Jour­nal that has helped de­fine Cana­dian lit­er­a­ture turns 50

The cur­rent chal­lenge for the pub­li­ca­tion is to re­main vi­able in the on­line uni­verse


In 19 5 9 , C a n a d a w a s n ’ t thought to have a lit­er­a­ture wor­thy of the name. Still, Roy Daniells and oth­ers at the Uni­ver­sity of B.C. per­sisted and started a schol­arly jour­nal called Cana­dian Lit­er­a­ture, which has sur­vived to cel­e­brate its 50th birth­day.

The cur­rent is­sue, No. 201 — it’s a quar­terly — fea­tures writ- ing on eco-crit­i­cism, Jewish cul­ture, Que­bec lit­er­a­ture and the ur­ban novel, plus a goodly help­ing of po­ems and book re­views.

The late Ge­orge Wood­cock was the jour­nal’s first ed­i­tor. W.H. New took over in 1977 and edited it un­til 1995. Sub­se­quent ed­i­tors — UBC English pro­fes­sors, like Bill New — have been Eva-Marie Kröller, Lau­rie Ri­cou and the woman cur­rently at the helm, Margery Fee.

New re­calls that in the early years, the jour­nal’s ac­tiv­i­ties were “re­cu­per­a­tive.” Canada had had writ­ers who pro­duced best­sellers as far back as the late 1800s, but by the 1950s “a lot of knowl­edge about the art in the coun­try had dis­ap­peared or faded.” There weren’t many text­books about Canada, and its pub­lish­ing houses — most are 30 to 40 years old — had yet to be founded.

When New was edit­ing Cana­dian Lit­er­a­ture, its mis­sion be­came ex­am­in­ing nu­ances of style and bring­ing to light work by na­tive Cana­di­ans and writ­ers of var­ied eth­nic back­grounds — “things that were not high on pub­lish­ers’ lists or in peo­ple’s read­ing pat­terns.”

Fee says that through the 1960s, the ’70s and into the ’80s, Cana­dian Lit­er­a­ture was read by writ­ers. “Where else could you look for new work?” It pub­lished Mar­garet Lau­rence, Mar­garet At­wood, Dorothy Livesay, Al Purdy, and many oth­ers.

Th­ese days, its sub­scribers are pri­mar­ily in­sti­tu­tions out­side Canada and its read­ers are mostly grad­u­ate stu­dents.

Fee is strug­gling with an is­sue that didn’t con­front the jour­nal’s ear­lier ed­i­tors: the ex­pec­ta­tion that all of its con­tent should be pub­lished in­stantly on the Web. (Its site has a mem­o­rable URL:

She notes that hav­ing ar­ti­cles peer-re­viewed and many other as­pects of pro­duc­ing a jour­nal cost money. Cana­dian Lit­er­a­ture has al­ways been a shoe­string op­er­a­tion, but the pres­sures the on­line uni­verse places on it are a new chal­lenge.

To mark the jour­nal’s 50th an­niver­sary, UBC has been hold­ing a Cana­dian Lit­er­a­ture gala this week. And Rons­dale Press has pub­lished From a Speak­ing Place, an an­thol­ogy of writ­ing from past is­sues.

• The Golden Mean, the imag­i­na­tive novel about Aris­to­tle and the young Alexan­der the Great by New West­min­ster’s Annabel Lyon (re­viewed here Aug. 15), has been pick­ing up award nom­i­na­tions. This year’s pow­er­house Giller Prize jury — Rus­sell Banks, Vic­to­ria Glendin­ning and Alis­tair MacLeod — put it on the long list, which hap­pens to have nov­els by 10 women and two men on it.

Then came this week’s news that The Golden Mean had made the Writ­ers’ Trust Fic­tion Prize short list. All of this is great news for a lo­cal writer who works ex­tremely hard at her craft.

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