Recommendations for Canada Day

A bit late for Canada Day, eh.  Not to worry, as I have a list of 10 (and a half) Canadian recommendations, to stay patriotic throughout the year!   

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

No list of Canadian literature is complete without Anne of Green Gables, perhaps Canada’s most recognised piece of literature—despite coming from Canada’s tiniest province.  The Anne series is one of those special ‘comfort series’ that I can always come back to and enjoy.  Humorous and human, poetic and profound, these classics are worthy of their iconic status. 

Grass Beyond the Mountains (and sequels), Rich Hobson

Cowboy stories from the wild woods of Western Canada.  Hobson’s narration is cinematic—here he describes the panorama of endless mountains, here he relates a hair-raising Grizzley attack.  But the way he talks about his friends and colleagues is absolutely fantastic… if a little frustrating.  I get the sense that Hobson is holding back, that the people he knew had enough stories for books of their own, stories of which Hobson will only give hints.    

Legends of Vancouver, Pauline Johnson

Pauline grew up in Eastern Canada, and was an accomplished poet and performer.   But I know her best for her work in the West.  After moving to Vancouver, Pauline preserved legends that she had heard from her friends—including Chief Capilano himself.  I recently lent my copy of Legends of Vancouver to a friend, who liked it so much she rushed out to buy one of her own.

Vinyl Café stories, Stuart McLean

There are two streams of stories which came out of McLean’s iconic Vinyl Café radio show.  First was the Vinyl Café story exchange, where real people from all over Canada would send in their own stories.  They had to be short, and they had to be true, but other that they could be anything.  Then there were the fictional stories of Dave and Morley, and the hijinks they had with their family and neighbours.  Either way, the audience would get a lovely mix of hilarious and heartwarming. 

Bella Coola Man, Clayton Mack

Mack is an engaging storyteller… not due to any eloquence, but for the lack of it.  There is something in the syntax that sounds so real, so human, that I can practically hear his voice as I read.  The stories are also interesting for delving deep into the culture of this coastal community.  Granted, with this being the ‘wild west’ coupled with Mack’s unfiltered narration, some of the stories are less than pleasant.  It’s a fascinating window into B.C.’s history, and overlaps with Hobson’s books. 

Famous Dead Canadians (1 and 2), Joanne Stanbridge

I already enjoy history as it is, but Stanbridge’s fictional historian, Plumley Norris, makes it so much better.  Plumley Norris takes the reader along on an educational tour through many times and places in Canada, while adding fun tidbits like quizzes and snarky commentary. Most of the historical persons covered are explorers and athletes, but we also read about an artist, a spy, a strongman, and a martyr. 

Robert Munsch picture books

One of the many things I appreciate about Munsch’s books, is the way little details are put in to make the story localized.  Sometimes it’s the inclusion of wild life or sports common to the area, other times it’s as simple as a provincial flag in the background.  Better yet when you read a book, and recognise the local culture as yours! 

Roughing it in the Bush, Suzannah Moodie

Interesting as a first-hand account of Canada’s pioneer days.  I first heard of this book through a section put in one of my textbooks.  I also remember reading part of this classic, but being sorry that I had to return it to the library without finishing it.  I bought myself a copy last year, and I plan on finally finishing the whole story.  Even though Moodie’s narrative may clash with my idealistic picture of homesteading, I look forward to seeing how things were back in the 1830s. 

Naomi’s Road, Joy Kogawa

A story of a darker period in Canada’s history, but gently and beautifully written.  I read this book as a child, but found it to be just as good when I revisited it as an adult.   I remembered certain scenes and pictures, but what also made a deep impression was the theme—the grief over an injustice, along with the hope of endurance and restoration.  It’s a short and bittersweet story, with beautiful charcoal illustrations, and a bit of extra information at the very end. 

The Cremation of Sam Magee, Robert W. Service

I don’t particularly enjoy this poem, it’s harsh and macabre… so why do I recommend it?   Service, the Bard of the Yukon, wrote many poems—some of them better, some of them worse—but this is the one that was engrained into my family culture.  We would reference it, and my cousin memorised it at a young age.  I suppose it’s just one of those pieces you have to learn whether you like it or not, and then pass it on for others to learn, whether they like it or not.  (I’ll admit there is some morbid amusement in watching people squirm at grisly quotes, or even at the mere mention of the title.)

Archives of Anthropos, John White

This series only counts for half of a Canadian recommendation, since only a bit of it takes place in Canada.  The rest takes place in a fantasy kingdom called Anthropos.  White apparently wrote the series for his children, who asked for a story just like Narnia.  While I consider the Narnian series to be better written, I found late 20th century Winnipeg more relatable than mid 20th century England.  Certain allegories in Anthropos made as deep an impression to my younger self as the allegories in Narnia.

Happy Canada Day, and happy reading!

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