Six String Nation, the chronicle of Voyageur, a remarkable, unifying, synthesizing Canadian guitar
Voyageur's story is collected in a remarkable book, Six String Nation: 64 Pieces, 6 Springs, 1 Country, 1 Guitar, written by Jowi Taylor, the guitar's overseer. Both the book and the guitar are quintessentially Canadian, attempting to unify a nation that is inherently synthetic, filled with people whose claim to "Canadianness" is recent, contingent, and fraught. It's not just non-indigenous people; Canada's "First Nations" struggle just as much with identity, the result of a combination of state policies that ranged from the merely discriminatory to the outright genocidal and the diversity within indigenous communities, whose makeup includes Cree and Six Nations and other "original" indigenes; Inuit people who found the continent much later, and metis and other "mixed" people who lay claim to multiple heritages.
Growing up Canadian, I fully internalized the idea that countries are just arbitrarily delimited places filled with people from all over the world, that prejudiced nationalism wasn't just ugly, it was nonsensical. "Canadians" aren't Canadian because of where they were born or because of who their parents were -- they're Canadian because they call themselves Canadian. It's no wonder that the winning entry in a famous CBC contest to finish the phrase "As Canadian as..." was "...possible under the circumstances."
Jowi Taylor's book, his guitar, and his remarkable quest to bring an object "made from hockey sticks and canoe paddles and grain elevators and baseboards and boats and antlers," to as many Canadians as possible, to have it played by as many Canadians as possible, are a uniquely Canadian endeavor, a synthesis of all the different ways there are to "be Canadian."
Structurally, the book is a great mix of short reminisces, portraits of the guitar and the many people who've honored it, and an inventory of the pieces that form it, from ancient rock to Rocket Richard's Stanley Cup ring to Pierre Trudeau's canoe paddle to a piece of the sacred Haida Gai tree to a piece of John A Macdonald's sideboard to a piece of the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children to a bit of a soup paddle from Hoito Restaurant, a worker's co-op started by Finnish trade-unionists in Northern Ontario. Braiding the stories of the guitar, its pieces, and its fans makes for a powerful back story, a kind of magic that is positively galvanizing.
Whether or not you are Canadian or care about Canada's endless identity crisis, "Six String Nation" is a remarkable account of how humans infuse objects with meaning and story and turn them into powerful, awesome symbols.
After writing my earlier post, I heard from Jowi, who reminded me of a delightful personal connection, as his mother told him, "You and Cory Doctorow played together in [Toronto's] Earl Bales Park at the NDP [New Democratic Party] Picnic when you were little"! It's a small world and a small country, indeed.