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Cornelius Krieghoff, Inuit carvings, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Susanna Moodie, Ukrainian Festival

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Canada is a relatively young country and is still forging a cultural identity that is distinct from those of its European founding nations and the United States. Establishing a national culture is made difficult by a strong tendency within Canada toward regional forms of cultural expression. Furthermore, many different cultures must be accommodated within the national identity. Thus it is more appropriate to speak of Canadian cultures rather than a single national culture.

Indigenous Art

The indigenous peoples had a rich artistic tradition long before European colonization. Many native forms of expression, such as dance, woodcarving, soapstone sculpture, and decorative handicrafts, were highly developed and are still practiced. The artistic power of indigenous art, with its strong attachment to nature and spiritual values, has had a great impact on postcolonial Canadian culture and remains an important element today. A recent renaissance of indigenous art is exemplified by the sculptures by Bill Reid of the Haida nation, which have been shown around the world. Inuit carvings are highly valued by collectors and critics alike.

Colonial Art

In the colonial period, culture was heavily influenced by French and British models. Colonists brought their culture with them and tried to reproduce it in the new land. Simplified and practical versions of European styles of architecture, craftsmanship, and music date from this period. Colonists were also confronted by new landscapes and new peoples, producing a strong urge to describe and portray them. Thus colonial writing and painting about Canada were largely documentary, including explorers’ accounts of their travels, missionaries’ reports, and naturalistic portrayals of landscapes and ways of life. Typical of these are paintings of the St. Lawrence valley in the 1840s by Cornelius Krieghoff, paintings of the Metis people by Paul Kane, and literary descriptions of pioneer life by Susanna Moodie. All of this early art was infused by European sensibilities.


Canadians and visitors enjoy summer festivals, such as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario; the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario; and Cultures Canada, a series of multicultural events in Ottawa. Local traditions are preserved in a wide variety of events, including the Highland Games on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia; the Sherbrooke Festival de Cantons in Quebec City, celebrating French Canadian culture and cuisine; the Ukrainian Festival in Dauphin, Manitoba; and Discovery Day in Dawson, Yukon Territory. There are also a number of music festivals in Canada. Montreal is known for its jazz festival, and Toronto and Winnipeg for their folk music festivals. In the fall, “Fringe Festivals” in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria showcase new theatrical performances.

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