Canadian literature

Canadian literature (widely abbreviated as CanLit[1]) is literature originating from Canada. Canadian writers have produced a variety of genres. Influences on Canadian writers are broad, both geographically and historically.

Since before European contact and the Confederation of Canada, Indigenous people in North America have occupied the land and have maintained a rich and diverse history of culture, identity, language, art and literature. "Indigenous literature" is a problematic term, as every cultural group has its own distinct oral tradition, language, and cultural practices. Therefore, Indigenous literatures in Canada is a more inclusive term for understanding the variety of languages and traditions across communities.

After the colonization of Canada, the dominant European cultures were originally English, French, and Gaelic. After Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's "Announcement of Implementation of Policy of Multiculturalism within Bilingual Framework" in 1971, Canadian critics and academics gradually began to recognize that there existed a more diverse population of readers and writers. The country's literature has been strongly influenced by international immigration, particularly in recent decades. Since the 1980s Canada's ethnic and cultural diversity have been openly reflected in its literature, with many of its most prominent writers focusing on ethnic minority identity, duality and cultural differences. However, Canadians have been less willing to acknowledge the diverse languages of Canada, besides English and French.[2][3]


French-Canadian literature

In 1802, the Lower Canada legislative library was founded, being one of the first in Occident, the first in the Canadas. For comparison, the library of the British House of Commons was founded sixteen years later. The library had some rare titles about geography, natural science and letters. All books it contained were moved to the Canadian parliament in Montreal when the two Canadas, lower and upper, were united. On April 25, 1849, a dramatic event occurred: the Canadian parliament was burned by furious people along with thousands of French Canadian books and a few hundred of English books. This is why some people still affirm today, falsely, that from the early settlements until the 1820s, Quebec had virtually no literature. Though historians, journalists, and learned priests published, overall the total output that remain from this period and that had been kept out of the burned parliament is small.

It was the rise of Quebec patriotism and the 1837 Lower Canada Rebellion, in addition to a modern system of primary school education, which led to the rise of French-Canadian fiction. L'influence d'un livre by Philippe-Ignace-Francois Aubert de Gaspé is widely regarded as the first French-Canadian novel. The genres which first became popular were the rural novel and the historical novel. French authors were influential, especially authors like Balzac.

Gabrielle Roy 1945
Gabrielle Roy was a notable French Canadian author.

In 1866, Father Henri-Raymond Casgrain became one of Quebec's first literary theorists. He argued that literature's goal should be to project an image of proper Catholic morality. However, a few authors like Louis-Honoré Fréchette and Arthur Buies broke the conventions to write more interesting works.

This pattern continued until the 1930s with a new group of authors educated at the Université Laval and the Université de Montréal. Novels with psychological and sociological foundations became the norm. Gabrielle Roy and Anne Hébert even began to earn international acclaim, which had not happened to French-Canadian literature before. During this period, Quebec theatre, which had previously been melodramas and comedies, became far more involved.

French-Canadian literature began to greatly expand with the turmoil of the Second World War, the beginnings of industrialization in the 1950s, and most especially the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. French-Canadian literature also began to attract a great deal of attention globally, with Acadian novelist Antonine Maillet winning the Prix Goncourt. An experimental branch of Québécois literature also developed; for instance the poet Nicole Brossard wrote in a formalist style. In 1979, Roch Carrier wrote the story The Hockey Sweater, which highlighted the cultural and social tensions between English and French speaking Canada.

Before Confederation

Sisters Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill wrote several stories about their experiences in the Canadas.


Because Canada only officially became a country on July 1, 1867, it has been argued that literature written before this time was colonial. For example, Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill, English sisters who adopted the country as their own, moved to Upper Canada in 1832. They recorded their experiences as pioneers in Parr Traill's The Backwoods of Canada (1836) and Canadian Crusoes (1852), and Moodie's Roughing It in the Bush (1852) and Life in the Clearings (1853). However, both women wrote until their deaths, placing them in the country for more than 50 years and certainly well past Confederation. Moreover, their books often dealt with survival and the rugged Canadian environment; these themes re-appear in other Canadian works, including Margaret Atwood's Survival. Moodie and Parr Traill's sister, Agnes Strickland, remained in England and wrote elegant royal biographies, creating a stark contrast between Canadian and English literatures.

However, one of the earliest "Canadian" writers virtually always included in Canadian literary anthologies is Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796–1865), who died just two years before Canada's official birth. He is remembered for his comic character, Sam Slick, who appeared in The Clockmaker and other humorous works throughout Haliburton's life.

After 1867

Charles G. D. Roberts cph.3a43709
Charles G. D. Roberts was a poet that belonged to an informal group known as the Confederation Poets.

A group of poets now known as the "Confederation Poets", including Charles G. D. Roberts, Archibald Lampman, Bliss Carman, Duncan Campbell Scott, and William Wilfred Campbell, came to prominence in the 1880s and 1890s. Choosing the world of nature as their inspiration, their work was drawn from their own experiences and, at its best, written in their own tones. Isabella Valancy Crawford, Frederick George Scott, and Francis Sherman are also sometimes associated with this group.

During this period, E. Pauline Johnson and William Henry Drummond were writing popular poetry - Johnson's based on her part-Mohawk heritage, and Drummond, the Poet of the Habitant, writing dialect verse.

Reacting against a tradition that emphasised the wilderness, poet Leonard Cohen's novel Beautiful Losers (1966), was labelled by one reviewer "the most revolting book ever written in Canada".[4] However, Cohen is perhaps best known as a folk singer and songwriter, with an international following.

Canadian author Farley Mowat is best known for his work Never Cry Wolf (1963) and his Governor General's Award-winning children's book, Lost in the Barrens (1956).

Following World War II, writers such as Mavis Gallant, Mordecai Richler, Norman Levine, Margaret Laurence and Irving Layton added to the Modernist influence to Canadian literature previously introduced by F. R. Scott, A. J. M. Smith and others associated with the McGill Fortnightly. This influence, at first, was not broadly appreciated. Norman Levine's Canada Made Me,[5] a travelogue that presented a sour interpretation of the country in 1958, for example, was widely rejected.

After 1967, the country's centennial year, the national government increased funding to publishers and numerous small presses began operating throughout the country.[6] The best-known Canadian children's writers include L. M. Montgomery and Monica Hughes.

Contemporary Canadian literature: After 1967

Arguably, the best-known living Canadian writer internationally (especially since the deaths of Robertson Davies and Mordecai Richler) is Margaret Atwood, a prolific novelist, poet, and literary critic. Some great 20th-century Canadian authors include Margaret Laurence, and Gabrielle Roy.

Alice Munro
Alice Munro is a Canadian short story writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013.

This group, along with Nobel Laureate Alice Munro, who has been called the best living writer of short stories in English,[7] were the first to elevate Canadian Literature to the world stage. During the post-war decades only a handful of books of any literary merit were published each year in Canada, and Canadian literature was viewed as an appendage to British and American writing. When academic Clara Thomas decided in the 1940s to concentrate on Canadian literature for her master's thesis, the idea was so novel and so radical that word of her decision reached The Globe and Mail books editor William Arthur Deacon, who then personally reached out to Thomas to pledge his and the newspaper's resources in support of her work.[8]

Other major Canadian novelists include Carol Shields, Lawrence Hill, and Alice Munro. Carol Shields novel The Stone Diaries won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and another novel, Larry's Party, won the Orange Prize in 1998. Lawrence Hill's Book of Negroes won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Overall Best Book Award, while Alice Munro became the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013.[9] Munro also received the Man Booker International Prize in 2009.

In the 1960s, a renewed sense of nation helped foster new voices in Canadian poetry, including: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Leonard Cohen, Eli Mandel and Margaret Avison. Others such as Al Purdy, Milton Acorn, and Earle Birney, already published, produced some of their best work during this period.

The TISH Poetry movement in Vancouver brought about poetic innovation from Jamie Reid, George Bowering, Fred Wah, Frank Davey, Daphne Marlatt, David Cull, and Lionel Kearns.

A passionate George Elliot Clarke recites poetry 2015 07 09 (cropped)
Contemporary poets in Canada include George Elliott Clarke, the former Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate.

More recently a younger generation of Canadian poets has been expanding the boundaries of originality: Christian Bök, Ken Babstock, Karen Solie, Lynn Crosbie, Patrick Lane, George Elliott Clarke and Barry Dempster have all imprinted their unique consciousnesses onto the map of Canadian imagery. A notable anthology of Canadian poetry is The New Oxford book of Canadian Verse, edited by Margaret Atwood (ISBN 0-19-540450-5).

Anne Carson is probably the best known Canadian poet living today. Carson in 1996 won the Lannan Literary Award for poetry. The foundation's awards in 2006 for poetry, fiction and nonfiction each came with $US 150,000.

Canadian authors who have won international awards


There are a number of notable Canadian awards for literature:

Awards For Children's and Young Adult Literature:

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ Coupland, Douglas. "What Is CanLit?" The New York Times, 22 August 2006.
  2. ^ Newton, Michael (2015). Seanchaidh na Coille / The Memory-Keeper of the Forest. Cape Breton University Press. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. ^ Rankin, Effie. "A shared song lasts long". Comhairle na Gàidhlig. Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  4. ^ Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head? Tim de Lisle, Guardian Online, retrieved 11 October 2006.
  5. ^ "Norman Levine". 20 June 2005. Retrieved 2017-08-20.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-03-04. Retrieved 2008-01-26.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "For a long time Alice Munro has been compared with Chekhov; John Updike would add Tolstoy, and AS Byatt would say Guy de Maupassant and Flaubert. Munro is often called the best living writer of short stories in English; the words "short story" are frequently dropped." Riches of a Double Life, Ada Edemariam, Guardian Online, retrieved 11 October 2006.
  8. ^ "Author and educator Clara Thomas was a relentless advocate of CanLit". The Globe and Mail, November 28, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Nobel-winner Alice Munro hailed as 'master' of short stories". Retrieved 2017-08-20.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-25. Retrieved 2014-04-24.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

External links

1951 Governor General's Awards

The 15th Governor General's Awards for Literary Merit were presented on June 13, 1952 for works of Canadian literature published in 1951. The awards in this period had no monetary prize and were just an honour for the authors.

The 1952 awards also introduced new categories, known as the University of Western Ontario President's Awards, to honour individual short works. The awards were presented in three categories, for short stories, poems and magazine articles.Although administered separately, the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour also announced its winner at the same ceremony.

Beautiful Losers

Beautiful Losers is the second and final novel by Canadian writer and musician Leonard Cohen. It was published in 1966, before he began his career as a singer-songwriter.

Set in the Canadian province of Quebec, the story of 17th-century Mohawk saint Kateri Tekakwitha is interwoven with a love triangle between an unnamed anglophone Canadian folklorist; his Native wife, Edith, who has committed suicide; and his best friend, the mystical F, a Member of Parliament and a leader in the Quebec separatist movement. The complex novel makes use of a vast range of literary techniques, and a wealth of allusion, imagery, and symbolism. It is filled with the mysticism, radicalism, sexuality, and drug-taking emblematic of the 1960s era, and is noted for its linguistic, technical, and sexual excesses.

Cohen wrote the novel in two eight-month spurts while living on the Greek island of Hydra in 1964 and 1965. He fasted and consumed amphetamines to focus his creativity on the novel. Despite a lavish rollout, sales were disappointing, and critics were initially unsympathetic or hostile. The book gained critical and commercial attention only after Cohen had given up novel-writing and turned to the songwriting and performing upon which his fame rests today. Beautiful Losers has come to be seen as having introduced postmodernism into Canadian literature. It has become a steady seller, and is considered a part of the Canadian literary canon.

Canadian Literature (journal)

Canadian Literature is a quarterly journal of criticism and review, founded in 1959 and published by the University of British Columbia. The journal publishes articles which discuss and inform about the academic aspects of the Canadian literary field, and also a range of creative material from Canadian and international scholars, writers, and poets. Each issue contains a variety of articles and an extensive book reviews section. Rather than focusing on a single theoretical approach, Canadian Literature contains articles on all subjects relating to writers and writing in Canada. Each issue contains both English and French content from a range of contributors and has been described as "critically eclectic".

Dundurn Press

Dundurn Press is one of the largest Canadian-owned book publishing company of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction. The company publishes Canadian literature, history, biography, politics and arts. Dundurn has about 2500 books in print, and averages around one hundred new titles each year. Dundurn Press was established in 1972 by Kirk Howard, In 2009, Dundurn forged a co-publishing partnership with the Ontario Genealogical Society, and in 2011, Dundurn purchased Napoleon & Company and Blue Butterfly Books. In 2013, Dundurn acquired Thomas Allen Publishers, the publishing branch of Thomas Allen & Son Limited.In January of 2019, Kirk Howard sold Dundurn Press to a consortium of Canadian technology investors. Scott Fraser became the second publisher in the history of Dundurn Press and Kirk Howard became Publisher Emeritus.

George Woodcock

George Woodcock (; May 8, 1912 – January 28, 1995) was a Canadian writer of political biography and history, an anarchist thinker, an essayist and literary critic. He was also a poet and published several volumes of travel writing. In 1959 he was the founding editor of the journal Canadian Literature which was the first academic journal specifically dedicated to Canadian writing. He is most commonly known outside Canada for his book Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962).

Jewish Public Library (Montreal)

The Jewish Public Library or JPL (French: Bibliothèque publique juive, Yiddish: ייִדישע פֿאָלקס ביבליאָטעק‎) is a public library in Montreal, Quebec, founded in 1914. The library contains the largest circulating collection of Judaica in North America. The JPL has close to 4000 members, and receives 700 to 800 visitors weekly. A constituent agency of Federation CJA, the Jewish Public Library is independent of the Montreal Public Libraries Network and instead receives its funding from the city's Jewish community, membership fees, donations and endowments.

Letters from the Lost

Letters from the Lost: A Memoir of Discovery is a non-fiction memoir, written by Canadian writer Helen Waldstein Wilkes, first published in December 2009 by Athabasca University Press. In the book, the author chronicles her discoveries after reading a box of letters she had never before seen. Her Jewish parents had fled Czechoslovakia in April 1939 to seek haven in Canada. Once in place, they corresponded with family and friends, encouraging them to escape the mounting peril that Hitler had envisioned as the Final Solution. Wilkes would learn that shortly after her parents migration, the ability to flee had been curtailed; and that each letter, compounded the historical anguish the writers were forced to endure.

List of festivals in Canada

This is an incomplete list of festivals in Canada. This list includes festivals of diverse types, among them regional festivals, commerce festivals, fairs, food festivals, arts festivals, and recurring festivals on holidays.

Madeleine Thien

Madeleine Thien (traditional Chinese: 鄧敏靈; simplified Chinese: 邓敏灵; born 1974) is a Canadian short story writer and novelist. The Oxford Handbook of Canadian Literature has considered her work as reflecting the increasingly trans-cultural nature of Canadian literature, exploring art, expression and politics inside Cambodia and China, as well as within diasporic Asian communities. Thien's critically acclaimed novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, won the 2016 Governor General's Award for English-language fiction, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards for Fiction. It was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, and the 2017 Rathbones Folio Prize. Her books have been translated into more than 25 languages.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Eleanor Atwood (born November 18, 1939) is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, teacher, and environmental activist. Since 1961, she has published seventeen books of poetry, sixteen novels, ten books of non-fiction, eight collections of short fiction, eight children's books, and one graphic novel, as well as a number of small press editions in poetry and fiction. Atwood and her writing have won numerous awards and honors including the Man Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Governor General's Award, Franz Kafka Prize, and the National Book Critics and PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Atwood is also the inventor and developer of the LongPen and associated technologies that facilitate the remote robotic writing of documents. A number of her works have been adapted to film and television, which has only served to increase her exposure and audience.

As a novelist and poet, Atwood's works encompass a variety of themes including gender and identity, religion and myth, the power of language, climate change, and "power politics". Many of her poems are inspired by myths and fairy tales which interested her from a very early age. Among her contributions to Canadian literature, Atwood is a founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize and Writers' Trust of Canada.

Margaret Laurence

Jean Margaret Laurence, CC (née Wemyss) (18 July 1926 – 5 January 1987) was a Canadian novelist and short story writer, and is one of the major figures in Canadian literature. She was also a founder of the Writers' Trust of Canada, a non-profit literary organization that seeks to encourage Canada's writing community.

Southern Ontario Gothic

Southern Ontario Gothic is a subgenre of the Gothic novel genre and a feature of Canadian literature that comes from Southern Ontario. This region includes Toronto, Southern Ontario's major industrial cities (Windsor, London, Hamilton, St. Thomas, Oshawa, St. Catharines), and the surrounding countryside. While the genre may also feature other areas of Ontario, Canada, and the world as narrative locales, this region provides the core settings.

Studies in Canadian Literature

Studies in Canadian Literature/Études en littérature canadienne (SCL/ÉLC) is a bilingual journal of peer reviewed literary criticism published out of the University of New Brunswick.Between the years of 1996 and 2003, John Clement Ball worked as editor of SCL/ÉLC; in September 2003, he was joined by Jennifer Andrews, and until mid-2012, the two collaborated as co-editors of the journal. In early 2012, the editors announced that Herb Wyile of Acadia University would replace Andrews as co-editor of the journal in the fall and that Cynthia Sugars of the University of Ottawa would replace Ball in the following year. Wyile and Sugars began co-editing the journal in 2013. Following the sudden death of Wyile in July 2016, Sugars became the sole editor. The journal continues to be published by the University of New Brunswick.

SCL/ÉLC publishes scholarly and critical articles, written by Canadian and international scholars, on all topics and periods of Canadian Literature. The journal publishes twenty-four essays per year, and issues occasionally close with interviews with notable Canadian authors. Like other Canadian literary journals, SCL/ÉLC alternates between general and special issues. Special topics have included the business of publishing in Canada; more recently, editors have produced issues on Indigeneity across linguistic divides, Atlantic Canadian literature, poetics and public culture in Canada, adolescence in Canadian Literature, South Asian Canadian Literature, and Literary Ecologies.

The publication of SCL/ÉLC is assisted by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the University of New Brunswick, and the Province of New Brunswick. The journal is indexed in the Canadian Periodical Index, the MLA Index, and the Humanities International Complete, and it is available online in the Canadian Business & Current Affairs (CBCA) Database. Back issues of the journal are available on the journal's website.

Sunburst Award

The Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is an annual award given for a speculative fiction novel or a book-length collection.

The Diviners

The Diviners is a novel by Margaret Laurence. Published by McClelland & Stewart in 1974, it was Laurence's final novel, and is considered one of the classics of Canadian literature.

The novel won the Governor General's Award for English language fiction in 1974. The protagonist of the novel is Morag Gunn, a fiercely independent writer who grew up in Manawaka, Manitoba. Morag has a difficult relationship with her daughter Pique and her Métis lover Jules Tonnerre, and struggles to maintain her independence.

The Diviners was adapted for television by Anne Wheeler, with a screenplay by Linda Svendsen, and aired on CBC Television in 1993. Sonja Smits starred as Morag, and Tom Jackson starred as Jules Tonnerre.

The book has been repeatedly banned by school boards and high schools, usually after complaints from Christian groups labelling the book blasphemous and obscene. It is a regularly featured book on the Canadian Freedom to Read campaign.

The Hockey Sweater

The Hockey Sweater (Le chandail de hockey in the original French) is a short story by Canadian author Roch Carrier and translated to English by Sheila Fischman. It was originally published in 1979 under the title "Une abominable feuille d'érable sur la glace" ("An abominable maple leaf on the ice"). It was adapted into an animated short called The Sweater (Le Chandail) by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 1980 and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen.

The story is based on a real experience Carrier had as a child in Sainte-Justine, Quebec in 1946 as a fan of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team and its star player, Maurice Richard. Carrier and his friends all wear Canadiens' sweaters with Richard's number 9 on the back. When his mother orders a new sweater from the department store in the big city after the old one has worn out, he is mistakenly sent a sweater of Montreal's bitter rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs, instead. Carrier faces the persecution of his peers and his coach prevents him from playing.

The Hockey Sweater is Carrier's most famous work and is considered an iconic piece of Canadian literature. The story has sold over 300,000 copies and has been republished in numerous anthologies. It exemplifies the nation's passion for hockey, and while it is often considered an allegory of the relationship and tensions that exist between francophones and anglophones, the story is popular throughout the entire nation. A line from the story appears on Canadian five-dollar bills printed between 2001 and 2013.

Wayne Johnston (writer)

Wayne Johnston (born 1958) is a Canadian novelist. His fiction deals primarily with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, often in a historical setting. In 2011 Johnston was awarded the Writers' Trust Engel/Findley Award in recognition of his overall contribution to Canadian Literature.

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