Discover Canada: Historians respond to Canada’s new citizenship guide

The recent release of the primer for the Canadian citizenship test, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, has been met with mixed reviews.  The editors of MacLean’s praise the guide for succeeding to make “Canada’s history seem both relevant and necessary.”  The Globe and Mail believes that “in telling Canada’s stories, and the conflict, characters and challenges therein, it will enhance new Canadians’ attachment to their country.”  This may be true.  But despite the contribution of the usual handful of historians (Jack Granatstein, Margaret MacMillan, etc…), many in Canada’s historical community are not so laudatory.  It has caused a flurry of activity in the history blogosphere.  Here is a brief summary:

In the Historian’s Gaze, a blog created for one of his history classes at Dalhousie, Jerry Bannister uses this guide to challenge his students to think about the uses and abuses of using history for political and nationalist purposes.  John Ivison’s commentary on the guide in The National Post and Janet Ajzenstat’s reply in The Idea File provide practical examples of the type of discussion that Bannister seeks to foster.

While preparing for class, Bannister’s students would be wise to visit Christopher Moore’s blog.  Moore, perhaps too harshly, observes that the history section in Discover Canada does not at all address Aboriginal and treaty rights (the earlier section on Aboriginal peoples addresses this briefly.  See page 10 of the guide).  His blog also provides a number of smaller errors in the text.

Andrew Smith, historian at Laurentian University, has been the most critical, accusing the pamphlet’s authors of being “totally out of touch with modern-day Canadian popular and political culture.”  Among other more minor critiques, he slams the document for ignoring the polarizing effect of the World Wars on Canadian society (especially the conscription crisis) and the dramatic shift in Canadian society during the twentieth century towards secularization and acceptance of homosexuality.

Adam Crymble, who is part of the Network in Canadian History and Environment (NiCHE), has followed up on Smith’s call for a more participatory way of creating future documents.  Launched earlier this week, Crymble has created a wiki where people interested in Canadian history can edit the history section of Discover Canada.  He plans to send the results of this public and open revision to the government as a suggestion for future revisions to the guide.  To offer your input visit:

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3 thoughts on “Discover Canada: Historians respond to Canada’s new citizenship guide

  1. Greg Marquis


    I have taught Canadian history at the university level since the 1980s-the government’s attempt to force an ‘official history’ on newcomers seems both naive and coercive. Generations of native-born Canadians have been unable to agree on their own history, or project a single vision of a national history. Is this not one of the main themes of an undergraduate course or textbook in Canadian history?

    This is not only a departure from the currents of academic History, it is also a departure from our actual history.

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