All Things Canada

By: Charles Bowen

In my college days in Kentucky, I had a friend from Canada who spoke of his nation with such warm and loving self-deprecating humor that I’ve always believed our neighbors to the north lived in the perfect home for dry wit and subtle wisdom. Now a site I’ve just found on the Web — devoted to “Canadian heroes in fact and fiction” — does nothing to dissuade me from this conviction.

“In some ways,” says the site’s opening page, “the very concept of ‘hero’ seems to conflict with traditional views of what it means to be Canadian. Marshall McLuhan described us as ‘the people who learned to live without the bold accents of the national ego-trippers of other lands.'” The introduction goes on to note that while Canadian history is filled with great acts and great people, it was Northrop Frye who contended Canada is “a country which has manifested a great deal of courage but has never responded with much warmth to charismatic leadership.”

So, acknowledging the nation has been “notoriously reluctant to elevate ordinary individuals to the realm of myth,” the site then undertakes its own herculean tasks: to celebrate “Heroes of Yore and Lore,” from real-life personalities like explorer Sir Alexander Mackenzie and naturalist Grey Owl to fine phenoms of fiction like Johnny Canuck.

To visit this wise and witty site, operated by the National Library of Canada, check in at There you’ll find an introductory page that offers a short essay on why all of us — including Canadians — should study our heroes in order to have a better understanding of the history, attitudes, and forces that shape a country’s identity.

A “Contents” link at the top of the display then lets you get down to business. Click it to reach a page that provides links to biographical sketches in five categories, including:

* The Pursuit of Excellence. This features luminaries such as Jeanne Mance, Louis Cyr, Howie Morenze, Terry Fox, and Dr. Frederick Banting.
* Voices of the People. Here are links to sketches of Louis Riel, Poundmaker, and Madeleine de Vercheres.
* The Realm of Myth. Here’s where you find out about curiosities from Kivioq and Alexis-le-trotteur to Sasquatch and Johnny Canuck.
* The Mythmakers. Come here for connections to Sam Slick and Grey Owl, William Kurelek and Anne of Green Gables.
* We Are the Land. The material covers Canadians Marie Rollet-Herbert, John Ware, Capt. Robert Bartlett, and more.

For each entry, the site has a summary of the subject’s life, a picture or two and then, more importantly, a “Bibliography” link for which someone did some serious online research, compiling realms of material that can be collected through the Web or at the public library.

Other considerations for using this site in your writing and editing:

1. For an overview of each category, click the topic’s icon. This produces a brief essay on the scope of that section. For instance, in the section devoted to “The Pursuit of Excellence,” the site notes, “There are some acts and lives that so inspire the general population that there is almost unanimous accord about their heroic stature. One of the traits most admired by Canadians since the beginning,” adds the statement, “is endurance, a quality which still reminds people of the basic struggle with nature which dominated Canada’s early history. Throughout our history, many individuals have stood out for their bravery, firmness, or greatness of soul in connection with whatever they have done.”

2. For a broader view of Canadian culture, history and issues, don’t miss the facility that hosts this site, the National Library of Canada, which can be reached through an icon at the top of any page in the service. Headquartered in Ottawa, the national library, established in 1953, is the nation’s foremost center for the research of Canadian studies and is a showcase of Canadian literature and music. Online, the library offers assorted research tools, search engines, and digital libraries.

3. If you write about the site in your news columns, you might also want to mention the link to the Canada Site (, which has information about jobs, taxes, travel, health, the environment, economy, and more, all with a Canadian spin.

You can read the last 20 “Reporter’s Digital How-to” columns on our index page. Subscribers may access previous columns from our archives.

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