Memorializing Canada

  • Benjamin Authers (Editor), Maité Snauwaert (Editor) and Daniel Laforest (Editor)
    Inhabiting Memory in Canadian Literature/Habiter la mémoire dans la littérature canadienne. University of Alberta Press (purchase at
Reviewed by Laurel Ryan

This excellent scholarly collection includes seven essays in English and five in French on various facets of the relationship between space and memory. The introduction and index are presented in both languages, but individual essays are not translated. Readers do not need to be bilingual to appreciate the volume’s diversity and coherence of approaches, although it helps. The book will be of interest not only to scholars of Canadian literature, but also to those of postcolonial and diasporic literatures.

As a whole, the collection explores the “space/memory nexus” as a site of production of cultural ideas about place and nation. The general movement of the collection is from local engagements with urban environments in the “Mapping the City/Cartographier la ville” section, through individual migrant experiences of place in “Diasporic Memories/Mémoires diasporiques” and “Intercultural Spaces/Espaces interculturels,” to cultural perceptions of Canada and “the North” in “Towards a New Memory/Vers une mémoire nouvelle.” The book builds on several recent studies of place and memory in Canadian literature, such as Canadian Literature and Cultural Memory (2014), edited by Cynthia Sugars and Eleanor Ty.

The bilingualism of Inhabiting/Habiter is a crucial element of its methodology: it acknowledges that English and French (and, in Sherry Simon’s essay, Yiddish) literatures in Canada inhabit overlapping spaces and engage with similar theoretical concerns. Moreover, by putting essays in both languages side by side, this book opens up new approaches in thinking about space and memory by reflecting some of the institutionalized differences between the study of Canadian literature in each language. A particular strength of the essays in French is their diversity of sources: of the five essays, two take nineteenth-century texts as their primary sources, two analyze mid-twentieth-century texts, and one works with twenty-first-century texts. The French essays thus present a long view of memory across time and cultures. For example, Pamela V. Sing shows how Honoré Beaugrand played with time and memory to establish different resonances with late-nineteenth-century Quebec and American audiences. On the other hand, of the seven English-language essays, only one analyzes literature written before 1960 in any significant way—and it is the focus of only half of that essay—though this is less a weakness of the book than it is a product of current trends in English Canadian literary studies. The English-language essays’ collective strength is often the intimacy of their approaches to place: Margaret Mackey’s analysis of an app that maps and contextualizes her childhood environment is a prime example. The English-language essays thus approach the topic of memory from a predominantly contemporary perspective: what does it mean to think and write about the past now? In contrast, the temporal diversity of the French sources suggests the question, what has it meant to memorialize the past at various points in Canada’s history? Both questions are important, and by juxtaposing these two perspectives, this book serves as a valuable challenge to scholars in both languages to deepen our understanding of Canada’s literary past in both ways.

This review “Memorializing Canada” originally appeared in Rescaling CanLit: Global Readings Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 238 (2019): 110-111.

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