Canada’s Loss of Many Of Best Authors Proves Little Short of Calamity

Canada’s Loss of Many Of Best Authors Proves Little Short of Calamity


Canada’s Loss of Many Of Best Authors Proves Little Short of Calamity

Need of Canadian Spirit in Literature is Stressed - Smart Charlatans Are Slipping in and Libelling and Misrepresented Country

The following paper was read before the Women’s Canadian club at Calgary recently and later before the Canadian club. Incidentally Mrs. Reeve is the first woman ever invited to address the latter organization.
With a very few and rare exception there has come out of Canada thus far no important literary production in which a typically Canadian spirit is revealed. True there has been a considerable output of stories and poems of mediocre merit. These are of but questionable value. Canada, however, has produced men and women of literary talent and even genius; but, forced to go outside of Canada to find a market for his work, the Canadian author has been obliged to write of the country where he has taken up his residence.
On the other hand, with scarcely an exception, the Canadian author, at home, is obliged to earn his living at something else, and to do his writing in such spare hours as may be left to him. Imagine a doctor, a lawyer, or a man in any of the professions or in business working all day long at some other employment and attempting to carry on his profession as well. You know what would be the result. Rather disastrous for the doctor’s patients and the lawyer’s clients. Yet that is what the Canadian author at home is doing. It means writing under pressure, when jaded and worn and tired. Work produced under such conditions cannot possess the fire and freshness and charm of a spontaneous piece of writing. And yet writing is essentially a work of the brain, and to do it well one needs freedom from the thousand and one cares and interruptions that beset the working day.

A National Asset

Comparatively speaking, we are a young nation; but we are old enough to recognize a thing of value when we possess it, and I do not think anyone will question the statement that literary talent is a national asset more important than mere gold. It is, therefore, hard to estimate the value of a truly great author to his country.
President Wilson recognized this fact when he sent authors as ambassadors to nearly all the courts of Europe - Walter Hines Page, Mr. Morgenthau, Thomas Nelson Page, Brand Whitlock and many others - all authors. He himself was an author as also was Roosevelt, and in giving them the greatest gift in the power of the country America spoke her opinion of the author. The present ambassador to Great Britain is an author as also was his predecessor, and Whitelaw Reid before Mr. Page.
In the case of Canada the loss of many of her best authors is proving calamitous, for in their place have slipped in the smart charlatans of the pen of other countries, and these have exploited, misrepresented and libelled Canada both in story and in motion pictures, so that there has gone forth into the world a most grotesque and untrue picture of this country.

As Canada is Pictured

Spread abroad in magazine and books and sprawled upon the screen, we behold our country pictured as one everlasting expanse of snow and ice. I do not recall ever seeing a Canadian picture that did not specialize on snow as the main product of Canada, and it is almost incredible the curious opinion that people outside of Canada have regarding our country. A recent visitor to England was asked by a school teacher to tell the children all about the ice palaces in which Canadians lived. A young woman here in Calgary who came from Boston has a clipping cut from a great Boston daily to the effect that “Miss B. has gone to Alberta, Canada, to teach the Esquimaux.” When I was in New York last spring at a studio tea where supposedly intelligent and enlightened people were gathered I was asked over and over again some perfectly ridiculous questions concerning our mode of life, one woman inquiring whether we crawled into our igloos. She thought we lived in our house such as writers of Arctic exploration have described. Yet this was in New York city, supposedly one of the greatest metropolises in the world, but nevertheless hopelessly provincial in many ways. More than once I was commiserate upon the fact that I was “In exile” somewhere in the vague vicinity of the North Pole. The strange part is that this opinion of Canada is by no means peculiar merely to the Illiterate class. As far as that goes the most amazing ignorance is revealed by even educated people, in regard to Canada. I have been asked to “run over and call on Mr. G., a friend of mine, who lives at such and such a part of Canada. Perhaps you know him.” Impossible to make them comprehend that the “run over” to call upon their friend would mean travel of several days. Yet the characters in some of these “Canadian” stories, written by the way as a newspaper man described them, “by writers who have seen Canada through train windows” do some of the most amazing sprints in a few hours between Ontario and Edmonton and other equally distant points.

Calgary’s Dubious Fame

Calgary has gone down to dubious fame in at least two stories as a small cow town of the wild west type, where its residents are arrayed in parkas and mukluks (the garb of Arctic regions) and its people travel about not by automobile as they do in fact, but on sleighs, snowshoes, skills, and the other stuff we resurrect on carnival occasions. Winnipeg, Montreal, Quebec, and all the important parts of Canada suffer equally in the stories of these prolific spell binders. There is a monotonous similarity in all these snow pictures of Canada. The same bag of tricks being used over and over again. We all know the recipe for the “Canadian”picture: snow, ice, beautiful half-breeds, more snow, French Canucks, Indian chiefs and princesses, more snow, noble mounted police, innocent fugitives from justice, more snow, polar bears, sleighs, more snow, amazing sleigh dogs, prairie fires, more snow, a lone waste of land and the wolf’s long howl. There’s Canada as depicted by the transient author upon our shores. To be typically and perfectly Canadian the story must always reveal an utterly cold aspect of complete desolation.
Great publicity, all this, for immigration purposes! The Scandinavians, being a hardy people, might be undaunted, and they know the Esquimaux, and might feel at home with us.

Looking for Snow

Not so long ago, Mr. Hartford, a producer of several Canadian plays (by an American author) told a Calgary audience that he had come out here to take “snow pictures for a Canadian play.” He frankly declared that he could not find the snow he sought, and was obliged to go to Arizona to take his Canadian pictures there. He said with real wonder:
“What is the matter with you Canadians? Why don’t you get out and root and boost for your climate? I came here looking for snow, and I find a country with the sunshine and melting warmth of California.”
(It was one of our open Chinook winters, by the way and they are not uncommon by any means).
Of course, we all know that we do have a robust, healthily cold winter, but no colder than a great part of the United States. On the other hand, there are parts of Canada, where the climate is so temperate that the country blooms like the rose, even in winter. It is strange that in nearly all these stories and pictures concerning Canada, a Canadian summer is seldom pictured, unless as a background for a forest or prairie fire before which the terrified and tattered Canadians flee after suffering incredible hardships.

Matchless Climate

Few people outside of Canada know that with the exception of the winter months, the greater part of the winter months, the greater part of this country enjoys a climate that cannot be matched anywhere else. They have beaten into their systems the legend of our implacable cold. Kipling sent us down to ill-fame by the poetic caption of “Our Lady of the Snows”and it will be many years before we can disprove that designation. Not merely our climate has been misrepresented abroad, but strange canards are continually being set afloat about Canada. Only recently the newspapers in the States, and in Canada too, gave prominence to a story of the amazing depredations of a band of timber wolves, that were eating men by the wholesale. An investigation of this amazing and absurd yarn proved that it was entirely an invention; but the papers failed to give the prominence to the exposure of the fraud that they gave to the original story, and the harm to that part of Canada at least was done.

Throw Away the Crutches

We are in the midst of a campaign to coax superior immigration to our land, for we know that the population is the forerunner of prosperity. We are sorely in need of capital, and besides capital and population we need the confidence, the brains and the presence of men who will help to develop our country. It is time that Canada learned to walk without crutches. It is necessary for her to attain her full growth and a national personality. We need to prove to the world that helping to develop this great land will not be merely a useless gamble, but a magnificent speculation that will bring in the and mighty rewards. For we know that we possess unmined wealth beyond the dreams of avarice; but what is the use of this wealth which we know lies hidden in our country’s bosom; what will it avail us if our coal, our oil, our salts, our silver, our helium, our gold remains unmined? What the value of our agricultural lands if they are not cultivated and used? What the purpose of the greatest railroad system in the world if there be not a population to profit by it?
We need to proclaim to the world that Canada possesses all this. We need to denounce the libels printed and shown about us. We must prove that Canada has the climate and all of the qualities that go to the making of one of the greatest countries upon earth. Our orators, advertising material, railroad and government tracts and pamphlets - they have not yet turned the trick for us. I believe a single great novel or poem from the magic pen of an inspired writer might turn all eyes upon this Canada of ours.

Power of Winter

It was a woman’s novel that awoke the national conscience of a great country, and contributed to bring about the Civil war. I refer to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”France was set on fire when the Marseillaise sprang like a tongue of flame from the pen and the heart of a poet. I could name a hundred, nay, a thousand, instances to illustrate the tremendous power and value of the work of the writer. Therefore, I repeat, the value of the author to his country can scarcely be exaggerated. For, besides population and capital, Canada’s crying need is for dreams, and to this clan the author preeminently belongs. Pity it is that while 5 possessing the gift of being able to set down his thoughts upon the printed page, to give them in fact expression to his dreams, he is more often than not ill-fitted to cope with conditions in the hard world of business affairs; nor does he receive a reward commensurate with his services. Often he is blessed or cursed with a great fount of uncommon sense, but not a pinch of common sense. Nevertheless he is of vital importance to this country.possessing the gift of being able to set down his thoughts upon the printed page, to give them in fact expression to his dreams, he is more often than not ill-fitted to cope with conditions in the hard world of business affairs; nor does he receive a reward commensurate with his services. Often he is blessed or cursed with a great fount of uncommon sense, but not a pinch of common sense. Nevertheless he is of vital importance to this country.
Instead of the lurid, untrue pudding which goes to the making of the supposed Canadian story, why should not one of our own authors cunningly weave into a tale something of the fascinating glamor, the exciting spirit of adventures, the wonder and beauty of this land of ours. I refer now especially to Alberta, where I have lived for the last half dozen years. Why not a great novel of our cattle lands? May not some strong, hot pen, unfold the eplo of our marvellous grain fields? There’s a story in our coal mines; something more valuable than oil may spring from our wells to electricity and thrill all of the world. It’s name is romance!

Land of Romance

For this is a land of romance which cries aloud to be told in story and in song. It appeals to the imagination. It stirs something into restless activity; it spurs the writer with a longing for the ability to portray in vidi, beautiful words the incredible charm of this strange and almost unknown land. It obsesses one with an almost painful desire to capture the golden sunshine of Alberta and imprison it between the pages of a book.
Can our Canadian Rockies ever become commonplace though we see them every day? The fascination of our prairies, bathed in that mystic haze that seems to merge sky and land in one, and gives the strange impression of immeasurable distance and a silence that is as mysterious as the dawn is almost beyond the power of description.
Now the qualities that make of this country a fascinating place in which to live, appeals also to the literary instinct of the writer.

Finding the Answer

It may be asked, quite naturally, if this country is such a mine of literary material, why has not the Canadian author utilized it, and the answer is not far to seek. The Canadian author does not live in Canada, or if he does works at other employment. Some excellent work indeed has been done by our writers concerning Canada, but for the most part, such writer’s fame has been more or less local, so that their productions cannot compete with that of the fellow across the line who has the right-of-way into popular magazines and upon the screen. Moreover every country produces but a limited number of really greater writers. Canada has produced a fair average, but conditions here are most discouraging for the author. Apart from the fact that there are only one or two or three periodicals that pay an author more than a nominal price for his work. It is only of late years that Canadians have shown especial interest in the work of their own authors. Our country has been flooded with magazines and books from the United States and England, and these fill our book shelves and tables and libraries, and shoulder aside the perhaps more modest product of the Canadian author.
Moreover, the author in Canada is not only poorly paid for his work published here, but often waits indefinitely for payment, and sometimes receives most shabby treatment. Apropos of this, I might instance a recent experience of my own.

An Author’s Experience

A story was solicited from me by a new Canadian magazine. They offered payment upon acceptance and laid stress upon the fact that they were to be an all Canadian magazine. I sent two of a series of four stories concerning the same subject and people. I laid emphasis upon the fact that I was submitting my stories to them purely for Canadian publication, and that I reserved all other rights. I made special mention of the value of the American and English rights to me, and I advised these people that such stories could not be published in Canada till I had first placed them in the States and England for simultaneous or prior publication.
They accepted my stories upon those terms, and were flattering in their opinion of them, stating that check would go to me forthwith. Months went by and no check. A couple of months ago appeared what they termed their inaugural issue in which appeared the first of my stories, containing matter that should not have been in the story. My American rights were disregarded, and a check was sent to me about eight months after the acceptance of my story. This check was protested by the bank, and to this day I have not been paid for my story, despite the fact that it started this special magazine along with a big sale.
This unprincipled treatment does not mean a reflection on other Canadian magazines; but in any event the remuneration is so low, and the terms of payment so long that it hardly pays to write for a Canadian periodical. A few there are that do pay fairly well, but it seems that if they use always the work of the same authors, and at least one of them has opened its pages to outside contribution, and favors the work of certain Canadians resident in the States. True, it also gives considerable space to authors resident here, but rather for minor contributions.

Depend Upon the Author

It might not be inapropos for me to point out the fortunes that must have been made and are being made from the product of the brain of the author. Publishers and theatrical managers have become rich. Actors, newspapers, song publishers, music firms, gramophone manufacturers, booksellers, literary agents and brokers depend in a large part for their living upon the work of the author. The fourth great business in the States today is said to be the motion picture industry, and the motion pictures depend mainly upon the creations of the author. They could not carry on without the author. Nevertheless the author’s regard is small when compared with the returns that flow into the laps of those who depend upon his product.
I once took the prize for a motion picture serial play. The pretty-faced young star engaged to play my heroine received for her three month’s work $150,000. I received $10,000 - $140,000 less than the actress. Yet I believe the author is more important than the actor to a play. There are millions of pretty faces, but only a limited number of brains of the type required to write a play. However, in my own case, the star play. However, in my own case, the star had a great reputation, and though I myself had attained to some celebrity, I was outclassed. Still, it seems to me that the difference in price paid to author and actress was out of all proportion.

A Limited Company

Taken all in all, the authors of Canada are but a limited company. Not all are endowed with a great gift. We cannot all produce world shakers, but each in his way may do his bit to show the Canada we desire the world to know. With the impetus given to our craft by the Canadian Authors’ association, which was the inspiration of Murray Gibbon, of the C.P.R., we may in time attain to an equally independent position such as that more or less occupied by the authors of the United States today. When Canadians realize sufficiently the value of its authors, and we are able to live in Canada without toiling at some other employment, then it is possible that Canada will be properly depicted in story and in song and a real Canadian spirit be revealed in our literature.
That you may have some idea of just what we possess in the way of talent, I will tell you what I know of at least a few of our authors. I am sorry that many very clever and notable Canadian writers are not on my list, because I do not personally know their work, save by hearsay, but I expect to become acquainted with it, and later may be able to tell you something about them.

Murray Gibbon First

First of Canadian authors, out of regard for what he has done in founding the Canadian Authors association, which has been of incalculable help in fostering interest, and arousing a truly patriotic feeling to say nothing of its practical value and work among the authors, I put Murray Gibbon. But Murray Gibbon should not merely be judged by the Authors’ association. He is an author of no mean power and charm. His “Conquering Hero” is laid in our mountains, and his last book“Pagan Love”is one of the remarkable literary productions of the past year. Of the authors resident in the United States or abroad, there is Basil King, Arthur Stringer, Harvey O’Higgins, Ernest Thompson Seton, Bliss Carman, Agnes Leut, Sir Gilbert Parker, Robert Service, Willard Mack and many others. Now these are names to conjure with, and of international fame. Just think of the loss they represent to Canada. True, some of them have written of Canada, but for the most part their work has been of other countries.
Resident in Canada, we have a long list of extremely clever writers, but in nearly every case you will find men and women engaged in other employment as their main means of livelihood. Nevertheless they have done and are doing splendid work, and they should have the support and encouragement of Canadians, and, let us hope, presently, the opportunity of concentrating purely upon their work of writing.

Sergeant Kendal

In Calgary is Sergeant Kendal, who has given us lifelike pictures of one of the most romantic and heroic figures in all Candian history - the mounted policeman. Whose characters have been lifted bodily and purloined for use in the aforementioned supposed“Canadian” stories stories and film plays. There is something as direct and honest as his own character in the stories of Kendal. He writes of a life he knows and has lived, and his people are real men and women. His work is solicited by some of the greatest publishers in the United States and England and at the present writing contracts have been offered him before even heading, for his new novel still in process of writing. Sergeant Kendal is still in the police service, and his work day covers from eight to fourteen hours per day. What writing he is able to accomplish is done at night or on such rare days off as occasionally fall to his lot. If a man of such talent as Kendal could devote all of his time to writing, I feel sure it would mean a fine thing for Canada.

Edmonton’s Popular Author

Nellie McClung, of Edmonton, is probably one of the most popular authors in Canada, and deservedly so. Her novels also reflect her own straightforward and simple personality like Kendals’. I think the reason why they are such a success, is because many Canadians recognize the types as actual men and women they have met and known.


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People Mentioned

Ami Kogiso

Ami Kogiso will receive a B.A. in English Language and Literatures from the University of British Columbia in 2022.

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonyms used in this text

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and a Developer at Simon Fraser University’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL). He is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia where he specialized in Indigenous and diasporic literature, science and technology studies, and the digital humanities.

Organizations Mentioned

Edmonton Journal

Daily newspaper (Sundays excepted) published in Edmonton, Alberta. Established in 1903 and still in print today.
Written by Samantha Bowen