Conrad Black, Denise Donlon among contributors to ‘100 Days That Changed Canada’

TORONTO – Denise Donlon writes on the day MuchMusic rocked the tube. Peter Mansbridge details when baseball player Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier. And Conrad Black outlines a train trip by Canada’s first prime minister.

Those are but a few of the essays by well-known Canadian personalities in the new book “100 Days That Changed Canada” (HarperCollinsCanada), now in stores.

Editor Mark Reid says the coffee-table-style hardback is “a starting point on a journey for Canadians who want to rediscover all the turning points that have made them Canadian.”

“You don’t need to have a history degree to enjoy this. You don’t even have to be a history buff. What you need to do is have a curiosity about your own country,” he said in a recent phone interview from Winnipeg, where he serves as editor-in-chief of Canada’s History national magazine (formerly The Beaver).

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“I think for too long we’ve been fooled into thinking that our history somehow doesn’t measure up, that somehow other countries’ histories are more interesting and exciting.”

Reid said making Canadians enthusiastic about their own country is one of the goals of Canada’s History Society, which selected the 100 days for the project.

A follow-up to the bestselling “100 Photos That Changed Canada,” also edited by Reid, the book outlines the trials, tribulations, and celebrations of 144 years in Canadian history.

The first essay is on July 1, 1867, when Canadians rung in Confederation, and the last chronicles November 16, 2010, when Canada extended its military mission in Afghanistan. In between is a broad range of key moments in various areas, from politics and war, to culture and sports and entertainment.

Each essay is illustrated by an archival photo, which come from various sources, including Library and Archives Canada, GetStock, the Toronto Star and The Canadian Press.

To pick the 100 days, Reid said he consulted with historians, advisers and archivists from both inside and outside the History Society’s board of directors.

“I really wanted to let Canadians understand that there are ways the country can be changed that aren’t always guys in military uniforms going over a trench, landing on the beaches,” said Reid, a Pugwash, N.S., native who also wrote some of the essays as well as a section at the front and the chapter introductions.

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“That there are fun moments, cultural moments, where a new craze like rock ‘n’ roll can change a country.”

A total of 56 writers contributed to the project, from prominent historians and authors to politicians and journalists.

Other essay writers include “The Book of Negroes” author Lawrence Hill, who writes about the time Halifax voted to demolish Africville, and hockey legend Ken Dryden, who outlines the day the Soviets destroyed the Canadian team 7–3.

Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson details the day Norman Bethune died in China; Liberal leader Bob Rae offers thoughts on the day Canada helped invent peacekeeping; and Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente pens a piece on former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s pirouette behind the Queen.

Other contributors include CBC commentator Don Newman, Canadian International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound, and non-fiction authors Charlotte Gray and Tim Cook.

Reid said he tried to find writers who were intimately connected to the moments about which they were writing.

He asked Black, for instance, to write about the day Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald kicked off his transcontinental rail trip in 1886 because he saw a parallel between their personal and professional challenges.

The former media baron wrote the essay when he was free on bail after an appeal court reversed two of his three fraud convictions.

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“(Macdonald’s) train trip across Canada was the ultimate comeback story, you know, everybody counted him out and he made it back and I kind of saw in Conrad Black – there were lots of opinions about the charges and all these other things – but I see him as a fighter is determined to come back,” said Reid, 40.

“I wanted to have him write that essay and to have that be written at the same time that he was fighting for his life in the courts.”

A national tour for “100 Days That Changed Canada” begins Oct. 26 at Chapters Southtrail in Calgary.