This year, being Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, is bound to be one of celebrations, especially as July 1 approaches. Parents and teachers wishing to get children ready for the big day — and maybe refreshing their own knowledge of history — would be wise to pick up a copy of Canada Year By Year (Kids Can Press, 96 pages, $21.95).
Written by Elizabeth MacLeod and illustrated by Sydney Smith (who received the 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award for his art in Sidewalk Flowers), this book is aimed at ages eight to 12. It begins with a description of the birth of Canada at the stroke of midnight on July 1, 1887. In fewer than 100 pages, using a lively text that is easy to understand and deftly incorporates definitions of occasional words young readers might not have previously encountered, it provides an item of historic interest for each year of Canada’s existence and offers boxed profile pieces about noteworthy Canadians of the period.
The book delivers more than a few surprises — bits of trivia that are eye-opening and often memorable. I, for one, was surprised to learn the first aboriginal elected to Canada’s government was Angus McKay, a Métis, and this occurred in 1871, much earlier than I would have guessed. Some chapters later, I learned that in 1958, James Gladstone was the first Status Indian to be appointed to the Canadian Senate even though, as an aboriginal, “he did not have the right to vote in federal elections until 1960.” That was the year Parliament passed the Canadian Bill of Rights. Too late for Angus McKay, I suspect.
There are familiar names in this book and some not so familiar. Much of the material speaks to kids — Joseph Tyrrell discovers the skull of a dinosaur near Drumheller in 1884, for example; Anne of Green Gables finds a publisher in 1908; in 1984, Marc Garneau becomes the first Canadian to fly in space; in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau names him transport minister.
There are bits of humour: Joseph-Armand Bombardier, at 15, builds a primitive snowmobile with his brothers and 37 years later, in 1959, creates the Ski-Doo. He intends to name it Ski-Dog, “since it was meant to replace dogsleds,” but a print typo in publicity material results in the name Ski-Doo.
There is a fair bit of information about various wars, and the author is mindful of contemporary issues of inclusivity. Race issues are dealt with, as are gender issues. The author’s sensitivity is reflected in the artist’s cover illustration, which shows a line of male and female Canadians making their way through the years, the procession including aboriginals and Inuit, the occasional person of colour and, near the front, a woman wearing a hijab. Astronaut Chris Hadfield is at the head of the line, with Terry Fox close behind him.