It was almost 40 years ago when New Yorker writer John McPhee first introduced canoe builder Henri Vaillancourt, in The Survival of the Bark Canoe, a classic book that’s still in print.. This month, WoodenBoat compounds the survival with a scholarly article by the still-active Vaillancourt on what is likely the oldest birch bark canoe in existence. Discovered in a stone barn in England by the descendants of an 18th-century British army officer named Enys who served in Quebec, the canoe is destined for permanent display at the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario. Taking advantage of the boat’s dilapidated condition to examine details of its construction, Vaillancourt concludes that the Enys canoe is indeed the genuine article – and a true monument of the material culture of the land that became Canada. Also in this issue, accomplished small-boat scribe Nic Compton presents part two of his profile of Uffa Fox, the visionary 20th-century designer who first made sailboats fly.
Taking “Ideas of North” as its theme, the current Canadian Art attempts to rehabilitate the iceberg nationalism of Lawren Harris et al (still well represented on the advertising pages) to suit a new age focused on global issues of climate change and indigenous survival. The quest takes novelist Lisa Moore to Fogo Island, Newfoundland, the hauntingly barren site of the country’s most far-out art residency program, while fellow novelist Timothy Taylor visits Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk in Igoolik. Two other stories follow artists on look-and-learn sailing voyages in Arctic waters. The tensions that arise are best expressed by Winnipeg photographer Sarah Anne Johnson: “How do you make art about a cause?” she asks. By way of a helpful primer, Sara Angel celebrates the 40th anniversary of Joyce Wieland’s seminal True Patriot Love exhibition at the National Gallery, recalling the last time that unabashed nationalism was a leading project of the English-Canadian avant-garde.
Given his maladroit performance in the Ontario election campaign so far, Tory leader Tim Hudak could be headed straight back to the relative oblivion from which he emerged only a few months ago. In the fast-fleeting, lime-lit meantime, veteran magazine writer and award-winning novelist Trevor Cole offers a wonderfully well-reported and cleverly shaded portrait of Hudak as an infectiously likeable overachiever with a true gift for what backroom operators call “retail politics.” The mystery is why this flawlessly packaged and heretofore successful career politician is failing to make the same impression on voters at large, despite the most auspicious circumstances, including a clear (since squandered) lead in early polls. Although Hudak’s campaign missteps were unknown to Cole when the profile was written, the author foreshadows the leader’s current problems when he challenged him to express his political beliefs without resorting to scripted talking points – something Hudak pointedly fails to do. Thus his fate reverts by default to the handlers: Rather than presenting Hudak as the friendly, mainstream dad that he is, they have pushed him into the front lines of an ideological war for which mainstream Ontarians have little appetite.