(Originally published on my old LiveJournal.)
OK, so I had all this written up and ready to post last week in honor of Canada Day. That’s July 1st, the anniversary of the original Confederation of Canada in 1867. But then I couldn’t get LiveJournal to work by remote, and this never got posted. What the hell, better late than never. Now that I’m back from my home and native land, here is my Canada Day present to y’all. Maybe I’ll backdate it to July 1 once it has rolled off your Friends pages.
It’s been said that Canada has “too much geography and not enough history.” I don’t entirely agree, but I do know that Canada doesn’t have nearly enough alternate history. And it’s a shame. Bookshelves groan with Nazi alternates (alterNazis?) and Civil War alternates; I’ve never seen an alternate Canada. Of course, Canada is kind of an alternate version of the United States already. What if the Thirteen Colonies had not revolted in 1776? Well, four colonies didn’t—skip ahead a couple of centuries and they’re legalizing swinging and queer marriages and smoking the chronic.
“What am I talkin’ about? I’m talkin’ about sex, boy, what the hell you talkin’ about? I’m talkin’ about l’amour! I’m talkin’ that me and Dot are swingers, as in “to swing.” I’m talkin’ about wife swappin’!”
—Glen, Raising Arizona (Sorry. I can’t mention swinging without thinking about that line. “Keep your damn hands off my wife.” Hee.)
What was I talking about again? Anyway, here, in honor of that storied day, on which four colonial administrations only somewhat reluctantly coalesced, sort of, into a moderately well-conceived bureaucratic fiction that much later began to think of itself, at least part of the time, as something resembling a nation, but not really, I give you five journeys north of the border gone astray: five alternate Canadas.
I was going to hit you with all five at once, in imitation of Ken Hite’s Suppressed Transmission—rather slavish imitation, as regular ST readers will soon see. (A search for Canada in Ken’s actual ST columns turns up, all too predictably, one column on the wendigo and another on alternate ice ages. Ice and snow and arctic cannibal monsters. Gee, thanks Ken.) But unlike Le Hite, I do not have an editor or, let’s face it, a real job—so these got a little long. Better I should dole them out one at a time.
(Let’s get the inevitable ice and snow and arctic cannibal monsters out of the way first.)
Undead or Canadian?
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold,
The arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold.
The Northern Lights have seen strange sights
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
—Robert Service, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”
Inuit shamans said the aurora borealis—the Northern Lights—were lit by the fires of shivering ghosts, frozen souls who could not pass through the hole in the sky to the true heavens above. Those Inuit shamans were on to something.
Maybe it was the final curse Louis Riel uttered from the gallows. Maybe Skookum Jim struck not gold but ghost rock in the Klondike. Maybe a passing comet blocked that hole in the top of the sky, or ionized the ether of the aurora. Whatever it was, on the night of July 1st, 1897, the Northern Lights were Right. And when the revenant of Sam McGee stepped forth from his funeral pyre on the marge of Lake Lebarge, he was not alone. Frozen zombies, howling specters, spirit bears—the unquiet dead walk again in the land of the midnight sun.
OK, this isn’t a fully-developed alternate history; it’s just an excuse to do cowboy zombies north of 60. Robert Service meets George Romero. General Wolfe and Montcalm reassemble their zombie armies on the Plains of Abraham, and with grave courtesy agree to go for best two out of three. The Black Donnellys claw their way out of the earth and wreak terrible vengeance on the good people of Lucan. And Louis Riel, the hangman’s noose still around his rotted neck, rallies the spirits of fallen Métis and Indian braves in glorious rebellion against both the crown and the grave. Maybe the great British sorceror Lord Baden-Powell rides out to face him.
Depending on who you rooted for in Grade 8 Canadian history, this could be a tale of grisly horror, with the stalwart men of the Northwest Mounted Police besieged by wendigos at Fort Whoop-Up. Or it could be high Inuit weirdness, where flesh-eating mice swarm through the snowdrifts like piranha, and Nunuvik walrus-demons play ball with human skulls. Or it could be a rip-roaring “the Métis strike back” revenge fantasy. In real history, eight of Riel’s Indian confederates were hung for their part in his 1885 rebellion: Wandering Spirit, Iron Body, Little Bear, Walking the Sky, Crooked Leg, Miserable Man, Bad Arrow, and Man Without Blood. If those names don’t get you thinking about avenging undead Indian super teams, then you and I must be very different people…
Next: Alternate #2, “Pictures of Our Parents’ Prime Ministers”