Good Reads: Mid-20th-Century Canadian Authors (55+)

Many of us discovered Canadian literature as young adults when we read such authors as Earle Birney (1904–1995), Margaret Laurence (1926–1987), E.J. Pratt (1882–1964) and Gabrielle Roy (1909–1983). All canonical writers of mid-20th-century Canadian literature, their poetry and prose works were not only good reads, but they also inspired us to explore our country and to know ourselves.

In this seminar, looking at selected works by these and other Canadian authors who were their contemporaries, we will ask—and attempt to answer—three questions. Why were these writers good reads then? Why are they still good reads now? And, if they no longer satisfy 21st-century criteria for good reads, why not?

Note: This seminar involves active participation and group discussion.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Discuss examples of mid 20th-century Canadian literature, and list some of their distinctive characteristics
  • Describe how the writers in the course have contributed to your understanding of Canadian culture
  • Identify what makes a novel, a poem or a short story a “good read”
  • Decide whether these Canadian literary works from the mid 20th-century might (or might not) still be considered “good reads”

Learning methods

You will learn through a combination of in-class discussion and readings. For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1

After the introductions, we shall discuss, first, what constitutes a good read. We shall then proceed to discuss the ten authors chosen for consideration in order of their birth. E.J. Pratt, therefore, will be the subject of the second half of Week 1.

Week 2

This week we shall focus on Ethel Wilson (1888-1980) and F. R. Scott (1899-1985). Wilson’s novels include Hetty Dorval (1947), The Innocent Traveller (1949) and Swamp Angel (1954).

Week 3

This week we shall focus on Earle Birney and Hugh MacLennan (1907-90). MacLennan’s novels include Barometer Rising (1941), Two Solitudes (1945), Each Man’s Son (1951) and The Watch That Ends the Night (1959).

Week 4

This week we shall focus on Dorothy Livesay (1909-96) and Gabrielle Roy. Roy’s novels and short stories were first published in French, but their English versions were often taught in English-Canadian literature courses. Bonheur d’Occasion (1945), translated as The Tin Flute (1947), is probably her best-known novel.

Week 5

This week we shall focus on Abraham Moses Klein (1909-72) and Robertson Davies (1913-95). Fifth Business (1970) is certainly Davies’ most popular novel, but there are several others, including Leaven of Malice (1954) and What’s Bred in the Bone (1985).

Week 6

This week we shall focus on Margaret Laurence, whose first novel was The Stone Angel (1964), and whose last was The Diviners (1974). If we have not exhausted the subject, we shall try to draw some final conclusions about these good reads.

Books, materials and resources

There is required reading for this course.

A course pack of readings will be provided on the first day of class. Since the prose selections in the course pack will be mainly essays and short stories, you should also plan to (re)read a novel by one of (or, if you are very ambitious, each of) Robertson Davies, Margaret Laurence, Hugh MacLennan, Gabrielle Roy or Ethel Wilson.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

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