CM . . . . Volume XX Number 8 . . . . October 25, 2013
Remittance men were the sons of the Victorian or Edwardian families, young men who either fled to North America to escape the cloistering climate of British upper class expectations, or who were banished by parents, embarrassed by children who didn't fit their mould. Some of these young men may have been adventurers, some spoiled dilettantes, happy to have others pay their way. Some may have been autistic, some gay.
Whatever the individual reason, exile to the British colonies was an easy solution. Many of them ended up in Canada. The prairies, its open spaces and promise of potential, attracted some men who may have fancied themselves becoming gentleman ranchers, with cows that milked themselves and wandered unbidden into the barns at night. Like the comet, described in this animation as something broken off from a planet and displaced in space, so were these men displaced from their homes. Generally, they were unprepared physically or mentally for the rigours of life in a harsh environment.
This NFB animation is an originally conceived idea, interestingly-presented. It has humour and pathos and will teach the young viewer a great deal through inference. The interpretation shows the vastness of the environment into which tiny humans had arrived. The pastel colouring shows the wondrous beauty of the grasslands as the young man races by on the train. His binoculars reveal the complicated and highly populated natural world, always busy.
The protagonist is a speck on the landscape, aptly shown from a birds-eye perspective. He thinks he can cheat nature as much as he does his parents through his smooth tongue and pretence. But his rough-hewn neighbours have figured him out – even an eligible girl remarks on his talent at dancing, but pronounces she would never marry one of "those Englishmen". An old Slavic woman, who chops carrots at blinding speed during her 'interview' with the camera (never stop working!), warns that the young man will never be ready for the dangerous, cold prairie winter.
And indeed, his is not. The young man's life is a tragedy in many ways. Like the comet evaporates into vapour, he becomes a footnote in Canada's history.
There is much to learn about Canada from Wild Life which can be used to teach animation and art techniques as well as Canadian history.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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