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A Canada Reading List

Hugh Brody Maps and Dreams. (Faber/ Pantheon, both o/p). Brilliantly written account of the lives and lands of the Beaver natives of northwest Canada. For further acute insights into the ways of the far north see also the same author's Living Arctic (Faber, o/p/University of Washington Press) and The People's Land: Eskimos and Whites in the Eastern Arctic (Penguin in US, o/p).

Stephen Brook Maple Leaf Rag: Travels Across Canada .
(Picador, o/p/Vintage). Humorous but at times embarrassingly contrived account of a journey to "admire the quirky but genuine receptivity of the country's liberal-minded citizens".

P Browning The Last Wilderness.
(Hutchinson in UK and US, o/p). An engrossing description of a harsh and lonely canoe journey through the Northwest Territories.

Ranulph Fiennes The Headless Valley.
(Hodder & Stoughton in UK, o/p). Tales of derring-do from noted adventurer, white-water rafting down the South Nahanni and Fraser rivers of British Columbia and the NWT.

Barry Lopez Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in Northern Landscape.
(Picador/Bantam). Extraordinary award-winning book combining natural history, physics, poetry, earth sciences and philosophy in a dazzling portrait of the far north.

Duncan Pryde Nununga: Ten Years of Eskimo Life.
(Eland/Hippocrene). Less a travel book than a social document from a Glaswegian who left home at eighteen to spend ten years with the Inuit.

Gary and Joannie McGuffin Canoeing Across Canada.
(Diadem in UK). Reflections on a 6000-mile journey through the country's rivers and backwaters.

Susanna Moodie Roughing it in the Bush: Or Forest Life in Canada.
(Virago/Beacon, both o/p). Wonderful narrative written in 1852, describing an English couple's slow ruin as they attempt to create a new life in southeastern Ontario.


Beatrice Culleton April Raintree.
(Pemmican in Canada). Heart-rending account of the enforced fostering of Metis children in Manitoba during the 1950s.

Don Dumond The Eskimos and Aleuts.
(Thames & Hudson in UK and US). Anthropological and archeological tour-de-force on the prehistory, history and culture of northern peoples: backed up with fine maps, drawings and photographs.

Paul Fleming The North American Indians in Early Photographs .
(Phaidon/HarperCollins, o/p). Stylized poses don't detract from a plaintive record of a way of life that has all but vanished.

Allan Gregg and Michael Posner The Big Picture.
(MacFarlane, Walter & Ross in Canada). A contemporary survey on what Canadians think of everything from sex to politics.

Richard Gwyn Smallwood: The Unlikely Revolutionary.
(McClelland & Stewart in Canada). Detailed biography of Joey Smallwood, the Newfoundland premier who pushed his island into Confederation in 1949. Gwyn's exploration of island corruption and incompetence is incisive and intriguing in equal measure.

Paul Kane Wanderings of An Artist among the Indians of North America.
(Charles E Tuttle in Canada, o/p). Kane, one of Canada's better- known landscape artists, spent three years travelling from Toronto to the Pacific Coast and back in the 1840s. His witty account of his wanderings makes a delightful read.

Alan B Macmillan Native Peoples and Cultures of Canada.
(Douglas & McIntyre in Canada). Excellent anthology on Canada's native groups from prehistory to current issues of self-government and land claims. Well written and illustrated throughout.

Dennis Reid A Concise History of Canadian Painting.
(Oxford University Press in UK and US). Not especially concise, but a thorough trawl through Canada's leading artists, with bags of biographical detail and lots of black and white illustrations of major works.

Mordecai Richler Oh Canada! Oh Québec!.
(Chatto & Windus/Knopf). A satirical chronicle of the hysteria, zeal and chicanery surrounding Québec's independence movement. Home Sweet Home (Grafton/Penguin, both o/p). Entertaining but occasionally whingeing anecdotes from all corners of the country.

The True North - Canadian Landscape Painting 1896-1939.
(Lund Humphries in UK and US). A fascinating and well-illustrated book exploring how Canadian artists have treated the country's challenging landscapes.


Owen Beattie and John Geiger The Fate of the Franklin Expedition 1845-48.
(Bloomsbury/ Plume). An account both of the doomed expedition to find the Northwest Passage and the discovery of artifacts and bodies still frozen in the northern ice; worth buying for the extraordinary photos.

Pierre Berton Klondike: The Last Great Goldrush 1896-1899 .
(Little, Brown in US). Exceptionally readable account from one of Canada's finest writers of the characters and epic episodes of the Yukon gold rush. The Arctic Grail (Viking, o/p/Penguin). Another Berton blockbuster, this time on the quest for the North Pole and the Northwest Passage from 1818 to 1919. All the author's other books are well worth reading; see also The Last Spike (Penguin in US), an account of the history and building of the transcontinental railway; The Mysterious North: Encounters with the Canadian Frontier 1947-1954 (McClelland & Stewart in Canada); Flames across the Frontier (Penguin in US), episodes from the often uneasy relationship between Canada and the US; and Vimy, an account of the World War I battle fought mainly by Canadians which Berton sees as a turning point in the nation's history.

Gerald Friesen The Canadian Prairies: A History.
(University of Toronto Press in UK and US). Stunningly well researched and detailed account of the development of Western Canada. A surprisingly entertaining book that's particularly good on the culture of the Metis and Plains Indians.

Kenneth McNaught The Penguin History of Canada.
(Penguin in UK and US, o/p in UK). Recently revised and concise analysis of the country's economic, social and political history.

Peter Neary and Patrick O'Flaherty Part of the Main: an Illustrated History of Newfoundland and Labrador.
(Breakwater in Canada). Lively text and excellent illustrations make this the best account of the province's history, though it's short of contemporary information.

Peter C Newman Caesars of the Wilderness.
(Penguin in UK and US, o/p in UK). Highly acclaimed and readable account of the rise and fall of the Hudson's Bay Company.

George Woodcock A Social History of Canada.
(Penguin in UK, o/p). Erudite yet readable book about the peoples of Canada and the changes in lifestyle from wilderness to city.


Richard Chandler The Macmillan Field Guide to North Atlantic Shorebirds.
(Macmillan in UK, o/p). Well-illustrated and comprehensive handbook.

Tim Fitzharris and John Livingston
Canada: A Natural History .
(Viking in UK and US, both o/p). The text is prone to purple fits, but the luscious photographs make this a book to savour.

The Pocket Guide Series
(Dragon's World in UK). Clearly laid out and well illustrated, the Pocket Book series are excellent basic handbooks for general locations of species, identification and background. Individual titles are: The Pocket Guide to Mammals of North America (John Burton); The Pocket Guide to Birds of Prey of North America (Philip Burton); The Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers of North America (Pamela Forey); The Pocket Guide to Trees of North America (Alan Mitchell); The Pocket Guide to Birds of Western North America (Frank Shaw).

Paul Thomas Fur Seal Island.
(Souvenir Press in UK). The North Pacific seals' battle for survival.

Lyall Watson Whales of the World.
(Hutchinson/NAL Dutton, both o/p). Encyclopedic and lavishly illustrated guide to the biggest sea mammals.


Anahareo Grey Owl and I: A New Autobiography.
(Davies in Canada). The story of Grey Owl's Iroquois wife, their fight to save the beaver from extinction and her shock at discovering that her husband was in fact an Englishman. Good insights into the changing life of Canada's natives in this century.

Margaret Atwood Surfacing.
(Virago/ Fawcett). Canada's most eminent novelist is not always easy reading, but her analysis, particularly of women and society, is invariably witty and penetrating. Surfacing, the tale of a young divorcee who returns to a remote part of northern Québec to investigate the disappearance of her father, is perhaps the best of her novels with a Canadian setting - the surroundings become instrumental in an extreme voyage of self-discovery that'll leave you unable to look at the Canadian wilderness in quite the same way again. Cat's Eye (Virago/Bantam) deals with a painter returning to Toronto to find herself overwhelmed by the past, a theme also explored in Lady Oracle (Virago/Fawcett), the account of a poet confused by a life divided between London and Toronto, who plans a new life in Italy after faking her death. Wilderness Tips (Virago/Bantam) is a collection of short stories mainly about women looking back over the bastards in their lives and Atwood's latest offering, The Robber Bride (Virago/Bantam), wittily transports fairy-tale themes into a modern setting.

Elizabeth Bishop The Complete Poems.
(Chatto & Windus/Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Though American by birth, Bishop spent much of her youth in Nova Scotia. Many of her early poems feed off her Canadian childhood and a fascination with the rough landscapes of the northeast.

Leonard Cohen Poems: 1956-1968.
(Cape/Viking Penguin, o/p). A fine collection from a Sixties survivor who enjoyed high critical acclaim as a poet before emerging as a husky-throated crooner of bedsit ballads. See also his recently reissued Beautiful Losers, one of the most aggressively experimental Canadian novels of the Sixties (Black Spring Press/Vintage).

Robertson Davies The Cornish Trilogy (Penguin in UK and US) and The Deptford Trilogy (Penguin in UK and US).
Davies' big, dark and complicated up-market soap operas are partly set in the semi-rural Canada of his youth, though earlier books such as Tempest-Tost (Penguin in US) and Fifth Business (Star, o/p/Penguin) make more of their Canadian locales.

Lovat Dickson Wilderness Man.
(Abacus in UK, o/p). The fascinating story of Archie Belaney, the Englishman who became famous as his adopted persona, Grey Owl. Written by his English publisher and friend, who was one of many that did not discover the charade until after Grey Owl's death.

Timothy Findley The Wars (Penguin/Dell, both o/p) and Famous Last Words (Arrow/Dell, both o/p).
Two novels dealing with the waste and dehumanization of war - the former set in World War I, the latter in World War II. Findley's latest, Inside Memory: Pages from a Writer's Notebook (HarperCollins in US) is a collection of sometimes painful reminiscences, addressing his homosexuality, his lapses into alcoholism and his careers in fiction, acting and screenwriting.

Grey Owl The Men of the Last Frontier; Pilgrims of the Wild; The Adventures of Sajo and Her Beaver People; Tales of an Empty Cabin
(all o/p). First published in the 1930s, these books romantically describe life in the wilds of Canada at the time when exploitation was changing the land forever. His love of animals and the wilderness are inspiring and his forward-thinking ecological views are particularly startling.

Hammond Innes Campbell's Kingdom.
(Collins/Carroll & Graf, o/p). A melodrama of love and oil-drilling in the Canadian Rockies - though the landscape's less well evoked than in The Land God Gave Cain (Fontana/Carroll & Graf, o/p), the story of one man's search for "gold and truth" in Labrador.

Margaret Laurence A Jest of God; The Stone Angel; The Diviners.
(all Virago/University of Chicago Press). Manitoba-born Laurence epitomized the new vigour that swept through the country's literature during the Sixties - though the best of her fiction was written in England. Most of her books are set in the fictional prairie backwater of Manawaka, and explore the loneliness and frustration of women within an environment of stifling small-town conventionality. Always highly revered at home, Laurence's reputation is on the increase abroad.

Stephen Leacock Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.
(McClelland & Stewart/Ayer). Whimsical tale of Ontario small-town life; the best of a series based on the author's summertime stays in Orillia.

Jack London Call of the Wild, White Fang and Other Stories.
(Penguin in UK and US). London spent over a year in the Yukon goldfields during the Klondike gold rush. Many of his experiences found their way into his vivid if sometimes overwrought tales of the northern wilderness.

Malcolm Lowry Hear Us O Lord from Heaven thy Dwelling Place.
(Picador/Carroll & Graf). Lowry spent almost half his writing life (1939-54) in log cabins and beach houses he built for himself around Vancouver. Hear Us O Lord is a difficult read to say the least: a fragmentary novella which amongst other things describes a disturbing sojourn on Canada's wild Pacific coast.

Alistair MacLeod No Great Mischief (2000).
The story glides along, oozing with history and pain and sentiment. The MacDonald clan, through the eyes of Alexander MacDonald, comes clearly to life. We follow the clan for more than 200 years after they leave Scotland. To this family, history is all-important, and family is everything. The red- and black-haired and dark-eyed MacDonalds survive heartbreak and loss in the "land of the trees" -- Cape Breton -- and dig out a new life on the Maritime shores. Young Alexander and his twin sister live with their grandparents, near their other grandfather, and are eternally schooled in their family's past. I felt honoured to share in their history, to soak in their very lives. From the coast of Scotland to the hard-rock mines of northern Ontario to the bleary streets of today's Toronto, MacLeod takes us on a road seldom taken in modern fiction.

W O Mitchell Who Has Seen the Wind.
(Canongate/Little, Brown). Canada's equivalent of Huckleberry Finn is a folksy story of a young boy coming of age in small-town Saskatchewan, with great offbeat characters and fine evocations of Prairie life. Mitchell's The Vanishing Point (Macmillan in US), though witty and fun to read, is a moving testimony to the complexities of native assimilation in a country dominated by "immigrants".

L M Montgomery Anne of Green Gables.
(Puffin in UK and US). Growing pains and bucolic bliss in a cloying children's classic from 1908.

Brian Moore Black Robe.
(Paladin/Fawcett). Moore emigrated to Canada from Ireland in 1948 and stayed long enough to gain citizenship before moving on to California. Black Robe - the story of a missionary's journey into native territory - is typical of the author's preoccupations with Catholicism, repression and redemption.

Alice Munro Lives of Girls and Women (Penguin/NAL-Dutton); The Progress of Love (Flamingo/Penguin); Dance of the Happy Shades (Penguin/Viking); The Beggar Maid (Penguin in UK and US); Friend of my Youth (Vintage in UK and US).
Amongst the world's finest living short-story writers, Munro deals primarily with the lives of women in the semirural and Protestant backcountry of southwest Ontario. Her latest book, Open Secrets (Chatto & Windus), concentrates on stories set in two small Ontario towns from the days of the early settlers to the present.

New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse.
(ed. Margaret Atwood; OUP in UK and US). Canadian poets are increasingly finding a distinctive voice, but few except this collection's editor have made much impact outside their native country. Atwood's own sharp, witty examinations of nationality and gender, are among the best in this anthology - more of her verse is published in the UK by Virago.

Oxford Book of Canadian Ghost Stories.
(OUP in US, o/p). Over twenty stories, including W P Kinsella's Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa - the inspiration for the fey Field of Dreams.

Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English.
(ed. Margaret Atwood; OUP in UK and US). A broad selection which delves beyond the better known names of Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood.

Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature.
(OUP in UK and US, both o/p). At almost 900 pages, this is the last word on the subject, though it is more useful as a work of reference than as a primer for the country's literature.

E Annie Proulx The Shipping News.
(Fourth Estate/Collier Macmillan). The 1994 Pulitzer Prize winner is a rambling, inconclusive narrative of a social misfit who finds love and happiness of sorts in small-town Newfoundland. Superb descriptions of sea, weather and all things fishy make it an essential primer for any visitor to the province.

Mordecai Richler The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
(Penguin in UK and US). Richler uses his early experiences of Montréal's working-class Jewish ghetto in many of his novels, especially in this, his best-known work, an acerbic and slick cross-cultural romance built around the ambivalent but brilliantly drawn figure of Kravitz. Richler's pushy and ironic prose is not to all tastes, but you might also try Solomon Gursky Was Here (Vintage/Penguin).

Robert Service The Best of Robert Service.
(A & C Black/Putnam). Service's Victorian ballads of pioneer and gold-rush life have a certain period charm, but generally make unintentionally hilarious reading.

Carol Shields The Stone Diaries.
(Fourth Estate in UK). Dry, humorous account of the ninety-year life of one Daisy Goodwill, born in humble circumstances in Manitoba.

Elizabeth Smart By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.
(Paladin/Vintage). A cult masterpiece which lyrically details the writer's love affair with the English poet George Barker. See also the less well-known The Assumption of Rogues and Rascals (Paladin/McKay) and the acclaimed Collected Poems (Grafton in UK).

Audrey Thomas The Wild Blue Yonder.
(Fourth Estate/Viking Penguin, o/p). A collection of witty tales about male-female relationships by the renowned Canadian short-story writer.

John Wyndham The Chrysalids.
(Penguin/Carrol & Graf). A science-fiction classic built around a group of telepathic children and their adventures in post-holocaust Labrador.


Don Beers The Wonder of Yoho.
(Rocky Mountain Books in Canada). Good photos and solid text extolling the delights of Yoho National Park in the Rockies.

Darryl Bray Kluane National Park Hiking Guide.
(Travel Vision in Canada). A much-needed guide to long and short walks in a park where the trail network is still in its infancy.

Neil G Carey A Guide to the Queen Charlotte Islands.
(Northwest Books in US). An authoritative guide to islands which are difficult to explore and ill-served by back-up literature.

Ron Dalby The Alaska Highway: An Insider's Guide.
(Fulcrum in UK and US). Less detailed but less dry than its main competitor, the better-known and encyclopedic Milepost (Northwest Books).

John Dodd and Gail Helgason The Canadian Rockies Access Guide.
(Hunter in US). Descriptions of 115 day hikes, with degrees of difficulties, time needed, sketch maps of routes, wildlife descriptions and numerous photos.

David Dunbar The Outdoor Traveller's Guide to Canada.
(Stewart, Tabori & Chang in UK and US). Too bulky to be a useful guide in the field, but a lavishly illustrated introduction to the outdoor pursuits, wildlife and geology of 37 of the country's best national and provincial parks.

Ben Gadd A Handbook of the Canadian Rockies.
(Corax in Canada). Widely available in western Canada's larger bookshops, this is a lovingly produced and painstakingly detailed account of walks, flora, fauna, geology and anything else remotely connected with the Rockies.

Ed and Lynn Henderson Adventure Guide to the Alaska Highway.
(Moorland, o/p/Hunter). A reasonable though not terribly penetrating guide to the highway, how to prepare for it and what to see.

The Lost Moose Catalogue.
(Lost Moose Publishing in Canada). Highly entertaining and iconoclastic magazine-style guide and commentary on the contemporary mores of the Yukon and far north.

Teri Lydiard The British Columbia Bicycling Guide.
(Gordon Soules in US). Small but extremely detailed pointer to some tempting routes, backed up with good maps.

Janice E Macdonald Canoeing Alberta.
(Macdonald in Canada). A canoeist's Bible, with many detailed accounts of the province's waterways, and especially good on routes in the Rockies.

Ken Madsen and Graham Wilson Rivers of the Yukon.
(Primrose Publishing in Canada). An invaluable guide to some of the country's best canoeing rivers.

Linda Moyer and Burl Willes Unexplored Islands of the US and Canadian West Coast.
(John Muir in UK and US). A generous portion of the guide is devoted to an intimate but rather homely run through some of British Columbia's lesser known islands.

Bruce Obee The Pacific Rim Explorer.
(Whitecap in UK). A good overall summary of the walks, wildlife and social history of the Pacific Rim National Park and its nearby towns. The same writer's The Gulf Islands Explorer, and in the same series, Eliane Jones' The Northern Gulf Islands Explorer, are also useful.

Brian Patton and Bart Robinson The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.
(Summerthought in Canada). An absolutely essential guide for anyone wishing to do more than simply scratch the surface of the Rockies' walking possibilities.

Betty Pratt-Johnson series.
(Adventure Publishing in Canada). The author has produced five separate books whose 157 canoeing routes provide the definitive account of how and where to canoe the lakes and rivers of British Columbia.

Archie Shutterfield The Chilkoot Trail: A Hiker's Historical Guide.
(Northwest Books in US). An pithy accompaniment to the Chilkoot Trail that should be read in conjunction with Pierre Berton's Klondike.

Sierra Club of West Canada The West Coast Trail.
(Douglas & McIntyre in Canada). Now in its sixth edition, this is probably the best of several guides to Vancouver Island's popular but demanding long-distance footpath


The Pacific Province, Hugh Johnston. A collection of essays.

The Praire West ed by RD Francis Natives and Newcomers, Bruce Trigger. The Heroic Age Reconsidered. Contact and Conflict, Robin Fisher. Western settlement and trade of Canada.

Out of the Background, Ed by Coates and Fisher, a collection of essays dealing with natives in Canada

Suggestions made by Larry Peters, UNBC