The Promise of Canada

After 150 yearsof history, Charlotte Gray reflects on what it means to be Canadian.

Charlotte Gray

On the eve of Canada's sesquicentennial celebrations comes a richly rewarding new book from acclaimed historian Charlotte Gray about what it means to be Canadian. Readers already know Gray as an award-winning biographer, a writer who has brilliantly captured significant individuals and dramatic moments in our history. Now, in The Promise of Canada, she weaves together masterful portraits of nine influential Canadians, creating a unique history of the country over the past 150 years.

What do these people — from George-Étienne Cartier and Emily Carr to Tommy Douglas, Margaret Atwood, and Elijah Harper — have in common? Each, according to Charlotte Gray, has left an indelible mark on our country. Deliberately avoiding a "top down" approach to our history, Gray has chosen people whose ideas have caught her imagination, ideas that over time have become part of our collective conversation. She also highlights many other Canadians, past and present, who have added to the ongoing debate over how we see ourselves, arguing that Canada has constantly reimagined itself in every generation since 1867.

Beautifully illustrated with evocative black and white images and colourful artistic visions of our country, The Promise of Canada is a fresh take on our history that offers fascinating insights into how we have matured and yet how — 150 years after Confederation and beyond — we are still a people in progress. Charlotte Gray makes history come alive as she opens doors into our past, our present and our future, inspiring and challenging readers to envision the Canada they want to live in. (From Simon & Schuster Canada

Read an excerpt | Author interviews

From the book

If I didn't know what this old-fashioned picture recorded, I'd give it barely a glance. Our public institutions are full of similar compositions - a bunch of men standing in front of a sturdy classical building. They could be school trustees or railway engineers. It is an excruciatingly exclusive image: a blur of white-haired, bearded patriarchy, with not a woman, non-white person, or Indigenous Canadian in sight. That was official Canada 150 years ago.

But I do know that this particular photo records a momentous event. Those men had just invented a new country called the Dominion of Canada. There were still plenty of details to work out, and it would be another thirty months before the British North America Act would be signed on the other side of the Atlantic. Yet these twenty-three sombrely clad lawyers, farmers, and merchants, from five British colonies, had listened carefully to each other and reached consensus. No wonder they decided it called for a commemorative picture. Today, there would be lights, video cameras, and reporters on the spot. Back then, in the cozy little island capital, there was one local photographer with a cumbersome camera that laboriously captured images on glass plates.

From The Promise of Canada by Charlotte Gray ©2016. Published by Simon & Schuster.

Author interviews