Essays from the US-Canadian Divide

By Bruce Fisher

Subjects: New York/regional, American History
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Hardcover : 9781438442235, 248 pages, March 2012

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Table of contents

1. Old Notions
Democracy, equality, commonality
The other shore
The idea of the city
2. Choosing Icons
The Piarists, Slawinski, and Wright
The slave Daniel
3. Geology
The stream
4. Paleontology
The protector
Obama’s election
5. The Allure of What’s Ancient
Tree of life
Hunting the enemy
The ambiguities
Embracing civilization, fighting savagery
6. Contests
The sports
7. The Next Season
Being cold in Buffalo
Christmas morning
Christmas night

Provocative essays on the distinct history and culture of Buffalo and the Canadian border region.


Poor Buffalo—so rusty and abandoned, so sadly persistent in its despair, so abused by comedians, yet so close to serene and orderly Canada, and so blessed with an attractively resilient and rebellious spirit that its expatriates cannot wait to return. In essays that are historical and lyrical, objective yet powerfully emotional, Bruce Fisher offers a unique look at the distinct history and culture of Buffalo and the Canadian border region.

The place is a bundle of contradictions. Here, old-growth forests lie just down the road from landscapes despoiled by a century of heavy industry. Here, in a region that has been peaceful for almost two hundred years, monuments of ancient design define both sides of the Niagara River as a zone of conflicts one side refuses to forget. Here, in waters that used to ferry immigrants and the wealth of the North American interior, American children train to row against Canadian children in an event named for the monarchy. Here, in a city that struggles to make sense of an economy that no longer needs its labor, and where politicians are despised yet always returned to office, the very notion of sustainability is tested by an endless sequence of schemes for redemption. And here, in this unique border region, notions of justice rooted in family histories of Civil War veterans persist curiously through the politics that helped wreck Buffalo and frighten Toronto into a more attentive rectitude.

In the texts of letters found in a village library, in the geology of a streambed that the seasons disrupt, in the bright snow that smoothes and gentles the landscape but terrifies mayors, Fisher finds the universal in the distinctive, crossing borders not just of geography, but of history, culture, and politics.

Bruce Fisher is the founding Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State College, State University of New York. He writes a weekly column on politics and policy for Artvoice, a Buffalo newsweekly.


"While the book is intimately tied to the place of Western New York and nearby Canada it covers much more as well. It is wide ranging, covering Fisher's experiences in Chicago's heady 70's political scene, Indian tribal rituals in the west, and even Pacific battles in WWII, geology, among other themes. Ultimately the book ties Buffalo and its Canadian border to the world at large." — Buffalo Rising

"Fisher, a leading critic of the New York State status quo, has written an interesting semi-autobiographical work. His insights remind me of the work of historians like Ladurie and Braudel in that his essays on the US-Canadian borderlands see every aspect of life in this region shaping its history. His work delves into geology, cultural symbols, and artworks as well as the wars, politics, and economic issues of conventional analysis. This work stands as an interesting contribution to the ongoing debate over this region's future." — Albert L. Michaels, Buffalo State College, State University of New York

"Borderland is a must read for anybody concerned about the fate of Great Lakes cities on both sides of the 49th Parallel. Bruce Fisher's book is highly readable and is tempered by the practical experience that comes from having managed a large and complex civic administration in a challenging political culture." — Terry Cooke, President and CEO, Hamilton Community Foundation