Great Canadian Speeches

Selected and Edited by Dennis Gruending,
Fitzhenry and Whiteside, Markham, ON.
$21.00 CAD. Paperback. 312 pages. 2006
ISBN #1-55041-752-5

Publisher’s Promo:

A collection of the most powerful and moving oratory that Canada has to offer.

Throughout history, men and women of great eloquence have persuaded their contemporaries to build nations, to make war and create peace, to sway judges and juries, to celebrate the accomplishments of the living, and to mourn for the dead.

Canada has had more than its share of great orators, individuals who have used their rhetorical powers to explore important issues faced by our nation: Confederation, relations between peoples, human rights, the economy, culture, our international relationships, particularly with the United States, but also our role in the larger and developing world.

Great Canadian Speeches is a thought-provoking collection
of the finest speeches in Canadian history, among them:

• Sir John A. MacDonald making a case for Confederation,
while silver-tongued Joseph Howe argues against it;
• Louis Riel pleading his case to a Regina jury in 1885;
• Nellie McClung demanding the vote for women;
• Dr. Norman Bethune urging Canadians to support the
Republican cause in Spain;
• Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque facing off in the 1980
Quebec referendum;
• Thomas Homer-Dixon pondering Canada’s future in an
increasingly unstable world.
• David Suzuki addressing environmental challenges
• Jean Chretien on the Trade Tower bombing
• Justin Trudeau’s “Je t’aime papa”
• Stephen Lewis’ talk on AIDS and the west

• about eighty in total.

Great Canadian Speeches is an eminently readable, thought-provoking oratory for anyone who treasures our country’s history and literature.

Editor’s Comment:
Throughout history, great orators have moved their contemporaries to build nations, to make war or peace, to sway judges and juries, to inspire the living, and to mourn for the dead. Great speeches create history, but most often they, in turn, arise from crisis or opportunity…
It is perhaps no surprise that some of Canada’s finest orators gained prominence during the nineteenth century, a time of great political enterprises — the agitation for responsible government, then Confederation of the provinces. This collection of speeches begins with that period.
(The editor writes of politicians like Joseph Howe, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, and John A. MacDonald. He then writes of Arthur Meighen, Wilfrid Laurier, Henri Bourassa, Pierre Trudeau, Rene Levesque and Lucien Bouchard. He includes the names of some early aboriginal leaders like Louis Riel and Big Bear. Women are included – such as Lady Aberdeen, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby and Agnes Macphail…
(William Aberhart, Tommy Douglas, R.B. Bennett, Brian Mulroney, Louis St. Laurent and John Diefenbaker – more recent politicians, and current idea-people like Marshall McLuhan, David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis bring us into the modern era. Or at least what was modern ten years ago.)
I have spent several years re-reading much of our history to prepare this collection, searching for the most powerful oratory that Canada has to offer. I have provided a historical context for these speeches but have also probed their content and technique to find out what makes them great.  They are windows through which we can review our common struggles and aspirations.
This book is meant for anyone who treasures our country’s history and its literature, but it is also intended to serve as an inspiration for thousands of people who either make speeches or write them for others.

– from the Introduction

Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

In an era of Twitter and instant, knee-jerk reaction to anything that happens to cross the mind of the presenter, we need to recover the quality and style of classic oratory, and thought-out speaking and writing. I am not opposed to modern communications. In fact I use some of them myself! But, just as I still write personal notes to friends and people who should be given special encouragement and praise, I believe we need books like this one to help us understand how our world, and in this case – our Canadian world – has taken shape. I also believe that books like the one Dennis Gruending has written can serve as the basis for our future.
When I compare the oratory of Abraham Lincoln, for example, with the immediately forgettable rhetoric of the current US president, I hope you get my point. Focusing on our Canadian experience, and those who have contributed to creating it, does not mean that we exist in isolation from the rest of the world. As well, many Canadians are ignorant of the oratorical treasures that are to be mined from our own history.
Reading the contents page of this book suggests to me that we have a wealth of insight to be gained from reading people we may have otherwise ignored. It is also possible to zero in on specific individuals and times, without having to read the entire work at any given time. This is the kind of book with a long shelf-life, and meant to be frequently reconsidered.
I am happy that Dennis is soon publishing a second volume of Great Canadian Speeches, because I hope he has found people from the past he missed the first time, and also to bring us into current realities.

You may well want to secure this book, now ten years old. But keep your eyes open for the second volume, which – Dennis tells me – will be appearing shortly.


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Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinate Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city.


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