Canadian Shields


It's actually been a long time since I've seen what's officially designated the Canadian Shield. I am an urbanite and a non-driver. But, I do recall witnessing the shield when being driven eastward—past Kingston and bypassing Ottawa on the way eventually to Montreal. I do remember thinking that the rock formations were beautiful. They were sculptural—somebody had conceived and then executed them. They were not nature but they were art.


 'Nature' has often had this effect on me. What I have been historically instructed to marvel at is marvelous because it is artistic—it has been designed and it couldn't have just happened randomly. I am no great believer in the divine anything. I believe the world is cruel rather than benign and I am horrified by those who equate cruel nature and cruel divinity. Radical ecologists who believe in 'nature's way' are to me thinly disguised fundamentalists. Yet I cannot escape the feeling that sculpturally -perfect rock formations are man-made, or super-manmade.


When I have gone hiking in rural landscapes with my much hardier friends, and there is a leak in one of my shoes and I become fatigued far too quickly; I fall back upon a belief that the 'nature' we are occupying should be left alone by humanity. All hiking is a form of colonialism; and repetitive hiking will only serve to spoil and deface that which is best left pure. Then my friends tell me to shut up and wear tougher shoes on the next outing.


The Canadian Shield and similar uncivilized landscapes are theoretically very Canadian as they are not unlike wildernesses—they appear uninhabited. Canada is a series or federation of regions characterized as much by open space as by hyper-density of occupation or population. The regions are intended to be as solitary as they are linked. Or, they are meant to be respected and protected.


 'Protectionism' is thought by many people—not only New Global Market enthusiasts—to be a very Canadian concept. The protectionist shield does indeed refer to constant anxieties about American domination and ownership of national economies—it also is frequently deployed to refer to a sanctuary from the market. State-subsidized art, derived from British, French, and other European models, is a shielding from the competitive market, from the laws of the jungle and the survival of the fittest. It is cynically thought to guarantee the mediocre the quasi-divine right to exist. The protectionism of Canadian art and film and recording acts is a form of welfare-control. Canadians are content with their monthly cheques from the government rather than ambitious enough to go for the big payoffs.


I was once accused of being 'Canadian' because, when encountered by employees of a particular television programme for which these affable individuals considered myself and excerpts of my work to be ideal candidates for display, I inquired about financial reimbursement for the programme's use of my work. For this inquiry I was accused of being 'Canadian', although I was also accused of being highly ambitious in a very egocentric manner. I strongly insist that expecting to receive remuneration, rasher than paying for my work to be shown, is not essentialistically' Canadian' or 'victim-mentality'. It is not timid but, rather, practical. Yet, this innocent enough conversation with two otherwise forgettable people sitting at the next table to mine in a local bistro has remained with me. Is this because I myself, like many of my friends and acquaintances, have fallen back upon Canadian shields instead of aggressively courting the American and indeed world markets? Is this because I would like to have more money than I do have in my bank accounts and thus I wish that I had tried for 'The Big One' when I had the chance? Perhaps, and then perhaps there are other factors.


I openly admit to despising nationalism in all forms. Yet, how does one present an anti-Canadian nationalist position without being an American sycophant? I certainly hope one can do so, as the United States represents to me the sort of melting pot which homogenizes differences and expects assimilation without any room for serious questions and reservations. Yet, one opposite of assimilation is separatism. Xenophobia lies well beyond protectionism, even though protectionism makes it possible. Even among

liberal Canadian nationalists I hear far too much discourse about who is indigenous and who is not. I detect both fear and exasperation with those who live west of that other great Canadian natural wonder-the Rockies. The Rockies of course continue into American territory unlike the Canadian Shield and thus they are not so indigenously 'Canadian' as the Great Shield. I witness and overhear CBC federalists and Canadian nationalists who have already written off British Columbia as being some sort of ungrateful Asian and American bastard-child who never appreciated his adoptive parents.


This smug centralism is but one by- product of traditional nationalism—it divides the immigrants or the adopted from the 'natives.' If Canada is truly the world's first postmodern nation by virtue of its not being or acting like a traditionally boastful modernist nation with its flags and its armies and its officially-designated essential characteristics; then it would be best for Canadian citizens to act accordingly and not divide its residents into indigenous and foreign. Yet, how does one stake out this post-nationalist terrain without embracing assimilationism and market-determinism? I wish I knew more about how to look at Canadian shields with affectionate humour while remaining aware of their relative insignificance in the World-at-Large, which is not a euphemism for the American-dominated global or New World Order.



©1998 Andrew James Paterson

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