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There are all kinds of ways to prepare for a trip to a new area. Helpful reading material can range from a host of different travel guides, to get the nuts and bolts of a trip down, to non-fiction works on the history and natural history of a place, to fiction for inspiration and to get a feel for where you're going. And then, if you're bringing kids, it helps them to get excited if they have already read stories set in and around the place that they're going.
This recommended reading list is divided geographically, and by type of item (travel guide, fiction, memoir, and non-fiction). Items marked with an asterisk are also suitable for older children; items for younger children, such as picture books, are in a separate section at the end.
AAA/CAA Tourbooks: If you belong to the American Automobile Association (AAA) or Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), make sure to pick up the current AAA/CAA Tourbook for the areas you plan to visit. Four Tourbooks cover all of Canada: Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland & Labrador), and Western Canada and Alaska (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba). These books are full of up-to-date basic information on all the major and minor attractions, many accommodations (most of the listed accommodations are inspected and rated by the CAA), and even restaurants. The amount of objective current information in these guides is excellent, and they are free to AAA & CAA members. They are worth the effort to pick up, even if you are flying to your destination.
Other comprehensive guidebooks available are:
Many of the aforementioned guides are updated every few years, so make sure you buy the most current version.
No Great Mischief, by Alistair Macleod. Alexander MacDonald guides us through his family’s mythic past as he recollects the heroic stories of his people: loggers, miners, drinkers, adventurers; men forever in exile, forever linked to their clan. There is the legendary patriarch who left the Scottish Highlands in 1779 and resettled in “the land of trees,” where his descendents became a separate Nova Scotia clan. There is the team of brothers and cousins, expert miners in demand around the world for their dangerous skills. And there is Alexander and his twin sister, who have left Nova Scotia and prospered, yet are haunted by the past.
Colony of Unrequited Dreams, by Wayne Johnston. The fictionalized story of Joey Smallwood, the historical figure who ushered Newfoundland from being a British colony through to confederation with Canada in 1949, and became its first premier. Narrated from Smallwood''s perspective, it voices a deep longing on the part of the Newfoundlander to do something significant, “commensurate with the greatness of the land itself”.
The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx. Quoyle, a third-rate newspaper hack, is wrenched violently out of his workaday life by the death of his philandering wife. He and his two daughters decide to return to their family's home at Quoyle"s Point, Newfoundland and start a new life.
Rare Birds, by Edward Riche. Dave Purcell is ready to call it quits on his marriage and his restaurant, The Auk, built on a remote cliff on Push Cove, Newfoundland. All seems lost until Dave’s neighbour, Alphonse Murphy, comes up with an ingenious scheme to save The Auk.
Random Passage, by Bernice Morgan. The epic story of Irishwoman Mary Bundle's perilous odyssey from a harsh English workhouse to the remote Newfoundland outport of Cape Random-a struggling settlement forced to be a community through the sheer will to survive.
The Boat Who Wouldn't Float, by Farley Mowat: The author finds a new boat, a new home, and a new love as a result of his dream to sail a Newfoundland schooner. But the course of true love never runs smooth; Mowat has many problems, ranging from comical to nearly tragic, most of them of his own making.
Anne of Green Gables* series, by L. M. Montgomery. A young orphan is mistakenly sent to an elderly brother and sister, who find themselves warming to her despite her many failings. Consists of (in order) Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne's House of Dreams, Anne of Ingleside, Rainbow Valley, and Rilla of Ingleside.
Rockbound, by Frank Parker Day. Rockbound is an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, isolated by storms, fog and winter weather, and governed by its self-proclaimed “king”, the sternly righteous and rapacious Uriah Jung. When the youthful David Jung arrives to claim his modest share of the island, he tries to find his way in an unforgiving, and controlled world. Rockbound evokes the power, terror and dramatic beauty of the Atlantic, and paints a portrait of back-breaking labour, cunning bitterness and family strife in the decade preceding the first Great War.
Kathy Reichs writes a series of murder mysteries ( Deja Dead, Death du Jour) many of which are set in Montreal.
Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan. Set mostly during WWI, this is the saga of Athanase Tallard, the son of an aristocratic French-Canadian tradition, his beautiful Irish wife Kathleen, and their son Paul, who struggles to establish a balance in himself and in the country he calls home.
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood. Examines the life of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century. Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, and his housekeeper/mistress. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories?
In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje. A love story and an irresistible mystery set in the turbulent, muscular new world of Toronto, this book catches us up in the lives of the immigrants who built the city and those who dreamed it into being: the politically powerful, the anarchists, bridge builders and tunnelers, a vanished millionaire and his mistress, a rescued nun and a thief who leads a charmed life.
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, by Stephen Leacock. A humorous look at life in small town Ontario. Though set in Mariposa, often believed to be Orillia Ontario, Leacock said that Mariposa was a combination of many small towns across the Province. Through humor and good writing by Leacock, the roots of Ontario and its people and mindsets are explained.
The Last Crossing, by Guy Vanderhaege. Charles and Addington Gaunt search for their brother Simon, who has gone missing in the wilds of the American West. They enlist the services of a guide, the enigmatic Jerry Potts, half Blackfoot and half Scottish. Joining the caravan are a sycophantic American journalist, a wise and beautiful woman, and a Civil War veteran. This unlikely posse becomes entangled in an unfolding drama that forces each person to come to terms with his or her own demons.
The Trade, by Fred Stenson. A story of the early 19th century fur trade, and fur traders, in Western Canada.
The Wheatgrass Mechanism, by Don Gayton. Insightful essays on prairie ecology.
Columbia Journals, by David Thompson (Barbara Belyea, ed.) Extracts from fur trade explorer David Thompson's journals, detailing his experiences over a decade of trying to find a practical trade route through the Canadian Rockies, c. 1796-1812. Belyea has added many footnotes, but has wisely (and unconventionally) omitted the footnote notations, and put the footnote text at the end of the book; this makes for much easier reading by the non-historian.
A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews. Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel is trapped in East Village, Manitoba, a small town whose population is Mennonite: “the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you’re a teenager.” East Village is a town with no train and no bar and very limited job prospects, and it is ministered to with an iron fist by Nomi’s uncle, "The Mouth". (Canada Reads pick for 2006.)
Manawaka series, by Margaret Laurence. This celebrated series of five books ( The Stone Angel, A Jest of God, The Fire-Dwellers, A Bird in the House, and The Diviners) is set in the fictional town of Manawaka, Manitoba (based on Neepawa, Manitoba).
Who Has Seen the Wind *, by W.O. Mitchell. Enter the world of four-year-old Brian O’Connal, his father the druggist, his Uncle Sean, his mother, and his formidable Scotch grandmother. As we watch Brian grow up, the prairie and its surprising inhabitants, like the Ben and Saint Sammy, become unforgettable.
Wolf Willow, by Wallace Stegner. Fiction and nonfiction, history and impressions, childhood remembrance and adult reflections are woven together in this unusual portrait of Stegner's boyhood. Set in Cypress Hills in southern Saskatchewan, where his family homesteaded from 1914 to 1920, this book brings to life both the pioneer community and the magnificent landscape that surrounds it.
The Englishman's Boy , by Guy Vanderhaeghe. Links together Hollywood in the 1920s with one of the bloodiest, most brutal events of the nineteenth-century Canadian West, the Cypress Hills Massacre.
Obasan*, by Joy Kogawa. A Japanese Canadian's experiences after being "relocated" from the B.C. coast to the interior of Alberta during WWII.
Songs of a Sourdough*, by Robert W. Service. This hugely popular collection of poems set in the Yukon (including "The Cremation of Sam McGee", and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew") was first published in 1907.
Never Cry Wolf *, by Farley Mowat. Hordes of bloodthirsty wolves are slaughtering the arctic caribou, and the government''s Wildlife Service assigns naturalist Farely Mowat to investigate. Mowat is dropped alone onto the frozen tundra; contact with his quarry comes quickly, and Mowat discovers not a den of marauding killers but a courageous family of skillful providers and devoted protectors of their young.
The Hockey Sweater, by Roch Carrier. Winters in the village of Ste. Justine, Quebec were long. Life centered around school, church, and the hockey rink, and every boy’s hero was Montreal Canadiens hockey legend Maurice Richard. Everyone wore Richard’s number 9. They laced their skates like Richard. They even wore their hair like Richard. When Roch outgrows his cherished Canadiens sweater, his mother writes away for a new one. Much to his horror, he is sent the blue and white sweater of the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, dreaded and hated foes to his beloved team. How can Roch face the other kids at the rink?
Lighthouse : a Story of Love and Remembrance, by Robert Munsch. When Sarah can't sleep following her grandpa's funeral, her father takes her in the middle of the night to the lighthouse where his father used to take him as a boy.
A Promise is a Promise, by Robert Munsch and Michael Kusugak. Allashua's parents have told her to never go out onto the Arctic sea ice alone, because unaccompanied children might be caught by the Qallupilluit, a troll-like creature which lives under the ice. When Allashua disobeys, she is caught, but she promises to return with her brothers and sisters. How can she keep her promise and still keep her family safe?
Lost in the Barrens, by Farley Mowat. Awasin, a Cree Indian boy, and Jamie, a Canadian orphan living with his uncle, the trapper Angus Macnair, are enchanted by the magic of the great Arctic wastes. They set out on an adventure that proves longer and more dangerous than they could have imagined. Sequel: Curse of the Viking Grave.
There Have Always Been Foxes, by Maxine Trottier. A haunting story told from the perspective of the foxes who have always lived near the French fortress at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. They observe the fort's beginnings in 1713 and the British attacks in 1745 and 1758.