06 July 2024

My Sixth and Final Canadian Book of Lists List: The Top 10 Things I Learned Through Reading and Researching the Canadian Book of Lists



THE TOP TEN THINGS I LEARNED THROUGH READING AND RESEARCHING THE CANADIAN BOOK OF LISTS

1. At time of composition, David Ondaatje was a student at Lakefield College School, an institution that  features in CANADA'S 10 BEST INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS FOR BOYS*. Whether its position,  #6,  is a reflection of Messer Ondaatje's feelings toward his school is unknown.

Like David Ondaatje, I was at the time a teenage schoolboy, albeit in the plebeian public system. I remember much being made about Prince Andrew attending Lakefield. Low and behold, the book includes this uncredited, poorly reproduced photo.


2. David Ondaatje is the son of Sir Christopher Ondaatje.

3. Sir Christopher Ondaatje was the president of Pagurian Press, publisher of the book.

4. In 1979, the year after Pagurian published The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists, Sir Christopher teamed up with son David's writing partner Jeremy Brown to cobble together Pagurian's The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Sex and Adventure.

5. "K-K-K-Katy" was written by Geoffrey O'Hara who, like Arthur Stringer, was a Chatham boy. 


Reading up on the song's history, I learned that in the 'twenties it had been appropriated by the Women of the Ku Klux with "K-K-K-Klanswomen."

My introduction to the song came through the folk group the Brother-in-Law.

My parents had all their albums, including The Brother-in-Law Strike Again! (1966), which features "K-K-K-Klansmen":


The Women of the Ku Klux Klan would not have been pleased.

6. In 1978 Rush was the best Canadian rock group.

Who knew!

The Band having disbanded the previous year, I would've thought it was either Teenage Head or Pointed Sticks, but THE 10 BEST CANADIAN ROCK GROUPS set me right. The list comes from Ron Scribner, President of Music Shoppe Agency. He places Heart, a group consisting entirely of Americans, at #2. Scribner's list of the THE 10 BEST MALE AND FEMALE CANADIAN VOCALISTS has Dan Hill in top spot and misspells Murray McLauchlan's name.

7. Leonard Cohen was a non-entity. He doesn't appear once in the book's 391 pages, nor does Tommy Douglas. Michael Ondaatje, David Ondaatje's uncle, is also absent.

8. Mary Anne Shadd does not feature, nor does Josiah Henson. Black Canadian history is ignored completely, and is similarly ignored in every review.

9. Kateri Tekawitha, Joseph Brant, Pauline Johnson, Francis Pegahmagabow, and Chief Dan George do not feature.

10. Before reading the Canadian Book of Lists, this Montrealer was forever pushing back against the claim that Toronto thinks itself "the centre of the universe." Now, I'm now not so sure.

* "Member schools of the Canadian Headmaster's Association only."

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05 July 2024

My Fourth and Fifth Canadian Book of Lists Lists: It's a Man's World... an English Man's World


Being the fifth post on

Susanna Moodie surrounded by men seems an appropriate image. The Canadian Book of Lists begins with 10 GREAT CANADIAN QUOTATIONS ON CANADIANS. She is the first woman quoted, though her words are attributed to "Susanna Moddie":


That Mrs Moodie is one of two women on this list is a bit unusual; she's usually her own. In David Crombie's 10 CANADIANS TO INVITE TO DINNER TO UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF CANADA AND ITS ROOTS the poor woman is made to share a table with Gabriel Dumont, John A. Macdonald, J.S. Woodsworth, Gilles Vigneault, William Van Horne, Stephen Leacock, John Diefenbaker, Ralph Allen, and André Lauredeau.

She is the only woman to appear on this list of my own making:

THE 10 MOST QUOTED CANADIANS IN
THE CANADIAN BOOK OF LISTS
1.   ROBERTSON DAVIES
2.   PIERRE ELLIOTT TRUDEAU
3.   JOHN DIEFENBAKER
4.   WILFRID LAURIER
5.   RENÉ LÉVESQUE
6.   JOHN A. MACDONALD
7.   STEPHEN LEACOCK
8.   HUGH MACLENNAN
9.   THOMAS CHANDLER HALIBURTON
10. SUSANNA MOODIE
It's skewed in that Trudeau, Diefenbaker, Laurier, and Macdonald were each accorded 10 GREATEST QUOTES lists. The Quebec premier has a similar list, but it is theme-driven: " THE 10 BEST QUOTES ON SEPARATISM BY RENE LÉVÉSQUE [sic]."

As noted yesterday, nineteen women rank amongst the 115 Canadian Book of Lists contributors. They far outnumber the three francophones:
  • André Bardet of Montreal's Chez Bardet contributes his recipe for Chicken Supreme (though I have my doubts that that is what he called it). I wonder whether the chef knew it would end up in fourth place, after Joe Batt's Arm Fish Casserole, in an unattributed list titled THE 10 BEST CANADIAN RECIPES.
  • As "Mme. Jehane Benoit," Jehane Benoît's contribution Grace de rôti, a recipe lifted from her 1970 The Canadiana Cookbook. Like the Canadian Book of Lists,  it is a Pagurian Press publication. both were published in paperback by Signet.   

  • The third and last francophone contributor is the great Mark Lalonde. Every one of his contributions is pulled from A New Perspective on the Health of Canadians (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1974), which was published when he was Minister of Health and Welfare.
 

I wonder whether any of the three were actually asked to contribute to this project?

In a 18 November 1978 piece for the Star-Phoenix by Nancy Russell, author Jerry Brown defends his work from those who label it "the Toronto book of lists": 


And so, today this Quebecer presents a second list:

TEN LISTS THAT FEATURE NO FRANCOPHONES

1.    10 GREAT CANADIAN QUOTATIONS ON FRENCH CANADA
          AND FRENCH  CANADIANS
2.    10 GREAT CANADIAN QUOTATIONS ON CANADA
3.    10 GREAT CANADIAN QUOTATIONS ON CANADIANS
4.    THE 5 GREATEST CANADIAN QUOTATIONS ON
          NATIONALISM AND NATIONALITY
5.    10 GREAT CANADIAN SPORTS ACHIEVERS
6.    THE 10 MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN IN CANADA
7.    THE 10 BEST CANADIAN BOOKS
8.    THE TEN BEST CANADIAN CHILDREN'S BOOKS
9.    THE 10 BEST CANADIAN ROCK GROUPS
10.  10 GREAT CANADIAN QUOTATIONS ON LOVE

04 July 2024

My Third Canadian Book of Lists List: The 10 Biggest Contributors (Featuring Clare Wallace!)


The greatest contributor is the taxpayer. Statistics Canada alone accounts for over ten percent of the lists. Authors Jeremy Brown and David Ondaatje also mine Government of Canada publications, which is not to suggest they don't come up with some of their own. After 391 pages, I'm left with the impression that the pair collaborated on the unattributed lists, but can't be sure. Several lists are credited to Brown alone. Ondaatje is credited with only one, THE LONGEST 10 IN CANADA, which isn't nearly as filthy as the title suggests. If don't already know the longest serving prime minister, this is the list for you.

Jeremy Brown and David Ondaatje are just two of the 115 contributors to the list. David's dad, Sir Christopher Ondaatje, is another, as were several employees of Loewen, Ondaatje, McCutcheon & Company Ltd.

THE 10 BIGGEST CONTRIBUTORS TO THE CANADIAN BOOK OF LISTS

1. DAVID SCOTT-ATKINSON, "Public Relations Executive and Canadian Trend Observer." Scott-Atkinson's name meant nothing to me. Reading the 2004 obituary his family posted in the Globe and Mail, it seems I really missed something. His lists add much needed humour and creativity. 

2. SID ADILMAN, "Entertainment Columnist, The Toronto Star," who just happens to have co-authored a book with Jeremy Brown.

3. JEREMY BROWN, "Author, Dining Out in Toronto." Brown is identified repeatedly as as the author of Dining Out in Toronto (Edmonton: Greywood, 1971), a book he wrote with Sid Adilman, and not as co-author of The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists. One wonders why.

4. HENRY ROXBOROUGH, "Author, Great Days in Canadian Sport." Sports historian Roxborough wrote four books, including Canada at the Olympics (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1975), so it seems odd that the one referenced is his very first, then over two decades old.

Toronto: Ryerson, 1957

5. DR. DANIEL CAPPON, "Professor of Environmental Studies, York University." Cappon began his academic career at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, and is credited for helping to establish the Department of Environmental Studies at York. He is remembered today for his views on homosexuality, most concisely expressed in this 10 January 1973 Toronto Star opinion piece:

cliquez pour agrandir

Interestingly, not one of the doctor's lists touch upon homosexuality or the environment, though he does have something to say about menopause.

6. GEOFFREY P. JOYNER, "Director, Sotheby Parke Barnet (Canada), Limited." As might be expected, the authors lean heavily on Mr Joyner in the Art and the Arts section of their book.

7. DESMOND MORTON, "Dean of Humanities and Academic, Vice-Principle, Erindale College, University of Toronto." A bit of a surprise to me in that I did not expect to see someone like Morton contributing to so shoddy a book. On the other hand, how was he to know it would be shoddy? His lists, which deal with War and Politics, are the longest and most considered.

8. NICHOLAS VAN DAALEN, "Author, The International Tennis Guide and The International Golf Guide." Contributions include THE 10 BEST TENNIS RESORTS IN CANADA, THE 10 BEST PUBLIC GOLF COURSES IN CANADA, and THE 10 BEST PRIVATE GOLF COURSES IN CANADA, amongst others. The International Tennis Guide (1976) and The International Golf Guide (1976) were both published by Pagurian Press, the original publisher of the Canadian Book of Lists. Pagurian later issued van Daalen's Complete Book of Movie Lists (1979).

9. BERNDT BERGLUND, "Author, Wilderness Survival." Another Pagurian Press author, which is not to suggest that I haven't committed THE 10 MOST POISONOUS PLANTS IN CANADA to memory.

10. CLAIRE WALLACE, "Canadian Etiquette." I have Miss Wallace to thank in knowing how to address not only a duke's younger son's elder son but a duke's elder son's elder son. She has spared me much embarrassment. 

The sharp-eyed will have noticed that Claire Wallace is the only woman to appear in the top ten. This will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the book. One hundred and fifteen people contributed to The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists, nineteen of whom were women. There'll be more on this imbalance in tomorrow's post. 

Until then, for those interested, "diminutive ex-mayor David Crombie" contributed just one list: 10 CANADIANS TO INVITE TO DINNER TO UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF CANADA AND ITS ROOTS. Gabriel Dumont leads a list that includes only one woman.

Related posts:




03 July 2024

My Second Canadian Book of Lists List: The 10 Most Egregious Errors (with Timothy Findley!)


THE 10 MOST EGREGIOUS ERRORS

1. THE 10 MOST ENJOYABLE CANADIAN BOOKS, a list provided by Beth Appeldoorn of Toronto's Longhouse Bookshop, includes "DIVORCE by Timothy Findley." The author never wrote a book titled Divorce. I'm certain what is meant is this:

2. THE TEN GREATEST CANADIAN EXPLORERS lists ten men, not one of whom was Canadian.

3. The second entry in the list of THE 10 MOST INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT SPORTS IN CANADA concerns the death of Harry Houdini:

Ignoring the skewed photograph and "Houdini—the world's greatest—magician—" weirdness, the man died in Detroit, nine days after the blow. Whether it caused his death remains a matter of debate.

What this has to do with sports is anyone's guess.

4. Speaking of sports! As mentioned in the first Canadian Book of Lists post, Bill Barilko did not die "almost immediately" after scoring the goal that won the Maple Leafs the 1951 Stanley Cup. This falsehood, unique to the Canadian Book of Lists, is stated twice in two pages devoted to 10 CANADIANS WHO DIED TOO YOUNG.

The championship game took place on April 21. The plane in which he was a passenger is thought to have gone down on or about August 26.

5. No list contains more errors than 10 CANADIANS WHO DIED TOO YOUNG; six of the ten entries contain errors of one sort or another. Pierre Laporte, who appears in the tenth spot, is not spared, nor is he spared further indignity. In 10 VIOLENT CANADIAN DEATHS, Laporte is given the title Member of Parliament when he was in fact a Member of the National Assembly. His body was found the the trunk of a car parked at the St-Hubert Airport, not the Montreal International Airport. 

6. Emily Carr was never accorded the recognition she deserved, but she did not "live in poverty in a small shack in the woods in British Columbia, " as is claimed in 10 OF CANADA'S MOST ADMIRABLE WOMEN.

7. 10 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT ESKIMOS AND INDIANS

An error in judgement.

8. Another error in judgement:


However could David L. Steiner know? I've never taken a course in psychiatry, so may be off base.

I did pick up on the misspelling of "University." Does that say something about my own intelligence?

Nice that he included a woman.

9. Wilfred? Inexcusable! 

10. THE 10 BEST CANADIAN RECIPES features something called Joe Batt's Arm Fish Casserole, contributed by Peter Worthington and Ben Wicks. I'm not suggesting that it isn't yummy, rather that a dish in which the main ingredients are tins of tuna and shrimp, along with a package of tomato vegetable soup can't possibly be the third best Canadian recipe.

I may give it a try this weekend. Here's hoping it's better than Margaret Laurence's Cauliflower Soup.

Related posts:




02 July 2024

My First Canadian Book of Lists List: Ten Lists That Have Aged Poorly (Featuring Barbara Amiel!)


I read Barbara Amiel's columns in Maclean's through my high school years, doing my best to understand her points of view. By university, I understood fully, and yet I'd still read her. Friends and Enemies: A Memoir (Toronto: Signal, 2020) was last thing I read by Baroness Black of Crossharbour. In it, she writes this of husband Conrad Black's convictions on counts of fraud and obstruction of justice in the United States: "our only revenge would be to see our persecutors guillotined. I have worked out 1,001 ways to see them die, beginning with injecting them with the ebola virus and watching."

It was at that point that I stopped reading Barbara Amiel, and then stopped thinking about her. Still, she was top of mind in creating this list of lists:

TEN LISTS THAT HAVE AGED POORLY

1. THE 10 MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN IN CANADA


At first glance, THE 10 MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN IN CANADA seems a piece of fluff, particularly when compared to, say, THE 10 BEST CANADIAN COMMANDING OFFICERS IN CANADA'S MILITARY HISTORY, but I would argue it's the book's most noteworthy list in that it, more than any other, is a reflection of the time in which the Canadian Book of Lists was published.

Actually, no... The list is more a reflection of a time that had not long passed when married women were treated as appendages, rather than persons in their own right. List maker John Bassett does a disservice to  "MRS JOHN BASSETT, she of the 
"wonderfully expressive face," whose career as a broadcast journalist was well underway before the couple wed. I remember Isabel Bassett (née Macdonald) best as Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation under Mike Harris and as CEO of TV Ontario. I knew her name, but not his. I at first confused John W.H. Bassett meant nothing to me with John F. Bassett of Face-Off fame.

I am familiar with Julian Porter (and his father, Chief Justice Dana Porter). I've had the pleasure of meeting Mrs Julian Porter, whom I know as writer and publisher Anna Porter.

Is Mrs John Bassett's third place finish worthy of note? Perhaps not. The names appear to be presented in alphabetical order. Or is that just coincidence? After all, the first, Barbara Amiel, is clearly identified as "the most beautiful woman in Canada." 

Amongst Bassett's other contributions to the Canadian Book of Lists is THE 10 MOST OUTSTANDING CANADIANS, which is somehow comprised of one woman and fifteen men.

2. 10 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT ESKIMOS AND INDIANS

One of only two lists with a First Nations focus, the other being THE TEN LARGEST NATIVE LINGUISTIC GROUPS IN CANADA, it serves to draw attention the book's most glaring flaw. And then we have this photo and caption:

Both are appended to 10 GREAT CANADIAN SPORTS ACHIEVERS, which acknowledges Tom Longboat as the greatest Canadian marathoner. It is the only photograph of a First Nations person in the entire book.

3. 10 GREAT CANADIAN QUOTATIONS ON WOMAN [sic]

Seven of the ten come from men, including one each by Stephen Leacock and Irving Layton:

In all fairness, Leacock's words come from 'An Appeal to the Average Man,' the preface of Winnowed Wisdom, in which the economist and humorist takes far more swipes at the male sex than the female. The photo used in the Canadian Book of Lists does not feature in Winnowed Wisdom. Evidence suggests it was taken sometime after 1926. 

4. 10 CORPULENT CANADIANS

Judy LaMarsh is #1. She reappears eight lists later as the fifth worst dressed Canadian celebrity.

5. THE 10 MOST PREVALENT CANADIAN HANG-UPS

The first of five contributions from Dr Daniel Cappon, Professor of Environmental Studies at York University, on this list is "women who don't know that to do with themselves and menopause."

Doctor Cappon is best remembered today for Toward An Understanding of Homosexuality (Prentice-Hall, 1965), in which he writes that homosexuals do not exist, rather they are "people with homosexual problems."

6. BIRTHDAYS AND ASTROLOGICAL SIGNS OF 
10 FAMOUS CANADIANS

7. 10 WAYS TO FINANCE A CANADIAN MOTION PICTURE

Ten tips from Garth Drabinsky!

8. THE 6 MOST HATED FOREIGNERS IN
CANADIAN HISTORY

A list contributed by Paul Rutherford, Chairman on the History Department at the University of Toronto, it runs as follows: 

                    1. Satan
                    2. George Washington
                    3. Josef Stalin
                    4. William of Orange
                    5. Any Pope
                    6. Lord Durham

Of course, "Any Pope" throws the whole thing off. At time of publication, there had been 262 popes. This newly confirmed Anglican didn't hate any of them, not even John XII or Urban VI. In 1978, my teenage self  knew nothing of William of Orange or Lord Durham, but I did know quite a bit about Adolf Hitler.

In short, this is a list that would've seemed dated in 1939.

9. 10 PEOPLE MOST LIKELY TO INFLUENCE
THE COURSE OF EVENTS IN CANADA

Referenced in Monday's post, this Peter C. Newman list is most notable for the fawning admiration of Brian Mulroney. John Turner also features. Notably absent is then-current prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Very much a spent force in 1978, Trudeau would lose the 1979 election (while handily taking the popular vote), only to return none months later, just in time to lead the federalist victory in the 1980 Quebec Referendum. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and repatriation of the Constitution followed in 1982.

10. THE TEN HIGHEST TEMPERATURES EVER RECORDED IN EACH OF CANADA'S PROVINCES

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01 July 2024

My Canadian Book of Lists Lists: An Introduction



The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book
   of Lists
Jeremy Brown and David Ondaatje
Scarborough: Signet, 1979
391 pages

The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists isn't terribly original in that it owes its concept, format, and very existence to The Book of Lists, David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace's runaway American bestseller.

As a teen, I had a copy of The Book of Lists (1977) and its first sequel, The Book of Lists 2 (1980), but never bought the Canadian cash in. My guess is that I never saw a copy; it would've certainly appealed to my nascent patriotism.

Does the The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists contain "1001 AMAZING FACTS, QUOTATIONS, ANSWERS, OPINIONS, AND STATISTICS" as claimed on the cover?

Depends on how one counts, I suppose.  

Frankly, I think Signet was selling its authors short. The book features over 350 lists divided into twenty-one categories. At 43 pages, "Sports" is easily the longest. "Private and Confidential," five pages, dealing  with the bedrooms of the nation, is the shortest by far.

Nowhere near long enough and over all too quickly.

The longest, THE 16 GREATEST PROBLEMS FACING LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES IN CANADA, comes courtesy of His Honour Judge Philip Givens, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Metropolitan Police Force. The shortest, as short as a list can be, is credited to Claire Wallace, author of Mind Your Manners: 2 IMPORTANT ITEMS OF NATIONAL ETIQUETTE CANADIANS SHOULD RESPECT.

The majority, an even three hundred lists, have ten entries each. These alone suggest 3000 facts... or maybe not. The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists is at once a fact-checkers nightmare and a walk through a different time. Let's take a stroll through the first five:

1. 10 GREAT CANADIAN QUOTATIONS ON CANADIANS

The book's first list contains the first two errors: Northrop Frye is referred to as ""Northrup Frye." Susanna Moodie is "Susanna Moddie."

2. 10 CANADIANS WHO DIED TOO YOUNG

The errors in the second list are numerous. Norman Bethune was born in 1890, not 1899. The doctor was forty-nine when he died. John Sparrow Thompson, our fourth prime minster, was born in 1845, not 1844. Tom Thomson met his end at thirty-nine, not forty. Tim Horton died in February 1974, not September 1974. At the time of his murder, Pierre Laporte held two ministerial portfolios, not one. George McCuklagh, the publisger who married the Toronto Globe and Mail and Empire, did not die in an accident, rather he took his own life. Bill Barilko was killed more than four months after scoring his legendary goal, which I would argue was not "almost immediately after the game."

3. 10 PEOPLE MOST LIKELY TO INFLUENCE THE COURSE OF EVENTS IN CANADA

The book's third list comes courtesy of Peter C. Newman, then Editor of Maclean's. His number one is John Turner, after whom we find Conrad Black. Number three is Brian Mulroney: "Bicultural, brilliant, and beautiful, he is the dream incarnation of the Conservative party. Some day they'll realize it and he will become Prime Minister of Canada." This is, of course, the very same beautiful man who would one day tell Newman to go fuck himself.

4. THE 10 MOST EXCLUSIVE MEN'S CLUBS IN CANADA

An odd inclusion, particularly so early in the book, but given the focus on male opinion, mortality, and power of the previous three could male privilege be so far behind?

For anyone who cares, Toronto's York Club tops the list.

5. 10 WELL-KNOWN DIVORCED OR SEPARATED CANADIANS
1.   PIERRE ELLOTT TRUDEAU, prime minister
2.   RENÉ LÉVESQUE, Quebec premier
3.   FRANCIS FOX, former Solictor-General
4.   GORDON LIGHTFOOT, singer
5.   PETER WORTHINGTON, Editor-in-Chief, The Toronto Sun
6.   ADRIENNE CLARKSON, television performer, author
7.   CAROLE TAYLOR, former television star
8.   PETER C. NEWMAN, Editor, Maclean's Magazine
9.   LYNNE GORDON, broadcaster, head of Ontario 
         Women's Task Force
10. JOYCE DAVIDSON, television broadcaster 
This is another list that surprises, not because it comes so early, or is so random, but because it achieves something close to gender parity. Consider the previous four:
  • three of the 10 GREAT CANADIAN QUOTATIONS ON CANADIANS were made by women;
  • all 10 CANADIANS WHO DIED TOO YOUNG are men;
  • two women feature in 10 PEOPLE MOST LIKELY TO INFLUENCE THE COURSE OF EVENTS IN CANADA, one of whom is the list makers's 14-year-old daughter;
  • THE 10 MOST EXCLUSIVE MEN'S CLUBS IN CANADA.
I add that four of the forty persons featured in the first five lists are francophones. Not one would've then be termed "Indian."

This is indicative of the 350 or so lists that follow. It's not that The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists focusses on Anglo-Canada, rather that it is Toronto-centric. Consider 10 WELL-KNOWN DIVORCED OR SEPARATED CANADIANS: Peter Worthington, Adrienne Clarkson, Carole Taylor, Peter C. Newman, Lynne Gordon, Joyce Davidson... You get the picture.

Still, for all its faults, The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists inspires. And so, over the next four days, I'll be posting my own lists, each dealing with The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists. Carole Taylor, "former television star," will reappear in tomorrow's list. For now, I'll leave you with this.


Object and Access: A mass market paperback with the laziest and cheapest of designs. The interior apes The Book of Lists.  

The First Original Unexpurgated Authentic Canadian Book of Lists was first published in 1978 by the late Pagurian Press. I've yet to stumble upon a copy though one – and only one – is listed for sale online at $8.00. Likewise, just one copy of the Signet edition is listed. Price: $10.00. 

My copy was purchased three years ago. It set me back $2.00.

24 June 2024

Fifteen Favourite Quebec Novels pour la Fête


For the day, a list of fifteen novels by Quebecers – born and bred – all deserving more attention. In each case, the image presented is the cover of the edition I read. Descriptions are short, but clicking on the links will give a better idea as to why they were selected.

Was 1960 the banner year for Quebec literature? 1962? 1916?

Les Anciens Canadiens
Phillipe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé
1863


The second French-language novel – following son Philippe-Ignace-Francois's L'influence d'un livre (1837) – Les Anciens Canadiens is set in the decades surrounding the fall of New France. Steeped in history, culture, and the supernatural, I've read it twice, but only in translation.    

Rosanna Eleanor Leprohon
1868

A novel I read in French translation, though it was composted in English. Makes sense in a way because Mme Leprohon was even more popular amongst French readers. Like Les Anciens Canadiens, it leans heavily on what would've then been described as Canadien traditions and culture. A moving tale of love and betrayal.

Albert Laberge
1909

Condemned by Mgr Paul Bruchési, Archbishop of Montreal, as "ignoble pornographie," you can understand the attraction. La Scouine is populated by dislikable, immoral, and hypocritical characters, clergy included. It is, in short, the anti-roman a terre. Sadly, Laberge paid a real price in writing this novel.

The Miracle Man
Frank L. Packard
1911

A gang of thieves and con artists leave New York City for rural Maine so as to get in on the scam pushed by a blind faith-healer, only to find there there is no grift. The 1919 Hollywood adaptation is considered one of the great lost silent films. Since writing my 2011 review twenty-four more seconds have been found. I couldn't be happier.

Similia Similibus
Ulrich Barthe
1916

A Great War nightmare in which Germans invade Quebec City, seize the Legislative Assembly, and slaughter citizens, this novel was almost certainly inspired by propaganda involving supposed atrocities committed in Belgium. Civil servant Barthe's lone novel, it is itself propaganda.

Marion: An Artist's Model
Winnifred Eaton
1916

No other Montreal family has been so remarkable. Though a novel, Marion provides the most intimate glimpse of the Eatons' struggles against racism and poverty. Winnifed was a successful novelist with a career in early Hollywood. Whether she was the most accomplished of the twelve Eaton children is a matter of debate. Imagine!

Les Demi-civilisés
Jean-Charles Harvey
1934

Another banned book, the villain this time is Jean-Marie-Rodrigue Villeneuve, Archbishop of Quebec, who condemned it for criticizing religion. It does not. What Les Demi-civilisés does criticize is the Roman Catholic Church. The novel has been translated twice, but John Glassco's is the one to read.

Erres boréales

Faurent Laurin [Armond Grenier]
1944

The craziest Quebec novel I've read thus far, in Erres boréales massive heaters have been placed in the Gulf of St Laurence so as to make Quebec a tropical paradise. A travelogue of sorts, the story follows friends as they explore the province, now an independent country with palm trees.
Roger Lemelin
1948 

Roger Lemelin's first book, for decades Les Plouffe stood second only to Gabrielle Roy's Bonheur d'occasion as the best known French Canadian novel. The television series it inspired made for essential viewing. So why is Mary Finch's translation not in print? I blame Bertelsmann.

Le Libraire

Gérard Bessette
1960

The story of a washed up man who somehow manages to get a job in a shop selling stationary, religious items, and books. After a time, the proprietor comes to trust him with selling literature banned by the Catholic Church. Le Libraire was first published in France, not Quebec... 'cause, you know, the Church. 
 
The English Governess

Miles Underwood [John Glassco]
1960

First published in Paris by Olympia Press, The English Governess is both this country's finest and best selling work of erotica. That said, I much prefer Harriet Marwood, Governess, the more elegant version of the love story, published fourteen years later. 

Doux-amer

Claire Martin [Claire Montreuil]
1960

A literary editor is presented with a bad manuscript by a good looking woman. He reworks, remakes, and remodels, crafting a work that is both a critical and commercial success. A novel of obsession, it is vaguely Nabokovian – which is always a plus.

John Buell
1962

This writer is far better known for his first novel, The Pyx (1960), but it was the second that caused critic Edmond Wilson to place Buell alongside Marie-Claire Blais as one of Canada's great writers. Of the nineteen novels I've helped return to print, this is my favourite.

The Damned and the Destroyed
Kenneth Orvis
   [Kenneth Lemieux]
1962

Another novel I helped usher back to print, The Damned and the Destroyed is set during the earliest days of Jean Drapeau's first term. Its hero, a Korean War vet, is hired to go after the heroin ring polluting the veins of a rich man's daughter. Lee Child is a massive fan.

Une Chaîne dans le parc
André Langevin
1974

Jack McClelland considered this novel the best to have come out of French Canada since Bonheur d'occasion. Sadly, sales did not in any way match expectations. Alan Brown's 1976 translation received no second printing and has been out of print ever since. The novel is a masterpiece.

Bonne fête!

17 June 2024

A Nova Scotian Writes Ontario Gothic


Morgan's Castle
Jan Hilliard [Hilda Kay Grant]
New York: Abelard & Schulman, 1964
188 pages

An uncredited dust jacket of mysterious design, whatever does it mean? The rear image provides no clue.


The covers of Jan Hilliard's other novels are much more straight-forward. Consider this:

A View of the Town
, is "A NOVEL OF SMALL TOWN LIFE IN NOVA SCOTIA," as are most of her novels. Morgan's Castle stands with Dove Cottage as one of two set outside her home province. Dove Cottage has a heavier, darker tone than her Nova Scotia novels, while Morgan's Castle is the heaviest and darkest by far. This is not to suggest that the humour, which runs through all her fiction, is entirely black.

Jan Hilliard's career as a novelist lasted just ten years. One wonders why it wasn't longer. Her novels garnered uniformly positive reviews – I've yet to find an exception – yet Morgan's Castle is the only one to have been reissued in paperback. "A spellbinding novel of romance and suspense in the Du Maurier [sic] tradition," the tagline reads. I was reminded more of Muriel Spark and Margaret Millar, but this may be because I'm more familiar with their respective works.


The heroine of Morgan's Castle is Laura Dean. The youngest member of the Dean family, she lives with her widowed artist father Sidney in a ramshackle house located somewhere in the countryside between lakes Ontario and Erie. Amy Scott, sister of Laura's late mother, isn't at all happy with her niece's situation. Nature can have such a bad influence on a maturing girl. And then there's Sidney, who Amy considers a "rural Dion Juan." For goodness sake, the man gets around on a bicycle! 

Aunt Amy has sent Laura money for a train ticket to the town of Greenwood, where she lives and breeds spaniels. There is a husband, Uncle James, but he is as irrelevant to the story as he is to Aunt Amy. The focus of her life is Charlotte Morgan, depicted here by Reint de Jonge on the cover of the Dutch translation, Spel met de dood (Haarlem: Staarnrstad, 1966).


Charlotte may just be the most beautiful, most refined, most elegant woman in Greenwood; that she is the wealthiest is not up for debate. The widow of Robert Morgan, heir to a vast Niagara winery, she lives with her twenty-eight-year-old son Robbie and various servants at Hilltop House, known to the locals as "Morgan's Castle." It is located on a bluff above and away from the town and is described as looking something like a castle, though the artist for the Ace edition imagines it as a large Anglican church. 

Aunt Amy sent her niece train fare on the pretence of wanting to give the girl a birthday party. Laura's four brothers and their wives will be there, but not the patriarch. Amy is well aware that Sidney won't be able to afford a ticket.

Because she's turning sixteen, Laura's siblings are concerned about shouldering the cost of further education. Is it not enough that their wives provide her with their castoffs? Sure, those old dresses have frayed hems and missing buttons, but Laura knows knows how to sew. They need not worry. Aunt Amy has a plan – and it has nothing to do with tuition.

Over the past year, Charlotte has taken a shining to the girl. Once so skinny and boyish, Laura is becoming a woman. This, um, development hasn't escaped Aunt Amy's attention either. She criticizes her niece's white dress as being too revealing, even though it's an old thing that once belonged to a brother's wife.

Aunt Amy's attraction to Charlotte is nuanced while Charlotte's attraction to Laura is simple. She would like the girl to marry her son Robbie, produce offspring, and secure the line of succession in the family business. Never mind the age difference, the time is right. It's almost as if the fates had brought them together. Just a few months ago, not long after Laura's last visit to Greenwood, Robbie's childless wife Phyllis died suddenly after having sprinkled arsenic, which she thought was sugar, on a bowl of strawberries.

In his 1995 anthology Investigating Women, David Skene-Melvin describes Laura as a detective.

She is not.

Laura has a handle on her ne'er-do-well father, but is nowhere near so savvy or keen-eyed when it comes to others. There's no surprise here. Despite having had to deal with Sidney's fabrication and deceit, her innocence is such that she believes these traits are unique to Sidney.

Morgan's Castle is in no way a detective novel, nor is it a mystery novel, though there are two murders (and many more in the backstory). The first murderer is obvious. The second murderer is a little less so, though one anticipates the act. 

So much of what happens escapes Laura's attention. Does the girl's innocence have something to do with the rural environment Aunt Amy so disparages?

Could be.

Object: Yellow boards in an uncredited dust jacket. I've mentioned the uncredited bit before, I know, but it is relevant here because Hilliard, who worked for Abelard-Schulman, provided her own covers. The only one I have seen credited is Dove Cottage, which features this illustration by son of Scotland William McLaren:


Access: As with the author's four other novels, the first edition of Morgan's Castle enjoyed one lone printing. What sets it apart is a mass market paperback published three years later by Ace featured above, making it the biggest selling of the author's nine books.

The Toronto Star Weekly published Morgan's Castle in two parts over two issues (July 11-18, 1964). I've consulted various pals about the Ace cover, but have no definitive answer as to who should be credited with the illustration. What I can say is that it is accurate in its depiction of Laura.

As I write, two copies of the Abelard-Schulman edition are being offered online. Both ex-library copies, they're listed at US$5.06 and US$64.67. Take your pick. Two copies of the Ace edition are also listed. The cheaper, at US$7.12, has a cocked spine. The other, which "can have notes/highlighting," is being sold by Thrift Books for US$50.06.

The less said about Thrift Books the better.

Staarnrstad's aforementioned Spel met de dood was republished at some point. Judging by the dress, I'm guessing the second appeared in the 'seventies.