True Patriot Love

By Michael Ignatieff
Viking Canada
211 pages, $30.00

NEW: An audio recording and slide show of Michael Ignatieff’s recent Q&A session with CEMA (Canadian Ethnic Media Association) has been added at the end of this item. Click the “more…” link below.

ignatieffbook(Canscene)— I had the great pleasure of meeting Michael Ignatieff at a reception preceding the May 7 launch of his new book. Working the room, dressed comfortably in blazer and gray pants, he proved personable, attentive to whomever he was exchanging dialogue with and a fine public speaker.

When he addresses an audience one quality Michael Ignatieff displays in abundance is passion: not the seething ranting of an ideologue but a sustained and loving exploration and dedication to his subject.

This book is not about Michael Ignatieff the politician. It is a statement of what the author believes true patriotism is all about. Ignatieff reveals that nine years ago, the year he accepted the teaching position at Harvard he and his family spent a vacation in Canada, tracing the journey of his maternal grandfather from sea to sea.

Ignatieff, whose The Russian Album on the history of his father’s family won a Governor General’s Award and a Heinemann Prize now turns to his mother’s family, the Grants and their own steadfast passion for Canada.

Great grandfather George Monroe Grant, though a man of the cloth with a parish in Halifax, declared his love for Canada through accepting the hazardous life of an explorer. He joined with a parishioner, engineer and surveyor Sanford Fleming in a historical ocean-to-ocean journey. The goal was to establish the feasibility of a trans-Canada railway. Taking his family on that trip gives the lie to the belief that by working abroad, Ignatieff had forgotten his native land.

George Monroe Grant’s son, and Michael’s grandfather William Grant, was a quiet scholarly man no less dedicated to his country, as a soldier in the Great War and the man who as principal brought Upper Canada College to new heights in educational standards and in its curriculum a sense of Canadianism. A founder of the Workers’ Educational Association and strong supporter of Frontier College His daughter Alison was to marry George Ignatieff, a Russian emigré who came with his family at the age of five as a refugee from the wave of terror that followed the Russian revolution.

If Alison Ignatieff shared her husband’s liberal views her brother George Grant was to become the well-known scholar, journalist and broadcaster whose ultra conservative views were maddening to many, including nephew Michael. George’s famous essay, Lament for a Nation was a cry of agony because the Canada he loved was now a past that would never return . However, Ignatieff respects George Grant because his archaic ideology was an expression of Canadianism.

Politics aside, this is a book for all Canadians who are concerned with our national identity. In elegant but clear language, Michael Ignatieff sees our identity as a work in progress with patriotic exemplars like his own ancestors who dared to express the love of their country.

“Patriotism is a sentiment that makes us want to be one people” he writes in the closing chapter the book. ”It is this shared feeling that allows us to rise above our differences– English and French, Aboriginal, Métis, Inuit and immigrants from every land and makes a complex unity of us all.

“This unity, never certain, never to be taken for granted, always a work in progress, has meaning for us but it is also an example for others………Most of all, we know– as some other nations do not — that the question of who we are is never settled and that we rise to our best when we allow ourselves to imagine ourselves anew.”
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