Voyageur Storytelling in Ontario, Canada: Leacock Sesquicentennial Missves
Voyageur Storytelling Lunar Loon

A Stephen Leacock Sesquicentennial in 2019

A Project of Voyageur Storytelling

in Northern Bruce Pennsula, Ontario

Missives 5 & 6

May 30 2018

Missive No. 5

On the Trail of Unsolved Riddles

Missive No. 6

Back on the Trail after the Break

I have decided to take a brain break for the summer. The flow of Missives will now dry up until after Labour Day. The Sesquicentennial itself launches next March 28th 2019 and lasts until December 29th: a glorious Leacockian read-think-write-talk-sing-fest spanning 277 days.

I am planning 75 Missives in total, or about one per week. (If you missed the first four — what this is all about — you can find them at

I will use them at first to set out my own ideas on the legacy of Stephen Leacock, Unsolved Riddles, the Canadian Enlightenment, and other matters arising therefrom. Then, as the process advances, I hope it will become more interactive, more of a conversation and less of a monologue.

For the past six weeks I have done nothing but read: from Stephen Leacock to Northrop Frye leading to B.W. Powe of York University and from him to more Frye and Marshall McLuhan; then attempting to fill in the chain of Canadian Enlightenment with C. B. Macpherson, Harold Innis, Irene Spry, George Grant, Charles Taylor; then a hop across the pond (thanks to a gift from friends) to Tony Judt leading to Isaiah Berlin leading to a whole raft of on-line speculators on the idea of “Pluralism” and what it means for this country, leading back to Powe in another guise, Stephen Schecter, and all of the above. I haven’t got much into the poets yet; they will constitute my summer reading.

While all this was going on we in Ontario have been enjoying — if that is the right word, and it should be — an election campaign, June 7th being the Big Day. As things are shaking down, it will be an interesting one. The personalities are intriguing and diverse, as are the casts of mind. Whoever wins will, I think, tinker at the margins according to taste, but I don’t see much stomach for radical reconsideration. We are overdue for that, not in any negative sense, but simply because it’s time. Much has evolved since World War Two, and we do not lack for singular ideological critiques. I am interested in finding a fully-articulated pluralistic synthesis. Many have spoken of it, including some of the writers on my list, but in the prevailing climate of discussion they simply get pushed into another ideological silo, so that the real essence and significance of our Canadian pluralism, and need to cultivate it further, become lost in the ambient noise.

Singular is okay, and always interesting, but plural is our present and our future. When what is plural about us becomes perceived as an entanglement of identities and tribes, then we are in trouble. When the institutions and ways we have created for plural dreams yearn for the simplicity and powers of monism, then we are in trouble. When we cannot or will not converse with each other in humane ways across the intermedia of our plural beings, then we are in trouble. When we think we cannot afford to be what we are, then we are in trouble. When we cannot remember how we got here and why we set out in the first place, then we are in trouble. I am not sure how much trouble we are in, but I worry about the trends.
What are we, and what do we want to be? A liberal democracy? A social democracy? An institutional democracy? A communitarian democracy? All of the above: a pluralistic democracy? I think so, but the traditions of collective reflection, conversation and accommodation needed to make that work are under pressure from monistic interests, simplistic misunderstandings, and the sheer difficulty of the combination.

Stephen Leacock published The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice in 1920. I would like to dedicate his Sesquicentennial, as he did so much of his professional life, to the Unsolved Riddle of Canada. I suggest we take note of his riddle-cracking Tetrad: Knowledge; Imagination; Compassion; Humour. We will need to explore the mindscapes and “civiculture” of pluralism with the same courage as explorers of our landscapes ever since the ice began to retreat. Most of the time they travelled up-stream, and so must we. That is the form of the country.

Have a good summer!

To be written in September 2018
Paul W Conway


Voyageur Storytelling 2018

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