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The Prairies – Land of Endless Inspiration
by J.R. Léveillé, author
L'Aisance qui vient: vie du colon français dans la prairie canadienne, by Louis Viel and Léopold Léau, Paris: Bloud, 1911
In his journals, the explorer La Vérendrye was the first to describe the richness and immensity of the Canadian West. This region seems endless, inspiring Nancy Huston to write, "I see a long highway curving across the plain" in her novel Plainsong (1993). Settlers and immigrants set out for this El Dorado in search of wealth, as described by Louis Viel and Léopold Léau in L'aisance qui vient (1912). But according to Jean Féron and Jules Lamy in Dans la terre promise (1929), the climate is harsh, the land must be cleared and life is full of hardship.
But there is more to the Prairies than the plains. Other landscapes border the endless fields of tall sheaves described by Louis-Philippe Corbeil in Journal de bord du gamin des ténébres (1986). There are regions dotted by small lakes and swamps that, according to Gabrielle Roy in La Petite Poule d'Eau (1950), make you feel as if you are at the very end of the world. In The Forest (1935), Georges Bugnet writes of the powerful beauty and merciless cruelty of the woodlands. In Dans le muskeg (1960), Marguerite Primeau also introduces us to a place of desire and cruelty, where we feel as if all life stops.
Postage stamp entitled Alberta Folksong, September 7, 1993
This region also encompasses the Far North, as portrayed by Maurice Constant-Weyer, perhaps the first novelist to describe the northern lights. But these places of primitive beauty have a distinctive, savage characteristic-life is a constant struggle against the cold, as Constant-Weyer describes in A Man Scans His Past (1929).
Settlement did not benefit the First Nations and the Métis. An untitled poem by Louis Riel, published in Anthologie de la poésie franco-manitobaine (1990), speaks of the loss of his gentle land, and Manie Tobie recalls the sweeping countryside in René Juéry's Manie Tobie: femme du Manitoba (1979).
Where are my meadows in bloom, my ancient forests?
Where are my trees, sturdy, dark and silent?
Where are my lakes of azure blue, my solitary pathways?
Where are the elk that roamed this place?
(Alexandre de Laronde, "Le chant de mort
du dernier Pied-Noir," stanza 1)
A wheat field near Watrous, Saskatchewan, ca. 1903–1914
A sense of immensity clearly marks the relationship between writers and the land: Louise Fiset speaks of a place where the earth is round in Soul pleureur (1998). In L'appétit du compteur (2003), Charles Leblanc writes that the space inspires you to turn nomad and travel. Those who experience this vastness get a sense of the cosmos, since the earth is "fragrant today with eternity," according to Lise Gaboury-Diallo in Homestead: poèmes du coeur de l'Ouest (2005).
For writers, the blank page is like this region that, as Paul Savoie describes in Bois brûlé (1989), forgot to set itself boundaries, where the writer can say: "I can give my limitless all." The landscape of the West is still primarily a place of inspiration and travel where, as Gabrielle Roy remarks in The Road Past Altamont (1966), "many times we found thus, at dreamy distances, lost horizons."
See also The Prairies (English Literature)