Niceness and Its Discontents

The Walrus, December 2010


Over at the Walrus, they’ve posted some of the December issue including my profile of Stuart McLean, which can be read here.

An excerpt:

When McLean was a boy in Montreal, he had the unusual habit of pretending to be a preacher, delivering ad hoc sermons to his parents’ friends. In a way, he remains a frockless clergyman, a parson in the guise of a popular entertainer. He is a deeply religious writer, but not in any narrow, sectarian sense. Rather, he articulates an unshorn natural piety that even unbelievers can accept. At the heart of all religion lies a feeling of gratitude for the simple and mysterious fact that we exist, that for reasons unknown to us we’ve been brought into this world and allowed to enjoy fellowship and earthly pleasures. It is perhaps no accident that his show airs on weekends, traditional days of rest and meditation. A century ago, many Canadians listened to homilies in church on Sundays, a practice some still follow. But now we can stay at home and hear secular sermons on CBC.

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Jimmy Frise and the Canadian Cartooning Tradition


Birdseye Center by Jimmy Frise.

Jimmy Frise (1891-1948) was the most important Canadian cartoonist of his time, the creator of two cherished comic strips, Birdseye Center and Juniper Junction. Although he was among the most widely-read Canadian creators of the early 20th century, Frise’s work has largely been forgotten, a real injustice since his lively linework can still raise a smile. (For samples of his work, go here.)

During the Doug Wright Awards last month, Frise was inducted into the into the Giants of the North, the Canadian Cartoonist’s Hall of Fame. It was a moving ceremony with one of Frise’s daughters present, along with a strong contingent of grand-children and great grand-children. Storyteller and broadcaster Stuart McLean, whose homespun humor on the Vinyl Cafe show continues the tradition started by Frise, delivered a speech on the cartoonist and his work.

Here is a text of what McLean said: 

Canada was still a hinterland nation when Jimmy Frise was born in 1891 on Scugog Island, Ontario — a small community just a crow’s flight north of Toronto.

Frise’s hometown was typical of Canada at large; A broad nation of farms and villages, tank towns and railway junctions, where most people still lived off the land.

Fifty seven years later, when Frise died in 1948, Canada— its mettle tested through two world wars — was well on its way to being a modern, urban nation with its citizens congregating in big cities and doughnut suburbs near the border.

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