proposition a powerful draw or an empty sentiment? Pictured, the famous North Shore of Lake Superior.

My Jewish forebears disliked the cold and rarely played hockey. I suspect the burgeoning Muslim ummah in Canada is not enamoured of snow and ice. The Latin, Greek, Portuguese, Italian, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese-origin citizens of the true north strong and free evince no desire to incorporate the weather of Ellesmere and Boothia into the climate of their daily living and imagining. They worry far more when extreme cold beckons than over Environment Canada’s ludicrous habit of issuing “heat warnings” whenever the daily high might top 25° C – a barely tolerable minimum for increasing millions of Canadians.

Even for most Ontarians, I would venture that the Niagara Peninsula is a more inviting piece of geography than the north shore of Lake Superior. People in the West like to retire to the Okanagan, Vancouver Island or the Gulf Islands if they can afford it. Northerness is only one component of a real-world Canadian identity, or of one that is still in process of being politically deconstructed.

For many if not most Canadians young or old, with the prominent but partial exception of winter-sports enthusiasts, the north is essentially a six-month-long nuisance or an indulgence of the literati and intellectual classes. We are not explorers in the mold of Anthony Dalton or Adam Shoalts for whom, as Shoalts writes of Canada in Alone Against the North, “What a blessing to be born in a land of almost limitless wilderness…There is nothing like it on the planet.” The Canadian north is both “a vast uninhabited wasteland [and] a paradise,” providing us with “a chance for adventure and old-fashioned discovery.”

Both “wasteland” and “paradise”? In Alone Against the North, Adam Shoalts calls Canada’s north “a land of almost limitless wilderness.”

Such a compulsion ultimately has to do with what we might call the ontology of our lives or the magnetic centre of our being. The Canadian north is obviously a partial or seasonal aspect of our common identity, or an opportunity to expand our knowledge of the hitherto unexplored, but the Idea of North is the correlate of our human destiny, of Genesis haunted by Revelation.

Outram knew this, entering into the “iced reproof” of timelessness by exposure to the cold of a Port Hope winter, ending his life after his beloved wife died. One thinks of his ironical lines from “Petition to Eros,” “The brief Immortal of their kind: Within their human poverty,” and of the verse from “Arctic Myth,” “To lie ice-blooded under the wheeled sun, the barbed starlight.” North, for Outram, was more than beauty and wonder. It was also the emptiness at the centre of everything which we cannot evade no matter where on the compass we locate ourselves.

Even so, we must continue, he urged, to imagine and remember what is South of North despite the recognition that North is what we become – in a sense, it is what we are, not merely as Canadians but as human beings. For Outram, the tension between north where we live and North where we meet our fate is ineluctable. As he wrote in “Midwinter Near Sutton” from South of North:

The overnight snowfall has so covered even the cedars,

the entire world on this still morning is black and white.


It is difficult to imagine spring, greening the spare elms;

or wind-moiled, burnished wheat in the blanketed fields;


or the urgent mercury current ever again reflecting high

summer’s drifted azures, in the iced reproof of a hidden


river snaked across patchwork farmlands. Yet one must.

Some regard aiming for the North Pole or transiting the Northwest Passage as a life mission involving both external and interior exploration, delivering growing self-awareness of who one is and where one is headed.

The two great challenges, reaching the North Pole and navigating the Northwest Passage, are really two sides or aspects of the same mission and adventure: to chart and realize the exploration not only of a difficult country but of what Outram called “the luminous, pearl, interior day” – the unsparing light of self-recognition, of who we truly are. Of course, the Pole has been reached and the Passage has been crossed, but the north continues to inspire the imagination. The search for the Franklin Expedition’s lost ships became a popular obsession and proceeded for many years before his two purpose-built vessels Erebus and Terror, so aptly named, were discovered resting on the seabed off King William Island. Arctic tourism is now a small but growing industry.

A love and fascination for the country remains in force even for those tempted by more favourable climes and despite the indifference of a younger generation whose interests lie elsewhere. There is, as Carl Berger suggests, a kind of “extravagance” at work in the Canadian imaginary which escapes the more rigid and practical “mental outlook” of a majority. The lore and lure of the Canadian north are perennial, representing a dimension of Canada, both empirical and psychic, preserved even for those who no longer treasure it. As Leacock said, I’d feel lonely without it.

David Solway’s most recent volume of poetry, The Herb Garden, appeared in 2018 with Guernica Editions. His manifesto, Reflections on Music, Poetry & Politics, was released by Shomron Press in 2016. He has produced two CDs of original songs: Blood Guitar and Other Tales (2014) and Partial to Cain (2019) on which he is accompanied by his pianist wife Janice Fiamengo. His latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House Publishing, 2019, London.

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It is the most improbable of political ventures, the most far-fetched of stories. A nation that returns conquered lands to countries that attack it. A people who provide material aid and medical care to those who mistrust them. A culture that laughs at its brushes with extinction. And a stirring embodiment of the Western idea in a lonely and vulnerable outpost. David Solway examines Israel and finds a modern Jewish homeland whose Diamond Jubilee next month merits international celebration, a model the world should be shooting for, not shooting at, a country that provides an image of the possible while serving as a touchstone of the real.

Mission: Impossible: Teaching Outside the Box, Learning Outside the System

“When a clown enters the palace, he does not become king. The palace becomes a circus.” That ancient Turkish proverb applies equally well to North America’s current education system. Here smugly ignorant “students” collide with dogma-driven “educators” fixated on ideological indoctrination. The result is a fetid system that’s no longer capable of nurturing literate citizens, but instead is focused on cranking out institutional foot soldiers for the cultural revolution. Having spent most of his career working in this decaying palace, David Solway has every reason to be bitter. Yet his own experiences tutoring the seemingly unteachable, changes afoot in the educational firmament and the growing alarm of parents have him hoping still.

Unoriginal Sin:
The Accomplishment
of the Left

“As a valued customer, a dedicated member of our expert team will be with you very shortly.” All of us encounter variations on this ubiquitous line – at minimum insincere, exaggerated and misleading, if not deliberately false. Many of us barely even notice, while nearly all have given up fighting it. But what does it actually take to inure a culture to misdirection, deception and falsehood – to lying? What is the motive source that would seek such comprehensive degradation? And where might it lead? David Solway explores how lying has become institutionalized into a structural component of cultural and political life, seeing its origins in deep recesses of human nature, its contours outlined by theologians of ancient times – and its dreadful potential exploited and put to unprecedented uses today.

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