The Cultural Significance of the North




The Canadian North not only carried significance in strategic-geopolitical terms. Beyond its political and military dimensions, the North served as a site of cultural significance and a critical component in the construction of a Canadian national identity. The North's vast dimensions, sparse population, and low level of development gave birth to numerous myths, stories, imaginaries, and projections--discourses--which shaped Canadians' self-perception and self-portrayal, in other words, their national identity. Canadians, who overwhelmingly live along the southern border of the country, thus looked to the North in order to assert their "otherness" with respect to the United States.

Interpretations of Northern themes by writers, painters, playwrights, and radio show producers among others, shaped the Canadian imaginary with respect to the Arctic's identity-moulding features. Creating a shared sense of history, experience, and belonging, such works provided a community-fostering cultural repertoire.

The Group of Seven, a circle of leading Canadian painters, was the most influential group to employ Northern imagery in a stated effort to create a genuinely Canadian art. Lawren Harris was the group's foremost voice and composed numerous paintings that drew upon Arctic themes.

Other cultural productions also focused on the Canadian Arctic. Nelvana of the Northern Lights was a comic book heroine equipped with special powers, based on a vaguely Inuit background. The radio show and later television production Sergant Preston of the Yukon further shaped Canadians' conceptions of their national identity.

Culturally constructed ideas of a Canadian national identity, however, were not confined to the artistic realm. They also permeated the minds of political elites and critically informed their position towards the DEW Line negotiations.