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ARCHIVED - Canada: A Literary Tour

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Literary Landscapes


(English Literature)

Expanding Literary Horizons
by Steven Artelle, Library and Archives Canada

The topography, culture, and vast imaginative potential of the region known since 1867 as Ontario began to find popular literary expression in books by explorers and travellers during the 18th century. By the early 19th century, these same qualities would inspire works of poetry such as Adam Hood Burwell's Talbot Road: A Poem (1818) and works of fiction such as John Richardson's novel Wacousta, or, The Prophecy: A Tale of the Canadas (1832). However, the accounts of travellers, and in particular emigrant settlers, continued to dominate. Foremost among the genre were memoirs by Catherine Parr Traill, The Backwoods of Canada (1836), and by her sister Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the Bush (1852).

White 60-cent stamp with a colour illustration of a street lined with row houses, parking meters, and tall buildings in the background

Postage stamp depicting an Ontario city street scene, May 11, 1982


With increased farming and the growth of cities, the challenging environments described in early 19th-century Ontario prose gave way to the inviting landscapes that characterize late 19th-century Ontario poetry. A generation of Ontario poets born in the 1850s and 1860s had their literary careers sustained by the greater educational, professional, and publishing opportunities in growing cities, such as Toronto, Kingston, and Ottawa. Consequently, these poets, who include Isabella Valancy Crawford, Archibald Lampman, William Wilfred Campbell, and Duncan Campbell Scott, made decisive contributions to local and national literary culture.

Green book cover with yellow print and a colour illustration of a log driver standing on a log

The Man from Glengarry: A Tale of the Ottawa, by Ralph Conner, Toronto: Westminster, 1901


Poetry continued to define Ontario's local and national literary landscape during the twentieth century in works by Raymond Souster and Al Purdy, and in collections such as Christopher Dewdney's A Paleozoic Geology of London, Ontario (1973). However, by the early twentieth century Ontario fiction gained an unprecedented popularity with best-selling works such as The Man from Glengarry (1901) by Ralph Connor and Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912) by Stephen Leacock.

Ontario has also provided the setting for a number of Canada's internationally renowned authors of fiction. These include Margaret Atwood, Jane Urquhart and Robertson Davies, and in particular Alice Munro, whose short story collections, including Lives of Girls and Women (1971), are deeply rooted in the southern Ontario landscape and experience.

Black and white photograph of a man sitting on a chair reading a book

Robertson Davies, photograph by Walter Curtin, October 1960


See also Ontario (French Literature)