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Formative CanLit: Books That Shaped Our Views on Being Canadian

June 28, 2019

What better way to spend Canada Day weekend than to catch up on your reading? 

In honour of the occasion, three members of The Word on The Street’s staff revealed what CanLit books shaped their perspectives on Turtle Island, and on what it means to be Canadian.


1. Days by Moonlight – Andre Alexis

Days by Moonlight was a recent read for me, but shaped my perspective with its tongue-in-cheek examination of the traditions and mannerisms that make Canada’s places and people unique. Days by Moonlight is fiction; I’m pretty sure that the town of Nobleton doesn’t actually host an annual, ritualistic house-burning celebration, for example. Then again, who am I to say, as a prairie expat? That’s exactly the point for me, though: the farce seems like it could be fact, and so the book forced me to think about what being Canadian actually means—and what it could mean. (I also learned most of my Southern Ontarian geography from Alexis, for better or worse!) -Kirsten


2. Pigeon – Karen Solie 

I’ve been a city-dweller all my life, specifically a Torontonian, and so Pigeon really expanded my understanding of what the Canadian landscape looks like. Solie’s poems evoke all kinds of subtle sensations that both remind me of what is familiar—Toronto’s sprawl and cacophony, the rats and racoons, the factories on the edges of the GTA—and depict what feels so very far away from me, trout streams and house-sized tractors and motels in the great flat expanse. I am reminded by her work that Toronto is one very small bubble in one very vast land, and that my experience is only a tiny fraction of what ‘the Canadian experience’ is. It reminds me to broaden my horizons. -Sienna


3. My Conversations with Canadians – Lee Maracle

Lee Maracle’s My Conversations with Canadians invites you to sit down and listen, let go of Canadian cultural apathy, and engage curiously and respectfully with Turtle Islanders. It’s definitely critical, but generously kind, and gave me permission and space to question the Canadian identity and national myth that settler culture has fostered for hundreds of years, to get back to the truth of the matter. My identity is a European settler, of Dutch and German descent, and I have a responsibility to the people and lands of Turtle Island because I am a guest and we are all treaty people. -Maya



Whether it’s with celebration or contemplation, we all have our own ways of marking the occasion for Canada Day. Right now, there’s a rich conversation going on about Canadian culture and identity; reading Canadian literature can help us to find our place in that conversation. We read to recognize the potential of Canada’s individuals, and we read to understand the work that we still need to do in order to fulfill that potential.

What other Canadian voices are vital to this conversation? Let us know in the comments or on social. Happy Canada Day!

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