the canada issue

The future of Canadian culture(s)

By George Elliott Clarke, EJ Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature
and Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate

George Elliott Clarke is an E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature and Toronto poet laureate.

Two great imperatives, both of which are of such long-standing currency that they are not so much of the future as they are a heritage that will continue to be fertile – not fossilized, will shape Canadian culture far into the century and beyond. These two essential determinants of who we are and how we live will be au courant so long as Canada remains a unique nation in the world.

The two forces that organize our identity (i.e. artistic expression and recollection of history) are 1) communications technology (as Marshall McLuhan saw 60 years ago) and 2) our mosaic of cultures (as John Ralston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson have written). Importantly, both are central to the nation’s articulation of its own (independent) existence.

Communications technology – from railways to Internet, canals to broadcast media – remains relevant in the world’s second-largest nation, with 5.5 time zones. The ability to see and speak with each other despite blizzards or solar-flare interference must remain a sacrosanct infrastructure in our still-Arctic civilization (despite global warming).

Canada will become the most “wired” nation on the planet, but perhaps also the most savvy about preventing state and commercial surveillance from so undermining privacy and so compromising free, individual decision-making that democracy becomes farcical. One prays that the children and grandchildren of those who fought for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will want to safeguard jealously those virtues from erosion by snoops and fraudsters.

Multiculturalism and bilingualism have always been with us. Thus, Canada remains, I believe, the only nation on earth to recognize mixed-race people – the Métis – in its constitution. The Francophone majority in Quebec and significant populations in the Maritimes, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan will ensure the vitality of the Official Languages. In addition, the example of French survivance is an inducement to other “Third Languages” to persist and even to flower. I’m thinking of Chinese and Italian in this regard, but there are powerful political reasons for the efflorescence of Indigenous and Inuit languages as well.

Finally, given our urbanization, and the concentration of multi-cultures in what are, in essence, city-states (Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal) – with regional satellites, and all centred on local communications, we will see the rise of ever-more hybridized citizens – Francophone, Japanese Brazilian Nova Scotians and Anglophone, Mohawk Nigerian British Columbians – all of whose art will be triumphantly humanitarian… Canadian culture will be a polyphonous kaleidoscope. Beautiful.