Canada: A People's History - Literary Bibliography
Home Radio Television
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
Bibliography Home Page
Literary Bibliography
Header 3 Header 4 Header 5
History Home
Canada: A People's History:
A Literary Bibliography

yellow divider

Compiled by Dr. Bruce Meyer, Director, Writing and Literature Program, University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies

Episode: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17


For this list, I have chosen, at the request of the History Project, those works that have had importance to me as reader and teacher of Canadian literature and that address specific eras covered by Canada: A People's History. This is not a bibliography of what I consider to be the greatest works in Canadian literature: that list would be different in that I would range farther from the historical periods and include those works that speak beyond specific periods in our national development.

The problem with exploring Canadian literature is that the more one discovers, the more one leaves undiscovered. Fact is we have a very rich literary history, much of which has gone out of print or has been left largely ignored by curriculum canons for want of time. With fewer and fewer Canadian Literature courses appearing on high school and university curriculums, the problem of maintaining a sense of public enthusiasm for the writing is a mounting one. The Canadian book industry, in particular McClelland and Stewart, Macmillan and Exile Editions have done yeoman work in keeping our written heritage alive.

A national literature is only as alive as its readers keep it. Reading Canadian literature is not a patriotic duty or something we should do out of a sense of cultural health because it is supposed to be good for us. It is something that can attract us for the wealth of imaginative matter within the books that speaks not only to us, but of us. Canadian literature is a place where we can recognize our own experiences, challenges and unique solutions.

The problem with any bibliography is a question of not only what it includes but what it excludes. Bibliographies are sins of omission as well as commission. I would like to think that this list is more of a starting point for a much larger one that readers of Canadian history and literature will build for themselves as they discover the breadth of the Canadian imagination. This is a nation that has a tremendously rich and largely unheralded imaginative past; the more we learn about it, the richer that heritage will become.

yellow divider

(Please note: all recommendations are by Dr. Meyer, except where noted otherwise: Kelly Crichton KC; Ingrid Keenan IK.)

Episode 1: When The World Began

Pratt, E.J. "The Great Feud," Collected Poems: E.J. Pratt (ed. Northrop Frye),
Toronto: Macmillan, 1958.

    Pratt's poem features an epic struggle between ancient creatures or what he terms "A dream of Pleiocene Armageddon.
Clark, Ella Elizabeth. Indian Legends of Canada.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1960.
    This book provides a coast-to-coast overview of some of the key myths and traditional narratives of Canada's indigenous peoples. It was a major source book for Canadian poets of the 1960s who delved into the mythical and unconscious structures of the stories that emerged from the landscape.
King, Thomas All My Relations: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Native Fiction"
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992. KC

Mowat, Farley. The Snow Walker.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1975.

    One of Mowat's best books, the stories contained in The Snow Walker are powerful in their mysticism, their strange, remote and abstract spirituality, and for their ability to capture the essence of the imaginative life of the Innuit and their landscape.
Newlove, John. "The Pride." The Fat Man: Selected Poems 1962-1972.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
    Newlove's poem about the Indians of the Great Plains is written with an excellent fervour, passion and compassion.
Purdy, Al. "Lament for the Dorsets." Being Alive: Poems: 1958-78.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1978.
    Purdy's poem is a moving and mystical tribute to an tribe of Innuit who vanished before the arrival of the white man.
Robinson, Eden Monkey Beach
Toronto Knopf Canada, 2000
    A rich coming-of-age story by a young Haisla writer. Robinson's novel weaves the present day struggles of a young woman with the spirits and legends of the past. Nominated for Giller and a Governor General's Literary Award. KC
top of page

Episode 2: Adventurers And Mystics

Pratt, E.J. "Brebeuf and His Bretheren," Collected Poems: E.J. Pratt (ed. Northrop Frye),
Toronto: Macmillan, 1958.
    Based on material Pratt drew directly from the Jesuit Relations, eyewitness accounts of the work of the brothers in New France, the poem turns upon the theme of language not only in the religious sense of the concept of logos (the word made flesh) but on the idea that written communication can collapse time and space.
Lescarbot, Marc. "Farewell to the Frenchmen Returning from New France to Gallic France." Poems of French Canada. (trans. F.R. Scott).
Burnaby: Blackfish Press, 1977.
    Written by Lecarbot to celebrate the departure for France of members of the second settlement expedition in Acadia in August of 1606, the poem is claimed by many to be the first Canadian poem.
Moore, Brian. Black Robe.
Toronto: Penguin, 1985.
    The story of a young Jesuit missionary in New France who goes into the wilderness to prosletyze the Indians examines the conflicts that arise between very different systems of beliefs, and two very different cultures.
top of page

Episode 3: Claiming the Wilderness

Drummond, W. H. "Madeleine Vercheres." We Stand On Guard: Poems and Songs of Canadians in Battle (ed. John Robert Colombo and Michael Richardson).
Toronto: Doubleday, 1985.
    This is the turn-of-the-century poet, Drummond, giving his version of the famous Canadian story of the young girl who used creative deception to hold off a large war party of Iroquois who were attackingg her family home.
Lampman, Archibald. "At the Long Sault: May 1660." The Poems of Archibald Lampman.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974.
    Lampman tells the story of Adam Dollard des Ormeaux's stand against the Iroquois at an abandoned fort on the Ottawa River when his small and outnumbered force held off the Iroquois advance on Ville Marie (present day Montreal).
Raddall, Thomas H. His Majesty's Yankees: A Novel of Nova Scotia in the Days of the Revolution.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1942.
    Written during wartime and often overlooked by critics, Raddall recounts not only the affairs and lives of Nova Scotians during the American Revolution but also the founding of Halifax in 1744.
top of page

Episode 4: Battle for a Continent

Brooke, Frances. The History of Emily Montague (1769).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1995.
    Set in Quebec following the conquest of New France by Wolfe, Brooke traces the life of a transplanted English-woman as she moves in a society that is comprised of Anglophones, Quebecois and indigenous peoples.
de Gaspe, Phillipe Aubert. Canadians of Old (Les Anciens Canadiens) (1890). (trans. Charles G.D. Roberts).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974.
    This novel, which is Canada's equivalent to Gone With the Wind, traces the experiences of a young, Scottish exile who is raised by a habitant family, and who returns in Wolfe's army to battle those he loved. The scene in which a ship, the Auguste, is wrecked on the rocks of the St. Lawrence, taking with it the nobility of New France, provides one of the key motifs in French-Canadian literature, a motif that was echoed by Nelligan in "Le Vaisseau D'Or."
Maillet, Antonine. Pelagie: The Return to a Homeland. Montreal: Lemac, 1972.
    Maillet's version of the traditional romantic "Evangeline story that was penned by the American poet Longfellow is closer to Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" than to its southern counterpart.
Gilbert Parker. The Seats of the Mighty: Being the Memoirs of Captain Robert Moray, Sometime an Officer in the Virginia Regiment, and Afterwards of Amherst's Regiment (1896).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1971.

McLeod, Alistair No Great Mischief
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1999

    Modern novel of the Campbell clan of Cape Breton resonates with echoes of the Plains of Abraham as Scottish descendants clash with French Canadian miners in Northern Ontario. KC

Richardson, John. Wacousta: A Tale of the Canadas (1832).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991.

    In this gothic novel, set in the garrison at Detroit during the period of the Pontiac Rebellion of the 1760s, a love-thwarted English nobleman turns "savage" and takes out his furies on the soldiers of the fort.
Salutin, Rick with an "assist" by Ken Dryden. Les Canadiens
Talonbooks, 1977
    French-English relations from the Battle of the Plains of Abraham to the 1970's, told through the metaphor of hockey. IK
top of page

Episode 5: A Question of Loyalties

Sangster, Charles. "On Queenston Heights." Canadian Poetry: From Beginnings Through the First World War (ed. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.
    A Wordsworthian type poem that offers a tribute not only to the fallen of the War of 1812, but also the view along the Niagara River Gorge from the site of Brock's famous victory and death. The irony in this poem is that the view Sangster describes was seen by the Americans who held the Heights rather than the Canadian troops who had to storm the hillside to retake the high ground.
top of page

Episode 6: The Pathfinders

Bowering, George. Burning Water.
Don Mills: Musson, 1980.
    Bowering examines the life and travails of Captain George Vancouver who explored the west coast. In the course of the novel, Vancouver encounters love and madness while taking possession for England the lands that would eventually become British Columbia.
Kelsey, Henry. "Rhymed Prologue to His Journals." Canadian Poetry: From the Beginnings Through the First World War (eds. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.
    An intriguing document in that Kelsey, the great early explorer of the Canadian west, pens his sentiments on what the reader is to expect from his travel narratives.
Newlove, John. "Samuel Hearne in Wintertime." The Fat Man: Selected Poems, 1962-1972.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
    Newlove, among the top Canadian poets of the late Twentieth century, gives a stunning poetic account of the hardships and the brutalities of Hearne's wester expedition.
Stenson, Fred The Trade
Douglas & McIntyre, 2000
    "Written between the lines of the known fur trade history" the novel traces the history of the Prairies just after 1822 when the Hudson's Bay Company absorbed its rival The Northwest Company. KC
Thompson, David. Travels in Western North America, 1784-1812. (ed. Victor G. Hopwood).
Toronto: Macmillan, 1971.
    Thompson, the unsung hero of the exploration and development of the Canadian west, records his thoughts and observations of his travels in this fascinating glimpse of what the Canadian west was like before the alterations imposed by civilization.
Weibe, Rudy A Discovery of Strangers
Knopf Canada, 1994
    Novel set during the 1819-1821 Franklin expedition. KC
top of page

Episode 7: Rebellion and Reform

Anonymous. "Un Canadien Errant." The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs. (ed. Edith Fowke).
Toronto: Penguin Books, 1973.
    This poignant ballad of exile and longing for the Canadian homeland following the transportation of rebels from Lower Canada in 1838, has become a traditional anthemn for the dispossessed in Canada. Leonard Cohen recorded a version of it, backed by a mariachi band, in the early 1980s.
Anonymous. "The Fight at Montgomery's." Canadian Poetry: From Beginnings Through the First World War (ed. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.
    The poem which appeared in William Lyon Mackenzie's Mackenzie's Gazette in 1838 is a brief poetic attempt to give the Rebel's side of the story of the skirmish that took place in Toronto on December 7, 1837 on a site approximately a block and a half north of the current intersection of Eglinton Avenue and Yonge Street.
Code, Susan. A Matter of Honour: And Other Tales of Early Perth.
Burnstown: General Store Publishing, 1996.
    Perth's resident historian and local raconteur, Susan Code, takes the reader on a tour of some of the strange events of the 1830's that shaped that town's history. Many of the stories reflect the tensions that gripped Upper Canada in the days leading up to the Rebellion.
Gillespie, George William. "A Canadian Woodsman's Farewell to His Log House." Canadian Poetry: From Beginnings Through the First World War (ed. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.

Haliburton, Thomas Chandler. The Clockmaker: The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick of Slickville (1836).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993.

    Haliburton gives a marvellous, almost metaphorical account of the relations between naive Canadians and "slick" Americans through his treatment of a clock salesman who travels through the Maritimes and attempts to sell his Waterford type clocks to the locals. Haliburton's own ideas for the reform of the Maritime colonies become the subtext for this series of stories.
Jameson, Anna Bronwell. Winter Studies and Summer Rambles (1842).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993.
    Jameson, the wife of a leading member of the colonial government in York, comments on life in Toronto and Southern Ontario during the months leading up the Rebellion of 1837. She undertakes an extensive journey, by canoe and overland to the edge of Lake Superior, and along the way meets a host of notable Canadian characters from the period.
Rasporich, Anthony W. William Lyon Mackenzie.
Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.
    This is an interesting and carefully selected series of articles taken from the various newspapers that Mackenzie founded during his manifestations as reformer, politician and exile. They provide a useful commentary on Mackenzie's unique perspectives on the events of his times.
Salutin, Rick and Theatre Passe Muraille, 1837: The Farmers' Revolt 1976 KC

The Farm Show a collective creation by Theatre Passe Muraille KC

Tiffany, Orrin Edward. The Canadian Rebellion of 1837 (1905).
Toronto: Coles Canadiana Collection, 1972.

    Drawn from documents and eye-witness accounts, Tiffany's history of the Rebellion of 1837 is intriguing for its detail and its sense of narrative.
top of page

Episode 8: The Great Enterprise

Atwood, Margaret. The Journals of Susanna Moodie.
Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970.
    Atwood's famous book of poems written in the voice of the pioneer author Susanna Moodie, depicts the hardships and the internal life of the character as she attempts to make a home and raise a family in the unforgiving wilderness.
Crawford, Isabella Valancy. "Malcolm's Katie." Canadian Poetry: From the Beginnings Through the First World War (ed. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.
    This alchemical backwoods long poem tells the story of the love between an enterprising though poor young man and a determined young woman who is kidnapped by an evil antagonist. It is an axe drama but well worth reading for the way it captures the pioneer spirit.
Gibson, Graeme. Perpetual Motion.
Toronto: Penguin, 1982.
    Gibson's brilliant novel tells the story of a pioneer farmer in early Ontario who finds a bone from a long-dead woolly mamouth in his fields, and believing it has some sort of magical properties, uses it as the center for a perpetual motion machine he attempts to build.
Goldsmith, Oliver. "The Rising Village." Canadian Poetry: From the Beginnings Through the First World War (eds. Carole Gerson and Gwendolyn Davies).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1994.
    As an answer to his grandfather's eighteenth century masterpiece, "The Deserted Village," the younger Goldsmith writes of the optimistic possibilities for the landscape and the emerging country. His notions of progress reflect the spirit of hope and energy for creating a new country that are prevalent in the literature of this era.
Moodie, Susanna. Roughing It In The Bush (1856).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1962.
    Moodie captures the hardships of her own pioneer experiences in this collection of reminiscences that have become synonymous with the Canadian pioneer experience.
Traill, Catherine Parr. The Canadian Settlers' Guide(1855).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1969.
    Susanna Moodie's more capable sister offers her tips on how to survive in the wilderness.
top of page

Episode 9: From Sea to Sea

Atwood, Margaret. Alias Grace.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1996.
    Atwood's novel tells the story of Grace Marks, a woman who in 1843 was convicted of murdering a lover who spurned her. Her sentence is commuted to life imprisonment and she spends the next 30 years in prison and in an asylum. Atwood examines not only the history of the period in detail but also the rudimentary forms of psychological treatment that were practiced on women during the nineteenth century.
McGee, Thomas D'Arcy. Selected Verse of Thomas D'Arcy McGee. (ed. Sean Virgo).
Toronto: Exile Editions, 2000.
    McGee appears as the voice not only of the exiled Irish rebel but also as the Father of Confederation who held high aspirations for the new nation. The poems range from celebratory odes to Jacques Cartier to laments for the homeland he left behind and a verse about the Innuit.
Urquhart, Jane Away
McClelland & Stewart, 1993
    This narrative spans three generations in an Irish family who came to Canada in the 1840's as a consequence of the devastating and horrific conditions of the so-called "Famine". A stroke of fate entwines the family's life with D'Arcy McGee and tragic consequences follow. KC
top of page

Episode 10: Taking the West

Anonymous. "Chanson de Louis Riel." The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs (ed. Edith Fowke).
Toronto: Penguin Books, 1973.
    This ballad, written at the time of the 1885 Rebellion lionizes Riel while at the same time recounting the events.
Berton, Pierre. The National Dream: The Last Spike.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974.
    Berton's tight and informative narrative depicts the tensions and the drama behind the building of the CPR. As a companion volume to the CBC's National Dream documentary series written by Timothy Findley and William Whitehead, Berton's work offers a clear and readable version of the complicated events that led to the linking of Canada's regions.
Morrisey, Kim. Batoche.
Regina: Coteau Books, 1989.
    In a series of historical reflections, examinations and documentary poems, Morrisey tells the story of the Rebellion of 1885 from a variety of viewpoints. This collage effect is intriguing and adds to the impact of the documentary chronicle is creating.
Purdy, Al. "The Battlefield at Batoche." Being Alive: Poems: 1958-78.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1978.
    Always the imaginative archaeologist and amateur historian, Purdy visits the battlefield at Batoche and offers his reflections on the events that transpired there in 1885.
Riel, Louis. Selected Poetry of Louis Riel. (trans. Paul Savoie, ed. Glen Campbell).
Toronto: Exile Editions, 2000.
    The poetry of Louis Riel captures both his mysticism and his profound connection to the landscape. Romantic yet politically aware, this volume provides important insight into the man behind the Rebellion of 1885.
top of page

Episode 11: The Great Transformation

Chong, Denise "The Concubine's Children"
Penguin Books, 1994
    The true-life story of Chong's grandmother, May-ying, brought to Canada as a concubine at the turn of the century. Heart-wrenching story that weaves Canadian and Chinese history through the experiences of one immigrant family. KC
Connor, Ralph. Glengarry School Days (1902).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993.
    This naive but entertaining series of vignettes about growing up in a small community in Eastern Ontario during the latter part of the nineteenth century offers a glimpse of childhood during the Victorian era.
Laurence, Margaret. Heart of a Stranger.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976.
    Laurence's essays in this book examine the questions of displacement, identity and place, and reflect her experiences growing up in a small Manitoba town during the Thirties. She also examines a number of larger issues relating to Canadian literature and culture.
Laurence, Margaret. The Stone Angel.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1964.
    Laurence's masterpiece tells the story of Hagar Shipley, a woman who spends her entire life on the Prairie outside of Manawaka. Her story becomes a kind of history of the place, and captures an expanse of time that ranges from the post-Riel era to the Sixties.
Lee, SKY. The Disappearing Moon Cafe.
Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1990.
    The closest Canadian literature comes to the emotional impact of Greek tragedy, Lee's magnificent novel tells the story of four generations of Chinese women in Vancouver. The story begins in the aftermath of the building of the CPR and the impact that the event had on the growth and the psychology of the Chinese community in Canada. This is a tremendous book.
Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables (1908).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1992.
    It isn't history, but Anne Shirley represents the archetypal Canadian character, our honest and genuine answer to the syrupy Pollyanna. Montgomery's novel, dramatized on the CBC, captures Canada during the age of innocense in the years before the First World War. Anne is almost Odyssean in her cunning use of honesty.
O'Hagan, Howard. Tay John (1960).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985.
    This vastly underrated novel tells the story of a mythical native leader who, as a symbol of primeval west of British Columbia, ends up betraying his own people in search of acceptance by the white man.
Service, Robert. Songs of a Sourdough (1907).
Toronto: William Briggs, 1916.
    The most famous of Service's many volumes of poetry, this collection contains such roaring Klondike favorites as "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Every Canadian should read these as they are one of the few pieces of our literature that seem to identify us overseas. Service's depiction of the humour within the hardships of the Gold Rush is remarkable in itself. He also has a great knack for telling stories.
Siggins, Maggie. Revenge of the Land
McClelland & Stewart, 1991
    A highly narrative non-fiction work about land rights, murder and the changing west. Governor General's Award in 1991. KC
Wiseman, Adele. The Sacrifice.
Toronto: Macmillan, 1956.
    In this moving and remarkably well-written novel, Wiseman tells a the story of a latter-day Genesis type patriarch, Abraham, who attempts to resettle the remnants of his family in Canada following a pogrom in Russia. His struggles with the language, his attempts at assimilation, and his ultimate battle with the evil within himself make this a powerful and stunning novel.
top of page

Episode 12: Ordeal by Fire

Acland, Peregrine. All Else Is Folly.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1929.
    This fictional account of Acland's war experiences make for heart-rending reading. His frankness and his sense of action are riveting. Ford Maddox Ford wrote the introduction to this novel and called it one of the best war novels written in the English language.
Child, Philip. God's Sparrows (1937).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1978.
    In this Governor General's Award-winning novel (1938), Child tells the story of a family torn apart by the war, and examines the ways in which Upper-Canadian Anglo-Saxon society contributed to the destruction of its youth in the First World War.
Dent, W. Redvers. Show Me Death!
Toronto: Macmillan, 1930.
    One of the rare gems of Canadian literature, the book was ghost-written by Dent and the famous early-mid century short story writer, Raymond Knister. The prose is fluid, but what makes this book powerful and a fascinating read is Dent's ability to portray the realities of the front without holding any of the shocking details back from the reader.
Davies, Robertson. Fifth Business
Penguin Books, 1970 KC

Findley, Timothy. The Wars.
Toronto: Penguin, 1979.

    Findley tells the story of a wealthy, young Toronto youth who goes off to the war, seduced by false notions of heroism and patriotism. In the process of enduring the horrors of the Front, and the equally horrific banalities of the home front, Ross opts for a humane solution to the suffering he sees around him, and by doing so triumphs, at least, in the spirit.
Harrison, Charles Yale. Generals Die in Bed (1928).
Hamilton: Potlatch Publications, 1976.
    Written in a gripping first person narrative, this novel was voted one of the best of 1928 by the New York Times. It tells the story of a nameless soldier and follows his experiences in the trenches from his induction into the army in Canada to the slopes of Vimy Ridge.
MacFarlane, David, The Danger Tree
Knopf/Vintage 2000
    A mixture of history, memory and fiction that tells the history of a Newfoundland family deeply affected by WW I. KC
McCrae, John. In Flanders Fields and other poems.
Toronto: Willam Briggs, 1919.
    Most notable in this collection of McCrae's poems, many about nature that he wrote before the war, is the title poem, "In Flanders Fields," a rondeau set in the voice of the fallen who have given their lives. Even during the war, the poem's popularity was such that it became an anthemn of the troops.
Plantos, Ted. Passchendaele.
Dunvegan: Black Moss Press, 1983.
    Plantos creates a moving and memorable documentary poem about the fate of the Newfoundland Regiment that was decimated at the bloody and muddy battle of Passchendaele, and place that British poet Edmund Blunden noted "sent a chill down my spine the moment I heard its name".
Prewett, Frank. The Selected Poems of Frank Prewett. (ed. Bruce Meyer and Barry Callaghan).
Toronto: Exile Editions, 1987.
    Wounded and shell-shocked in the trenches of Western Front, Prewett was introduced to many of the leading British literati of the Twenties including Yeats, Eliot, Lawrence, Graves, Forester and Huxley by his mentor, Siegfried Sassoon. His poem "The Card Game" is among the most startling and disturbing poems of World War One.
Scott, F.G. The Great War As I Saw It.
Toronto: F. Goodchild, 1922.
    Poet, pastor and father of Canadian poet/constitutional expert F.R. Scott, F.G. Scott tells of his harrowing experiences at the front as pastor for the First Canadian Division. Among the moving and frightening moments in this volume are the story of how he found the body of his dead son by a signet ring, and an account of presiding over the execution of a man accused of cowardice.
Service, Robert. Rhymes of a Red Cross Man.
Toronto: William Briggs, 1916.
    After destroying the manuscript for a frank account of his experiences as an ambulance driver on the Western Front, Service published these wry and often bloody poems about the life in the trenches. The book was dedicated to his brother who was killed in the Canadian army in 1916. Among the most notable poems is the very un-Service-like "On the Wire" and "My Mate.".
Thomas, Hartley Munro. Songs of an Airman and Other Poems.
Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild and Stewart, 1918.
    This is a unique and rare volume of poems in that Thomas is writing from the perspective of a fighter pilot. It contains all the passion of "Dawn Patrol," and many of the poems make Yeats' "An Irish Airman Forsees His Death," pale by comparison to Thomas' nerve-wracking accuracy and detail.
Trotter, Bernard Freeman. Canadian Twilights and other poems.
Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild and Stewart, 1917.
    Trotter, an Edwardian poet of nature, went into the trenches as a student from McMaster University and in the process of experiencing the war, was transformed in his vision from a naive naturalistic perspective to a voice on the verge of Modernism. He was killed in 1917.
Urquhart, Jane The Stone Carvers
McClelland & Stewart, 2000.
    The message of grief and loss twine themselves around the story of the carving of Vimy Ridge. KC
top of page

Episode 13: Hard Times

Baird, Irene. Waste Heritage (1939).
Toronto: Macmillan, 1974.
    Set in an anonymous western Canadian city during the Depression, Baird examines the impact of hopelessness and unemployment on a group of young men. He depictions of labour riots and the dynamics of crowd frenzy are quite notable.
Berton, Pierre. The Great Depression: 1929-1939.
Toronto: Penguin Canada, 1990.
    Berton, in true form, gives another remarkable, detailed, thorough, and readably narrative account of an important and often overlooked period in Canadian history.
Callaghan, Morley. Such Is My Beloved (1934).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991.
    In this remarkable story of a young priest in Toronto who attempts to attend to the needs of his flock despite the pressures of society and his own church, Callaghan depicts the struggle of the spirit during this period of economic hardship. This is one of the most remarkable and readable Canadian novels.
Fetherling, Douglas. Gold Diggers of 1929: Canada and the Great Stock Market Crash.
Toronto: Macmillan, 1989.
    This poignant panorama of the events surrounding the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and its impact on Toronto is a readable and highly literate account of the way in which Canadian society responded to the enormous economic crisis that triggered the Great Depression.
Hay, Elizabeth. A Student of Weather
McClelland & Stewart, 2001
    It tells the story of the enduring conflict between two sisters and the man who first walks into their lives when they are young. Spanning just over thirty years, the novel begins in the Prairie dust bowl of the 1930s, and later in the decades following the war, moves back and forth between Ottawa and New York City. KC
Huston, Nancy. Plainsong
Toronto : HarperCollins, 1993.
    A haunting portrait of prairie endurance. KC
Laurence, Margaret. The Diviners.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974.
    Laurence's epic novel about the pressures of personal, racial and social history upon an individual, delves into the mind and experiences of Morag Gunn, an outsider in the Manawaka community who sets her life in order and overcomes her poverty through the use of her imagination. Laurence's account of the Depression in Manitoba is worth noting.
Livesay, Dorothy. Right Hand Left Hand: A True Life of the Thirties.
Erin: Press Porcepic, 1977.
    Livesay, in a series of vignettes, recollections and records, recounts her political experiences and work with labour organizations during the 1930s.
Ten Lost Years
Both the play by George Luscombe, Cedric Smith and the company of Toronto Workshop Productions (The CTR Anthology, U of T Press, 1996), and the book by Barry Broadfoot (PaperJacks 1973).
    The story of the Depression told through personal accounts from the period IK
MacLennan, Hugh. "What It Was Like to Be in Your Twenties in the Thirties." The Great Depression: Essays and Memoirs from Canada and the United States. (ed. Victor Hoar).
Toronto: Copp Clark, 1969.
    MacLennan's essay details his personal hardships during the Thirties, some of the experiences of which he builds into his novel Two Solitudes. The Great Depression in Canada is one of the literature's truly lacunal events; and here MacLennan gives a portrait of what the youth of the time had to endure in the way of bleak prospects and limited options.
Mandel, Eli. Out of Place.
Erin: Press Porcepic, 1977.
    With a visit to the ruined farm of his grandparents in Saskatchewan, Mandel discovers the meaning of his past. This series of poems expresses the view that the future is foretold in the past.
Marlyn, John. Under the Ribs of Death (1957).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993.
    This novel traces the experiences of a young, impoverishes Hungarian immigrant boy growing up in Winnipeg, and the isolation he feels as he attempts to integrate into the Anglo-phone society that seems beyond his means.
Ross, Sinclair. The Lamp at Noon and other stories.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968.
    Ross offers a vivid and harrowing portrait of the hardships of Prairie life during the Great Depression in these stories. The title story focusses on the perils of attempting to live through an enormous dust storm, and the tragic consequences of failed hope.
top of page

Episode 14: The Crucible

Birney, Earle. Turvey.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1949.
    Birney's picaresque novel about the exploits of a young private in the Canadian army is almost a precursor to Catch 22, and though it is less savvy, it is a humorous and interesting read.
Birney, Earle. "Vancouver Lights." Ghost in the Wheels.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
    "Vancouver Lights," unveiled on the same night in early 1942 at Birney's Toronto apartment when Pratt gave the maiden reading of his poem "The Truant," was noted by Northrop Frye as one of the few things that gave him hope that the Allies would win the war. The famous last line, "there was light," has been viewed by many as a prophetic foreshadowing of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Callaghan, Barry. "Our Thirteenth Summer." A Kiss Is Still a Kiss.
Toronto: Little Brown and Company, 1995.
    In this beautifully written and remarkable story, Callaghan traces the development and the downfall of a childhood friendship between the Torontonian narrator and a boy named Bobby Reid who lived down the block and who consistently denies that he is Jewish during the Holocaust.
Garner, Hugh. The Storm Below.
Markham: Paperjacks, 1983.
    Garner follows the experiences of a group of sailors on board a Canadian corvette during the Battle of the Atlantic. Like E. J. Pratt's long poem, "Behnid the Log," it is an attempt to fuse documentary detail with a strong narrative.
Kogawa, Joy. Obasan.
Toronto: Penguin Books, 1983.
    Kogawa's moving documentary novel examines the treatment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Through the interplay of a contemporary narrative and actual documents, Kogawa paints a harrowing portrait of the hardships suffered by Japanese-Canadians. The novel made a major contribution toward the government's decision to award reparations for the injustices suffered during wartime hysteria.
Le Pan, Douglas. The Deserter.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1964.
    LePan's novel tells the story of a young Canadian soldier who deserts his unit at the end of the war and finds himself wandering in a nameless city. Part tale of absurdity and part war drama, the novel is a unique statement on the sense of psychological displacement produced by the experiences of the Second World War.
Le Pan, Douglas. The Net and the Sword.
Toronto: Clarke Irwin, 1953.
    LePan's poems are his poetic record of the experiences he had during the Italian campaign as an artillery officer. He contrasts the horrors of war with the solitude of Canadian nature in this collection.
McCourt, Edward. The Wooden Sword.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1956.
    McCourt writes of a man who has been shell shocked and whose life falls apart as he attempts to readjust to society following the war.
Ondaatje, Michael. The English Patient.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1992.
    The book is much better than the movie. Ondaatje plays with the questions of identity and history in this novel about a group of individuals who find themselves sequestered in a ruined Italian villa. Along the way, Ondaatje examines the failures of Western civilization, and the prospect of mass destruction at the hands of a culture that has gone out of control.
Pratt, E.J. "Behind the Log." Collected Poems (ed. Northrop Frye).
Toronto: Macmillan, 1958.
    This is Pratt's documentary poem about life and war on board a Canadian corvette. Pratt spent several days on board an active wartime ship in order to gain information for this narrative poem that describes the successful interaction of man and technology for good ends.
Roy, Gabrielle. The Tin Flute
McClelland & Stewart, 1945
    An affecting story of familial tenderness, sacrifice, and survival during World War II, The Tin Flute won both the Governor General's Award and the Prix Femina of France. KC
Warr, Bertram. Resurgam Pamphlet. London: 1942.
    Warr's poetry, both of his experience in the labour movements of the Thirties and of his early wartime experiences prior to his death in action are a fascinating testament to the political impact of the major ideas of the time. With any luck, they will be reprinted in Canada in their entirety at some future date.
top of page

Episode 15: Comfort and Fear

Blais, Marie-Claire. A Season in the Life of Emmanuel.
New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1966.
    This black comedy about a grossly large family in the impoverished rural regions of Quebec, tells the heartbreaking stories of the children who are literally set adrift in the spiritual and psychological wildernesses of Duplessis era Quebec.
Bourduas, Paul-Emile, et. al. Refus Global (trans. Ray Ellenwood).
Toronto: Exile Editions, (1985).
    These artistic manifestoes and declarations are the intellectual statements made by Quebec artists who felt that their nation was on the verge of a great shift of identity. Bourduas rejects the conventional aesthetics and positions of his community with statement such as "better to have a complete catastrophy than a false success.
Campbell, Maria Halfbreed
McClelland & Stewart, 1974
    Campbell, a Metis of Indian, French and Scottish ancestry, was born in Northern Saskatchewan and grew up near Prince Albert National Park. Halfbreed, an acclaimed autobiographical account of her early years, focuses attention on the brutal realities of poverty, pain and discrimination, as well as the joys and dreams of the Metis people. KC
Currie, Sheldon. The Glace Bay Miners' Museum
Breton Books, 1996
    As a coal miner's daughter, granddaughter and wife, Margaret finds a bitter but unique way of honoring their lives lost in the pitiless conditions of Cape Breton's coal mines. KC
Gelinas, Gratien. Yesterday the Children Were Dancing. (trans. Mavor Moore).
Toronto: Clarke Irwin, 1967.
    Gelinas' play seemed to capture the spirit of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec. He tells the story of a prominent Quebecois lawyer whose son becomes involved in an anti-Anglophone terrorist plot. The play raises the issue of the tensions between personal and national loyalties.
Johnson, Wayne The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
Anchor Books, 1999
    A wild blend of fact and fiction tells the story of Newfoundland through the life and loves of Joey Smallwood. KC
Lemelin, Roger. The Plouffe Family, 1948.
    A "father" of the modern Quebec novel, Lemelin's portrait of a Quebec family's trials and tribulations in the Duplessis era was much loved and became a popular TV series in both French and English. KC
Richler, Mordecai. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959).
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974.
    In many ways, Duddy Kravitz is the late Twentieth century Canada's equivalent of Anne Shirley -- only rather than being an naif, Duddy is bent on achieving material success. In many ways the novel sums up the post-war drive for material acquisition and the determination to measure the individual by possessions.
top of page

Episode 16: Years of Hope and Anger

Anything by Michel Tremblay, but particularly Les Belles Soeurs
Talonbooks, 1992 (Revised) IK

Fennario, David Balconville
Talonbooks, 1980

    Is credited as Canada's first bilingual play, and depicts several Montreal families on the eve of a provincial election. IK
Lee, Dennis. Civil Elegies.
Toronto: Anansi, 1972.
    This intriguing and underrated meditative poem on Canadian nationalism and the questions of identities as arose in the late Sixties seems to embody, in many ways, both the good and the bad aspects of intellectual life in Canada in the 1960s. It is well worth examining, not only as a historical document of its times but as an elegiac poem worthy of ranking with the best elegies.
Coupland, Douglas. Generation X.
New York: Douglas Campbell, 1991.
    This is Coupland's satiric examination of his alienated generation. The character face unemployment and a bleak future.
Fetherling, Douglas. Way Down Deep in the Belly of the Beast: A Memoir of the Seventies.
Toronto: Lester Publishing, 1996.
    In a series of essay-type memoirs, Fetherling examines the milieu of Toronto in the Seventies, the changes that took place in the city and its people, and the pressures the such changes imposed on writers.
Moore, Brian. The Revolution Script.
Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.
    In this novel, Moore, with an uncanny journalistic accuracy, delves into the events of the FLQ crisis from the perspective of the government, the public and the members of the FLQ. Written very shortly after the event, its detail and intimacy present fictionalized chronicle that is gripping in its ability to capture the moment.
top of page

Episode 17: Uncertain Country

Bissoondath, Neil. Digging Up the Mountains.
Toronto: Macmillan, 1985.
    In this series of short stories that range from experiences in the Caribbean to those of Canadian backpackers overseas and an international language student trapped in the prison of her own past and her language, Bissoondath presents an array of characters who are dispossessed of their identities in an shifting and increasingly cosmopolitan world.
Clarke, Austin. There Are No Elders.
Toronto: Exile Editions, 1993.
    In this impressive collection of short stories, Clarke examines the experiences of Black Torontonians who are attempting to cope with both racial and social pressures as they try to assimilate into the broader society.
Meyer, Bruce. Radio Silence.
Dunvegan: Black Moss Press, 1991.
    In this book of poems, Meyer focusses on the issues of nationalism and the tensions of a divided yet silent country following the failure of the Meech Lake Accord.
Robertson, Ray. Home Movies. Dunvegan: Cormorant Books, 1997.
    Robertson depicts a country-singing protagonist, James Thompson, who discovers, after a lengthy period in the music business in Toronto that he cannot readjust to his return to his small southwestern Ontario hometown.
Skvorecky, Josef. The Engineer of Human Souls.
Toronto: Totem Press, 1977.
    Following the character of Danny Smiricky who appears in Skvorecky's Czech novels, The Cowards and The Bass Saxophone, Engineer of Human Souls recounts Smiricky's view of Canada during the late Seventies and early Eighties when the character finds himself as a professor at a Canadian university. It is an interesting critique of the comfortable weaknesses of Canadian society.

top of page

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC