Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood
Potter, Simon J., British Journal of Canadian Studies
Literature, Arts and Criticism
Ryan Edwardson, Canadian Content: Culture and the Quest for Nationhood (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), vii + 360 pp. Cased. £40. ISBN 0-8020-9519-4. Paper. £18. ISBN 0-8020-9759-6.
This book traces the changing extent and nature of Canadian federal state involvement in the arts, broadcasting, film, publishing, and academia, from the early twentieth century to the early twenty-first. It provides a synthesis of a widely-dispersed secondary literature, and some analysis of printed and archival primary source material. Although sometimes convoluted, the style of writing is generally accessible, and frequently chatty. Advanced undergraduate students, as well as postgraduates and academics, will read it with interest.
After opening with a priceless quote from Bryan Adams, the author sets out a clear and convincing framework of analysis. He identifies an early phase in which cultured elite groups sought to combine uplifting, if also self-serving, educational and nation-building agendas, in an attempt to cope with Canada's transition to full national autonomy at a time of rapid economic, social and cultural change. During the 1960s and early 1970s, this was replaced by a more wide-ranging attempt to encourage Canadian cultural output (low-, middle-, and high-brow) in the face of growing US influence. Finally, Edwardson argues that under Trudeau an ethos of 'cultural industrialism' emerged, supported by a substantial bureaucratic effort. If this was originally rooted in Trudeau's concern to stem the tide of separatism in Quebec, a key consequence was the increasing positioning of culture primarily in terms of its contribution to the Canadian economy. This in turn diluted concern for mobilising culture as a means of promoting a distinct Canadian national community in North America. Paid employment for Canadians in the culture industry was what mattered. Quotas had generally acted only to generate low-budget Canadian content that brought little economic growth. …