Canada Day has been celebrated by my family for many years. As children, my brothers and I would pile into the back of the Thunderbird and we would head to Port Dover for a parade, waving our flags and eagerly waiting on the sidewalk for candy to be thrown out from the floats or cars full of local politicians. When our children were young, we continued the tradition, decked out in red shirts and maple leaf tattoos, stopping for an ice cream on the way home. As a lifelong learner, the more that I read, the more that I understand about the past, the pride of celebrating July 1st has been tarnished.
Am I a proud Canadian? Yes… But… Is Canada a great place to live? Yes… BUT… it also has a dark past which I am committed to continue to learn about. All Canadians need to learn and understand the continued impacts of colonialism including the stereotypes and racism which my family and I have benefited from as a white settlers.
As many of you know, I generally celebrate Canada Day with Canadian books. I celebrate stories written by Canadians, about Canada, and have been reading diversely. Books written by First Nations, Inuit and Metis people have opened my eyes to experiences like residential schools, colonialism and the generational trauma that I never learned in school in the 70s and 80s. I am thankful to have read amazing fiction like the books listed below (click on the links below to read former blog posts about these books or follow me on Goodreads to learn about books that may be missing a blog post):
- Indian Horse
- Ragged Company
- Monkey Beach
- The Break
- The Marrow Thieves
- The Barren Ground
- Jonny Applseed
- Motorcycles and Sweetgrass
- Crow River
- Moon Over Crusted Snow
- Celia’s Song
Reading this fiction started my learning and led me to some impactful non-fiction that is information that all Canadians must learn, understand as we work towards the goals of truth and reconciliation for a better future together including care and kindness instead of judgement. Here are some books to learn from:
- Seven Fallen Feathers
- From the Ashes
- Up Ghost River
- Half Breed
- One Story, One Song
- 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act
- The Reason You Walk
- for Joshua
- Heart Berries
These are not exhaustive lists but a few of the books that I have read and would recommend to learn more about Indigenous experiences in Canada.
You may wonder what I am reading today? After I participate in the Unity March to the Mohawk Institute (sign up for a virtual tour here), I will continue rereading Medicine Walk by the late Richard Wagamese. If you have not read this book, it is a must read (as is EVERY book written by this amazing author). It is my favourite book and one that I recommend to EVERYONE! Richard Wagamese was a powerful storyteller. His stories weave bits of his own experiences and evidence of his generational trauma which he also shares in his non-fiction books.
Here is my review of Medicine Walk from June 2016:
“The wisest ones got taught more. Our people. Starlights. We are meant to be teachers and storytellers. They say nights like this bring them teachin’s and stories back and that’s when they oughta be passed on again”
Medicine Walk, the 7th novel by Richard Wagamese, is a beautifully written, Canadian story that needs to be shared. It is a quiet tale of loss, love, life and death taking place in the British Columbia interior through the eyes of a young boy learning about his family on a journey through the wilderness and through the past. It is the coming of age story of Franklin Starlight who accompanies his estranged father, Eldon, to his final resting place.
Franklin learned the ways of the land from the old man. He lived with him on the farm, learning his work ethic, his quiet way of living and his understanding of the life on the farm. Eldon appeared and visited at odd intervals, always struggling with his addiction to alcohol and his turmoil within. The boy was curious about his father but the old man patiently left Eldon to tell his own story, in his own time.
As Franklin approached manhood, his father reached out and made an important, life changing request. The pair travelled through the wilderness, their journey including a trip through Eldon’s past as Franklin learned about his heritage, about his family and about the mother he had never known. The story is poignant and riveting and the reader can picture the view as Eldon’s history unwinds.
Medicine Walk will remain with the reader after the pages are finished. The characters come to life and the reader can picture them in their mind. It is a story where a lifetime of pain is dulled by addiction and stories are shared during a difficult journey. It is a story that should be essential to the high school curriculum.
According to Quill and Quire, Wagamese grew up in Northern Ontario and spent his childhood in foster homes. His Ojibway family could not care for him after their experience in residential schools. He was adopted by an abusive family and it is reported that he ran away to a life of alcohol and drugs when he was 16 years old. It was inspiring to read that the author “may never have become a writer, were it not for the kindness of a group of librarians in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he stumbled into the public library at the age of 16, seeking shelter and refuge from a life on the streets” (CBC Radio interview). Wagamese drew on his own experiences with alcoholism and estrangement from his own boys when writing this gripping story.
Medicine Walk is the first book that I have read by Wagamese but it will not be my last. He has a gift of storytelling and I admire his tenacity and ability to share some of his own experiences with the reader. He is an example of the importance of reading, and how libraries are essential parts of a community responsible for sharing a love of books which open doors to the future!!
“It’s all we are in the end. Our stories.”