For the past couple of years I have been working away on a new book called Speeches That Changed Canada, and it has just been released by publisher Fitzhenry & Whiteside. In the book, I have chosen speeches from 11 of Canada’s finest political orators beginning with John A. Macdonald’s arguing Confederation into being in 1865, and ending with Chief Joseph Gosnell’s powerful address in support of the Nisga’a Treaty in 1998.
The book also contains Louis Riel’s speech to the jury; Wilfrid Laurier’s warning the Catholic clergy to stay out of politics; Nellie McClung’s demand that women receive the vote; Arthur Meighen’s divisive speech on military conscription; Agnes Macphail’s call for political reforms and the full equality of women; R.B. Bennett’s attempt to give Canada a new deal during the Depression; Tommy Douglas introducing Medicare; Lester Pearson’s epic debates with John Diefenbaker over a new flag for Canada; and Pierre Trudeau’s “No” to Quebec separatism during the 1980 referendum campaign.
History from the podium
In 2004, I published an anthology which contained excerpts from 78 Canadian speeches. One newspaper reviewer described the volume as “history as seen from the podium.” In my new book I focus on only a few speeches. Each chapter contains three components. I provide historical context about the speaker, a mini-biography really, with an emphasis upon how that individual became an accomplished orator. I present selectively edited portions of a key speech by each individual, interspersed with my analysis of what rhetorical devices that person uses to convince and move his or her audience. Finally, I make some observations about what impact the speech had on Canada and Canadians.
A useful guide and source
Stirring and inspired rhetoric has not entirely disappeared, although it is something of an endangered species in an age of social media which emphasizes speed, and often the superficial. Speeches That Changed Canada will be of interest to anyone who loves Canadian history, politics, literature and rhetoric. The book will also be useful as a source and guide for teachers and students, and for anyone who writes speeches or delivers them.
“Go-to” speeches blog
My companion project is this very blog – Great Canadian Speeches. I want it to become a go-to site for anyone interested in Canadian speeches and informed analysis of them. I hope that you will follow the blog, and I am always interested in your comments.