125 years of Canadian literature
125 Years of Canadian Literature
at Queen's University
September 1 - October 31, 2013
F.H. Varley, Dean James Cappon
Read more about the exhibit
This exhibit has been assembled to celebrate the 125th anniversary—the quasquicentennial—of the founding of the Department of English with the appointment of James Cappon to the first Chair in English at Queen’s in 1888. Throughout its history the Department has been home to specialists in literature from a variety of periods and places; however, it has played an especially important role in establishing Canadian Literature as a central aspect of Canadian culture and as a subject of study. The materials on display have been selected to illustrate that history—they offer just a glimpse of the extraordinary resources for the study of Canadian literature housed in the Queen’s University Archives and in Special Collections. As we prepared each part of the display it became clear that the subject of every individual case might merit an entire exhibit of its own: indeed, the story of those authors and poets who themselves create Canadian literature could fill this space three times over. Our apologies to those writers, both living and dead, whose works have been omitted from this retrospective because of the limits imposed by space—we hope to tell your story more fully another day. The exhibit is centred at the W.D. Jordan Library, with auxiliary cases on the main floor of Stauffer Library.
- 1A New Chair in English: James Cappon and Literary Study at Queen's
This retrospective begins with the story of James Cappon, a Scot who was rather controversially appointed as the first Chair of English over the leading Canadian candidate for the position, the writer and scholar Sir Charles G.D. Roberts. Cappon would go on to become the first Dean of Arts and one of Robert Charles Wallace's "Great Men of Queen's"—an administrator who played a key role in the development of Extension Learning in the 1920s, and in championing the role of the Humanities as the foundation of a university education. He would also write the first important critical studies of Roberts and his contemporary, Bliss Carman, and teach the first course devoted entirely to Canadian literature at Queen's in 1915.
- 2Imagining a National Literature: Lorne Pierce and the Makers of Canadian Literature
The second case of the exhibit explores the conflicted relationship between James Cappon and his student Lorne Pierce, a young Methodist minister-in-training who was passionately devoted both to Queen’s and to establishing the cultural identity of Canada as a modern nation. Chagrined by his professor’s avowed low opinion of Canadian literature in 1912, Pierce would later become a driving force in the publication of works by Canadian authors and their critical appraisal through his role as editor at Ryerson Press from 1920-1960. His collection of Canadiana, donated to coincide with the opening of the Douglas Library in 1924 and augmented throughout his lifetime, forms the core of the Edith and Lorne Pierce Collection. Among his lasting contributions to Canadian letters was his creation of the series Makers of Canadian Literature, slim volumes that combined critical analysis of early Canadian writers with a selection of their work. He solicited Cappon, his old antagonist regarding the calibre of Canadian Literature, to write the volume on Charles G.D. Roberts.
- 2aRecognizing Achievement in Canadian Imaginative and Critical Literature
Lorne Pierce's commitment to Canadian literature, both as creative endeavour and as object of literary study, was affirmed in 1924 when he proposed to the Royal Society of Canada that a medal be awarded annually recognizing "an achievement of special significance and conspicuous merit in imaginative or critical literature written in either English or French." Pierce provided the funds necessary to sustain the award, which the Society subsequently named in his honour. The first recipient of the medal in 1926 should come as no surprise in this narrative: Charles G. D. Roberts. In 1964 the Royal Society changed to awarding the medal every second year.
- 3Bringing Canadian Literature to the Classroom: Malcolm Ross and the New Canadian Library
If the first stage in recognizing the cultural importance of Canadian literature was writing its history, the second was surely providing affordable editions so that it might be taught as a subject in Canadian universities and schools. The third case highlights the contributions of Malcolm Ross, general editor of the New Canadian Library, a series of inexpensive editions of classic Canadian novels. Ross, who served as Head of the Department of English (1957-1960), was also the first scholar to hold the Cappon Chair, an honour created in 1960 to recognize extraordinary contributions to research within the Department. A number of members of the Department edited volumes in this series, and the on-going scholarly editing of Canadian literary texts remains a key contribution to the field.
- 4A Tradition of Creative Writing: Creating Canadian Literature at Queen's
Read a description of Case 4
Nowhere has the contribution to Canadian literature at Queen's been more striking and more sustained than in the steady creation of literary works by both faculty members and their students. In 1955 George Whalley, himself a poet/scholar, organized a conference that would be recognized as a turning point in the history of Canadian literature. “The Writer, His Media and the Public" attracted the leading writers and critics of the day and concluded with a series of recommendations that would not only support the concept of the New Canadian Library but also call for sustained attention to the teaching of Canadian Literature as a legitimate object of critical study in Canadian universities and schools. Whalley was known for fostering creative writers at Queen's, a reputation that encouraged a young Michael Ondaatje to pursue his Master's degree in Kingston under Whalley's supervision rather than in Toronto with Northrup Frye. The late 60s and early 70s were a heyday of creative productivity, with the founding of Quarry Press by three writers from the Department of English, and the development of Quarry from its beginnings as a student magazine to a nationally respected literary quarterly. The creative tradition continues with the work of faculty members from both English and Drama, and with the extraordinary creativity of our alumni writers.
- 5From Nationalism to Global Society: Changing Critical Approaches to Canadian Literature
The heart of any academic department is scholarship, and here too members of the Department of English have contributed to the complex conversation regarding Canadian Literature. An exhibit of this small scale can only sketch in broad strokes the outline of the history of scholarship in this field developed by faculty members at Queen's, but their role has been at times pivotal. If Pierce and Ross pursued emphatically the idea of a national literature, subsequent scholars have debated the question with equal enthusiasm. From the contextualizing of Canadian writing as Commonwealth Literature in the work of John Matthews, through the Post-Colonial readings developed by his many doctoral students, to the rise of an Indigenous Studies that challenges the very idea of national boundaries, scholars at Queen's have debated, contested, and redefined the very concept of Canadian Literature.
- 6A Continuing Commitment to Canadian Literature: The Giller Event
The commitment of the Department of English to Canadian Literature has been affirmed through the development of the Giller Event as a capstone experience for the graduating class. Each year, through the generosity of our alumni, students are provided with a copy of that year's Scotiabank-Giller prizewinning novel, then given the opportunity to meet with the author on campus. Since its inception in 2006, the event has brought each recipient of the Giller to Queen's, providing an opportunity for both students and the wider Kingston community to experience first-hand contemporary Canadian authors.
- 7Muriel Waterhouse: Convocation robe 1919
in the shape of the gown worn by Muriel Waterhouse, at the time of her graduation from Queen's, with a B.A. in English, at Spring 1919 Convocation. At the time it was a tradition at the University, among female graduands in particular, to have classmates and fellow graduates autograph the sleeves of the gown. Perhaps she studied with Wilhelmina Gordon, the first female member of the English Department—or perhaps with Cappon, who taught a course in Canadian Literature from 1915-1919. Muriel's gown was generously donated to Queen's University Archives by her daughter, Margaret McKay-Clement, herself a graduate of Queen's (B.A. '50).
- 8The Strathy Language Unit and Canadian English (Special Collections Reading Room)
In 1981 a generous gift from alumnus J.R. Strathy mandated the creation of the Unit that bears his name, whose mission is to study standard English usage in Canadian speech and writing. The corpus on which this study is based includes, among other sources, the work of several Canadian authors who gave permission for their fictional and nonfictional texts to be entered into the database. The Strathy Language Unit has produced two editions of the Guide to Canadian English Usage as well as two paper series; established the Strathy Corpus of Canadian English; collaborated in projects such as the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles.
- 9Small Press Poetry (Entrance to Douglas Library)
Welcoming you to the exhibit, this case contains smaller broadsides from Quarry Press featuring the work of Bill Barnes, Tom Marshall, David Helwig, and Gail Fox, as well as criticism by a range of specialists in Canadian and Indigenous Literature from the Department of English.
- 10“125 Years of Canadian Literature" (Stauffer Library - North Case)
This introduction to the exhibit emphasizes the variety of contributions made by members of the Department of English to Canadian Literature, ranging from a selection of the poetry produced by George Herbert Clarke and George Whalley, two influential scholar poets who became Heads of the department, to recent work by Laura Murray on Canadian Copyright.
- 11“An age of poets and a place of poets": Quarry Press (Stauffer Library - South Case)
Faculty and students of the Department of English played a key role in founding Quarry Press. In the mid ‘60s Tom Eadie (B.A 1968, M.A. 1971) was the editor of Quarry, an annual student-run literary magazine that was transformed under his editorship into a quarterly literary review publishing work from writers across Canada. In 1965 Eadie and faculty members Tom Marshall and Colin Norman founded Quarry Press, its first imprint The Beast With Three Backs, a collection of poems by the three publishers. In succeeding decades Quarry would become a key imprint for a new generation of Canadian writers, producing not just beautifully bound volumes but also a number of vibrant broadsides that capture the aesthetic of that time.
Last Updated: 15 October 2013
- 5From Nationalism to Global Society: Changing Critical Approaches to Canadian Literature