For cen­turies, mu­si­cians and artists have shared their per­spec­tives on peo­ple, places, and events. In so do­ing, they have helped to shape Canada’s iden­tity.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - by Jes­sica Knapp & Andrew Work­man. Jes­sica Knapp is the On­line En­gage­ment Co­or­di­na­tor for Canada’s His­tory So­ci­ety. Andrew Work­man is the New Me­dia De­signer for Canada’s His­tory So­ci­ety.

Canada’s arts and culture have evolved with the times.

When we think of Cana­dian mu­sic, there is no short­age of tal­ent that comes to mind: Be it the clas­si­cal mas­tery of Glenn Gould, the in­no­va­tive jazz of Os­car Peter­son, the revo­lu­tion­ary folk of Buffy Sainte-Marie, or the iconic Canuck rock of The Trag­i­cally Hip, Cana­di­ans have a lot to cel­e­brate.

But long be­fore Canada be­came a coun­try, this land was home to the rich va­ri­ety of mu­sic cre­ated by Indige­nous peo­ples and passed down through the gen­er­a­tions.

When col­o­niza­tion be­gan, Euro­peans brought with them their own mu­si­cal styles and in­stru­ments. While the nu­mer­ous so­ci­eties in pre-Con­fed­er­a­tion Canada would strug­gle to main­tain their cul­tural tra­di­tions, they also hap­pened to in­flu­ence each other, cre­at­ing unique hy­brid styles of mu­sic.

In the years just be­fore and after 1867, many pop­u­lar songs of the day dealt with the topic of Con­fed­er­a­tion — some cham­pi­oning the idea, some crit­i­ciz­ing it — while other songs told the sto­ries of events such as Métis leader Louis Riel’s Red River re­sis­tance of 1869–70. A few songs from that era have en­dured, and many tra­di­tional styles can still be heard.

Cana­dian mu­sic has con­tin­ued to evolve, while the quan­tity and va­ri­ety of mu­sic has grown ex­po­nen­tially. Artists such as Robert Charlebois, La Bolduc, Leonard Co­hen, Gor­don Light­foot, Oliver Jones, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Susan Aglukark, Natalie MacMaster, Char­lie Panigo­niak, Daniel Lanois, k.d. lang, Neko Case, Measha Brueg­ger­gos­man, and many more have helped to place Cana­dian mu­sic in the spot­light on the world’s stage.

To­day, some of Canada’s most ex­cit­ing and ac­claimed mu­sic is the re­sult of mu­si­cians com­bin­ing di­verse mu­si­cal tra­di­tions. Lis­ten to an al­bum by A Tribe Called Red, and you will hear a com­pelling fu­sion of First Nations drum­ming and chant­ing in­ter­wo­ven with gritty rap vo­cals and elec­tronic dance mu­sic. At­tend a Tanya Ta­gaq per­for­mance, and you will ex­pe­ri­ence a pow­er­ful con­ver­gence of Inuit throat singing and avant-garde im­pro­vi­sa­tion with a punk rock spirit.

The sounds may have changed over the last 150 years, but the tra­di­tions of so­cial commentary and sto­ry­telling through mu­sic can still be heard loud and clear.

Most ma­jor art gal­leries across Canada con­tain Indige­nous art in their col­lec­tions, but it hasn’t al­ways been this way. When Canada was formed 150 years ago, Indige­nous art was largely mis­un­der­stood by Euro­pean set­tlers — and it re­mained so over the next cen­tury.

In the nine­teenth cen­tury, scenes of ex­plo­ration, cross-cul­tural con­tact, and set­tle­ment were pop­u­lar­ized by artists such as Paul Kane, Frances Anne Hop­kins, and Cor­nelius Krieghoff. Dur­ing this pe­riod, Euro­peans were largely un­fa­mil­iar with Indige­nous cul­tures and viewed these scenes through a veil of ex­oti­cism.

After Con­fed­er­a­tion and the ex­pan­sion of the rail­ways, artists and pho­tog­ra­phers had eas­ier ac­cess to re­mote re­gions. Their paint­ing al­lowed peo­ple in ur­ban ar­eas to view Canada’s nat­u­ral splen­dour with­out leav­ing home. You can ex­plore these land­scapes in the works of Emily Carr and Tom Thom­son, both of whom had a pro­found in­flu­ence on mod­ern Cana­dian art.

In the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, the Group of Seven con­tin­ued the move­ment to con­nect Cana­di­ans with the coun­try’s bo­real forests and end­less lakes, cre­at­ing a bold new style of Cana­dian art. De­spite their dis­band­ing in 1933, the Group of Seven pro­duced works that con­tinue to res­onate with many Cana­di­ans.

In the late twen­ti­eth cen­tury, the Pro­fes­sional Na­tional In­dian Artists In­cor­po­ra­tion was founded. The group’s goal of em­pow­er­ing artists to ex­press the Indige­nous ex­pe­ri­ence through mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives led to the broader recog­ni­tion of Indige­nous artists in Canada.

To­day, Indige­nous art and artists — from early in­no­va­tors such as Keno­juak Ashe­vak, Bill Reid, and Nor­val Mor­ris­seau to con­tem­po­rary artists like Re­becca Bel­more, Brian Jun­gen, and Kent Monkman — are cel­e­brated across Canada.

Many Indige­nous artists em­ploy tra­di­tional tech­niques like Inuit sculpt­ing and print­mak­ing, Métis bead­work, and Haida de­signs and carv­ing. Oth­ers use clas­si­cal Euro­pean tech­niques and con­tem­po­rary prac­tices to cre­ate works ex­press­ing con­tem­po­rary sub­jects. Re­gard­less of train­ing or tech­nique, artists con­tinue to ex­press con­cern for so­ci­ety, and they draw at­ten­tion to so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, racial, and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues through their work.


Top left: Tanya Ta­gaq. Top right: Alex Jan­vier, Morn­ing Star, 1993. Cen­tre left: A Robert Charlebois poster. Lower left: Measha Brueg­ger­gos­man. Right: Lawren S. Har­ris, Lake, Algonquin Park, circa early 1900s.

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