Canada Reads 2011

Back in the day, I used to blog a lot about books. Way way back in the day, I used to consider myself somewhat of a fan, if not an authority, on Canadian Literature. So when I heard that CBC Radio was compiling a list of the Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade, I knew it would make great blog fodder.

And then I actually looked at the list, unveiled today, and realized that I have read exactly three of them. And for an embarrassing number of them, I had heard of neither the book nor the author. Eek. Clearly I am not spending enough time with Shelagh Rogers.

But, I was so excited to have a blog post that required (a) brain use and (b) no discussion of moving, unpacking or septic systems, that I’m going to charge ahead with this one anyway. In fact, I’m going to make a meme out of it! Remember memes? They’re about as relevant as my knowledge of Canadian literature, apparently, as I can’t remember the last one I’ve seen. Let’s call this a celebration of the Canadian Blogosphere circa 2005, whaddya say?

Ahem, anyway, here’s the list. If you want to play along, copy and paste it into your own blog. The ones in bold I’ve read. The ones in bold and underlined, I’d recommend. The ones with an asterisk are on my “I swear, I will read it before 2012” list.


A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews *

Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

Conceit by Mary Novik

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

Drive-by Saviours by Chris Benjamin

Elle by Douglas Glover

Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Far to Go by Alison Pick

February by Lisa Moore

Galore by Michael Crummey

Heave by Christy Ann Conlin

Inside by Kenneth J. Harvey

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill *

Moody Food by Ray Robertson

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson *

Room by Emma Donoghue

Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis *

The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Fallen by Stephen Finucan

The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon *

The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart

The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden *

Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr.

Unless by Carol Shields *

Hmmm, not a single Douglas Coupland or Alice Munro? I suppose Will Ferguson is not exactly a novelist, but I am in the delicious depths of Beyond Belfast, and loving it as much as I loved Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw and Hitching Rides with Buddha. Looks like my tenuous claim to a passing knowledge of Canadian literature is as dated as my taste in music.

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Would you recommend them for CBC’s shortlist of the ten best Canadian novels of the decade? And do you think maybe it’s time for me to wade out of the wilderness and try something from this decade on my next trip to the library?

If you decide to play along and post the list on your blog, be sure to leave a comment so I can come over and admire your taste in Canadian literature!

Nova Scotia road trip playlist

I tweeted the other day that I was having fun sorting through iTunes to make a Nova Scotia road trip playlist, and Susan asked me if I’d blog my playlist. Sure, why not?

Except, now that I have a second to do it, iTunes is being persnickety and I can’t get it to open. So I’m going from memory here, but this is the gist of it, all pulled from my existing music collection.

It starts with a whole lot of Great Big Sea. Lukey’s Boat, of course (it’s Lucas’s signature song!) and Ordinary Day and Rant & Roar. Simon’s favourite song is Home for a Rest by Spirit of the West, so that’s in there. Then 7/4 by Broken Social Scene, Feist’s 1234 and Life on Mars by Arcade Fire with David Bowie. The boys love K-OS’s Crabbuckit, so that’s on there. I figured it was high time the boys learned about Rush, so we’ve got Tom Sawyer, Limelight and Spirit of Radio on there. Then things folk up a bit with Gordon Lightfoot (Sundown and If You Could Read My Mind) and Jann Arden with Good Mother. Then Clumsy by Our Lady Peace, and then some Barenaked fun with Pollywog in a Bog from their Snacktime album, and Sarah Maclachlan’s take on Rainbow Connection. I’ve got two from one of my fave bands ever, The Pursuit of Happiness (She’s So Young and I’m an Adult Now) and at least one by the Hip, but damn if I can remember which one I chose.

The only thing I’ve got from this, um, decade is the Young Canadians for Haiti cover of Waving Flag. I’ve also got Tristan’s signature song on there, Loggins and Messina’s Danny’s Song (not really Canadian, I know, but Anne Murray did a cover that’s not as good so I figure that counts.) Representing Montreal, we’ve got Corey Hart’s Sunglasses at Night (don’t judge me) and then a really jarring transition (more Montreal, you say?) into Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It was going to finish there, but Simon MacDonald mentioned I need some Stan Rogers on there and he’s so totally right, so I downloaded Barrett’s Privateers and made that the big finish.

Not so much a Nova Scotia playlist as a really random sort through my music library. I had to keep it at that because I’m burning them to CD for the car, or else I’d’ve added some Burton Cummings, Holly Cole Trio, and a little Bryan Adams. I think I’ve got the CanCon spectrum pretty well represented through the last 30 years though, eh?

I’ve still got $6 left in my iTunes account (after I finally got around to replacing my old Purple Rain CD with digital music — yay!!) What do I need to add to round out my Canadiana road trip mix?

It’s a good day to be Canadian!

Does it get any more Canadian than this? We go to bed on a wave of Gold medal fervour and wake up to Roll Up the Rim to Win. It’s Canada’s Best! Day! Ever!

163:365 Happy Canada Day!

If you watched even a bit of the Olympic coverage (Go Canada GO!) this year, if you felt that nascent tug of patriotism deep in your heart, if you stood as I did with tears running down your cheeks as your kids bellowed the national anthem at each gold medal victory, then you’ll enjoy this: Stephen Brunt’s touching essay about the Canadian Olympic experience, from its rough start to its glorious gold medal finish. (You might be asked to download a program called “Silverlight” which is Microsoft’s version of Flash. Annoying, but worth it!) If you can’t get the video to work, you can read a text version of what seems to be an early draft on Brunt’s Olympic blog.

And if you’re feeling a little snarkier, you might enjoy this essay courtesy of our Vancouver correspondent Fryman on how the “musical phenomenon known as “I Believe,” the official anthem of Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, may in fact provide the true legacy of the Games: another generation of Canadian kids who don’t know me from you, nor their “I” from a hole in their head.”

Cuz you simply can’t be Canadian if you can’t poke a little fun at yourself and your country, even after celebrating it all night long. Now where’s my coffee?

The Senate Report on Childcare in Canada: Part 1

At the end of April 2009, the Senate of Canada released a report titled Early Childhood Education and Care: Next Steps. I printed it out and have been lugging it around with me (it runs more than 200 pages) for the better part of a month. If you are at all interested in the issues of daycare, child care and early childhood education in Canada, and how Canada compares to the rest of the world, I highly recommend you make yourself a copy and find the time to read it. If you’ve never read a Parliamentary report, you don’t know what you’re missing! And if you can’t quite find the couple of spare hours you’ll need to polish it off, fear not, because I am going to break it down for you and share the highlights over the next little while.

When I read the Executive Summary, my first reaction was eyeball-rolling disappointment. The main recommendations are (spoiler alert!):

1. That the Prime Minister appoint a Minister of State for Children and Youth, “with responsibilities to include working with provincial and territorial governments to advance quality early learning, parenting programs and child care” and to research early childhood development and learning.

2. The Minister should be advised by a new National Advisory Council on Children, on matters of “how to best support parents and advance quality early learning and child care.” The Council would be populated by “Parliamentarians, other stakeholders, community leaders and parents, with appropriate representation from Aboriginal communities.”

3. That the government call a series of multi-jurisdictional meetings to establish a “pan-Canadian framework to provide policies and programs to support children and their families” and establish a “federal/provincial/territorial Council of Ministers…to meet anually to review Canada’s progress with respect to other OECD countries and to share best practices.”

4. The government should establish “an adequately funded, robust system of data collection, evaluation and research, promoting all aspects of quality human development and in early childhood programming, including the development of curricula, program evaluation and child outcome measures.”

Captivating stuff, isn’t it? The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Techonology took nearly three years to issue a report that calls for — more bureaucracy.

Because this is a topic dear to my heart, and because I think it’s important for every single Canadian to know at least a little bit about this issue, and because I like to think I have at least a moderate ability to translate government-speak into a language people other than the bureaucrats can understand, I’m going to take an in-depth look at this report in a series of posts over the next little while. By the time I finished reading it — and I read every single word because there is no end to the things I will do for my bloggy peeps — I was more or less in agreement with the Committee’s recommendations.

This Committee’s report was inspired by a 2006 report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that ranked Canada dead last of 14 countries participating in the OECD’s Thematic Review of Early Childhood Education and Care. As noted in the Senate report, “the 50 reports that make up the OECD’s review of education and care services for pre-school-aged children comprise the largest body of comparative policy research to date in the field” and “allowed Canada to evaluate itself against international peers and provided a unique opportunity to drawn on best practices in early learning and child care policy and delivery.” Did I mention dead last? Ouch.

The OECD highlighted strengths and weaknesses in Canada’s early childhood care and education system. The strengths included the one-year parental leave, Quebec’s early education and child care policies, a well-established kindergarten network for children aged five years and older, and “efforts of provincial administrations to maintain ECEC services ‘despite a withdrawal of Federal funding and a climate of suspicion of public services’.” The areas of concern included:

  • weak public funding of ECEC services, especially for children under five years;
  • the separation of child care from early education;
  • limited access to affordable child care services and particular issues related to access for Aboriginal children;
  • the quality of child care, e.g., very poor accommodation, child care workers’ protective and interventionist approach, lack of direct access to outside space;
  • the apparent predominance of unregulated care; and,
  • staff qualifications and training and other issues related to their recruitment and retention, e.g., absence of federal and provincial/territorial guidelines and low wage levels, and lmited tradition of professional development.

A few more statistics that I found both enlightening and alarming: among the OECD countries under review, Canada ranked in the top 10 in the following categories:

Wealth: ranked 4th in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita
Cost of child care: ranked 4th in amount paid by parents for early childhood services
Child Poverty: ranked 7th overall
Proportion of “working” mothers: ranked 7th overall for mothers with children under three years old and 8th for mothers with children under six years old.

Further, Canada came in 14th out of 20 for early childhood education attendance for children ages 0 to 3 and last out of 20 countries for early childhood education attendance for ages 3 – 6. We came in 15th out of 20 countries on spending on social programs as a proportion of GDP and last of countries compared in spending on early learning and child care services.

It’s not a very pretty picture, is it?

And that’s only skimming through 20 of 200+ pages of information. In the next couple of posts, we’ll take a look at what other countries are doing, why early childhood education is so important to every single member of our society, and what Canada should do next.

A rambly ode to the Canadian health care system

By Friday of last week, Lucas had been sick for three days. Fever, green snot, bad cough and most troubling, increasing lethargy. I gave up waiting it out and tried to get an appointment with our ped, but by the time I got through around 11 am, the answering machine said they were completely booked up for the day. (In seven years, I’ve never heard that one!) It offered the number of the after-hours pediatric clinic, which would take calls starting at 4 pm.

(This gets long. Refresh your coffee and settle in!) Continue reading “A rambly ode to the Canadian health care system”

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday: First skating lessons

They’re Canadian; of course I had to sign the boys up for skating lessons!

They’d never been on skates before. The morning started out with a lot of this:


After a while of crawling around on the ice, Tristan had progressed to this:


I honestly never expected him to get to this during his very first lesson:


But, most of the time was spent more like this:


Simon was content to stay more or less like this:


Guess which one said he wants to sign up for hockey lessons next year, and which one said he thinks he’ll stick with swimming?


I’m *so* excited!

I bought my tickets back in April, but I swear, I have been waiting to see this concert since I was ten years old. Finally, tonight, we’re going to see Rush! With 100-level seats, no less! I’m beside myself with anticipation.

I’ve always loved Rush.

RUSH - Moving PicturesFor my 12th birthday, my folks replaced my little suitcase record player with an actual real stereo – the kind with the smoked plastic box lid, and honest-to-goodness speakers. And they gave me two albums, AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (I still remember my mother blanching when she read the lyrics on the liner) and Rush’s Moving Pictures. I’ve long since outgrown my AC/DC phase, but Moving Pictures is still one of my favourite albums of all time.

When I was in high school, my first serious, painful and perhaps even partially requited crush was on a boy named Greg who played the clarinet in my music class. While I remained a band-class geeky good girl, Greg went from clarinet player to headbanger, hanging out in the smoker’s pit and wearing almost exclusively those black concert T-shirts with the white sleeves. Although we were never officially a couple, we were almost inseparable around the time I turned 16, from sharing a locker to spending endless hours loitering in downtown doughnut shops… talking about our mutual favourite band, Rush. Twenty years later, Rush’s Freewill and the 2112 album still evoke the then-delicious smell of cigarette smoke and cold air on his leather jacket as I wore it to class. I blame him for my lifelong affection for bad boys with good hearts… and for deepening my appreciation of Rush’s back catalogue.

All these years later, though I’m no longer charmed by the smell of cigarette smoke on black leather, I still consider Rush one of my five favourite bands of all time. Really, it’s a bit of a surprise that I haven’t seen them before now. Only Paul Simon and Billy Joel remain on my all-time must-see list. (I have eclectic – some might say antiquated – tastes in music!)

When we went to see REM in 2004 (scratching out another favourite on my lifetime concert to-go list), I was extremely disappointed when they played only two or three songs from their back catalogue. I mean, no Shiny Happy People, no Orange Crush, not even Everybody Hurts. So tonight, I’ve got my fingers crossed to hear a few faves. If I hear at least a few of these, I’ll go home happy:

  • Spirit of Radio
  • Freewill
  • Red Barchetta
  • Limelight
  • and my favourite of all, Closer to the Heart.

What’s the equivalent to Rush in your life? First album, most evocative song, must-see but not yet attended concert?

Go Sens GO!

When I heard that there would be a rally to cheer the Senators on to a Stanley Cup victory on the very day I was home with the boys, I couldn’t resist bringing them downtown for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

It was hot – damn hot, to quote Robin Williams – and crowded, but still a wonderful experience to be a part of a crowd of 6000 Cup-crazy fans. The boys had their new Senators jerseys on, fresh from Saturday’s inagural wearing, and “Go Sens!” written on their cheeks in, well, in my eyeliner.

Does it get more Canadian than poutine at a Stanley Cup hockey rally? Kerry was kind enough to share hers with Simon.

We had three generations of bandwagon hockey fans cheering for the Sens: Tristan and Simon, me and Papa Lou!

The boys had fun, but spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the backs of people’s knees as they sweated in the newly rechristened ‘Sens wagon’.

There were lots of smiling faces, and plenty of funny expressions of fandom. This guy who was standing near us had both!

I’m pretty sure this guy had sunstroke by the end of the rally.

This was the best moment of the rally. (Well, this and when Lucky Ron sang Stompin’ Tom Connors’ The Good Old Hockey Game!) They set off some daytime fireworks and unfurled this 60 foot Sens banner over City Hall.

Edited to add: Kerry’s got her take on the rally and more pix on her blog.

Birth of a hockey fan

So we’re not exactly sporty people. Beloved, bless his literate artsy heart, couldn’t care less about the difference between an infield fly and a hanging curveball. The athletic education of the boys has fallen largely to me, which, if you know me at all, is pretty darn funny. Pity my poor boys, who are just now learning how to catch and have yet to have their first experience standing on ice skates, let alone actually learning to skate.

But this exciting spring, with playoff fever spreading like malaria through the capital, I’ve taken it upon myself to teach them the finer points of bandwagon hockey fandom. I’m a professional in this particular sport. I can count on one hand the number of regular season hockey games I’ve watched in their entirety, but each year as the lilacs bloom I find myself glued to the screen, cheering on the home team. (In no small part, I’m sure, because in my heart Sens playoff hockey is hopelessly tangled with one of our best family memories.)

I’ve never lived in a city with a championship team before. I was a rabid Blue Jays fan in 1992 and 1993 when they won the World Series – I barely missed a single game of the entire 162 game regular season in 1992 – and when they won they weren’t just Toronto’s team but Canada’s team. But we were still five hours down the road from Toronto and although I made my way downtown to the massive victory party in the Byward Market when they won, it still wasn’t quite the same.

There’s something charming about how a winning home-town team brings the community together. The plethora of cars with Sens flag whipping in the wind, the home-made signs on lawns and windows, the otherwise staid civil servants wearing hockey jerseys over their business suits. The Sens are within a single victory of their first-ever Stanley Cup playoff in modern history; how could an irrepressible joiner like me resist feeding off of – and feeding in to – that energy?

A couple of weeks ago, when the Sens made the first round of the playoffs, I started talking to Tristan about hockey, and about the Sens. I knew his schoolmates would be talking hockey, and I wanted him to be able to join in the conversation. Yesterday, with the Eastern Conference final on the line, I asked they boys if they wanted to watch the game with me. (Simon used to be a Leafs fan, back in the day.) To my great entertainment, Tristan was beside himself with excitement, counting down the minutes to the puck drop.

We stood together in the living room, trying to sing along with the national anthem. Well, Tristan did a fine job singing along, but I could barely croak out the words around the lump of pride in my throat. The national anthem chokes me up at the best of times (I’m such a sentimental patriot), but standing there hand in hand with my boys, watching the Sens in front of the madly cheering hometown crowd, was just one of those moments.

The goal nine seconds into the game didn’t dampen Tristan’s enthusiasm in the least. He watched the first period with a rapt attention that surprised me, and in between muttering encouragement to the players on the screen he even composed a little song about the Sens winning. It was, in a word, adorable.

He only agreed to go to bed at the end of the first period after I promised to tell him the score as soon as he woke up the next morning. His disappointment at the loss was mollified by the promise of a daytime game on Saturday, one he could watch in its entirety.

Make room on the bandwagon – I’m off to see if I can find a Sens jersey, size extra-small.