Canada is a vast country with a climate and environment that spans from the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield, muskegs of northern BC, and tundras of the Arctic Circle to the grasslands of the Prairies and southern woodlands of Ontario and Quebec. Canada’s environment is vast and diverse. Like its people.
Ecologist vs Nationalist
Ecology is the study of “home” (oikos means ‘home’ in Greek). Ecology studies the relationships that make one’s home functional. It is, in my opinion, the most holistic and natural way to embrace where we live. My home is currently Toronto, Ontario, Canada and ultimately the planet Earth.
Growing up in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, I’d always felt an abiding sense of belonging and I resonated with Canada’s national symbols—mostly based on Nature and found on our currency, our flag, and various sovereign images: the loon, the beaver, the maple tree, our mountains and lakes and boreal forests. This makes sense, given that Canadians are custodians of a quarter of the world’s wetlands, longest river systems and most expansive lakes. Most of us recognize this; many of us live, play and work in or near these natural environments.
When I think of Canada, I think of my “home”, where I live; my community and my environment. I have traveled the world and I feel a strong sense of “home” and belonging every time I return. Canada is my home. I was born and grew up in Quebec. I lived in British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia; each of these places felt like “home”.
I think that part of being a Canadian is related to this sense of belonging (and pride) in a country that is not tied to some core political identity or melting-pot mainstream. Historian and writer Charlotte Gray wrote:
“We live in a country that has a weak national culture and strong regional identities …Two brands of psychological glue bind Canada together: political culture and love of landscape…[in] a loose federation perched on a magnificent and inhospitable landscape—[we are] a nation that sees survival as a collective enterprise.”—Charlotte Gray
Canada as Postnational State
In October 2015, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the New York Times that Canada may be the “first postnational state,” adding that “there is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” This is largely because Canadians, writes Charles Forman in the Guardian, are “philosophically predisposed to an openness that others find bewildering, even reckless.”
To anyone but a Canadian, Trudeau’s remark would rankle, particularly in a time when many western countries are fearfully and angrily turning against immigration through nativism and exclusionary narratives. A time when the United States elected an authoritarian intent on making “America great again” by building walls and caging migrant children. A time when populist right-wing political parties hostile to diversity are gaining momentum in other parts of the world. “Canada’s almost cheerful commitment to inclusion might at first appear almost naive,” writes Forman. It isn’t, he adds. There are practical reasons for keeping our doors open.
We are who we are because of what we are: a vast country the size of Europe. A country dominated by boreal forest, a vital and diverse wilderness that helps maintain the well-being of our entire planet. A land that encompasses over a fifth of the freshwater in the world, and a quarter of the world’s wetlands. Canadians are ultimately the world’s Natural stewards. That is who and what we are.
According to Forman, postnationalism frames how “to understand our ongoing experiment in filling a vast yet unified geographic space with the diversity of the world” and a “half-century old intellectual project, born of the country’s awakening from colonial slumber.” Even our fiction reflects how we value our environment and embrace diversity. “Diversity fuels, not undermines, prosperity,” writes Forman.
Canadian author and visionary Marshal McLuhan wrote in 1963 that, “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.” This is an incredible accomplishment, particularly given our own colonial history and the current jingoistic influence of the behemoth south of us. “The weakness of the established Canadian identity encouraged a plurality of them—not to mention a healthy flexibility and receptivity to change. Once Canada moved away from privileging denizens of the former empire to practicing multiculturalism, it could become a place where ‘many faiths and histories and visions would co-exist.”
Canada is not a “melting pot” stew of mashed up cultures absorbed into a greater homogeneity of nationalism, no longer recognizable for their unique qualities. Canada isn’t trying to “make Canada great again.”
Canada is a true multi-cultural nation that celebrates its diversity: the wholes that make up the wholes.
This resonates with me as an ecologist. What I envision is a Canada transcending the political to embrace the environment that both defines us and provides us with our very lives; a view that knows no boundaries, and recognizes the importance of diversity, relationship and inclusion, interaction, movement, and discovery.
We have much to be proud of. Canada ranks among the highest in international measurements of government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, economic freedom, and education. It stands among the world’s most educated countries—ranking first worldwide in the number of adults having tertiary education with 51% of adults holding at least an undergraduate college or university degree. With two official languages, Canada practices an open cultural pluralism toward creating a cultural mosaic of racial, religious and cultural practices. Canada’s symbols are influenced by natural, historical and Aboriginal sources. Prominent symbols include the maple leaf, the beaver, Canada Goose, Common Loon, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the polar bear, the totem pole, and Inuksuk.
We are a northern country with a healthy awareness of our environment—our weather, climate and natural world. This awareness—particularly of climate change—is more and more being reflected in our literature—from Margaret Atwood’s “Maddaddam” trilogy and Kim Stanley Robinson’s “2041” to my short story collection “Natural Selection” and non-fiction book “Water Is…” .
Canadians are writing more eco-fiction, climate fiction, and fiction in which environment somehow plays a key role.
Water has become one of those key players: I recently was editor of the Reality Skimming Press anthology “Water”, a collection of six speculative Canadian stories that optimistically explore near-future scenarios with water as principle agent.
My short story “The Way of Water” is a near-future vision of Canada that explores the nuances of corporate and government corruption and deceit together with resource warfare.
First published as a bilingual print book by Mincione Edizioni (Rome) (“La natura dell’acqua”), the short story also appears in several anthologies including Exile Editions “Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change” and “Future Fiction: New Dimensions in International Science Fiction“.
My upcoming “A Diary in the Age of Water” continues the story.
Canadian writer and friend Claudiu Murgan recently released his book “Water Entanglement“, which also addresses a near-future Canada premise in which water plays a major role.
Canadians are custodians of a quarter of the world’s wetlands, longest river systems and most expansive lakes. Canada is all about water… And so are we.
We are water; what we do to water we do to ourselves.
Happy Canada Day!
Dechene, Paul. 2015. “Sci-Fi Writers Discuss Climate Catastrophe: Nina Munteanu, Author of Darwin’s Paradox.” Prairie Dog, December 11, 2015.
Forman, Charles. 2017. “The Canada Experiment: Is this the World’s First Postnational Country?” The Guardian, January 4, 2017.
Gray, Charlotte. 2017. “Heroes and Symbols” The Globe and Mail.
Moorhouse, Emilie. 2018. “New ‘cli-fi’ anthology brings Canadian visions of future climate crisis.” National Observer, March 9, 2018.
Munteanu, Nina. 2016. “Crossing into the Ecotone to Write Meaningful Eco-Fiction.” In: NinaMunteanu.me, December 18, 2016.
Newman-Stille, Derek. 2017. “The Climate Around Eco-Fiction.” In: Speculating Canada, May 24, 2017.
Woodbury, Mary. 2016. “Part XV. Women Working in Nature and the Arts: Interview with Nina Munteanu, Ecologist and Author.” Eco-Fiction.com, October 31, 2016.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.