Exploring Canada: Exploits and Encounters

by Gerd Bjorhovde (Volume editor) Janne Korkka (Volume editor)
©2022 Conference proceedings 266 Pages


Exploring Canada: Exploits and Encounters is a collection of articles on a broad variety of Canadian topics and themes, from literature to language and linguistics, from social and political issues to art and aesthetics, philosophy, history and geography. Initiated by The Nordic Association for Canadian Studies (NACS), this volume has been put together by an international team of scholars who all work in the multidisciplinary field of Canadian Studies.
The book engages with the broad theme of exploration in both concrete and metaphorical terms. The writers recognise that Canadian society has emerged from complex processes of exploration and encounters between people and ideas. The volume looks beyond simply celebrating these processes, and asks how different peoples, regions and ideas in Canada have been shaped by centuries of exploits and encounters in terms of gaining visibility and representation in the political life, literature and social relations of a multi-ethnic society.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: Exploring Canada (Gerd Bjørhovde & Janne Korkka)
  • Part I Spaces
  • Encounters of Writer/Explorers: Surprise and Ambush (Aritha van Herk)
  • Northern Approaches: The Harper Government’s Arctic Policies Reconsidered (Kim Richard Nossal)
  • The Mathematical Encounter: Land, Language and Numbers in the Creation of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory (Karim M. Tiro & Roy Wright)
  • Cultural Extractivism and the Possibility for Resurgence (Mary I. Ingraham)
  • From Ontario to the United Nations: An Introduction to the Thought and Influence of John McMurtry, FRSC (Giorgio Baruchello)
  • Part II Writing Absences
  • Becoming Bird(ie): Exposing Canadian Government Complicity with Forced Adoptions in Christina Sunley’s The Tricking of Freya (Jennifer Andrews)
  • Striking Many Chords: Selected Canadian World War II Novels (Uwe Zagratzki)
  • Becoming Lost: Rediscovering Absence through the Guy Vanderhaeghe Fonds (Jordan Bolay)
  • Part III Immigrant Voices
  • Canada Equals “The Good Life”: Two Centuries of Polish Emigrants’ Experiences of “Exploring” Canada (Marta Kijewska-Trembecka)
  • Diasporic Explorations: Korean Canadian Immigrants’ Convenience Store Stories (Judit Nagy & Sangjun Jeong)
  • “She’s an intense little chick. – She’s Russian”: Orientalizing East European Women in Canadian Narratives (Yulia Gordina)
  • Part IV Icelandic Connections
  • An Island in Between: Subtle Literary Exploration of Iceland in George Bowering’s “Discoloured Metal” (Nikola Tutek)
  • Tense in North American Icelandic (Kristín M. Jóhannsdóttir)
  • Proving Their Worth: Icelanders and the Winnipeg Labour Movement, 1890–1900 (Vilhelm Vilhelmsson)
  • Editors
  • Contributors
  • Series index

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Introduction: Exploring Canada

Gerd Bjørhovde & Janne Korkka

UiT the Arctic University of Norway & University of Turku, Finland

The Nordic Association for Canadian Studies/l’Association nordique d’études canadiennes (NACS/ANEC) operates to support the study of Canada across all the Nordic Countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Since its founding in the 1980s, NACS has been committed to the study of Canada both on its own and within various comparative frameworks where the rest of North America, the Arctic and the European Union also figure prominently. Working across disciplines and regional boundaries has enabled NACS to form solid ties with many different institutions and sister associations and create a network of members and co-operating experts which extends beyond the Nordic region into particularly the rest of Europe and Canada and even beyond.1

This volume brings together a selection of articles from the NACS network through texts which were first presented at the twelfth triennial NACS conference, Exploring Canada: Exploits and Encounters, held in Northern Iceland at the University of Akureyri, 8–11 August 2018. Throughout its history, NACS has organized seminars and guest lectures by scholars and artists, and sponsored speakers in Canadian Studies related events organized by others. Running since the mid-eighties, the association’s triennial conference series has always been its most prominent show of force, which has toured the five Nordic countries and sought to engage university communities also outside capital regions. This endeavour has taken the NACS conference crowd to not only Stockholm (2002 triennial) and Reykjavik (1999), but also to Turku in southwest Finland (2005 & 2015), Aarhus in Denmark (2011), Tromsø in Arctic Norway (2008) and most recently Akureyri in 2018.

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At the Akureyri conference, NACS joined forces with the University of Akureyri and the local Stefansson Arctic Institute. The conference was only made possible as we worked together. Without local university co-operation, NACS would neither have been able to bring the 2018 conference to its rather stunning North Icelandic location nor attract the Canadian speakers who flocked to Akureyri and made the Canadian contingent much larger than in several previous NACS triennials.

Between the NACS triennials in Turku 2015 and Akureyri 2018, big political changes took place in North America. Very soon after the Turku conference in August 2015, Canadian voters said goodbye to the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper and elected the first Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau. Trudeau immediately began to speak about changing Canada’s image in the world, and certainly in government communication some things changed almost overnight. In November 2016, voters in the United States elected a president whose activities have since given a lot of food for thought for Canadians, certainly Canadian politicians, but also Canadianists in Canada and abroad. Observing and understanding the long-term impact of such changes was at the heart of several of our Akureyri conference panels pondering society and politics, showcased in this volume in the article by Kim Richard Nossal. Nossal and others in this volume ask the question of what to make of North America at a time when great desires for change, possibly in opposite directions, were channeled into federal voting in both Canada and United States? What to make of Canada now on its own and in various comparative contexts?

At the time we are writing this Introduction, it is October 2020, and looming changes in the global political order and hopes of a budding recovery from the covid-19 pandemic once again remind us of the vital importance of a multidisciplinary field of study like Canadian Studies. The uneven impact of such massive, unpredictable change on different communities can best be addressed through respectful listening and exchange within a community which speaks as equals in multiple voices. This volume continues in the best tradition of Canadian Studies: it brings together voices hailing from a global academic community whose debates are a crucial part of building and preserving prosperous, stable and just societies. The Canadian studies community speaking in this volume continues to insist that we are strong when we speak together.

The 2018 NACS conference announcement called for papers on the themes of exploration, exploits and encounters. These themes motivate ←12 | 13→the discussion in all the articles of this volume in various ways, whether they engage with culture and literature, society and politics, Indigenous issues and immigrant populations, and their interactions in the past, present and future. The conference themes have inspired a variety of responses building on current research interests among fairly fresh researchers as well as experienced scholars in the wide field of research activity called Canadian Studies today.

Of the nearly sixty papers presented at the conference, fourteen are gathered here. They range from politics to history and language studies, literary studies and philosophy, as well as psychological exploration and questions of identity, perhaps particularly questions concerning immigration, migration and integration. This is not surprising, considering that we are dealing with a culture in many ways based on exploring difference, political as well as individual, national as well as multicultural.

The contents of this volume are divided into four thematic parts: Spaces, Writing Absences, Immigrant Voices and Icelandic Connections. Part 1, Spaces, opens with two articles which engage with the Canadian North and continues with contributions which focus on indigenous experience in Canada. The section argues that space is to be understood much more broadly than simply in terms of region or geography. The North as a space is shown to offer alluring opportunities to remake individuals and nations, but it may prove to derail the ambitions of anyone who enters with the aspiration of making the North serve them. The discussion of indigenous experience further illustrates the necessity of understanding space, concrete or metaphoric, as a fluid construct in which voices that were once silenced in Canada are now carving a lasting imprint. The writers in Part 1 engage with spaces and voices that were once subjugated and silenced in the colonial processes that crafted Canada. The opening article by Aritha van Herk paves the way for authors in Part 1 to show such spaces regaining their agency; in the words of the Alberta author Robert Kroetsch (1927–2011), engaging with these spaces raises “a doubt about our ability to know” (Kroetsch 1989, 23), a doubt which also becomes an obligation to keep exploring Canada.

Spaces opens with van Herk’s article “Encounters of Writer/Explorers: Surprise and Ambush” which shows how space may carve itself into human ideas of selfhood. Author and Professor at the University of Calgary and a long-time enthusiastic contributor to and inspirator at NACS conferences, van Herk gave the opening keynote address at the NACS Akureyri conference. Her text explores Canadian ←13 | 14→writers’ ventures into the North and the Arctic, mixing geography and literary references, and shows her incomparable talent for mixing reflections on personal and literary ventures, this time giving special attention to Robert Kroetsch, one of van Herk’s most influential fellow Alberta authors. van Herk’s text revels in the unending surprises and delights of the Canadian North as it dismantles the words and identities of Southerners.

Kim Nossal also engages with the North in the article “Northern Approaches: The Harper government’s Arctic Policies Reconsidered”. Nossal writes about the Harper period and that fascination for the North and the Arctic which has been characteristic of many governments and Canadian prime ministers, but which became unusually prominent during Stephen Harper’s premiership. “Playing the ‘Arctic card’ is always a winner in Canadian politics”, Nossal argues, striking an intriguing link with Aritha van Herk’s argument above, but from a very different, more practical-tactical political perspective.

How do two cultures with vastly different language systems manage to communicate, make themselves understood? In today’s world there are many ways to overcome such barriers, but two or three centuries ago that was not the case, particularly if one of the cultures did not have a written language. Karim M. Tiro, in cooperation with Roy Wright, Montreal (deceased 2018), contributes the article “The Mathematical Encounter: Land, Language and Numbers in the Creation of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory”. Tiro and Wright discuss a historical issue with far-reaching implications for today’s scholars as they analyze documents written by the Mohawk chief John Deserontyon (c.1742–1811) in connection with a land settlement treaty. The article argues that although the Indigenous understanding of concepts like quantity and area was different from that of the Europeans, it was in some ways just as “correct” or sophisticated as that of the colonial/British officers or administrators.

In the article “Cultural Extractivism and the Possibility for Resurgence” Mary I. Ingraham provides a unique insight into some of the most complicated and hitherto less researched aspects of cultural extraction in indigenous communities. Extraction is usually associated with mining and extracting minerals like copper or iron. In recent years, however, the term has increasingly become associated with cultural extraction, the robbing or appropriation of cultural valuables such as traditions and traditional values. Ingraham uses as her main example the project which was designed for Canada’s exhibit at the 2016 Venice ←14 | 15→Biennale, the multimedia work extraction. This fascinating and highly unusual project set out to project the history of extraction or extractivism in Canada/North America; or perhaps rather the world as a whole.

Part 1 closes with the article “From Ontario to the United Nations: An Introduction to the Thought and Influence of John McMurtry, FRSC” by Giorgio Baruchello, who places the internationally known Canadian philosopher John McMurtry at the forefront of contemporary holistic theory and thinking. Baruchello’s discussion of McMurtry suggests that other English-speaking countries have tended to overlook McMurtry’s holistic vision and theory, and shows how as a public intellectual McMurtry has been highly influential both within Canada and outside its borders.

Part 2, Writing Absences, highlights a selection of the several papers at the conference which focused on literature dealing with cataclysmic changes. The authors in Part 2 engage with changes which may be brought about by war but also by loss of the comfort of knowing provided by hegemonic narratives. This turns the authors’ attention to absence, whether in the concrete terms of the forced absence of a mother from a child’s life or the metaphysical absences readers and critics face when they seek the genealogies of a literary text in an archive and find the archive refuses to fulfill their expectations. The silences and absences the authors encounter in Canadian writing may echo devastating experiences, but the articles in Part 2 propose that the literary echoes of such experiences need not become accounts of debilitating loss of voice.

Writing Absences opens with the article “Becoming Bird(ie): Exposing Canadian Government Complicity with Forced Adoptions in Christina Sunley’s The Tricking of Freya”, in which Jennifer Andrews discusses some of the lesser known aspects of, or cracks in, Canada’s supposedly liberal culture in post-World War II North America. Andrews argues that Sunley’s novel reveals a much more tradition-bound bourgeois social value system as it challenges the ways in which Canada has concealed the stories of mothers and children of forced adoption.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (December)
Bruxelles, Berlin, Bern, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 266 pp., 2 fig. col., 2 fig. b/w, 5 tables.

Biographical notes

Gerd Bjorhovde (Volume editor) Janne Korkka (Volume editor)

Gerd Bjørhovde has had a long career as Senior Lecturer and from 1991 Professor of English Literature at UiT the Arctic University of Norway. She has published several books and articles in English and Norwegian, including Å Canada – en reise i litteratur, kultur og natur (2017). Janne Korkka is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Turku, Finland. His research focuses on contemporary Canadian fiction, poetry and non-fiction in particular as they engage with Western and Arctic Canada. His publications include Ethical Encounters: Spaces and Selves in the Writings of Rudy Wiebe (2013).


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