Mnemographia Canadensis is largely the result of "Matters of Memory," a graduate course designed in 1994 by the collection’s principal contributor and offered by the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario in 1996-1997. Aimed at exploring the literary and material manifestations of what has variously been called "collective," "cultural," "social," and "public" memory in Canada, the course consisted of two components: (1) a series of presentations by the instructor that focused on commemorative practices in Canada between the late eighteenth century and the present day, with particular emphasis on the relationship between literary and material manifestations of memory; and (2) a series of presentations by the other members of the seminar that focused on a selection of national, regional, and local sites of memory such as the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa and the Montreal Massacre monument in London’s Victoria Park. Before the Fall term was much underway, everyone in the seminar became acutely aware of the difficulties surrounding even the term "memory" in a collective context and of the impossibility of dealing with any matter of purportedly collective memory in Canada without also considering issues of community (or society) and environment (or landscape). Just as the division of Mnemographia Canadensis into two parts entitled Muse and Recall and Remember and See reflects the two components of the Matters of Memory Seminar, so the subtitle of the collection—Essays on Memory, Community, and Environment in Canada, with Particular Reference to London, Ontario—reflects the breadth, complexity, and specificity of the topics addressed by members of the seminar.

Mnemographia Canadensis somewhat unusual in being both the product of a single author and a group of essays by other hands. If a literary model for this combination of singularity and miscellany were to be sought in Canada, it might be found in Susanna Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush (1852), a work whose formal characteristics and their ideological implications are discussed at some length in the present collection (Essay 7: Trees and Forest: Variety and Unity in Early Canadian Writing). To the extent that the collection is the product of a single author, its origins lie in the ideas that were initially articulated in "Remembering and Forgetting in Canadian Literature and Criticism" (1986) and then expanded in "Forgetful of Former Care: Notes on the Past and Present State of Canadian Memory," an essay first published in Western Today (London)1 in 1988 and reprinted here with minor revisions and additional notes because, in its anxious, angry, and admittedly somewhat naive way, it prelusively raises many of the broad cultural and social concerns that motivate much of the collection as a whole. To the extent that it is a miscellaneous compilation by various hands, the collection is a partial embodiment of a pluralistic approach to (collective) memory that seems not only necessary but also desirable when the subject is Canada, a "community of communities" in which, as Graeme Wynn suggests in "Forging a Canadian Nation" (1987), communal and individual interests are "mutually reinforcing" and people characteristically exhibit a "tangle" of "local, regional (or provincial), …national," and ethnic "allegiances" (407-08). Perhaps it is not too much to hope that in form as well as content Mnemographia Canadensis reflects a Canadian nationalism that is simultaneously aware of the achievements and shortcomings of Canada’s colonial and national history and able to face the challenges and possibilities of creating, in the words of Raphael Samuel’s Theatres of Memory (1994), "a multi-ethnic vision of the future and a more pluralistic one of the past" (308).

While the essays gathered here frequently touch and draw upon recent and not-so-recent literary and psychoanalytical theories in their readings and soundings of commemorative, communal, and environmental matters, a concerted effort has been made in the interests of accessibility to avoid unnecessary theoretical terms and to provide definitions of necessary ones either contextually or in notes. Given the medley of voices and approaches in the collection (and, indeed, the diversity and polyphany2 that, as Benedict Anderson has observed, increasingly characterizes nation states or "imagined communities" in the twentieth century [123]), a Procrustean theory of the nature and function of (collective) memory should neither be expected nor missed in the following essays. With the preliminary help of James McConkey’s The Anatomy of Memory: an Anthology (1996) the Matters of Memory seminar canvassed most, if not all, of the relevant theory and analysis, however, and certain writers, texts, and concepts in memory studies and related areas can readily be identified as foundational or continual presences in the collection.

As already intimated, Anderson’s theorization of the nation in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983) lies centrally in the background of the collection. So, too, do T.J. Jackson Lears’s analysis of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century reactions to modern culture in No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (1981), Lawrence Buell’s exploration of Western perceptions and representations of nature in The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture (1995), and Raymond Williams’ recognition of the "selectivity" of what passes as "tradition" (9) in "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory" (1973), an essay whose impact on the present collection comes partly through the offspring that it helped to create, most notably The Invention of Tradition (1983), edited by E.J. Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, and Hobsbawm’s own Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (1990).3 No less of a presence in the background of the collection are the meditations of Joseph Priestley in his Lectures on History, and General Policy (1788) on the merits of "visible monuments" and "historical poems" in "perpetuating memory" (76) and the prognostications of George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) on the manipulation of history to serve the needs of the present and, as important, on the contribution to communal solidarity of actual or imagined conflicts with some fearsome and detested "Other." It is surely not fortuitous either that so many of Canada’s monuments and long poems commemorate military sacrifices and events or that anti-Americanism became a defining feature of Canada’s embryonic culture during and after the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Are the great monuments and commemorative cemeteries of the First World War, then, the evidence of Canada’s coming-of-age or attempts to manipulate popular consciousness?4 Could they be both?5 Such questions are never far from the centre of the essays here, whether the focus be on the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the Sesquicentennial Celebrations in Hamilton, or the Celebrate the Thames project in London.

In approaching the subject of (collective) memory itself, the Matters of Memory Seminar benefitted greatly from a vast and rapidly growing body of scientific and critical literature.6 With Maurice Halbwachs’ La Mémoire collective (1950; trans. 1980),7 Jacques Le Goff’s Storia e memoria (1977; trans. 1992),8 Pierre Nora’s Les Lieux de mémoire (1984-1992),9 and Steven Rose‘s The Making of Memory: from Molecules to Mind (1992)10 as principal points of departure, the seminar ranged widely and eclectically in the field of memory studies, but with a growing recognition of the importance of the work of Sigmund Freud and his heirs on mourning and melancholy11 and of several major thinkers and scholars in specialized areas—of Frances A. Yates and Henri Lefebvre on the relationships between place and recall,12 of Endel Tulving on "episodic" and "semantic" memory,13 of Paul Connerton on the role of rituals in sustaining and conveying memories,14 of Ian Hacking on the development of the sciences of memory in the late nineteenth century,15 and of Gayle Greene on the need for feminists (and, by extension, other progressives) to remember the past in order to avoid repeating its errors.16

If there is one theory of the nature and function of individual and collective memory underlying all of the present essays, it is the constructionism of the British psychologist F.C. Bartlett. "[W]hen a subject is being asked to remember," Bartlett writes in Remembering: a Study in Experimental and Social Psychology (1932), very often the first thing that emerges is something of the nature of an attitude. The recall is then a construction, made largely on the basis of this attitude, and its general effect is that of a justification of the attitude" (207). As sceptical of the notion of collective memory as he is convinced of the constructive nature of individual remembering, Bartlett nevertheless concedes that "[s]ocial organization gives a persistent framework into which all detailed recall must fit, and it very powerfully influences both the matter and the manner of recall" (296).17 In other words, only individuals have the capacity to remember, but preliminary, and, indeed, prior, to the process of individual recall there exists a mental (pre-)disposition that has been at least partly shaped by a social or communal environment: to speak of the "memory of [a] group" is to reify and transcendentalize; to speak of "memory in [a] group" is to acknowledge both the singularity of individual recollection and its relation to a surrounding society or community—Canada, say, or London.

Of the numerous other assumptions and characteristics that these essays have in common, one more is worth mentioning here. It is simply the hope that, in its small way, Mnemographia Canadensis may help to awaken an "attitude" of recall and create a "framework" of remembrance that will enable Canadians to retain conciousness  of their unique and fragile communities and environments and thus to resist the homogenizing and degrading effects of multi-national capitalism and consumerism. "Forgetfulness…is driven by an unshakable belief in progress," wrote Russell Jacoby in 1975 of a "social and economic dynamic" in which "oblivion and novelty feed off each other and flourish" in the same shopping mall as "planned obsolescence," "rampant subjectivism," "blind materialism, and superficial humanism" (1, 4, 150). Memory, it could be said in 1998, is crucial to the reclamation of men and women’s full humanity—their sense of a continuity, even a comradeship, between present, past, and future generations—without which the human race and its sustaining environments are doomed to become the victims of the pernicious cultural and personal values diagnosed by Jacoby.18 In part because it is a society of immigrants, a "tomorrow’s country," adjacent to one of the most powerful manufacturers of the goods and evils of progress, Canada has been especially prone to "social amnesia," to the "refusal or inability to think back" (Jacoby 3-4), that undermines people’s abilities to think critically, to use language accurately, to understand and exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities. But, as Sara Jeannette Duncan long since observed in The Imperialist (1904), Canada is a "new country already old in acquiescence" (64-65), a society rich in history and values as well as hopes and resources, a vast and privileged portion of the globe in which memory and understanding may yet so nourish right thinking and right action that they become, in the words of Margaret Avison’s "Snow" (1960), the "rhizomes" that "quake" the "astonished cinders" (27).


A Note on Citations, Dates, and the Index


To identify the sources of quotations as precisely and concisely as possible, page references have been given in roman type and line references to long poems in italics. Thus, "Lampman, Poems 180-81" refers to pages in Archibald Lampman’s Poems and "Malcolm’s Katie 3: 9-13" refers to the given part and lines of Isabella Valancy Crawford’s long poem.

To assist the reader in establishing the temporal contexts of discussions, the date of a work’s first publication is supplied with initial citations. Unless otherwise indicated, such dates refer in the case of literary works to their first publication in book form under their author’s name. The Imperialist, for example, was first published as a book in 1904 and "Snow" was first collected in Avison’s Winter Sun volume of 1960.

An Index to the collection appears at the end of the second volume.





  1. A slightly revised version of "Forgetful of Former Care" appeared in The Canadian Essay (1991), edited by Gerald Lynch and David Rampton. [back]

  2. Originally a musical term referring to a composition in which each part has an independent melody, "polyphonic" (literally, many-voiced) and the related term "polyglossia" have been influentially used by M.M. Bakhtin in The Dialogue Imagination: Four Essays (1983) to describe the variety of social voices and distinct languages to be heard in the novel. In form as well as content, the essays gathered here under the title Muse and Recall aim to allow a variety of individual and representative voices to be heard both as distinct utterances and as part of a continuing discussion. As will quickly be recognized, the essays in the first volume also use such devices as emblem, exemplum, parable, synechdoche, and supplement (an addition that signals incompleteness [see Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (1967; trans. 1976) 144-45]) to indicate the partiality (in both senses of the word) that inevitably inheres in a project of the scope indicated by the full title of the present collection. [back]

  3. See also Richard Terdiman’s "Deconstructing Memory: on Representing the Past and Theorizing Culture in France since the Revolution" (1985) and Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis (1993). [back]

  4. See Jonathan F. Vance’s Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War (1997) for a detailed exposition of the Great War as Canada’s rite of passage from colony to nation. [back]

  5. In Monumental Accusations: the monuments aux morts as Expressions of Popular Resentments (1996), Marilène Patten Henry adds that "war monuments have always been considered manifestations of gratitude to those who gave the supreme sacrifice," but they may also be "not so silent expressions of a blend of resentment, anger, and misery directed at the war and the way in which it was conducted" (9). [back]

  6. M.N. Young’s Bibliography of Memory (1961) remains a useful starting point for memory studies and P.E. Morris’s "Theories of Memory: an Historical Perspective" (1978) provides a succinct survey of "the development of thinking about memory" (1) from classical times to the contemporary period, though, of course, both need to be heavily supplemented by more recent and more detailed materials. [back]

  7. Halbwachs defines collective memory in contradistinction to autobiographical memory, and subdivides it into three categories or sites—the family, religion, and social classes—where the memories of the group are kept alive in the minds of its constituent members through commemorative festivals and the like. For a succinct and perceptive discussion of the context and content of Halbwachs’  work, see Lewis A. Coser’s Introduction to On Collective Memory (1992), and, for a refinement and elaboration of the concept and implications of collective memory, see James Fentress and Chris Wickham’s Social Memory (1992). [back]

  8. In the course his wide-ranging and informative study of "the relations between history and memory," Le Goff not only sees memory, "[w]hether mental, oral, or written…[as] the living source from which historians draw" (xi), but also notes its importance for individual and group identity—that is, for "who I think I am and who others think I am or…who we think we are and who others think we are" (Merrill 2). "[A]t a metaphorical but important level," writes Le Goff, "in the same way that amnesia is not merely a local disturbance of the individual’s memory but causes more or less serious perturbations in his personality, the absence, or voluntary or involuntary loss, of collective memory among peoples and nations can cause serious problems of collective identity" (53). [back]

  9. Les Lieux de mémoire (The Sites of Memory) is the title of several volumes edited or written by Nora in the nineteen eighties that examine the monuments, holidays, and other nodal points (including historical personages such as Joan of Arc) that have helped the citizens of post-revolutionary France to achieve a sense of national identity. In Canada, such lieux or sites include, at the national level, the maple leaf flag, "O Canada," Dominion (Canada) Day, the R.C.M.P., the C.P.R., the Group of Seven….and, at the provincial and local levels, but with some national impact, Evangeline, the Bluenose, Bonhomme Carnaval, Laura Secord, Anne of Green Gables, the Rockies, Haida carvings…. Almost needless to say, many of Quebec’s lieux de mémoire serve to cement the Québécois rather than the Canadian sense of identity. The National Film Board documentary, Evangeline’s Quest (1996) is an engaging treatment of the evolution of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s heroine into a local and, to an extent, national icon (see also Essay 8: Literary Sites and Cultural Properties). In National Dreams: Myth, Memory, and Canadian History (1997), Daniel Francis provides provocative discussions of several of Canada’s national "myths," including the C.P.R, the R.C.M.P., and "the North." [back]

  10. Among the many merits of Rose’s book are its lucid expositions of the contributions of two immigrants to Canada, the Montreal psychologist Donald Hebb and the Montreal neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, to the sciences of memory (see 130, 150-51). Himself a distinguished memory researcher, Rose observes that in the form of "hebb synapses" and "hebbian rules of association," the hypotheses laid out by Hebb in The Organization of Behavior (1949) "have become…the raw materials for modellers and theorists of memory ever since his book appeared" (153). (See The Organization of Behavior 12-13 for Hebb’s conception of the "memory" or "mnemonic trace" as a "structural change in specific neural cells" that constitutes the "basis of memory" and "the basis of learning.") While Rose’s primary interest lies in the workings of "personal memory" (7), he frequently touches upon "collective memory," which, he concludes, creates "a certain type of social cohesion and viewpoint about the world and how we could and should live in it" (327). In addition to "serv[ing] purposes that transcend the individual" and "welding together human societies by imposing shared understandings, interpretations, ideologies," collective memories are for Rose "the means whereby we re-member the past, our history" and, thus, "they both guide our present actions and shape our futures" (327). [back]

  11. In addition to Freud’s seminal essay, "Mourning and Melancholia" (1917), see Nicolas Abraham and Marià Torok’s The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: a Cryptonomy (1976; trans. 1986) and the introductory essay by Jacques Derrida, "Foreword: Fors: the Anglish Words of Nicolas Abraham and Marià Torok." [back]

  12. In addition to providing an authoritative discussion of the use of architectural places and images as prompts to recall from classical times to the Renaissance and beyond, Yates’s The Art of Memory (1966) points generally towards the interdependence of place and remembrance: a particular place is most likely to prompt memories and to be memorable when it has an historical or personal association—what Henri Lefebvre describes in The Production of Space (1974; trans. 1991) as "an affective kernel or centre" provided by a "sense of what happened" there (42, 37). [back]

  13. "Episodic memory receives and stores information about temporally dated episodes or events, and temporal-spatial relations among these events" and "[s]emantic memory is the memory necessary for the use of language. It is a mental thesaurus, organized knowledge a person possesses about words and other verbal symbols, their meanings and referents, about relations among them, and about rules, formulas, and algorithms for the manipulation of these symbols, concepts, and relations" (Tulving 385, 386). [back]

  14. Agreeing with Williams, Hobsbawm, and other Marxian analysts that "our experiences of the present largely depend upon our knowledge of the past…and…our images of the past commonly serve to legitimate a present social order," Connerton argues in How Societies Remember (1989) that "images of the past and recollected knowledge of the past…are conveyed and sustained by (more or less ritual) performances"—that is, by ritualistic and commemorative ceremonies that "automatically impl[y] continuity with the past," which "draw…the attention of…participants to objects of thought and feeling…[that] they hold to be of special significance," and which, therefore, "play a significant role in the shaping of communal memory" and identity (3-4, 45, 44, 48). [back]

  15. While Hacking tends to underestimate the importance of modernity, particularly urbanization, in directing the attention of nineteenth-century writers, scientists, and philosophers towards issues of memory and identity, his Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (1995) provides a brilliantly illuminating analysis of the emergence of the modern sciences of memory in France in the years (1874-1886) following the trauma of the Franco-Prussian War. According to Hacking, a major cause of the interest in memory in the late nineteenth century (and, perhaps, still today) was the emergence of a "scientific world view" that sought to replace the soul as the constitutive element in the mind and body with a faculty amenable to research: "[i]nstead of studying a unitary moi"—a "transcendental, metaphysical or spiritual self or ego"—scientists and philosophers "should study memory" and "forgetting" (amnesia) as the principal constituent of the personality (163, 208). [back]

  16. "[M]emory is especially important to anyone who cares about change," writes Greene in "Feminist Fiction and the Uses of Memory" (1991), "for forgetting dooms us to repetition" (292). See also Yates 368-69 on the transformation of mnemonics during the Renaissance from "a method of memorising the encyclopaedia of knowledge, of reflecting the world in memory, to an aid for investigating the encyclopaedia and the world with the object of discovering new knowledge." [back]

  17. The focal point of Bartlett’s discussion here is Halbwachs’ Les Cadres sociaux de la mémoire (1925). "Whether [a] social group has a mental life over and above that of its individual members is a matter for speculation and belief," concludes Bartlett; "[t]hat the organised group functions in a unique and unitary manner in determining and directing the mental lives of its individual members is a matter of certainty and of fact" (300). [back]

  18. Numerous reasons have been advanced for the near obsession with memory in Europe and North America in recent years, including the impending end of the millennium, the disappearance of species and environments, the ageing of the post-War generation, the Modern rejection of the past, and the quality of contemporary leisure. See, for example, George Lipsitz, Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Culture (1990), Andreas Huyssen, Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (1995), Michael S. Roth’s The Ironist’s Cage: Memory, Trauma, and the Construction of History (1995) and David Lowenthal, The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (1996). [back]