By Tara Kahn
This Canada Day, we thought this would be an excellent opportunity to look back on some historical and fundamental books from the Canadian literary corpus.
Canadian Literature and Cultural Memory by Cynthia Sugars and Eleanor Ty
Explore aspects of historical remembering in Canadian literature on a range of topics from Canada’s earliest historical narratives to recent work. Essays are representative of the country’s regional character, as well as of the ongoing movement of peoples in immigration and diaspora. The book’s five parts (amnesia, postmemory, recovery work, trauma, and globalization) reflect the many ways the past infuses the present, and how the present adapts the past.
High Bright Buggy Wheels by Luella Creighton
Luella Creighton’s 1951 novel is one of the first published in Ontario to describe life inside the Mennonite community. Her characters, although from an isolated and insular world, are compelling, and details of daily life are fascinating. While Mennonites shun the aesthetic side of life, the novel accurately shows the feeling of community belonging and spiritual bonding that holds members together. The novel recounts an inquisitive young woman leaving the community to spend time in a nearby city, learning music and dressmaking. In the events that unfold, her intellectual and spiritual horizons expand, and she enters into a forbidden liaison. Ultimately, there is tragedy and eventually difficult reconciliation. In its detailing of the little-known daily life of Ontario Mennonites, Creighton’s novel is in a tradition of writers as diverse as Barbara Smucker and Miriam Toews.
The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse by Wilfred Campbell
A century ago Oxford University Press published the first-ever anthology of Canadian poetry—a beautiful blue edition with gilt edges. “There are selections of verse in this volume which now appear for the first time in the pages of any Canadian anthology,” proudly writes volume editor and poet Wilfred Campbell, the first anthologist to wrestle with the question, “What is Canadian?” The result is an anthology that spans the capture of Quebec to the early twentieth century, containing little-known meditations and the early historical verse of Canada’s Confederation Poets.
The Ante-Room: Early Stages in a Literary Life by Lovat Dickson and Neville Thompson
Author and publisher (Horatio) Lovat Dickson (1902-87), known as Rache, wrote several biographical works. This short biography recounts Rache’s highly textured recollections of childhood experiences travelling from Australia to Rhodesia to England with a mining engineer father from a Canadian shipping family, followed by adventures and misadventures in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Temiskaming, until moving to Alberta to study literature under Edmund Broadus.
The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1901-1911 by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Hillman Waterston
Discover L.M. Montgomery’s early adult years, including her work as a newspaper editor in Halifax, Nova Scotia, her publishing career taking flight, the death of her grandmother, and her forthcoming marriage to a local clergyman.
The Canadian Postmodern: A Study of Contemporary Canadian Fiction by Linda Hutcheon
Examine the theory and practice of postmodernism as seen through both contemporary cultural theory and the writings of Audrey Thomas, Michael Ondaatje, Robert Kroetsch, Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Jack Hodgins, Aritha van Herk, Leonard Cohen, Susan Swan, Clark Blaise, George Bowering, and others.
No Passport: A Discovery of Canada, Revised Edition, by Eugene Cloutier and Joyce Marshall
A classic of Canadian travel literature, No Passport is Quebecois novelist and broadcaster Eugene Cloutier’s account of his discovery of his country. In the mid-1960s, Cloutier travelled from coast to coast, visiting every province as well as the Yukon. He describes his experiences with wit and elegance. The result is an affectionate portrait of a Canada many still recall but which is no more.
Which books would you add to the list?
Tara Kahn holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Wesleyan University and is currently completing her Masters in Anthropology at Columbia University. She is currently an intern in the Academic/Trade marketing department.