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National Identity -- F R Scott

Guest poem sent in by Shannon West
(Poem #782) National Identity
 The Canadian Centenary Council
 Meeting in Le Reine Elizabeth [1]
 To seek those symbols
 Which will explain ourselves to ourselves
 Evoke unlimited responses
 And prove that something called Canada
 Really exists in the hearts of all
 Handed out to every delegate
 At the start of proceedings
 A portfolio of documents
 On the cover of which appeared In gold letters not

 A Mari Usque Ad Mare [2]
 Dieu Et Mon Droit [3]
 Je Me Souviens [4]
 E Pluribus Unum [5]

-- F R Scott
[1] Posh hotel in Montreal.
[2] 'From sea to sea'. The official motto of Canada
[3] 'God and my right'. Motto of the British Sovereign - on the British
    coat of arms
[4] 'I remember'.  Motto of Quebec; it's even on their licence plates.
[5] 'Out of many, One'. American motto.

I'm utterly thrilled to see a Canadian theme run in Minstrels.  I've been
bugging Martin for months to do this.  In turn, he's been bugging me to
write comments on some of my favourite poems and send them in.  Well - he
beat me to the punch.

F.R. Scott is my favourite poet.  He's a satirist through and through. I'm
not sure if he's written anything without some kind of bite or sarcasm in it
somewhere, usually directed at the notion of Canadian culture.  His best
known poem is "A Lass in Wonderland" which is about the infamous Lady
Chatterley's Lover case in Quebec.  (I'm going to bug Martin until he runs
it). [As the man said, 'be patiently' :) - m.]

There's a bit of history to this poem.  The Canadian Centenary Council was
established in 1960 by a large group of public-spirited citizens as a
clearing house and information centre to promote ideas for 1967 (The
Canadian Centennial year). Its primary goal was to persuade businessmen and
others to contribute ideas, initiative and money to the centennial. (Miriam
McTiernan and Jacqueline Murray (1978))  A big part of this council was to
decide what was inherently Canadian.  What is representative of Canadian
culture?  There have been dozens (if not hundreds) of poems, stories, essays
and jokes written about this very topic.  Some have concluded that we're a
weird mishmash of American, British, and French, with some Eastern European
thrown in for colour, but no one has been able to satisfactorily put their
finger on what exactly Canadian culture is.  Scott is particularly critical
of the notion of "Canadian culture", though there are those among us that
would argue that he himself became integral to it.

In this poem he's particularly bitter, even for him, though, for some reason,
I picture him smiling at the irony of it.  Imagine, a team of bureaucrats
and politicians being appointed to this council to discover and employ those
symbols of Canadian identity.  And in gold letters on the folder (which is
probably one of those over-priced leatherette portfolios) isn't the famous
Latin mottoes, isn't a Canadian flag (the British Ensign at the time) or a
fleur-de-lis, but a "Courtesy of Coca-Cola Limited", the quintessential
corporate symbol.  He's saying that our culture is neither American,
British, French or any other nationality, but corporate.  And he's probably
not far off.


  F.R.(Francis Reginald) Scott was born in Qubec City, Qubec, in 1899. He
  died in Montreal in 1985. He was a Rhodes scholar and went to Magdalen
  Coll, Oxford. After his return to Canada, Scott enrolled in the law
  program at McGill University. He would later return to teach law at
  McGill, and eventually, after giving up partisan politics, was named the
  Dean of Law at McGill (1961-64). As a member of the "Montreal Group" (an
  informal group in Montreal that included Scott's close friend, poet A.J.M.
  Smith) he helped to found The Canadian Mercury journal. Well reknowned for
  his social activism, Scott was the national chairman of the CCF from 1942
  to 1950 and was involved in the transition of the CCF to the NDP. Scott
  won the Governor General's Literary Award in the poetry category in 1981
  for his book, Collected Poems.




  Here's a Scott page, with some bibliographic references:

  An essay on Scott:
  [broken link]

  Scott's father was a poet in his own right - see

  And the previous poem in the Canadian theme: poem #781

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