Defining the “Canadian” in the Canadian Voice
“What is Canadian literature? What is a Canadian novel? I am not going to be so foolhardy as to attempt to define these terms; many have wandered into this wilderness—and returned, what else but bewildered if they were honest, or with simplistic or outdated notions if they were naive; this is hardly surprising—the country is changing around us even as we speak, stirring up a host of conflicting ideas and interests, and to look for an essence, a core, a central notion within that whirlwind is surely an illusion. To define this country or its literature seems like putting a finger on Zeno’s arrow: no sooner do you think you have done it than it has moved on.”
—M. G. Vassanji, “Am I a Canadian Writer?”
Aaron Kite, author of A Touch of Poison, believes “the Canadian voice is largely framed by our relationship with our neighbours to the south, the USA.” Both moulding the English language to their message, the Canadian voice finds its distinction from something quite similar. Aaron further explains “the majority of our passion regarding what it is to be Canadian has a great deal to do with attempting to define ourselves as different and distinct from our US counterparts, despite the pervasive influence their culture has had upon both us and the rest of the world.”
Matt Hughes, Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Crime writer, puts forward the comments that the Canadian voice has a good focus on the setting: “We’re said to be good at a “sense of place,” which is supposed to mean we can convey a strong impression of settings.” Matt also finds we have a “broader point of view, rather than be[ing] limited to our own cultural frame of reference. Perhaps that comes from the success of multiculturalism since the 1970s.”
John Poulsen, author of Shakespeare for Reader’s Theatre, emphasizes the actively changing Canadian voice shaped by “ the changing Canadian cultural, emotional, and physical landscape.” John asserts the Canadian voice, like its culture, cannot be simplified. He points out while Canadians are “thoughtful and mostly caring to others, the “Canadian game” (hockey! How can we not talk about hockey when we are talking about Canada?) is rough and competitive. The Canadian voice is spirited and assertive as well as polite and giving, when appropriate. John also believes the Canadian voice is shaped by our seasons: “The Canadian voice is built on summer and the Canadian parks. Finally, we are coloured by Autumn and the long hot days followed by chilly nights.”
Mike Plested, author of the Mik Murdoch series, opens with a quick quip about the discussion: “I think pointing out what the characteristics of Canadian voice is almost as difficult as realizing that Canadians have accents.” But Mike asserts the Canadian voice is rooted in the “real.” This “realism” means the Canadian voice acknowledges the dark places where there are no fairy dusts or happy endings, that “not every problem has a good solution. Sometimes our stories give us solutions where we have to choose the least bad option.” Mike believes this sentiment is rooted in “our early days of exploration of our country including the pioneers who left everything behind to come to Canada to make a new life. It was reinforced by both World War I and World War II and all the other conflicts we have taken part in.” The Canadian voice speaks more of what an individual needs to do rather than what we want to happen.
Susan Bohnet, author of My Life as a Troll, expresses that “where you live impacts your literary voice.” A succinct way of saying the Canadian voice reflects the Canadian culture. While Sally McBride, author of Indigo Time, emphasizes individualism “I read what I read, my voice is my own, and I can appreciate all sorts of different styles and approaches to telling a story.” Which reminds us the Canadian voice may emerge from cultural influences, but it has to be our own.
Canada’s climate also shapes our voice. According to Lorina, the “interesting and extreme weather” reminds us that there is a “necessity to work together in order to survive and survive well.”