During Geist's first year, we devoted many inches of this column to thoughts on browsing through Canadian book publishers' catalogues. It's as good a way as any to explore the temper of the times, to say nothing of the place. Now I've got two more temper-testers for you: the catalogues of Statistics Canada and the National Film Board.
StatsCan produces more than 500 publications per year, a number daunting to even a large international publishing house, and each one is published in two languages. To keep track, you can subscribe to Infomat, a weekly review of the latest releases and a roundup of various statistics ($125/year), or plug into StatsCan's fax service and get the dirt the minute it comes out. Whether or not you get into ordering reports, do get a copy of the full annual catalogue ($13.95), and just sit down and read it.
Under "General & Reference" is to be found the Canada Year Book, a statistical reference on topics ranging from education to manufacturing to government finance to international trade to census roundups, with appendices including a list of federal legislation passed since 1987. Also under General & Reference is Living Alone: A Family Studies Teaching Kit, in which our national counting house has quantified the Me-Decade by studying single-person households, which mushroomed during the 1970s. Where do they live? How far did they get in school? How much money do they make? There are other teaching kits, on subjects like old people and single-parent families. And some specialized reads, Trois-Rivieres: a Metropolitan Profile and Patterns of criminal victimization in Canada among them. Clearly this institution responds to special-interest groups.
Under "Primary Industries," there are two dozen publications just on the farm industry, from wheat farming to beekeeping; eight publications mining; four on forestry.
The "Manufacturing" chapter lists Apparent per capita food consumption in Canada. If you think that's mysterious, check out the catalogue blurb, in which consumption is referred to as food "disappearance." Is this a polite acknowledgement of our profligate food-waste habits? (I could find no report on that.) You can also learn every statistical fact on biscuits, footwear, office furniture, steel wire, cement, blow-moulded plastic bottles and rigid insulating board.
To find out how many people and pounds of cargo go through Canadian airports, train stations and bus depots, turn to "Transportation, Communications and Utilities." Here you can also get the numbers on truckers: what they took, where they took it, how many of them it took to take it. You can get the lowdown on radio, television, and gas and electric power. And find out how many telephone calls we make over how many miles of wire.
The "Commerce, Construction, Finance and Prices" section lists Your Guide to the Consumer Price Index—and promises to explain what the heck that is. This section has the numbers on banks, business investment, department store merchandising, movie distribution and building permits.
Curious about women, older workers, government workers, unpaid family work, people on UIC, pensions or benefits? Look under "Employment, Unemployment and Labour Income." There is even a report "highlighting the dynamic role played by the self-employed in recent labour market developments." I guess they mean the development of no jobs.
Many of us have been bemused for years by some provinces' decision to put culture in the tourism ministry but it could be worse-we could live in the U.S., where health, education and welfare coexist in one portfolio. Could StatsCan's catalogue be a sign of things to come, specifically the "Education, Culture, Health and Welfare" section? There one finds reports on how much it costs students to attend university, how much of that the professors are taking home, how many children are warehoused in public and private schools. Health Reports is a "journal-style" quarterly report summarizing tables and trends, with statistics on tuberculosis, heart disease, abortion and "Hospital Morbidity." Also in this category are data on legal aid, homicide, policing, Juvenile courts and welfare. And culture: data on CD releases, Canadian content, film, video and libraries. The TV-watching habits of Canadians are quantified, and here we can learn about book and periodical publishing and the role played by the arts in the Canadian economy. (Has anyone ordered up these little gems and sent them to Chuck Cook?) This section is also the home of statistics on science and technology, including The Individual Canadian Inventor, a composite profile of people who invent things: how much time they spend on it, their success rate, etc. Also in this catch-all category are studies on life expectancy, women, youth, immigrants, marriage and divorce.
Then comes "Census and lntercensal Studies." I read the whole thing and never did find out what inter-censal studies are. To compound matters, there are several compilations of "postcensal estimates." Eh? If it's postcensal, surely it's no longer an estimate ... ? Anyway, it is here that one finds reports on population growth projections, fertility predictions, and stuff like New Trends in the Family. And, for the real scoop on Who We Are So Far, there are scads of reports based on the most recent census. What colours are we? What languages do we speak at home? How many of us live in "unincorporated places?" Do we live in a wood-frame house, and do we rent it or own it? How many of us are still stuck with grown-up children?
If this short summary makes you feverish to run out and pick up some neat charts and tables, go ahead. The prices are reasonable. Most single reports cost between $10 and $30; periodicals are a few dollars per issue; a few big reports cost more. You can get a sort of overview of trends in Canada: A Portrait (about $25), StatsCan's trade title, which has undergone many revisions since 1931 when the first edition sold for a quarter. The blurb tells us unabashedly that over years, in successive editions of book, the writing style has evolved to the point that it can actually be understood. Or, what the heck, go all out—place a standing order for all non-census StatsCan publications for only $17,500.
And now for the flip side of the Statistics Canada catalogue: the National Film Board catalogue. I am lucky enough to live in a major centre, where there is an NFB video-rental library—$2 per title per working day. Which means that come a long weekend, I can drag home ten or twelve videos on the Friday and steep myself in Canadian culture for three blissful days (four blissful evenings) for only about $20. But even if you never see an NFB film, the catalogue is a mustview.
It is 476 pages long, and the proofreading is good, if not perfect (a caption on page 177 reads "Margaret Artwood"). Some unsung soul has fiercely organized the listings, and some other unsung souls had to input all the information in a database sometime after the computer revolution. Whoever you are, thank you. There is a vigorously cross-referenced subject index, a series index and a director index. Here I must pause to risk the wrath of filmmaker friends who have nightmares-of-working-with-the-NFB stories, by saying that the director index is splendidly democratic: some 625 names are listed, and most of these people have one or two works to their credit.
The guts of the catalogue is an annotated alphabetical listing of all titles. Each entry shows the title, the running time, the year the film was made, a brief description and, refreshingly, the director and producer! Actors get only an occasional, parenthetical mention: one has to squint to find out that Margot Kidder made her film debut in The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar, 1968.
Which reminds me ... I'm reviewing the catalogue here, not the films, but I have to advise you not to rent The Best Damn Fiddler except for the sociological experience. Is it just a coincidence that every NFB feature film I've seen is awkward, stilted, forced, contrived and embarrassing? But the documentaries are dynamite; Canadians are justifiably famous for them.
A stroll through the subject index: Afghan war victims. Angels. Arthritis. Assimilation. Ballet. Beothuks. Blindness. Body image. Brides, mail-order. Chickens. Chronic illness. Coal. Comets. Cowboys. Crust, earth's. Drought. Elderly men. Epidemics. Famines. Fear. Fire. Flamenco. Free trade. Gossip. Hand pumps. Hazardous waste. Houseboats. Hunger. Ice. India. Intellectuals. James Bay. Jealousy. Karate. Land claims. Lotteries. Loyalists. Mail. Mennonites. Middle age. Moths. Murder. NATO. Novels. Nuns. October crisis. Old horses. Outer space. Pain. Peace. Pigments. PMS. Poverty. Public transit. Quilts. Rain. Riel rebellion. Seaweed. Self-image, men. Sheep. Sikhs. Sioux. Sound. Subways. Tax evasion. Theft. Trucking, long-distance. Ukuleles. Unions. Values. Vegetables. Water. Whooping cranes. Wives. Yachts. Zoos.
A random pick of ten films: 100 Years, a history of Canada's mail system. Anzisk, about the Cree fight to stop the James Bay project. Final Offer, about the 1984 UAW-GM negotiations. I'll Find a Way, about a nine-year-old girl who has spina bifida. Marastoon, about a shelter for the homeless in Afghanistan. One Out of Three Is a Fishboat, about the dangers of working at sea. Pitchmen, about people who sell miracle gizmos at shows and fairs. Ratopolis, a study of the brown rat. Tommy Douglas: Keeper of the Flame. Who Do You Tell, about child abuse.
Finding these catalogues and sitting down to read them was an adventure I can only describe as Geistian—astonishing, unclassifiable, enormously pleasurable and a hundred percent Canadian. I recommend it.