Unbecoming Nationalism

From Commemoration to Redress in Canada


Canada’s recent sesquicentennial celebrations were the latest in a long, steady progression of Canadian cultural memory projects. Unbecoming Nationalism investigates the power of commemorative performances in the production of nationalist narratives. Using “unbecoming” as a theoretical framework to unsettle or decolonize nationalist narratives, Helene Vosters examines an eclectic range of both state-sponsored social memory projects and counter-memorial projects to reveal and unravel the threads connecting reverential military commemoration, celebratory cultural nationalism, and white settler-colonial nationalism.

Vosters brings readings of institutional, aesthetic, and activist performances of Canadian military commemoration, settler-colonial nationalism, and redress into conversation with literature that examines the relationship between memory, violence, and nationalism from the disciplinary arenas of performance studies, Canadian studies, critical race and Indigenous studies, memory studies, and queer and gender studies. In addition to using performance as a theoretical framework, Vosters uses performance to enact a philosophy of praxis and embodied theory.


“Examines how performance-based genres expose the myths of Canadian innocence and peaceful settlement. Committed to truth-telling, it strives to decolonize Eurocentric binaries between public and private, mind and body, theory and practice, and research and activism.”

Sylvie Vranckx, Canadian Literature

"Using examples from the Canadian War Museum, the Human Rights Museum, the Highway of Heroes, and the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, Vosters challenges the existing definitions and inclusion/exclusion of Canadian memories and memorials."

P. LeClerc, CHOICE

"Vosters book challenges the status quo, highlights contemporary performances and sites of performance that offer a counter-narrative to the official performed narrative, furthers recent explorations of architecture as performance, but most importantly challenges, no, insists, that we all do better.”

Wes D Pearce, Rosalind Kerr, Cam Culham, judges, The Canadian Association for Theatre Research

Unbecoming Nationalism critiques the ways in which Canadian military history is commemorated and celebrated as a way to establish favourable national mythologies and to silence uncomfortable truths about our past and our present. It also takes on narratives around white settler-colonialism and asserts that Canadians are less inclined to take responsibility for this national reality and asks what real redress would mean.”

Jill Scott, Queen’s University

"By investigating the role that government-funded museums, cultural depictions and memorializations of the military, and the Canadian sesquicentennial celebrations in 2017 play in the inculcation of civic, militarized, and settler-colonial nationalisms, Vosters challenges Canadians to both reflect and act upon the constructed narratives upon which their nation was built. […] At a time when the interrelationship between commemoration, history, and nationalism are at the forefront of many people’s minds, Vosters offers an important exploration of these vital themes. Well-written and passionately argued, Unbecoming Nationalism provides both scholars and the general public with an engaging, forceful study of the power and mutability of nationalism."

Tyler Cline, American Review of Canadian Studies

"As its enigmatic title proclaims, Vosters’s monograph sets out to problematize all facets of the propaganda that buttress our notions of 'white Canadian settler-colonial nationalism' ... As a performer-activist-researcher, she wants us to participate in unravelling the deadly historic injustices committed against the Indigenous populations that continue to be glossed over in the official versions promoted in the celebrations connected to Canada 150 in 2017."

Rosalind Kerr, University of Alberta


Ann Saddlemyer Award, The Canadian Association for Theatre Research (2020)

About the Author

Helene Vosters is an artist-activist-scholar. She holds a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from York University, an MFA in Queer and Activist Performance from the New College of California, and is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow and Project Coordinator with Transforming Stories, Driving Change, a research and performance initiative at McMaster University.

Table of Contents

Introduction - Lest We Forget: The Contested Terrain of Canadian Commemoration
Ch. 1 Beyond the Highway of Heroes: From Reverential Silence Toward a Peripheral Poetics of Lament
Ch. 2 The Canadian War Museum: Imagining the Canadian Nation through Military Commemoration
Ch. 3 Unbecoming Canadian Militarism’s Forgetful Narratives: Unravelling the Uniform’s Ambiguous Meanings
Ch. 4 The Canadian Museum for Human Rights: Collisional Encounters of Unbecoming Canadian Nationalisms
Ch. 5 Unbecoming Canada 150: By Many Means Necessary