The Promise of Canada

150 Years--People and Ideas That Have Shaped Our Country

The Promise of Canada

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What does it mean to be a Canadian? What great ideas have changed our country? An award-winning writer casts her eye over 150 years of Canadian history.

“Our country owes its success not to some imagined tribal singularity but to the fact that, although its thirty-five million citizens do not look, speak or pray alike, we have learned to share this land and for the most part live in neighbourly sympathy.” —Charlotte Gray, from the Preface of The Promise of Canada

On the eve of Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations comes a richly rewarding new book from acclaimed historian Charlotte Gray about what it means to be Canadian. Readers already know Gray as an award-winning biographer, a writer who has brilliantly captured significant individuals and dramatic moments in our history. Now, in The Promise of Canada, she weaves together masterful portraits of nine influential Canadians, creating a unique history of the country over the past 150 years.

What do these people—from George-Étienne Cartier and Emily Carr to Tommy Douglas, Margaret Atwood, and Elijah Harper—have in common? Each, according to Charlotte Gray, has left an indelible mark on our country. Deliberately avoiding a “top down” approach to our history, Gray has chosen people whose ideas have caught her imagination, ideas that over time have become part of our collective conversation. She also highlights many other Canadians, past and present, who have added to the ongoing debate over how we see ourselves, arguing that Canada has constantly reimagined itself in every generation since 1867.

Beautifully illustrated with evocative black and white images and colourful artistic visions of our country, The Promise of Canada is a fresh take on our history that offers fascinating insights into how we have matured and yet how—150 years after Confederation and beyond—we are still a people in progress. Charlotte Gray makes history come alive as she opens doors into our past, our present and our future, inspiring and challenging readers to envision the Canada they want to live in.
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 400 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476784670 | 
  • October 2016
List Price $39.99 (price may vary by retailer)

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Reading Group Guide

High school level teaching resource for The Promise of Canada, by Charlotte Gray

Author’s Note

Greetings, educators!

While I was in my twenties I spent a year teaching in a high school in England; it was the hardest job I’ve ever done. So first, I want to thank you for doing one of the most important and challenging jobs in our society. And I particularly want to thank you for introducing your students to Canadian history, as they embark on their own futures, because it will help them understand how our past is what makes this country unique.

When I sat down to write The Promise of Canada, I knew I wanted to engage my readers in the personalities and dramas of the past 150 years. Most of us find it much easier to learn about ideas and values through the stories of the individuals that promoted them. Most of us enjoy history more if we are given the tools to understand what it was like back then—back when women didn’t have the vote, or back when Indigenous children were dragged off to residential schools, or back when Quebecers felt so excluded that some of them wanted their own independent country. I wanted my readers to feel the texture of history—the sounds, sights and smells of our predecessors’ lives.

If your students have looked at my book, I hope they will begin to understand how the past is not dead: it has shaped the Canada we live in today. I hop see more

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About the Author

Charlotte Gray
(c) Valberg Imaging

Charlotte Gray

Charlotte Gray, one of Canada’s pre-eminent biographers and historians, has won many awards for her work, including the prestigious Pierre Berton Award for a body of historical writing, the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, the Ottawa Book Award, the Toronto Book Award, and the CAA Birks Family Foundation Award for Biography. Over nine superb biographies, from Mrs. King and Sisters in the Wilderness to The Massey Murder, and masterful books such as The Museum Called Canada and Canada: A Portrait in Letters, she has brought our past to vivid life. Gray is a Member of the Order of Canada and was a panelist on the 2013 edition of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. She lives in Ottawa.