Thursday, March 19, 2015

Canadian frontier company towns as outposts of modernity and order

Before I stumbled upon Henry Dawson and penicillin, I had developed the themes that you see in my account of his wartime efforts in a book I was writing - slowly - about Canadian frontier company towns holding off the natural world on behalf of modernity, circa 1910 to 1970 .

It had all the makings of a great addition to  an now extinct art form :  a page-turning sociology book of the intellectual roman a clef variety : the community study of a place, based on close intimate observation, scandalously frank about how people really think and talk and that is only disguised enough to prevent libel suits.

My subject was all those once common Canadian frontier company towns across Middle Canada that were all about about a square (and I do mean literally and deliberately square) mile in size - a lonely and tiny dot of an outpost of restrained -Protestant - modernity in a vast muskeg of fecund nature.

Pavement, piped water, powered lights and a public high school were their tokens of civilization to ward off the dark green unknown.

The diverse human, catholic, side of fecund nature - 'Indians' and 'half breeds', 'French Canadians' and 'ethnic' immigrants all huddled in communities just outside these dry (REG G) towns, providing tempting opportunities for all kinds of transgressional protestant sins.

I could go on and on - I do go on and on - about their narrative potential but in truth I lacked one community and one story to stand in for all the others.

Every place added something vivid to the stew but none could do the narrative job alone.

But Dawson, on the other hand , .....

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