Bits of Canadiana

These past few days, in an effort to avoid caving to the fear and anxiety caused by the current global pandemic, I have turned my spare time towards reading books about Canadians by Canadians. Pierre Berton’s Why We Act Like Canadians and Northrop Frye’s Divisions on a Ground: Essays on Canadian Culture both came out in 1982, the year in which the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II of Canada on April 17.

As a three-year-old, I don’t remember much about April 17, 1982 and I’ve not yet found any reference to Glenn Gould and his thoughts on the historic event (he passed away in October of that year.) What does remain vivid in my mind, is the image of Queen Elizabeth II, dressed in a blue hat and coat and seated at a small table, pen in hand, red carpet below and, to her right, on that windy Spring day, a dapper and very happy-looking Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

At the time, it seemed to me that adults had mixed feelings about the whole affair, that on the one hand there was excitement over Canada having grown up as a nation, having severed the last tie to the motherland. On the other hand, I had the sense that there was uneasiness about the country’s newfound independence, that some people were going to miss being a part of the Dominion, that those years had been safe and familiar and not something with which to tamper.

By 1983, our family had moved to Sault Ste. Marie and the only knowledge I had of anything Dominion-related was the grocery store of that same name, whose logo I remember having liked. A few years later, this too was gone, the chain having been bought by A&P.

Logo for the Dominion, a Canadian grocery store chain.

Long before my time, the Dominion grocery stores evidently represented a staple of Canadian life as seen in the following video showcasing the popular jingle, “It’s mainly because of the meat.”

On the desktop of my computer, I have a folder containing ideas for Glenn Gould blog posts. Ranging from books about the north, to Barbra Streisand, Lilian Gish, Ray Price, puppy webcams and even The Tommy Hunter Show (a CBC television program that I used to love watching back when we lived in Peace River) there’s practically anything and everything from which to choose.

These past few days, however, I’ve thought little about my blog, or, for that matter, about Glenn Gould. We all have our own ways of dealing with these challenging times and, for me, lately, that has meant socially distancing myself from social media, from watching no more news than is absolutely necessary and confiding my precious solitude to the comfort of good books, my shortwave radio and time outside working in the yard.

With the borders of our country closed for the foreseeable future and citizens tuned in to the daily briefings of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he unveils new measures taken by the federal government to help support Canadians during these unprecedented times, the aforementioned books by Berton (a historian and media personality) and Frye (a scholar in the field of literary criticism, whose humble persona in itself is reason enough to find him endearing) have given me timely ideas for consideration, for example, the idea that our national identity has a lot to do with our geography (much of the country is covered by Pre-Cambrian Shield, not to mention the north), that radio and communications, namely documentaries, are areas at which Canada excels and, of course, the notion that Canadians prize the institution over the individual.

Looking for video interviews with Berton and Frye, I happened to come across some old CBC promos in which there was a nature program that reminded me of one of my own childhood favourites, The Littlest Hobo. With that, Berton and Frye were washed away (don’t worry Pierre and Norrie, I’ll be back) by happy memories of that sweet, gentle dog who graced the screens of Canadian television sets in the late 1970s and early 80s, whose mission it was to help and be kind to others on his solitary journey through life. The lone individual – or in this case, the lone dog – travelling that quiet, open road with goodness of heart really hit home. I’ve always resonated very strongly to these kinds of images and so too did Glenn. Likely you do, too.

The Littlest Hobo as I remember it, ran on CTV from 1979-85, although apparently there existed two seasons from the 1960s. I really loved the show and whenever I watched the closing credits, I always used to wish that I could come along with the Littlest Hobo, not so much when he was helping people and being social, but rather when he was going down the road by himself and, that final shot of him sitting on the rock by the lake watching the sun go down, is marked by dark, moody colours of grey, black and indigo, colours which are remarkably Gouldian and that, at least for me anyway, particularly with the profile of the dog mixed in, bring peace and comfort.

According to Wikipedia, “The concept of the show was that of ‘an ownerless dog’. All three productions revolved around a stray German Shepherd, the titular Hobo, who wanders from town to town, helping people in need. Although the concept (of a dog saving the day) was perhaps similar to that of Lassie and/or Rin Tin Tin, the Littlest Hobo’s destiny was to befriend those who apparently needed help, portrayed by well-known actors in celebrity guest appearance roles. Despite the attempts of the many people whom he helped to adopt him, he appeared to prefer to be on his own, and would head off by himself at the end of each episode.”

We’ll never know if Glenn ever watched the show, but I can’t help thinking that he probably did catch at least a bit of an episode and thought it an awfully nice concept, this idea of a dog liking solitude, road travels and wanting to do good for others. Corny as the show could be, when you boil things down, it really had a surprising degree of Gouldian philosophy.

On that note, dear reader, as we work our way through the global health and economic challenges at hand, I hope you take some time for books, nature, quality alone time and perhaps an episode of The Littlest Hobo.

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