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Canadian literature is the literature of a multicultural country, written in languages including Canadian English, Canadian French, and Indigenous languages. Influences on Canadian writers are broad both geographically and historically, representing Canada's diversity in culture and region.

Canadian literature is often divided into French- and English-language literatures, which are rooted in the literary traditions of France and Britain, respectively.[1] The earliest Canadian narratives were of travel and exploration.[2] This progressed into three major themes that can be found within historical Canadian literature; nature, frontier life, Canada's position within the world, all three of which tie into the garrison mentality, a condition shared by all colonial era societies in their beginnings, but sometimes erroneously thought to apply mainly to Canada because a Canadian intellectual coined the term.[3] In recent decades Canada's literature has been strongly influenced by immigrants from around the world.[4] Since the 1980s, Canada's ethnic and cultural diversity has been openly reflected in its literature,[5] which by the 1990s was widely appreciated around the world.[5]

Indigenous literature

Main article: Indigenous literatures in Canada

Indigenous peoples of Canada are culturally diverse.[6] Each group has its own literature, language and culture.[7][6] The term "Indigenous literature" therefore can be misleading. As writer Jeannette Armstrong states in one interview, "I would stay away from the idea of "Native" literature, there is no such thing. There is Mohawk literature, there is Okanagan literature, but there is no generic Native in Canada".[6]

French-Canadian literature

Main article: Quebec literature

See also: List of French Canadian writers from outside Quebec, List of Quebec writers, and Literature of Quebec

In 1802, the Lower Canada legislative library was founded, being one of the first in Occident, the first in the Canada. 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 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 in 1979.[8] 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 following the unification, or 'confederation' of several colonies, including Upper and Lower Canada, into one nation on July 1, 1867, it has been argued that literature written before this time was colonial. The book often considered to be the first work of Canadian literature is The History of Emily Montague by Frances Brooke, published in 1769. Brooke wrote the novel in Sillery, Quebec following the Conquest of New France. 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 Trail'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), born and raised in Nova Scotia, 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 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.

L. M. Montgomery's novel Anne of Green Gables was first published in 1908. It has sold an estimated 50 million copies and is one of the best selling books worldwide.[9]

Between 1915 and 1925, Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) was the best selling humour writer in the world. His best known book of fiction, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town was published in 1912.

Three of Canada's most important post-World War I novelists were Hugh MacLennan (1907 – 1990), W.O. Mitchell (1914-1998), and Morley Callaghan (1903 – 1990). MacLennan's best-known works are Barometer Rising (1941), The Watch That Ends the Night (1957), and Two Solitudes (1945), while Callaghan is best known for Such Is My Beloved (1934), The Loved and the Lost (1951), and More Joy in Heaven (1937). Mitchell's most-loved novel is Who Has Seen the Wind.

Perhaps reacting against a tradition that largely emphasized the wilderness and the small town and country experience, Leonard Cohen wrote the novel Beautiful Losers (1966). It was labelled by one reviewer "the most revolting book ever written in Canada".[10] In time, however, this novel was considered a Canadian classic. Despite beginning his career as a poet of major importance, 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, Sheila Watson, Margaret Laurence and Irving Layton added to the Modernist influence in 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,[11] 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.[12] 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. Other great 20th-century Canadian authors include Margaret Laurence, Mavis Gallant, Michael Ondaatje, Carol Shields, Alistair MacLeod, Mazo de la Roche, and Gabrielle Roy.

Short story writer Alice Munro 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,[13] were part of a 'new wave' of Canadian writers, some starting their careers in the 1950's. The first to elevate Canadian Literature to the world stage were Lucy Maud Montgomery, Stephen Leacock, Mazo de la Roche, and Morley Callaghan. During the post-war decades Canadian literature, as were Australian and New Zealand literature, viewed as an appendage to British Literarure. 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.

The former Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke (2015)

Canadian poets have 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

Nobel Prize in Literature

International Booker Prize

Booker Prize

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

National Book Critics Circle Award

International Dublin Literary Award

Orange Prize

Commonwealth Writers' Prize

Peace Prize of the German Book Trade


There are a number of notable Canadian awards for literature:

Awards For Children's and Young Adult Literature:

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ Keith, W. J. (2006). Canadian Literature in English. The Porcupine's Quill. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-88984-283-0.
  2. ^ R.G. Moyles, ed. (28 September 1994). Improved by Cultivation: English-Canadian Prose to 1914. Broadview Press. pp. 15–. ISBN 978-1-55111-049-3. OCLC 1016305898.
  3. ^ New, William H. (2002). Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. University of Toronto Press. pp. 259–261. ISBN 978-0-8020-0761-2.
  4. ^ Crabtracks: Progress and Process in Teaching the New Literatures in English. Essays in Honour of Dieter Riemenschneider. BRILL. 28 December 2021. pp. 388–391. ISBN 978-90-04-48650-8. OCLC 1291314955.
  5. ^ a b Dominic, K. V. (2010). Studies in Contemporary Canadian Literature. Pinnacle Technology. pp. 8–9. ISBN 978-1-61820-640-4.
  6. ^ a b c Eigenbrod, Renate; et al. (2003). "Aboriginal Literatures in Canada: A Teacher's Resource Guide A Teacher's Resource Guide" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-09-10. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  7. ^ "Culture". Archived from the original on 2017-03-24. Retrieved 2017-03-21.
  8. ^ "Tous les lauréats".
  9. ^ Reuters Archived 2010-01-13 at the Wayback Machine on Anne of Green Gables: ""Anne of Green Gables" has sold more than 50 million copies and been translated into 20 languages, according to Penguin." (19 March 2008)
  10. ^ Who held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head? Tim de Lisle, Guardian Online, retrieved 11 October 2006.
  11. ^ "Norman Levine". 20 June 2005. Retrieved 2017-08-20.
  12. ^ "Small Presses in the 1960s and 1970s". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 2009-03-04. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
  13. ^ "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.
  14. ^ "Author and educator Clara Thomas was a relentless advocate of CanLit". The Globe and Mail, November 28, 2013.
  15. ^ "Nobel-winner Alice Munro hailed as 'master' of short stories". Retrieved 2017-08-20.
  16. ^ "Canadian Authors Association Literary Awards". Canadian Authors. Archived from the original on 2014-04-25. Retrieved 2014-04-24.