The risk takers

Extraordinary Canadians Series,
Penguin Canada, $26.00 each

(Canscene) — Away with the belief that Canadians are timid and unadventurous, shy of taking risks to support their beliefs, Here come 20 Extraordinary Canadians in a series of biographical books, each authored by an acclaimed Canadian author.

Announced last month was an ambitious new Canadian publishing venture that by completion will have embraced 18 books and documentary films, the latter to be funded and aired by OMNI Television. Produced by PMA Productions of Montreal the series will be aired in Cantonese , Hindi and Italian in addition to English versions. In addition Maclean’s will publish excerpts from each book.


Author John Ralston Saul, arguably Canada’s best-known living intellectual (and certainly the most active) has been responsible for the selection of 20 Canadians. Each has been allocated a separate volume written by an acclaimed Canadian author and with a cover illustration by a well-known artist. There are only eighteen books because two deal with persons whose lives are inextricably linked: Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine; Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont.

Although the chosen extraordinary Canadians number only 19 to date,the 20th name will be revealed in due course, say the project’s principals with an eye to maintaining publicizeable value of the series for the three years it will take to bring the whole collection into print.

The first three volumes have now been releases and have as their subjecrs Lord Beaverbrook, by Giller prizewinner novelist David Adams Richards, Emily Carr by writer and painter Lewis de Soto and Nellie McClung by historian Charlotte Gray.

Future subjects include Glenn Gould, Marshall McLuhan Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. And Saul himself will author the book on Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine whose contribution to the nation he considers one of the most significant and defining elements of Canadian history.

At the official launch of the project Saul sat onstage with the three authors in a discussion of how they were able to view their subjects as “extraordinary.” They made a difference to their times and their achievements resonate to the present, it was agreed, but above all they were unafraid to take risks, so different from the image of ourselves many of us Canadians still preserve.


Two of the first three books are reviewed in this issue of Canscene. The third, Lord Beaverbrook will follow in June.

After that, I’ll await with eager anticipation each inew issue of three books.

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