27 August 2010

Crayola's Canadian Prime Ministers

Our ninth prime minister, Arthur Meighen, died fifty years ago this month. The anniversary itself, August 5, passed unnoticed, even in his little hometown of St Marys. I chose to recognize the day by sending an email to the folks at Crayola PLC, pointing out that their
Arthur Meighen "coloring" page lists the wrong year of death. No response. No correction, either. I just checked... and then took a look at the rest of Crayola's Canadian Prime Ministers. Turns out that Meighen's page is not unique.

Things get off to a bad start with the misspelling of John A. Macdonald's surname, an error repeated on the page of his rival, Alexander Mackenzie.

Don't know why such a big deal is made over Tintin's Mackenzie's editorship of The Lambton Shield; he certainly had much greater accomplishments. Not that the creation of the North-West Mounted Police was one of them. Credit belongs to Macdonald.

Things improve slightly with prime minister #3, John Abbott, though I will quibble with the term "natively born" and point out the misplaced accent in "Quebéc".

All told, thirteen of Crayola's twenty-two prime ministerial profiles contain errors. John Thompson's year of birth is wrong, Laurier and Chrétien's terms of office are incorrect, and poor Louis St. Laurent is not only robbed of his moustache, but is made over as a dischevelled old man in pajamas and bathrobe. We're also told that he was an advocate of something called the "North Atlantic Pact".

He's referred to elsewhere as "Prime Minister Laurent".

The greatest indignity is done to Robert Laird Borden. Sure, his middle name is misspelled... yes, he was the eighth prime minister, not the ninth... but what I find particularly galling is that the man who led the country through the Great War is recognized for nothing more than having been born.

In Crayola's Canada there's a place in Nova Scotia called "Amnerst", a Member of Parliament is a "Parliament member", majority governments are known as "Majority votes" and the Official Languages Act was adopted in "the 1970's [sic]". We're told that King "prevented a separation between French and English Canadians" and Pearson worked as a diplomat right up to the moment he took office. It's a familiar, yet foreign country, one that has been blessed with prime ministers named William King and Charles Clark.

William King was before my time, but I do remember Chuck Clark; in the 1970s he led a Minority vote.

The new school year begins in eleven days.

Related post: Meighen as Monster

24 August 2010

No Belly Band Brings Bare Bum Book Ban

First it was the seals, then all those stories about the tar sands, now we have to deal with the disgrace that is British Columbia Ferry Services Inc., laid out for the world to see in the pages of The Guardian and The New Yorker. Goodness, could they not have seen it coming?

Or am I being too harsh? Perhaps the real blame lies with the prissy, prudish people running the corporation's Passages Gift Shops. You know, that area of the ferry devoted to those who'd rather shop for an Orca figurine than take advantage of the opportunity to see the real thing.

"Passages Gift Shops are uniquely West Coast in feel and theme", their website tells us. "The aim is to provide a unique West Coast shopping experience." How do they do it? Just how are they able to offer a unique West Coast shopping experience? Well, one way is by refusing to sell The Golden Mean, the acclaimed first novel by BC native Annabel Lyon. Seems such a curious decision; after all the book hit the bestseller lists, was nominated for both the GG and the Giller, won the Rogers Writers' Trust, and is now garnering rave reviews in the UK. What gives?

As BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall explains, it's all about that bum on the cover: "Because we're obviously a 'family show' and we've got children in our gift shops, we had suggested we could carry the book if there's what's called a 'belly band,' wrap around the photo."

Can't say I've ever thought of those trips to Vancouver Island as a "show", family or otherwise. Never once felt tempted to walk out half-way through.

Update: No news to report – international ridicule has not encouraged Passages to revisit its boneheaded decision. In place of their mea culpa, I present the British and American editions of The Golden Mean.

That's the American one on the right. Apparently, being a #1 Canadian bestseller doesn't carry quite the same cachet it does across the pond.

20 August 2010

The Final Indignity

Further to yesterday's post:

Monarch was captured and brought to San Francisco in 1889 as part of a publicity stunt for William Randolph Hearst's Examiner, the "Monarch of the Dailies". His first four years in the city were spent in a cramped cage at an amusement park; it wasn't until 1894 that he was lowered into that concrete pit at Golden Gate Park. The bear lived over 22 years in captivity. After he died, Monarch was stuffed and mounted, and became part of a diorama replicating California's flag.

Today, the Bear Flag Republic has no bears, but you can still see Monarch – or what's left of him – at the California Academy of Sciences. Take the kids!

I wonder whether Delaware has a similar display for their flag.

Related posts:
Six More Cinders in the Eye
Magic Mushrooms and Bad, Bad Boys

19 August 2010

Six More Cinders in the Eye

It wasn't until reading up on
Bannertail that I learned of Japan's attraction to things Seton. This pales beside the idolization of our beloved Anne Shirley, of course, but it is out there... and has been for some time. Manga adaptations go back to the years preceding the Second World War; there's even a biography of the man, illustrated by the very talented Jiro Taniguchi. Anyone looking for further evidence that the Seton name holds weight in Japan need only consider the title of that horrendous cartoon featured in the previous post: Seton Animal Chronicles: Banner the Squirrel. It was just one of three Japanese animated series based on Seton's work.

The first, Seton Animal Chronicles: Jacky the Bearcub, was inspired by Monarch, the Big Bear of Tallac, a novella published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1904. It's about a... Oh, why not let Seton's images carry the story.

Jacky, a bear cub, is orphaned after a hunter shoots his mother in the brain.

He's adopted by the hunter, who takes delight in his antics.

Jacky's sold to a crazy rancher who keeps him in chains.

He grows into adulthood, escapes, and feasts on lamb.

Shepherds fear Jacky, who they refer to as Monarch.

The hunter who adopted Jacky/Monarch all those years ago fails to capture him.

A second attempt is successful. The bear ends his days in captivity at Golden Gate Park, "seeking forever Freedom's Blue, seeking and raging
– raging and seeking – back and forth, forever – in vain."

Monarch – or Jacky, if you prefer – did exist; that's him above. Though Seton took some liberties with the story of his early life, the bear lived his final years in a concrete pit, just as the author describes.

Everything is happier in Seton Animal Chronicles: Jacky the Bearcub because the bear never grows up. His fun filled days are spent with sister Jill, a Native American boy named Lan, and Lan's Grandpa Rocky (best not to dwell upon the incident in which Rocky killed Jacky and Jill's mother).

That third animated Seton series? Well, it appears to have been a grab bag of Seton stories, including a retelling of Monarch, the Big Bear of Tallac. The animation, a touch more sophisticated, depicts the author communing with his cartoon pals.

An aside: Remember that Miami bookseller who was selling all those print on demand copies of Bannertail? Well, he's listed a POD copy of Monarch, the Big Bear of Tallac at US$145.95. "Perfect Condition", he claims. I recommend the 106-year-old first edition, which is readily available for less than US$20.

Related posts:

14 August 2010

Magic Mushrooms and Bad, Bad Boys

Bannertail: The Story of a Graysquirrel
Ernest Thompson Seton
London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1922
230 pages

This review now appears, revised and rewritten, in my new book:
The Dusty Bookcase:
A Journey Through Canada's
Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
Available at the very best bookstores and through

09 August 2010

The Naked, the Queer and the Starlost

A sharp-eyed friend sends this photo of The Queers of New York, spotted a few days ago in a Toronto used bookstore. Can't say I'm tempted – not at $50 – though I do appreciate the effort. Leo Orenstein's 1972 novel is, I believe, the most sought after Pocket Canadian Paperback Original. Easy to understand why. Who couldn't use a book that features both gay and Yiddish glossaries? For now, I'm happy just to see the cover, which Orenstein himself provided. Not bad.

When I first learned of this novel back in February, I made a bit too much of the fact that Orenstein directed Chekhov, Ibsen and Shaw – pretty much every director working in the early days of CBC television did much the same. The only film the man directed was Have Figure, Will Travel, a low-budget travelogue about three young women who sail a luxury yacht from staid Canada to nudist colonies in the United States.

Orenstein was far more active as a producer than a director, putting together one-off television dramas by names like Ted Allan, Hugh Garner and Arthur Hailey. For the most part, these appear to have been well-received, though this 25 May 1966 Globe and Mail review by Dennis Braithwaite is worthy of note:
I don't see how we can put all the blame on Barry Morse for what happened on Show of the Week Monday night. Morse is an actor and therefore by definition a ham: give any actor his head, free him from all directorial restraints, say to him. "Do as you like, have a ball." give him a plot so sketchy and inane that it can't possibly by hurt, turn him loose on the set with a make-up box and a drawing account on the wardrobe department, close your eyes and ears to the results, and well, if you saw It's Murder, Cherie, you know what will happen. Leo Orenstein produced this show; I want that information prominently displayed.
Could it really have been as bad as all that? Does anyone remember? I ask because it wasn't long after this review that Orenstein stopped working as a producer for the CBC. In fact, this man who had been there right from the medium's earliest days seems to have left television entirely. He returned only briefly, directing two episodes of The Starlost, CTV's 1973 science fiction series. Here's the beginning of the first, "Lazarus from the Mist":

By Canadian standards it was a pretty big deal, though no one seems to have noticed. After the devastating 1966 Braithwaite review, Orenstein's name didn't appear again in our newspaper of record until he died in February of last year. He was eighty-nine.

An aside: An "audacious television concept" says star and pitch man Keir Dullea. Those with who bask in nostalgia and young folks wondering what all the fuss was about may find the Starlost promo to be of interest.

The screen captures of Have Figure, Will Travel come from Canuxploitation, which has an excellent write-up on the film.

Related posts:

04 August 2010

Lovell's Legacy (and Its Besmirching)

John Lovell was born two hundred years ago today. The most important Canadian publisher of the nineteenth century, I suppose he's best remembered for his directories, much valued by genealogists, but his contributions to the country's literature should not be overlooked. The man published Mrs Leprohon, François-Xavier Garneau, Joseph Howe and Charles Sangster, as well as Moodies Susanna and John. Lovell's Literary Garland was not only the first magazine of its kind in British North America, it paid.

Then there are the illustrated books. Today, Hunter's Eastern Townships Scenery, Canada East (1860), William Notman's Portraits of British Americans (1865) and Canadian Wild Flowers (1869) by Catharine Parr Traill, cannot be had for anything less than four figures. More modest in intent is Lovell's Advanced Geography for the Use of Schools and Colleges (1880), which features some very beautiful images of Canada, convincing evidence that the Earth is a sphere and one truly cringe-worthy illustration.

It's been a while since I've seen a proper copy of Lovell's Advanced Geography on offer. The only current listings come from booksellers flogging print on demand abominations. Here's one from the UK, UK:

Black and white, no illustrations... What sort of dog's breakfast, one wonders, will OCR software vomit forth after scanning these pages:

The mess that is the bookseller's description probably provides a clue.

Yours for a mere £28.73 (plus shipping).

01 August 2010

Atwood et al. Shill for Apple

An advert published twenty-five years ago this month in Books in Canada finds McClelland and Stewart under the sway of the "computer evangelicals of Apple Canada Inc." I had no idea such people existed. Could it be that I was out when they came to call? My first computer, bought the following year, was a PC. I've since seen the light.