Canadiana 1000: An introductory course
(January 27, 2000, Gazette)
By Kelley Power
Please put up your right hand if you can correctly answer the following question: How did our country come by its name?
And if your
response consists only of the fact that Canada is
an Anglicized version of an aboriginal word, thats not
No, instead I choose to believe that there are simply too few people out there who actually know the right answer.
How about this one: Whos portrait is featured on the back of the Canadian $100 bill? I think its reasonable to assume that only individuals of some renown have their faces printed on our currency, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Queen Elizabeth II among them. But, despite the fact that the man with the moustache must be somewhat important, Im guessing that identifying him is even less likely than getting an answer to the Canada question.
I decided to use these questions, and the unlikelihood of them being answered, to illustrate a problem that I have noticed amongst students (myself included): ignorance of our nations history and culture. Im embarrassed to admit that I knew who was on the front of the American $100 bill but not who was depicted on the Canadian equivalent.
In an age when the line dividing the societies and economies of the United States and Canada is becoming less distinct, the need to preserve and transmit Canadian culture and heritage seems to be more urgent than ever.
I feel distressed
over the fact that we know relatively little about our country.
And, because Im coming to the realization of how important
it is only at this late stage of my university career, I feel
a little guilty.
Even if historical or cultural information about Canada does not apply directly to your field of study, you still live in a society that has been and will continue to be heavily influenced by events and people in both the past and the present. None of us exist in a vacuum, where the act of acquiring such knowledge could be justifiably neglected.
One very current issue in this country that clearly illustrates the need for all people to have a more complete understanding of Canadas past is the question of national unity.
Not only does the separatist movement have its roots in centuries-old conflicts between the French and British over control of Canada, but the ramifications of an independent Quebec reach far beyond the borders of that province.
In this case, then, complete comprehension of the problem is impossible without an understanding of history and the potential consequences of separation are so widespread that nobody can justify ignorance of the issue by claiming exemption from it.
While Im on the topic of the disgracefully small amount of Canadian-oriented information circulating in the student mind, Id like to clarify that Im not saying this condition exists only in Newfoundland. Indeed, Ive been asked some ridiculous questions by students from other provinces that reflect how theyve been misinformed about this island.
One of my favourites will always be the inquiry into whether everyone in Newfoundland lives in an igloo or not. And, while I havent heard it for some time, the question of whether or not all Newfoundlanders are employed in the fishery was a common one.
Humourous though they might be, these two questions also demonstrate a lack of understanding by people from other provinces of this islands climate, economy and culture.
Are we agreed, then, that a problem exists; that the average student does not possess the quality and quantity of information pertaining to Canada that he/she should? If so, then finding a solution is of the utmost importance.
It might be useful to look first at primary and secondary schools. An article published in the Telegram on Jan. 8 discussed the necessity for the curriculum of these institutions to place greater emphasis on Canadian history. A component of local history is also suggested to provide students with a sense of regional identity, however a standardized course of study that touches on all areas of the country is also under consideration.
At the post-secondary level, perhaps making a set of courses in Canadian and Newfoundland culture/geography/history mandatory at Memorial is an option. Id certainly like to believe that I opened a few eyes with this column, but I realize that it isnt exactly the whop on the head that some need to convince them of the importance of compulsory Canadian studies.
My opinion, however, is that if calculus which screams impracticability can be justified as something required for a degree, then certainly a few courses to help improve our understanding of this, our home and native land, wouldnt be too unreasonable.
Maya Angelou once said, No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place. Notwithstanding the total exclusion of the female sex from this statement, I couldnt have said it better myself.
comes from the Huron-Iroquois word kanata which means
village or settlement. The word was used by two Huron-Iroquois
youths to indicate the location of the village of Stadacona (site
of present Quebec City) to Jacques Cartier in 1535. The word
was preserved by its use as a proper noun, identifying larger
land areas as the colony grew.