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Canadian Identity Foundation Through the Development of Communications

Diverse multicultural Canada has always been an interesting and enigmatic object for investigation of scholars, writers and researchers. It’s certainly obvious as Canada, with its so tightly interwoven variety of languages and cultures, gives rise to many questions and deep thoughts of how it can correlate and coexist on one territory. Gerald Friesen in his Citizens and Nation: An Essay on History, Communications, and Canada and Daniel J. Robinson in Communication History in Canada focus on the phases of foundation of Canadian identity aiming to cover all the periods of the development of telecommunication and media and how they affect the evolution of Canadian identity. It’s undoubtedly that these writings have made a considerable contribution to the study of Canadian culture and communications and are aimed at disclosing the challenges Canadian people had to sustain under the influence of developing communications.

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In this writing I’m going to concentrate on the two periods of time-space configuration singled out by Friesen and try to examine how the foundation of Canadian identity is shaped and influenced by the early oral tradition and radio communication that are discussed in the Friesen’s book.

Let’s now turn to Gerald Friesen who in his book emphasizes that his aim is to examine “how the very acts of communication – the social contexts created by voice, writing, print, and modern electronic forms – establish a framework for citizenship and nationality and thus for Canada” (Friesen 3).

In the course of work G. Friesen suggests “four constructions of dimensions of time and space which correlate with dominant communication systems” (Friesen 5).

The first construction that is marked out is ‘oral tradition’ that directly pertains to Aboriginal people that constitute an indispensable and unique part of Canadian culture which underlie in the core of its identity and contributes until now.

The second – ‘textual-settler’ – is described as the stage of European immigrants who settled in Canada and also inserted their values in the bedrock of Canadian culture. This period, according to Frieser, is marked as the partial substitution of oral society for textual one. Besides, it’s pointed out that the ‘textual community’ expanded not at a rapid pace among the common citizens; it took some time for it to implement into society.

The third, as a natural continuation of the ‘textual’ stage, saw the commence of such communications as “the telegraph, the daily press, film, radio” (Frieser 5) The author marks it as ‘print-capitalism’ the typical features of which mass production and overall literacy are mentioned. Moreover, this stage affected many factors that define Canadian community nowadays.

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The concluding ‘dominant’ dimension of space and time combine all the above mentioned stages and with fast developing television and computer systems and the growing ‘global corporate organization’ this stage is perceived as ‘screen-capitalism’, embracing the last 50 years of the XXth century until the present days (Frieser 6)

It’s noteworthy that all the stages are interwoven and can’t be treated separately in terms of their meaning and importance towards the development of society. Moreover, each new communication introduction adds some features to the perception of culture and influencing the people.

Now let’s focus on the first stage of ‘oral tradition’ that is directly connected with the role of Aboriginal people in the evolution of Canadian culture occupying the major place in the society of the country. However, Aboriginal people are not only the part of the past time; they remain relevant in our times. According to the author of the book, “Aboriginal people possess a profound sense of their continuity in this land” (Friesen 12) which is enclosed in the Canadian historical narrative.

Thus, to illustrate his assumption the author provides the example of G. McCrea’s Summer of the Loucheux: Portrait of a Northern Indian Family , The documentary that tells the story of a family of Aboriginal people in Canada. The main purpose of the film is to highlight the way the cultural knowledge is passed down to the generations through narrations and stories, i.e. through oral communication. In this case, this kind of transferring the information is the basic unit of preserving the values of the family and community on the whole. The roles in the family are discussed and clearly stated among all the members.

Notably and naturally, the way of life of Aboriginal people and European Canadians possess a lot of discrepancies. Leading a quite life close to nature, keeping all customs Aboriginal people had to find ways to handle the new economic rules of European settlers. The negotiations, thus, have become a prior means of reaching the compromise between these two different identities. In the course of time these two unique and so original peoples came to form an identity that nowadays is perceived as Canadian community.

As it has already been stated above “the dominant mode of communication in the communities of Aboriginal people was speech” (Frieser 31) Moreover, “their political commitment, evident in hundreds of episodes of community solidarity and resistance, has ensured that their knowledge of their group’s distinctiveness – their connection to place – lies at the heart of today’s Canada” (Frieser 31)

The important role of the narrative in the community of Aboriginal people is presented in the speech of Grandma in Summer of the Loucheux: Portrait of a Northern Indian Family. The old lady tells the story of her life in Dene dialect, which presents an insight into the times of her youth, which serves as a symbol of continuity and historical connection between generations. These oral narrations are the only genuine evidence of the real history of Canada that give the full information of fears and hopes that people experienced.

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If to look at this issue from another angle, it becomes clear that with the help of oral communication the Aboriginal people tried to describe the world around them, to explain ‘the spiritual life’ and its connection with their routine life. To support this statement the author provides the story of a member of Beaver Indian community who tells that “in the wet cold night he got trapped in the forest but was saved by silver foxes who looked after him and taught him a song” (Frieser 34). Moreover, these foxes wore clothes and could make people understand their language. The history of such communities abounds in stories that endow animals with human features. And this may be accounted for the fact that northern people saw the power in knowledge (Frieser 32).

On the other hand, “knowledge in a society that relies exclusively on oral transmission of its culture is extremely fragile because its very existence depends on the memories of mortal people” (Frieser 45).

Combined with European Canadians’ influence, the innovations in communication made a great impact on the development of the Aboriginal society. The Aboriginal people perceived printed newspapers as something sacred that only spiritual leaders can deal with and then transmit it through the oral narration. “The little paper spoke to my little brother” – that was the way of understanding printed material among the Aboriginal people.

Since the arrival of missionaries to the land who praised God and supported their words with the printed Bible, the Canadian society began to split up and change its staid beliefs. The missionaries raised a lot of controversy and disputes among the ingenuous people: one part of them seeing Bible as a confirmation of their relation to God, others, fearing that the newcomers, tried to keep the traditions and culture. Despite all fears and constraints with the arriving of new settlers the Aboriginal people saw the beginning of the ‘textual-settler’ phase. Considering the fact that the implementation of literacy and Christianity was impelled on local people it makes it difficult to identify whether it is an asset or a curse, all in all, it was a new stage in the Canadian culture advance. The author considers the life of Canadian woman Elizabeth Goudie who wrote the detailed story of her life for her grandchildren (Frieser 58). the woman describes the hardships of her youth, married life and all the difficulties she experienced. This writing is notable and valuable in terms of understanding the problem of society and communication as it presents personal assessment of the situation that unfolded: “Air travel, defense bases, and radio became the part of my family”, Elizabeth says. She continues astonished describing her first experience in movies: “…we couldn’t believe our own eyes and ears, hearing people talking and seeing them moving on the screen” (Frieser 62).

The woman is regarded to be ‘the last generation of real pioneers’ who saw the real breakthrough in technology and communication and had to come to terms with it growing expansion.

Some researches state that it was Elizabeth Goudie who was “a founding citizen of Canadian community” (Robinson 85).The historic and cultural bonds between generations were built on the basis of continuous interaction, their understanding of the dependence upon the past and their obligations to the future generations, thus, trying to record the history in their writings and teachings and at the same time creating the bedrock of national identity (Robinson 84).

Those times society is known to be as partially European and aboriginal. The Aboriginal traditions and European practices are becoming to combine though still leaving to local people some boundaries to stick to, such as difference in language, religion, society. It is apparent that with the developing of printed communication the role of education increased immensely. Some Aboriginals transferred to another culture with no difficulties, some were still devoted to their community, which lead to the split within the Aborigines community (Robinson 85).

Printed communication transmitted information faster then oral and contributed to the changing of the stereotypes in society. Frieser cites the lines from The Literary History of Canada by Northrop Frye’s who states that “Canada was full of wilderness…a part and condition of one’s whole imaginative belief” (Frieser 68). That brings us to the conclusion that despite the interconnection of cultures and the development of means of transferring information between them the Aboriginal people who form the fundamental framework of Canadian identity implicitly tried to oppose the European influence over their community. Thus, the country present an image of harshness and intimidation formed in the severe environment (Robinson 74).

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As far as the present day Canadian life is concerned the society comprises the descendants of the Aboriginal people, the settlers form Europe merging several languages, cultures and identity, that in its turn present a diverse and fascinating mixture that defines the Canadian identity today.

Concluding it is necessary to point out that the today generation in Canada is enjoying the miscellaneous amounts of different type of communication ranging from the internet and TV. The present day situation in Canadian attempts to identify the role and meaning of all the parts of their society still result in more questions than answers. That leads to the increasing interest of Canadians in their own history and the relations between the past and the present.


Friesen, Gerard. Citizens and Nation: An Essay on History, Communications, and Canada. University of Toronto Press, 2000.

Robinson, Daniel J. in Communication History in Canada. Oxford University Press. 2004.

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