20 August 2012

Canada's 100 Best Books? 102? 111?

Something strange stumbled upon yesterday, this list intended for "people in other countries interested in Canadian literature" from the 1 May 1948 edition of the Ottawa Citizen. Odd and awkward, it was cobbled together at the behest of UNESCO by a committee of eight: E.K. Brown, Philip Child, William Arthur Deacon, F.C. Jennings, Watson Kirkconnell, Lorne Pierce, B.K. Sandwell and W. Stewart Wallace. How anti-commie kook Kirkconnell justified his participation I cannot say.*

The headline in the Citizen is deceiving. Yes, it's meant to be a list of the 100 best, but there are eleven too many. Most of the overrun comes courtesy of Mazo de la Roche's Whiteoak Chronicles, which then numbered ten volumes. The others? Well, one might just be Tom MacInnes' Collected Poems, which doesn't exist.

As I say, odd and awkward. William Osler didn't write The Master Word, but he was the author of The Master-Word in Medicine; Joseph Schull's The Legend of Ghost Lagoon is listed as The Legend of Lost Lagoon; and poor B.K. Sandwell suffers the indignity of being called B.S. Sandwell.

"A list of Canadian books of special merit written in French is also to be compiled by a similar committee", we're told. By whom? Who knows. I find no trace of the committee or its list. What we're to make of the inclusion of Pierre Esprit Radisson's Voyages  recorded as Voyages of Peter Esprit Radisson – on the English-language list I cannot say.

Despite the flaws, it's all good fun... for me, at least. So many unfamiliar titles, so many unfamiliar names and so much to explore, the list begins with a forgotten collection of short stories by Will R. Bird:

Sunrise for Peter – Will R. Bird
The Strait of Anian – Earle Birney
Brown Waters – W.H. Blake
North Atlantic Triangle – John Bartlet Brebner
A Dryad in Nanaimo – Audrey Alexandra Brown
James Wilson Morrice – Donald W. Buchanan
The Search for the Western Sea – Lawrence J. Burpee
Now That April's Here – Morley Callaghan
Poetical Works of Wilfred Campbell – Wilfred Campbell
Bliss Carman – James Cappon
Bliss Carman's Poems – Bliss Carman
Klee Wyck – Emily Carr
Jean Racine – A.F.B. Clark
Christianity and Classical Culture – Charles Norris Cochrane
Postscript to Adventure – Ralph Connor
Father on the Farm – Kenneth C. Cragg
Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford – Isabella Valancy Crawford
Dominion of the North – Donald Creighton
The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks – Robertson Davies
The Government of Canada – Robert MacGregor Dawson
Whiteoak Chronicles – Mazo de la Roche
The Law Marches West – Cecil E. Denny
Complete Poems   William Henry Drummond
Grand River  Mabel Dunham
The Art of the Novel – Pelham Edgar
A Study on Goethe – Barker Fairley
Poems – Robert Finch
Fearful Symmetry – Northrop Frye
Arctic Trader – Philip H. Godsell
Napoleon Tremblay – Angus Graham
Earth and High Heaven – Gwethalyn Graham
Pilgrims of the Wild – Grey Owl
Fruits of the Earth – Frederick Philip Grove
Over Prairie Trails – Frederick Philip Grove
A Search for America – Frederick Philip Grove
Brave Harvest – Kennethe M. Haig
Sam Slick – Thomas Chandler Haliburton

All the Trumpets Sounded – W.G. Hardy
Saul – Charles Heavysege
The Drama of the Forests – Arthur Heming
Father Lacombe – Katherine Hughes
Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada – Anna Brownell Jameson
Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America – Paul Kane
Lord Elgin – W.P.M. Kennedy
The Golden Dog – William Kirby
Bride of Quietness – Alexander Knox
Selected Poems of Archibald Lampman – Archibald Lampman
Lake Huron – Fred Landon
Leacock Roundabout – Stephen Leacock
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town – Stephen Leacock
From Colony to Nation – A.R.M. Lower
Out of the Wilderness – Wilson MacDonald
Collected Poems – Tom MacInnes
The Honourable Company – Douglas MacKay
Barometer Rising – Hugh MacLennan
Tales of the Sea – Archibald MacMechan
Lord Strathcona – John MacNaughton
The Master's Wife – Andrew Macphail
In Pastures Green – Peter McArthur
The Champlain Road – Franklin Davey McDowell
The Unguarded Frontier – Edgar McInnis
Who Has Seen the Wind – W.O. Mitchell
Roughing It in the Bush – Susanna Moodie
Gauntlet to Overlord – Ross Munro
Lord Durham – Chester W. New
Mine Inheritance – Frederick Niven
Pindar – Gilbert Norwood
The Master Word – William Osler
A Book of Canadian Stories – Desmond Pacey
When Valmond Came to Pontiac – Gilbert Parker
The Complete Poems of Marjorie Pickthall – Marjorie Pickthall
Collected Poems – E.J. Pratt
Voyages of Peter [sic] Esprit Radisson – Pierre Esprit Radisson
His Majesty's Yankees – Thomas H. Raddall
Wisdom of the Wilderness – Charles G.D. Roberts
The Leather Bottle – Theodore Goodridge Roberts
The Incomplete Anglers –  J.D. Robins
Toronto During the French Regime –  Percy J. Robinson
As for Me and My House  Sinclair Ross
Confessions of an Immigrant's Daughter  Laura Salverson
Flashing Wings   Richard M. Saunders
Legend of Lost [sic] Lagoon   Joseph Schull
The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott   Duncan Campbell Scott
In the Village of Viger  Duncan Campbell Scott
Wild Animals I Have Known  Ernest Thompson Seton
The Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe  Elizabeth Simcoe
Man's Rock   Bertrand W. Sinclair
Egerton Ryerson   C.B. Sissons
Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier   Oscar Douglas Skelton
The Yellow Briar  Patrick Slater
The Book of Canadian Poetry   A.J.M. Smith
Policing the Arctic  Harwood Steele
Sir Frederick Banting   Lloyd Stevenson
The Friendly Arctic   Vihjalmur Stefansson
Under the Northern Lights   Alan Sullivan
Plowing the Arctic   G.J. Tranter
Salt, Seas and Sailormen   Frederick William Wallace
James Wolfe   W.T. Waugh
The Owl Pen   Kenneth McNeill Wells
The Birth of Language   R.A. Wilson
The Canadians   George M. Wrong
The Rise and Fall of New France   George M. Wrong

What, no Wacousta?

I've read six.

* "At the close of the Second World War, the Russians took a leading part, along with 'capitalist imperialists,' in organizing another League of Nations, the so-called 'United Nations.' and the Communist Party of the U.S.A. joined in a psalm of praise over the new turn in policy."
–  Watson Kirkconnell, "Communism in Canada and the United States",
Canadian Catholic Historical Association Report 15 (1947-1948)


  1. Take me out to the woodshed-none. What no Munro, Atwood, Richler, Lawrence, Findlay. And that doesn't seem like the best Robertson Davies to choose. I would pick FIFTH BUSINESS, I think. And there are others if only their names would come to me!

  2. I've read none of the books listed but I've read two of the writers: Leacock and Charles G. D. Roberts. The Kindred of the Wild is marvelous. It shows up in nearly every used book store I've ever visited. I would've thought that was the book to show up on a "Best of" list. Time for my shock admission: No Frank Packard? No Arthur Stringer? Snobs.

    Patti must've missed the date of the list's origin which explains the absence of Atwood and Richler and the Davies book which was the only he had published by 1948.

  3. If anything, I think that the list serves as a reminder of the dramatic change that would begin to take place a decade into the future.

    Returning to the literary landscape of 1948, I can't help but wonder at the absences. Philip Child, who never wrote anything as weak as The Champlain Road (and, I'm betting, Plowing the Arctic), appears to have taken his titles out of the running. I can say with a confidence that Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes is superior to any novel on the list.

    No F.R. Scott because he was a socialist (Kirkconnell wouldn't have stomached that).

    In the post-war world of 1948, novels of an earlier war, Peregrine Acland's All Else is Folly and Charles Yale Harrison's Generals Die in Bed and There Are Victories, have no place. And then we have all those authors - ignored here - who went on to become old standbys in the New Canadian Library: Sara Jeannette Duncan, Martin Allerdale Grainger, Paul Hiebert, A.M. Klein, Raymond Knister, Rosanna Leprohon, Howard O’Hagan, Martha Ostenso, John Richardson, Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Stead and Catharine Parr Traill.

    And here's the greatest surprise: no Anne of Green Gables.

  4. I love these kinds of lists. I surprised my self and have actually read 5 of the titles. I am also surprised that there was no Packard, but by 1948 he was at starting to fade. Still, he was tremendously popular and his work had been translated in to at least 8 languages.

    1. That's a fun list. Colour me illiterate at five (though I've dipped into another five of the poetry collections).

      I do want to read the Complete Poems of MacInnes now though, whether they're 'collected' or not.


    2. woolamshram, I suspect is was Packard's popularity that kept him off the list. Commercial writers need not apply. The same might be said for Arthur Stringer - though, I'm surprised not to see The Prairie Wife, The Prairie Mother or The Prairie Child. Is it that they couldn't agree on which?

      James, good on you for catching that! I admit I was surprised to find no Collected Poems by MacInnes. Iit never occurred to me - and really, it should have - that the judges had the title wrong. Now, if only I can track down that book Radisson wrote about his English cousin Peter.

  5. 6 or 7, not counting having skimmed some of the poetry collections. But I have read a Kirkconnell. Almost all of these that I have read were for one class back in my school days.

    1. Though I read books by Callaghan, Creighton, Davies, Grove, MacLennan, Raddall and Roberts (Charles G.D.) for school, all were different titles than those on the list. Seems odd, now that I think of it.