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As a way to celebrate Canada Day, which was on Friday, I have been posting a few reviews of Canadian short stories during the week, and will keep doing so during the weekend in an attempt to finish my tour of Canada through short stories (you can find links to all the stories I have reviewed here).
I had been looking forward to reading a story by Audrey Thomas because I have read a few essay comparing her to Atwood. I can see how they might be compared, not only in the themes and techniques of their stories, but also in their sarcastic humour. Thomas was born only four years before Atwood, in 1935, and currently lives in British Columbia. However, the story I consider today is not set in British Columbia, but in Montreal, although the character comes from Vancouver.
There is a story behind the story “Bear Country”, but I had never heard of it. Feminism is at the heart of this narrative, but was also the reason why Marc Lépine shot six women at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, before killing himself in 1989. The “massacre” is still present in the mind of Wilma, the main character of “Bear Country”.
Wilma has moved from Vancouver to Montreal, where she works as a secretary in Concordia university, writes plays for a small theatre company and learns French at the YMCA. The gender of French words is something that intrigues Wilma and her plays have a strong feminist agenda. For instance, she wrote a skit that caricatures a comment she had overheard from a professor saying that “Canada was putrid with feminism”. In her play, she created a feminism Pollution Scoreboard similar to the one in McGill metro station.
She is obviously affected by attacks against feminism, so her anguish grows when the French course for which she has just applied is relocated to the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal. As she takes the bus to go up there, she cannot help thinking about the “massacre”. She worries about going up that staircase when the evenings will be dark in December. During the class, she is lost thinking in French about how it would be if a man with a rifle walked in.
The story ends with another play Wilma wrote during the summer. The play is another feminist take. She uses the French word for “bear”, “ours”, to make a statement on gender imbalance. The women in the audience pronounced the famous leaflet advertisement “We are in Bear Country”, while the men are supposed to respond with “This country is ours”.
The story is an overt critique of patriarchal discourses and a social commentary on feminism and anti-feminist sentiments. It is humourous and shocking at once, especially since it is a response to a dramatic real event.