During a year when there have been a lot of serious books written about our national identity, it stands to reason that a nation that loves to watch This Hour Has 22 Minutes, The Rick Mercer Show and Still Standing would produce at least one book making fun of the whole business.
J.C. Villamere, who currently works for ET Canada, is a journalist who has worked for Canadian Living and Hamilton Magazine, as well as writing for the Globe and Mail, Style at Home, Elle Canada, Flare, The Stoneslide Corrective, Tin Roof Press, Hamilton Magazine, and Interiors, and has decided to take a light-hearted looked at our sesquicentennial exercise in navel gazing with her first book.
Is Canada Even Real?: How a Nation Built on Hobos, Beavers, Weirdos, and Hip Hop Convinced the World to Beliebe came out from Dundurn Press just before summer. It’s available in paperback (304 pages) or as an e-book.
It’s set up a bit like a quiz book, structured in five rounds, with 20 chapters distributed through the rounds.
The rounds are:
• Haunting Hobos: Which Haunting Hobo Myths are real and which are imagined?
• Beavers: What’s true and what’s a 63 Dam Lie?
• Hip Hop: Are any of these scenarios Legit?
• Weirdos: These were actually Canadian Prime Ministers?
• Mascots: Which of these creations were brought to fruition?
Round four is a lot of fun, but we don’t do politics in these pages. Let’s just say it features Macdonald, Mackenzie King, Harper and the current Trudeau and leave it there.
Round one asks us if a long-running TV show about a German shepherd (The Littlest Hobo) could really be emblematic of Canadian television fare. The essay is followed by a 6-part quiz, which, in turn, is followed by the answers, which are sort of like quirky footnotes to the essay.
This is followed by an essay about the Quebecois clown named “Sol,” who was the creation of Marc Favreau – and earned Favreau both a National Order of Quebec and an Order of Canada for his work.
Wilf Carter, the Nova Scotia singer who was better known in the United States as the hobo Montana Slim, gets the next chapter.
This round wraps up with an essay/review of a movie I don’t think I ever want to see called Hobo With A Shotgun, which was filmed in Halifax and Dartmouth, and appears to be a Canuxploitation version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Again, each chapter is followed by a quiz, and the responses go off on all manner of related tangents.
There are lots of beavers in round three, including an essay on why The Beaver was an unfortunate original name for the history magazine that is now called Canada’s History. There’s an essay on the origins on the music industry’s CanCon requirements and their relationship to something called the Beaver Hour. There’s even an essay about those Hinterland Who’s Who TV spots, the “Flute Poem” that introduced them, and how the original spots were really pieces of propaganda about how we humans made creatures become extinct.
Is Canada Even Real? turned out to be better than I thought it would be after the introduction made me wonder if I had made a mistake. Sometime the writer’s tongue is a little too firmly in her cheek for my taste, but the overall effect is good, and this was good timing during a few months when we have, perhaps, been a little too serious.