Canadian Literature Alive and Well

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

In the midst of September with midterm season approaching, students are once again climbing over one another for spots in the McLaughlin Library and burying themselves amongst the study carols, desks and endless shelves.

Shelves which to some students represent an era of paper, canvas and leather that should be left in the wake of increasing student population and lack of study space create aisles upon aisles of comfortable silence.

Who actually takes out library books? Why does the university not just put everything online?

There are 1.25 million books that fill the seven floor building where around 13,000 people take advantage of the services and information it holds on any given day. The answer is that books are what make a library, and books are still a thriving form of entertainment to the city of Guelph and the surrounding community.  

Since 2006, the University of Guelph alone boasts a collection of 565 books by Campus Authors that have been recognized and celebrated for their representation of the diversity and breadth or research, cultural activity, personal and professional interests that the university is home to. The library holds Campus Author recognition events every November, following events throughout the fall semester that celebrate the diversity and livelihood of literary art forms in the community.

Perhaps the most notable of these celebrations is the Eden Mills Writers Festival.

Founded in 1989, the festival has taken place in the village of Eden Mills— just outside Guelph, straight through Arkell Road, and just past the Eramosa River. Leon Rooke, notable author and performance artist pioneered the festival after a recommendation from the owners of the general store to host the launch of his latest novel in the scenic garden outside of the old stagecoach hotel where Leon and his wife Constance, founder of the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program at University of Guelph, were living at the time.

This year, with events spanning from September 11 to 14 the festival celebrated 26 years of showcasing both well-known and emerging authors, from Canada and around the globe. As demonstrated by the incredible turnout to the villages sculpture park for CBCs presentation of “Canada Reads” hosted by CBC Radio Ones Craig Norris, a collection of authors including Heather O’Neill and Terry Fallis, writing and authorship is well and alive among the contemporary arts scene.

One major theme in the current Canadian literature scene is intersectionality. Writing released by Canadian authors in the last 20 years focuses heavily on social justice, immigration, and the socio-political identity that Canadians continue to build for themselves. Readings given by authors such as Elisabeth de Mariaffi, David Bezmozgis, Lynn Coady, Thomas King and Miriam Toews were a testament to the nature of diversity and complexity that the Canadian canon of literature encompasses.

One volunteer who has been contributing to the event for the last 14 years said he was delighted by the reception of the festival: “Canadian literature is alive and well, people just do not realize it. We consistently have all these people show up, and come to listen to all of these authors read. We have been doing this for 26 years now, and every year we see dedicated fans of literature come out— rain or shine— to encourage this tradition.”

Among those seven floors and 13000 students, 1.25 million volumes and countless shelves of microfilm, recordings, and journal articles are also centuries of creativity, boldness, and intellect that has influenced and ignited a passion in students and book lovers alike.

What may be the best way to summarize the quiet livelihood of literature in Canada—particularly among the plentiful shelves of the McLaughlin library— is to quote the words of Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, from his novel In the Skin of a Lion: “The first sentence of every novel should be: Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.” 

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