Some time ago - probably more than a year ago, now that I think of it - I posted a review of the first or second issue of The Walrus, a Canadian magazine explicitly modelled after Harper's, the brilliant publication edited by Lewis H. Lapham, arguably the best general-interest magazine in the English-speaking world. (The New Yorker> is close behind and, in its weird, libertarian way, so is The Economist.)
As I recall, my review of The Walrus was luke-warm. I was disappointed by its (very well-hyped) debut, but cautiously optimistic about its future. For a couple of decades, I have bemoaned this country's lack of a magazine that even approached Harper's for broadminded, literate and engaged topicality and depth. Not there yet, I thought The Walrus was nevertheless a comer - an ambitious kid with plenty of moxie and a fair amount of talent; a lot of growing to do, but I was happy to wait and see.
A year later, the kid still looks good, still promises to hit the big time, but there hasn't been much growth. I don't regret my 5-year subscription but the truth is, I wouldn't send the cheque today.
So much for hype. So much for slavish imitation. So far, the "Canadian Harper's" reads more like a pretentious Saturday Night than a really good magazine.
Meanwhile, last spring, I happened upon a publication out of Montreal, Maisonneuve.
Though printed on slick paper, the first issue I bought was a little ragged and uneven, but nevertheless, it contained a couple of pieces that would not have been out of place in Harper's, a couple of others that would have been - but not for a failure of quality, but rather one of tone - and none at all that I regretted the time spent reading them.
I've snatched up every subsequent issue and, yes, they've been uneven. One issue mis-fired quite badly, to my mind. But after 4 or 5 editions, that counts for little.
Maisonneuve almost certainly has a much smaller budget than does The Walrus, but the quality of the prose is easily its equal; its breadth of interest ranges far wider; and its sense of humour is robust and playful, where The Walrus seems to have none at all.
Where The Walrus tries and (so far) fails to match its American inspiration, Maisonneuve happily blazes its own trail. Canadian yes (heavens! More than that, it comes from Quebec!, Maisonneuve has the adult self-confidence to engage in the creation of its own identity, without seeking validation by imitating an older cousin.
Among other things, the current issue contains a sober and sad - but far from maudlin - account of the life of one-time heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry, a very strong piece of fiction, a visit to the stripclubs of a down and out midwestern American town and an auto-biographical account of an American Deportation Officer and, especially, "A Poet Goes to City Hall", by poet and Ottawa City councillor Clive Doucet (of whom I had never before heard). Doucet's quietly brilliant, short article manages the neat trick of being personal and political at the same time.
He clearly explains why we live in a country of booming suburbs and decaying downtowns, encapsulating the 100-year theft of public money - and the public good - by private interests, as well as why it is still happening, no matter that we've all read our Jane Jacobs (or at least, feel we have absorbed her ideas by osmossis).
It may be that "A Poet Goes to City Hall" struck me particularly hard because I have spent the past couple of weeks riding the streetcar to work rather than my bicycle, and have experienced first-hand the frustration of a public transit system that not so long ago was one of the best in the world in serious decline (yesterday, I missed a car and decided to walk for a bit; I made it from Spadina almost to Dufferin - the equivalent of almost 4 subway stops! - before another finally passed me). But I digress.
We have massive urban sprawl, highways and subdivisions burying irreplaceable farmland to thank for this. And you, Gentle Readers, are paying for it with your tax dollars.
The $67 million [for 7 kilometres of an extra two lanes of highway in Ottawa] is simply the cost of construction. If land must be purchased, urband roads can cost as much as $25 million a kilometre. To put this in perspective, the total cost of all the money spent for new community infrastructure is $19.3 million. That's right: Widening the road by two lanes for 7.7 kilometres costs more than three times the entire city budget for parks, community centres, swimming pools, ice rinks and daycares [italics are mine] for 800,000 people.
But I digress again.
Maisonneuve is an excellent magazine - outgoing, curious, broadminded, sometimes funny and utterly self-confident. It may not have a trust-fund and it certainly doesn't have the pretentions of its more well-publicized cousin The Walrus, but it is its own person, making its way in the hard and largely indifferent (if not outright hostile) world of Canadian thought and letters.
It you let it, it will take you places you never even imagined you might want to visit.