I could read a case of Canadian books and still be on my feet.
The following books nurtured my understanding of this great, big, diverse, ornery, multi- textured land.
Here they are from east to west. Guaranteed to hit ‘terroir’ on Canada Day and beyond.
- Newfoundland: The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston. A fictionalized account of the controversial Joel Smallwood who brought the independent colony of Newfoundland into Confederation. His companion Sheilagh Fielding is one of the great characters of Canadian fiction.
- Prince Edward Island: A Long Way from the Road by David Weale. This collection of stories by Weale a raconteur, humorist, performer and author reveals the PEI beyond Anne of Green Gables. His live performances are a memorable, hillarious treat.
- Nova Scotia: No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod. One of our best writers, ever. Exquisite prose. Why Cape Bretoners have so much character.
- New Brunswick: Pélagie by Antonine Maillet. The heartbreak of the Acadian expulsion reveals the indomitable spirit of those who managed to make their way back.
- Québec: The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy. This novel set in working class Montréal is credited with laying the foundation for Québec’s Quiet Revolution of the 1960’s.
- Ontario: And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier. The aftermath of a pivotal event in Northern Ontario, the great Matheson Fire. Melodic, evocative and mysterious and a love story for the ages. This is the part of Ontario I grew up in, way up north.
- Manitoba: Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway. The loss of identity experienced by two brothers from Northern Manitoba sent to residential school. The grittiness of resilience and that beckoning imperative, reconciliation.
- Saskatchewan: The Perfection of the Morning by Sharon Butala. The wisdom available from nature to guide our lives if we stop, listen, watch, hear and feel. A tiny perfect gem.
- Alberta: The Outlander by Gil Adamson, Set in the Crowsnest Pass area in the early 1900’s. Romance, mystery and thriller as we follow Mary, a 19 year old widow by her own hand, flee her deceased husband’s two brothers bent on frontier justice. You won’t be able to put it down.
- British Columbia: The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth Madness and Greed by John Valiant. The story of a misguided logger/environmentalist and his destruction of a natural wonder of Haida Gwaii. Vickie thinks every Britsh Columbian should read it. So should anyone who wants to understand why Canadians can no longer be ‘hewers of wood…’
- Yukon Territory: The Cinnamon Mine by Ellen Davignon. A story of growing up in the Yukon along the Alaska Highway. The author’s family ran a lodge famous for its cinnamon buns.
- Northwest Territories: The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp. A coming of age story set in the North West Territories by one of Canada’s most prolific and talented First Nations writers.
- Nunavut: The White Dawn – an Eskimo Saga by James Houston Three survivors from a whaling ship enjoy the hospitality of Eskimo villagers. We are shown a world we know so little about even though it once occupied so much of our land mass.
Hunger’s Brides by Paul Anderson. An epic mystery set in Calgary but equally an evocation of the life of a woman who should rival Shakespeare in our consciousness, the Mexican Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. A tour de force.
The truth about stories is that that’s all we are…
But don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.
Thomas King, ‘The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative’
On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Joni Mitchell, A Case of You