Two years after the first publication of Douglas Coupland’s Souvenir of Canada, a brilliant if unconventional guide to Canadian culture, he published Souvenir of Canada 2. After all, it all couldn’t be distilled down into just one singular volume.
Unlike the first book which contains a smattering of personal anecdotes, this book is much more personal to Coupland, in both the stories of his family and the way this book is written. It feels like he’s telling you these things personally. As you read, the words are transformed from text in a book into a one-sided conversation, as Coupland gushes about his homeland and his kin.
In this book, you’ll learn more about Canada and Canadians. You’ll find answers to questions you probably didn’t ask, but you’ll be glad you know, such as:
- What is the Canadian Shield?
- What are people from Halifax called?
- Is there a “most Canadian” tool?
- What is “Canada House”?
- Just how close is France geographically to Canada?
- What is rapeseed?
- Who is Terry Fox?
Coupland definitely crystallized things I already knew. For example, I knew conceptually who a hoser is, but I couldn’t put it into proper words. Well, Coupland has defined it as “a beer-drinking, eh-saying gallunk who lives in his parents’ basement and watches cable TV while wearing a combination of hockey garb, hunting gear and army surplus accessories.”
It is also a supremely upbeat read considering it spends much more time looking back than looking forward. That, in my experience, is not always the case. There are plenty of things that now make more sense to me, but there are also things that I never thought to put together that Coupland writes about.
He discusses how everyone in Canada “knows” each other, especially when traveling abroad. He explains the power of the railroad on Canadian history, and even discusses alternative histories. He dives into the Canadian psyche of moving from place to place, and the need to write eloquent letters to the editor, and how the moose might be the most Canadian animal.
But the two things that appear to be written with the most passion are about culture and being blessed.
Coupland writes, “The U.S. has a melting pot culture. Canada’s isn’t quite a melting pot, but no one’s really sure what it is … a quilt? … a salad? … a sandwich? … a soup? … a piñata? … a mosaic? What we know for sure is that what was once alien becomes Canadian in the end, and that in the future our country may well quite cheerfully resemble the outer-space cocktail-lounge scenes from Star Wars.” This feels accurate, if not a little tongue and cheek. One could argue that most countries are melting pots but that they’re not all exactly the same.
However, Coupland’s truth and honesty in this book and its predecessor culminate near the end of Souvenir of Canada 2.
It is a truth: Canadians are blessed. We have yet to become whatever it is we’re going to be. We still own our future. Our landscape is bold and fertile and inspires us with its power and its extremes. Whatever may be happening in the world, the future we build remains bright for us here. What a legacy to inherit, and what did we ever do to deserve this? I’ve thought about this question, and I don’t think it’s a matter of what we did to deserve Canada. It’s more a matter of asking, what must we do to continue deserving it. Our Country isn’t a prize–it’s something we earn every day. Canada isn’t something we can take for granted, we have to work at earning it. Forget politicians. Forget much of the claptrap we’ve been taught. Remember that the moment we stop valuing what we have is the moment we will lose it. The land is our blessing and our duty.
It’s almost poetry, but his passion for his homeland bleeds through the page in that passage.
When paired with Souvenir of Canada, Souvenir of Canada 2 creates a more diverse and culturally rich understanding of Canada as a country and as a people. If only every country could have such pure talent writing for them, there would be a collection of books like this for every nation. Since that’s not the case, I’ll enjoy these two, as well as Coupland’s other travel compendium on his home city of Vancouver, City of Glass. All three are more fun and informative than your average run-of-the-mill travel book or magazine.