The Beaverton releases satirical book on Canadian history

Union Gallery

Co-author and Queen’s alum Alex Huntley talks new release

Credit: 
supplied by Chris Huntley

There are two things Queen’s alum Alex Huntley wants you to know about Canadian history: it’s absurd and we’re way too smug about it. 

“It’s [also] never been thoroughly skewered,” Huntley said. 

Huntley and his co-author, fellow Queen’s alum Luke Gordon Field, set out to do just that with their new book — releasing an entire history of Canada presented through scrapbook-style clippings of satirical articles taking aim at everything from colonization to the War of 1812 to their predictions for the future.

The Beaverton Presents Glorious And/or Free: The True History Of Canada has some additional features to mix things up, including a short “choose your own adventure” story where John A. MacDonald fathers confederation after a massive drinking binge. Released on Oct. 31, the satirical book provides a combination of back-of-the-history-class giggles and biting satire of Canada’s national myth-making.

“There’s a lot of sacred cows in Canadian history,” Huntley said. Such as “the wars we fought — for what reason I don’t know, but alright — [the] treatment of Indigenous people, women, people of colour. Canadian history is really racist. If it is addressed, it’s kind of glossed over. At The Beaverton, that’s not our style.”

Besides the writing, the book doubles as a photographic catalogue of the history of Canada. That’s usually because the humour relies on a visual, including poking fun at existing Canadian history textbooks and the prerequisite photo of an arrowhead “void of context” that appears at the beginning of many books as a reference to Indigenous peoples.  

“Because that’s every fucking Canadian history book,” Huntley said.

In many ways, the book is a response to the collection of short films, Heritage Minutes, history book clichés and a country that’s often precious about its own story. It works to pull apart the myths and legends that are the subjects of holidays and statues and turns them upside down. 

Huntley listed some examples.

“Oh Plains of Abraham, oh Samuel de Champlain, [and] World War I,” he said, before adding in a TV narrator’s voice, “And that’s when Canada was Canada.”

“It’s ridiculous and absurd. If you look closer at these historical events you go, ‘well, Vimy Ridge was captured a year later by the Germans.’ It was great they just didn’t walk into their own artillery [which is] fantastic planning.”

To truly skewer Canada’s history, Stauffer Library ended up being a key resource for Huntley over the writing process, often settling down on the building’s fourth floor as he created his part of the book. 

He explained the level of research resulted in a book that verges on obscurity for everyone but history fans. 

“Not everyone’s going to get these jokes. It would require some sort of research, like who is Henry Morgentaler? Who was Emily Stowe? What happened in Halifax in 1917?” Huntley said. “We try to get complete nerds and someone who has no idea about Canadian history to read the book.”

As The Beaverton grows into a multimedia enterprise, it speaks to the ability of comedy to cut through public conversation and state an opinion in a headline that would otherwise take up a medium.com post, preceded by a necessary, “So I wrote a thing…”

Instead, it’s a humorous take on a country still parsing its history and identity, this time with a sense of humour.

“I’ve always heard, ‘don’t do Canada’,” Huntley said. “’That’s lame, you’ll never be successful’, but I’ve seen the opposite. There’s a lot more interest in Canada than the countless websites satir[izing] American politics.”

 

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