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In the summer of 2007, the CBC declared the canoe to be one of the Seven Wonders of Canada. More than an ancient means of transportation and trade, it has come to represent a vision of Canada that encompasses our past and present. It stands for cultural tradition, commerce, recreation, nature, and even political protest.
In Canoe Nation, Bruce Erickson chronicles the story of the canoe in the Canadian imagination. He argues that the canoe's sentimental power has come about through a set of narratives that attempt to legitimize a particular vision of Canada – including this country's history of colonialism and industrialisation – and explores how the canoe shifted from being an industrial-economic vehicle in the fur trade to its contemporary place as a recreational vessel. From Alexander Mackenzie to Grey Owl to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the canoe has been overvalued as a connection to the "nature" of Canada. Examining voyageur re-enactments, turn-of-the-century sportsman stories, and the subsequent "greening" of the canoe, Canoe Nation shows how this symbol authenticates Canada's reputation as a tolerant, environmentalist nation, even when there is evidence to the contrary. Ultimately, the stories we tell about the canoe need to be understood as moments in the ever-contested field of cultural politics.
Bruce Erickson is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at York University in Toronto, USA.