Monday, August 10, 2009

Islands of Misfit Toys

In his book, “Beauty Tips From Moose Jaw,” Will Ferguson’s thesis is that Canada is not a country, but a clump of otherwise unrelated outposts. Yes, I just put Will Ferguson and the word “thesis” in the same sentence. It makes it seem important. In any case, our last series of encounters with various groups of Canadians, have brought me to a similar realization. We all imagine that we are somehow different or unique within our little communities.

If you're a Mennonite: is it a sin to be proud of your bull?

We visited the Doukabours, who moved here from Russia to continue their culture unimperilled by the Tsar’s Army. As previously mentioned, we spent some time with cowboys, who would prefer to continue their lifestyle unimpeded by government, oil prices, enviros, and god-damned vegetarians. We spent some time with the Métis, who developed a unique blend of French voyageur and first nations culture, but who are now a culture of their own. (How can you not like people who can fiddle and jig, make bannock, hit a target with an axe, make beautiful functional things, and survive on boiled muskrat?) And we visited the Mennonites, who imported a European culture to Canada, again to avoid persecution and harassment.

Bison Skull painted by Metis Artist Neil Fehr:

Hitting a quarter at 20 paces:

Caution: Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear

Then there are the fervently non-Canadian “Northwest Angle” inhabitants. Not familiar with the Northwest Angle? Go to the most southerly portion of Manitoba’s eastern boundary. Surrounded by the Lake of the Woods, there is a peninsula off of Manitoba, not part of Ontario, that is actually part of Minnesota. It’s the most northerly point of the contiguous United States. Here in a weirdly American way, these people have developed their own lives, unimpeded by, well, anybody.

Jim's Corner: Shack and Telephone

Aside: The border crossing into the Northwest Angle is bizarre. For one thing you need to go down about 100 km of dirt road to get there. Then you see the sign, "Welcome to the United States." Further down, the next sign, " YOU MUST CHECK IN WITH THE US AUTHORITIES TO ENTER THE US". Further down, the next sign, "US IMMIGRATION AND CONTROL AT JIM'S CORNER." Then, "JIM'S CORNER 8 KM." so you're basically an illegal entry for 8 more km. Then you get to Jim's Corner, which is, a corner, a crossroads of 2 dirt roads and a little white shack. In the shack is a telephone. Press the left button to call USA authorities. Press the right button to call Canadian Authorities as you leave. Homeland Security is hard to take seriously in these circumstances. We brought our passports for this?

Back to the most important subculture of all: the lonely Westfalian’s who, after several dry provinces finally in Ontario see another couple driving a Westfalia and go crazy waving and honking.

I was beginning to think that each of these groups was good at seeing how others had impacted their lives, typically negatively, but had a blind spot regarding their impact on everyone else. The cultural museums that we visited showed each group's struggles to survive in a harsh landscape and showed their beautiful crafts and ingenuity. But a lot of these groups were living within the same territories and I wondered how did the (fill in the blank) feel about these newcomers who settled these lands.

How baby Kleenex are made:

Then our entry into Ontario greeted us with an endless series of “trading posts” which sell large quantities of tacky plastic things, chocolate fudge, dead animal pelts, indian crafts, and large wooden carvings of “Indians” with less than intelligent facial expressions. All of which may appeal to you if you happen to be an undereducated fat white guy toting a gun but unsuccessful at hunting. Otherwise it’s all a bit alienating. I had the feeling that these places were ignoring everyone. But then again, maybe they thought of themselves as pioneers starting up their own businesses etc.

Just a thought.

Wolfskin and 50 Fox tails reduced to tacky souvenirs

1 comment:

  1. Lori, if you're into oddities like the "Northwest Corner", there's a book, "The Arc of the Medicine Line" which describes the joint U.S./Canadian survey of the last bit of the border, from the NW Corner to the Rockies. Some fascinating history, and the survey details would appeal to an engineer.