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Renegade explores Confederation

Read the description of Canadian Confederation in any encyclopedia and you’ll be excused for thinking this pivotal moment in Canadian history is really, really boring.
Artwork from The Laxleys and Confederation
Artwork from The Laxleys and Confederation

Read the description of Canadian Confederation in any encyclopedia and you’ll be excused for thinking this pivotal moment in Canadian history is really, really boring.

It’s all conferences and negotiations and gosh darn it, no wonder the rest of the world thinks we’re about as exciting as a piece of soggy bread.

Encyclopedias, being what they are as a record of facts, do the job they are meant to do, but in the process overlook the human stories that turn the boring and soggy into something exciting and downright appetizing.

Aside from the conferences and negotiations, the story of Confederation, considering it from a human perspective, is interesting, rich in intrigue, invasion, both real and threatened, politics, betrayals and long-standing rivalries.

The mid-1800s were a volatile period in North America. The War of 1812 gave way to a period of relative peace and prosperity with the U.S. and Britain agreeing to a trade agreement, the Reciprocity Treaty.

The U.S. cancelled this treaty following the end of the American Civil War based on a wrongful assumption that Britain had aided the Confederate Army during the war. With the end of the treaty, coupled with Manifest Destiny, the notion that all of North America should be part of the U.S., came calls to invade Canada and push the British from North America once and for all.

All of this made for an anxious time and the colonies of Canada were at risk of becoming part of the U.S., especially when the Irish-American group, the Fenians, did in fact invade Canada in 1866.

In Canada, meanwhile, along with its growing pains as a colony of Britain, strained relations between the French-Canadian Catholics and the English Protestants, who outnumbered the Catholics, raised the specter that Confederation was nothing more than a tool of subjugation.

With all of that in the background, Canada’s founding fathers met to work out an agreement that would meet the needs of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Prince Edward Island would choose to join at a later time.

It is this turbulent and remarkable time that Canmore-based Renegade Arts Entertainment explores in its newest graphic novel The Loxleys and Confederation. Renegade first introduced the Loxleys, a fictional family living in what would become Ontario, in the 2012 award-winning graphic novel The Loxleys and the War of 1812.

The Loxleys and Confederation picks up the story of the Loxley family in 1864. Lillian Stock, the 15-year-old granddaughter of George Loxley, who appears in both books, takes on the narrative duties and the story of Confederation unwinds from her point of view.

This allows The Loxleys and Confederation to take on something that tends to attract little attention beyond Canada Day and give it context, scope and detail, all of which are hallmarks of lead writer Mark Zuehlke.

Zuehlke is best known for his excellent and award-winning Canadian Battlefield series that tells the stories of Canada’s role in warfare in places like D-Day, Dieppe, Ortona and the Liri Valley.

In what is his first comic, Zuehlke (who wrote the afterword for The Loxleys and the War of 1812) has deftly woven a tight and intriguing story around Confederation that like his Battlefield Series focuses on people.

He explores the process of Confederation and the creation of Canada from a human place, obviously embracing and enjoying the notion that comics are an ideal format to share history.

As a vehicle for stories about history, comics push writers to tell a factual yet engaging and entertaining story.

It’s a tricky dance and Zuehlke, assisted by Renegade publisher and editor Alexander Finbow and Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, an Anishinaabe who is also an associate professor in the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, has done this well, giving readers what truly matters. He provides the facts readers need to know while still creating a story to which we can connect.

And that goes for the art as well. Claude St. Aubin, who illustrated The Loxley’s and the War of 1812 has once again provided illustrations, with colours by Chris Chuckry and lettering by Todd Klein, that give the story a sense of the time and place.

One of the hallmarks of the Loxleys books is accuracy in story and illustrations. While the family is fictional, the details are not. This makes for a greater challenge for writer, illustrator and publisher alike, but readers get an excellent product as a result.

And as part of this commitment to accuracy Renegade has also ensured Aboriginal people represented in the story are presented fairly and correctly and that their role in Canada’s history is not overlooked.

To that end, Finbow brought Sinclair to the project to bring the Aboriginal perspective to The Loxleys and Confederation.

It was Sinclair’s suggestion, Finbow writes in the foreword, to begin the story in 1534 with an encounter between French explorer Jacques Cartier (who was only interested in the riches the land had to offer) and the Iroquois of Stadacona, a village located at the mouth of a massive river known to the Iroquois as Kaniatarowanenneh (the St. Lawrence River).

Sinclair points out in the afterword that encounter between Cartier and the Iroquois was a turning point, when Turtle Island would emerge as Kanata and then Canada, a nation with an awful record of respecting the rights and liberty of the original citizens.

“As much as we can see Canada in these pages I encourage you to see Kanata too, in the moments it could have been, the places it always has been,” writes Sinclair. “Our riches lie in the way we interact, the gifts we trade, the stories we share – nothing else. It certainly does not lie in pipelines, corrupted waterways, and failed genocidal policies like residential schools and the Indian Act. We are a people created by our interactions, good and bad, and the truth we tell about who we truly are.”

The riches of Canada, he adds, are not found in gold or spices, which is what Cartier was after, but in relationships with people and the land.

“That’s the Kanata we deserve to tell stories about,” Sinclair writes.

That is what The Loxleys and Confederation offers: a compelling story about people and the land we all share; that goes far beyond what the encyclopedias say about Confederation and goes straight to the heart of the people whose lives intersected with that historical period.

And if you give The Loxleys and Confederation a read before July 1, not only will you have the pleasure of reading a first-rate story, but you’ll come to understand the story of Confederation from all of its angles. Along with that, your Canadian cred will sky rocket like Canada Day fireworks as you wow your barbecue guests with your knowledge of what is behind Canada’s 148th birthday.

The Loxleys and Confederation is available for $19.99. It is appropriate for ages 10 and up. Finbow will be signing copies at Café Books in Canmore June 28 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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