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Downtown Canada

Downtown Canada: Writing Canadian Cities

Justin D. Edwards
Douglas Ivison
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    Downtown Canada
    Book Description:

    The vast majority of Canadians live in cities, yet for the most part, discussions of Canadian literature have failed to actively engage with the country's urban experience. Canada's prevalent myths continue to be about nordicity and the wilderness, and, stereotypically at least, its literature is often perceived as being about small towns, rural areas, and 'roughing it in the bush.'

    Downtown Canadais a collection of essays that addresses Canada as an urban place. The contributors focus their attention on the writing of Canada's cities - including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Halifax - and call attention to the centrality of the city in Canadian literature. They examine how characters are affected by the urban experience in works by a group of authors as diverse as the country itself: Hugh MacLennan, Jovette Marchessault, Michael Ondaatje, Austin Clarke, and Gerald Lynch, to name just a few. Editors Justin D. Edwards and Douglas Ivison have brought together an esteemed group of international Canadian literary scholars, and together they have created a book that is timely and unique, questioning conventional assumptions about Canadian literature, and Canadian culture more generally.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7405-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: Writing Canadian Cities
    (pp. 3-13)

    Canada is an urban country. Indeed, by some measures Canada is one of the most urban countries on earth, with the vast majority of its population concentrated in a handful of cities. This fact has finally come to be recognized over the past few years. In fact, it has become commonplace to assert (however uncritically) that 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities, asMaclean’sdid on its 3 June 2002 cover in describing its story ‘Saving Our Cities.’ That such a claim has recently become a truism tells us much about the still unsettled place of the city...

  5. ‘An Ordered Absence’: Defeatured Topologies in Canadian Literature
    (pp. 14-31)

    The notion that Canadian literature has a deep and abiding relationship with the land has governed criticism of Canadian literature (generally thematic, but also more avowedly theoretical) for the last half century, largely to the exclusion of critiques relating to literary systems as urban institutions (and, more broadly, to critiques of Canadian society and culture as products of the Enlightenment project).¹ The tension between country and city is of course as old as pastoral poetry, in which the urban poet sings the praises of rural life. In Canadian literature, however, the landscape theory became especially entrenched through the imprimatur given...

  6. ‘Orient Dreams’: Urbanity and the Post-Confederation Literary Culture of Ottawa
    (pp. 32-49)

    ‘It is the consecration of an error,’ explained the poet and historian Benjamin Sulte to the audience gathered at Ottawa’s St James Hall on 19 November 1897: ‘The Capital of Canada stands before us under a foreign name’ (23). In this way, Sulte closed his address on ‘The Meaning of Ottawa,’ having demonstrated conclusively that the word ‘Ottawa’ and its host of variants – including Ondataoua, Outaouak, and Outaouais – properly designated an aboriginal population whose territorial origin on the American shores of the Great Lakes was obscured by their dominant commercial presence on what mistakenly became known as the Ottawa River.¹...

  7. Post-colonial Historicity: Halifax, Region, and Empire in Barometer Rising and The Nymph and the Lamp
    (pp. 50-64)

    In the minds of many today, Maritime Canada is a producer of regional writing, upon which the stamp of rural setting, character, and theme is indelibly impressed. The fiction of the region’s major writers seems to bear this out: L.M. Montgomery, Ernest Buckler, Alden Nowlan, Alistair MacLeod, Donna E. Smyth, and David Adams Richards all privilege stories of everyday life in the countryside and in small towns. It is not surprising, then, that when Maritime writers and critics search for urban contrasts to this rural image, they go outside the region, to Central Canada, especially Toronto, whose metropolitan influence is...

  8. La ville en vol/City in Flight: Tracing Lesbian E-Motion through Jovette Marchessault’s Comme un enfant de la terre
    (pp. 65-77)

    The city,la ville, configured in terms of the modernist topoi of isolation, threshold, ontological break, and nothingness, is exposed as an object for the male gaze limiting women’s action in Jovette Marchessault’s trilogyComme un enfant de la terre.

    Refiguring masculinist mythemes, Marchessault transmutes theflâneuse, or streetwalker of ill repute, synecdoche of the excessive commercialism of the city, guardian of the void, into avoleuse, an amazon angel who soars in the realm of the ‘night cow’ (La mère), covering the crepuscular city with ‘énergie stellaire’ (Comme un enfant210) in a promise of plenitude, so bringing into...

  9. Cities and Classrooms, Bodies and Texts: Notes towards a Resident Reading (and Teaching) of Vancouver Writing
    (pp. 78-103)

    Considered together, the works we have studied this term seem to suggest that the city of Vancouver is itself a text to be read, deciphered, and critically interpreted. The red-painted lampposts of Chinatown, the storefront windows and graffiti along Kingsway, the burnished sands of Jericho and Wreck Beaches, the leafy streetscapes of Shaughnessy and Kerrisdale, even an alley that no longer exists: all of these ‘signs’ tell us something about the social, cultural, geographical, historical, and, yes, literary evolution of our city. They also tell us something about the multiple communities that overlap, jostle, and abut each other in these...

  10. Lost in the City: The Montreal Novels of Régine Robin and Robert Majzels
    (pp. 104-121)

    The city has always been imbued with a complex symbolic imaginary that has conflated its physical spaces with specific social practices, cultural meanings, and individual and collective identities. Writing the city in the modern context coincided with the industrialization of Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, and the urban novels of Dickens, Balzac, Hugo, and Dostoevsky, for example, presented scenes of social isolation, economic despair, and spiritual confusion in the detritus of the industrial city. In the movement of populations from rural to urban spaces, the city was figured as a point of arrival, as a disorienting hive...

  11. Building and Living the Immigrant City: Michael Ondaatje’s and Austin Clarke’s Toronto
    (pp. 122-141)

    Literary representations of the city, like historical photographs, tend by their very nature to capture an aspect of the city and freeze it in a particular moment in time. The literary city mythologizes the city it represents, at times unwittingly, as it eulogizes a bygone era, romanticizes its inhabitants, history, and architecture, and reinforces and sometimes critiques its spatial and political structures. Although literary representations of the city generally paint it in static terms, the city is continuously changing. The arrival of immigrants, for example, has transformed ‘metropolises’ into ‘cosmopolises’ (Isin,Being231), and the immigrant’s space in the city...

  12. Divided Cities, Divided Selves: Portraits of the Artist as Ambivalent Urban Hipster
    (pp. 142-165)

    In his 1985 essay ‘Disunity as Unity: A Canadian Strategy,’ Robert Kroetsch suggests that Canadian fiction is replete with frustrated and failed artists, fictional creators who, in their estimation, possess the potential to produce great works of art, yet who ultimately fail to do so; ‘Canadian writing,’ writes Kroetsch, ‘is obsessively about the artist who can’t make art’ (358).¹ In Kroetsch’s examples, Sinclair Ross’sAs For Me and My House(1941) and Ernest Buckler’sThe Mountain and the Valley(1952), the fault would seem to lie with the stultifying conventions and mundane concerns of the rural communities in which the...

  13. Rewriting White Flight: Suburbia in Gerald Lynch’s Troutstream and Joan Barfoot’s Dancing in the Dark
    (pp. 166-182)

    While growing up in suburban London, Ontario, in the late 1970s I first encountered Canadian literature as an object of study in my Grade 13 English class. There we readTwo Solitudes,Fifth Business,The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, andThe Tin Flute. When I went on to do my undergraduate degree at Western, I readWacousta,Roughing It in the Bush,The Imperialist,As For Me and My House,The Mountain and the Valley,St Urbain’s Horseman, andThe Edible Woman. Having read these novels, among others such as Kroetsch’sBadlands, Ondaatje’sComing through Slaughter, and a handful of...

  14. Duelling and Dwelling in Toronto and London: Transnational Urbanism in Catherine Bush’s The Rules of Engagement
    (pp. 183-196)

    Although London, England, is not a Canadian city, Canadian novelists often turn to it as a site for explorations of individual and national identity. London’s history as the central node of the British Empire, together with its contemporary status as a multicultural ‘world city,’ make it a uniquely overdetermined setting. An examination of postwar Canadian novels set there reveals a recurring narrative in which a young woman, between nineteen and twenty-one years of age, migrates to the metropolis to escape something limiting or unpleasant in Canada. Arriving on the cusp of adulthood, the protagonists in a variety of fictions reinvent...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 197-208)

    Having read the preceding chapters, one becomes acutely aware that the authors ofDowntown Canadaall share an interest in ‘place’: where we come from, where we are going, and how we reconcile those two. As readers and writers in Canada we are obsessed by this idea. Whether we are discussing the landscape or the cityscape, how we fit as individuals or as a society has been and continues to be omnipresent in Canadian literature. Perhaps this comes from a feeling of angst that our immediate sense of place is threatened by the sleeping elephant of a neighbour to the...

  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 209-224)
  17. Contributors
    (pp. 225-227)