Under the North Star: Canadian national identity in school readers
Smerdon, Claire Elizabeth
This thesis examines constructions of English Canadian national identity in school readers approved for use in Grades Four to Six in Ontario Public Schools from 1909 to 1970, schoolbooks used throughout English‐speaking Canada during the mid‐twentieth century. While the lavishly illustrated readers comprise collections of prose, poetry and exposition designed to improve reading comprehension, the accompanying Teachers’ Guides reveal the editors’ intentions to reinforce Canadian identity through the creation of a common cultural heritage and values based upon a British settler past. The emerging metanarratives of wilderness and multiculturalism mark the shift from a concertedly British colonial identity in the early twentieth century to a distinctly Canadian identity after World War II. Wilderness is constituted as the site for the construction of this uniquely Canadian identity, not only through brave pioneer ancestors creating homes but also as the location for contemporary adventures and encounters with Aboriginal Others. The readers were children’s first official introduction to Canada, effectively children’s handbooks for Canadian citizenship, modelling their duties and responsibilities as ‘young Canadians.’ Children imagined their nation, not only by taking part in the communal ritual of reading in the classroom but also through virtual tours of Canada, visiting other children ‘from sea to sea’. The thesis establishes school readers as a valuable but neglected resource in discussions of the development of Canadian national identity, revealing largely unresolved tensions between traditional antimodern values and occupations and the realities of twentieth‐century Canada urban industrial society.