Artful Blogger

THE ARTFUL BLOGGER: New book shines spotlight on a racist former governor general — and on the current prime minister

By Paul Gessell

Former governor general John Buchan in a photo by Yousuf Karsh. © Yousuf Karsh.

A guidebook aimed at immigrants hoping to become citizens tells these prospective Canadians about what a wonderful paragon of multiculturalism was former governor general John Buchan, the 1st Baron Tweedsmuir.

Immigrant groups “should retain their individuality and each make its contribution to the national character,” Buchan said, according to the government publication Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship.

Now, doesn’t that make you feel a little more comfortable about becoming Canadian? No need to discard all your cultural baggage from the Old Country.

A Yousuf Karsh photo of Buchan, wearing a Blood (Kainai First Nation) headdress, appears in Discover Canada, the contents of which immigrants are advised to study if they want to pass their citizenship tests.

Discover Canada offers one take on Buchan, who served as governor general from 1935-1940. Another is offered in the new book Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety, by Kingston authors Ian McKay and Jamie Swift.

The book might have been called Rewriting Canadian History, which is essentially what the authors accuse Prime Minister Stephen Harper of doing by trying to portray Canada as a warrior nation, rather than as being the international boy scout many of us, perhaps foolishly, thought we were.

The book’s authors take great exception to turning Buchan into a role model for immigrants.

According to the authors, Buchan believed that black Africans “called out” for the whites of Great Britain to rule over them. The very British Buchan, say the authors, even ran “racially segregated concentration camps” in South Africa during the Boer War.

“When serving as Canada’s governor general, Buchan warned McGill University students against Slavic and Negroid cultural influences in Canada, a country he sometimes called a ‘white man’s democracy,’ sometimes ‘Scotland-writ-large.’”

This is the man immigrants are supposed to salute?

“With Discover Canada’s illustration of Buchan-in-headdress, the guide is showcasing a proud imperial emissary, monarchist, and racial theorist — a man taking the Empire’s message to subjects he considered intrinsically and racially inferior to himself,” the authors write. “Elevating Buchan to this position makes sense within the new warriors’ imperial vision — Canada’s deepest meaning lies within its loyalty to the Anglosphere, which, once led by Britain and now by the United States, fights for ‘ordered liberty’ in a cosmic clash of civilizations pitting ‘us’ against ‘them.’”

That’s just one example of how McKay and Swift give us a different take on historical and current events. Warrior Nation has many more.

Swift and McKay will launch Warrior Nation on Thursday, June 14, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Under One Roof, 251 Bank St., 2nd Floor, (at the corner of Bank & Cooper). NDP MP Charlie Angus will be the emcee.