Book Review The Promise of Canada

The Promise of Canada

Browsing through a section of books dedicated to Canada, I came across a book titled, “The Promise of Canada, 150 Years – People and Ideas That Have Shaped Our Country” by Charlotte Gray. I read the snippet on the fold of the cover and found it interesting so picked it up as my next read.

The book was written sometime before the 150-year celebrations of the formation of Canada and captures the history of Canada through the lives of nine prominent Canadians. These Canadians in their way shaped Canada as we know it today. It’s a journey of the becoming of Canada through the life and work of people over 150 years.

The author provides a brief memoir of the nine people she covered in her book and their contribution to shaping Canada as we know it today. Starting with George-Etienne Cartier one of the founding fathers of modern Canada along with the first prime minister John A Macdonald, she takes us through the lives of some important and interesting people.

I was very much fascinated by the story of Sam Steels and the “Mounties” or Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) as they are known now. The author gives us details about the formation of “Mounties”, and how they were mythologized by their depiction in movies and how it gave them a superhero image. The story of Samuel Steel was very famous and achieved legendary status but was forgotten after his death.

The author takes us through the life of Emily Carr, the famous artist who was a pioneer in many ways, and the impact of her work. She talks about Margaret Atwood and her contribution to Canadian literature and her role in taking Canadian literature to the world stage. The story of Professor Harold Innis and his theory of the export of natural staples of Canada (like fur, lumbar) and its effect.

She takes us through the story of Bertha Williams, the first woman on the Canadian Supreme Court, and her landmark judgments. It was fascinating to learn about Tommy Douglas and his Medicare initiative and Elijah Harper, the only First Nations leader in the book. There are some small vignettes covering a mayor, artist, rapper, journalist, and business innovator.

The common thread that runs throughout the book is how people and ideas have shaped Canada as it is known and seen today. Through the life story of each, the readers get a glimpse of the Canada of that era and how far it has come. How people from different parts of the world (initially the UK and Europe) came to Canada and made it their home, and how Canada accepted all after initial hesitation. The book tells us the story of Canada and how it evolved over the years with some great insights and interesting anecdotes.

A well-written book, easy to read and understand. The author has done a wonderful job of researching and choosing the people through whose biographies she tells us the story of Canada. A must-read for anyone interested in knowing about the history and making of Canada.

About The Author

Charlotte Gray, one of Canada’s pre-eminent biographers and historians, has won many awards for her work, including the prestigious Pierre Berton Award for a body of historical writing, the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, the Ottawa Book Award, the Toronto Book Award, and the CAA Birks Family Foundation Award for Biography. Over nine superb biographies, from Mrs. King and Sisters in the Wilderness to The Massey Murder, and masterful books such as The Museum Called Canada and Canada: A Portrait in Letters, she has brought our past to vivid life. Gray is a Member of the Order of Canada and was a panelist on the 2013 edition of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. She lives in Ottawa.

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