A Day in the Life of Canada


221 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-00-217380-8





Edited by Rick Smolan
Reviewed by Rick Boulton

Rick Boulton was a Contributing Editor, TV Guide.


This is not a typical tourist book, with routine panoramic shots and clichés of scenic splendor. On an arbitrarily chosen day — Friday, June 8, 1984 — 100 of the world’s leading photojournalists — 37 of them Canadian — blitzed this country to create a visual record of 24 hours in the life of Canada. Because its producers realized that no book, however exhaustive, could comprise a complete photographic record, its contributors were given the most difficult of assignments: avoid scenic shots and make “extraordinary pictures of ordinary events.” The producers are promoting the book as a “visual time capsule” of life in Canada in 1984. They certainly seem to have succeeded. The result is a subjective and very satisfying pictoral documentation of a Canadian day no more or less typical than any other. In no sense a tourist book, this large handsome volume captures the hearts and faces of Canadians and proves that every picture is worth 1,000 words in stories. In all, 250 pictures, most in color and all seemingly telling a story, were chosen from a one-day harvest of over 100,000 frames. Some 21 of the 100 photographers didn’t make the book.

The high quality color reproduction is outstanding. The pictures are rich in both human detail and landscape. The captions are intelligently written and informative. The photographers’ assignment locations are keyed to useful maps. In addition, there’s a marvellous behind-the-scenes text by Michael Hanlon, former editor of The Canadian Magazine, telling how a band of 100 photographers blew into Toronto from all over the world, communed for a day or two and then dispensed to shoot their assignments, knowing that they were all competing for precious space in a book that was almost as much about them as about Canada.

The several hundred images that make up this book are as diverse as the people and geography of Canada itself. My favorite is the incident recorded in four color photographs by Edmonton’s Peter Martin, which shows an attractive 15-year-old schoolgirl in London, Ontario, waiting under a tree, turning down a ride from a driver of a red sports car and then wisely boarding the yellow school bus that pulled up behind the car. Other memorable images record scenes such as young boys playing on the ice floes of a Newfoundland harbour while nimbly checking the lobster pots, a wedding party (and the wedding photographer) fleeing as the water sprinklers are accidentally turned on, a group of restless kindergarten students posed in graduation dress, with the boys picking their noses and the girls using their rolled-up graduation diplomas as telescopes, probably to spot their parents in the audience. Elsewhere, we’re taken on a 12-hour ice fishing expedition for Arctic char on Baffin Island with Annie Kilruk, her husband, and grandson (almost all the photographers, particularly the foreigners, wanted an assignment in the “Far North”).

One of the most striking portraits depicts a native hunter’s handmade canoe serving as an altar at his funeral, after he had been killed during a caribou hunt.

The honor of providing the cover photo went to San Francisco freelancer Roger Ressmeyer, who caught a young girl ready to go to her first communion in a beautiful white dress, posing with her brother holding the family cat, while she holds his baseball bat for him.

Although the book is about Canada, it has an international flavor to it. The first press run came from Japan, where a laser process offered high-quality color reproduction. And the two key producers of the book are American, Rick Smolan and David Cohen. As Hanlon points out in the lively text, the New York-based photojournalists produced similar books on Australia (1981) and Hawaii (1983), using the concept that Smolan first encountered while working as the youngest of 100 photographers on a 1974 issue of Life magazine titled One Day in the Life of America.

Happily, the one-day approach has provided an album of visual story-telling, rather than pretty sights. The personal pictures in the book are some of the most striking, such as a shot of two British Columbia schoolgirls applying makeup in the morning, a banker ironing his trousers before leaving for work, and a six-year-old girl visiting her great-grandmother in a rest home. Many great small moments are captured randomly, without the need to put them in the context of the Canadian “identity,” whatever that may be.

Indeed, some of the book’s most satisfying pictures resulted from unforeseeable circumstances. Diego Goldberg, an Argentine photographer, journeyed to the small town of Schefferville in northern Quebec to shoot famed native hunter Dominique Ashini, one of the great hunters of the Montagnais reserve. He arrived to learn that Ashini, 50, had been killed during a caribou hunt just a few days earlier. Goldberg shot the funeral.



“A Day in the Life of Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/35673.