Jennifer Andrews, Professor, University of New Brunswick
The Awards to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP) was founded in 1941. As part of the celebrations of the ASPP’s 75th anniversary in 2016, members of the ASPP’s Academic Council as well as other noted scholars will be contributing to the Bookmark it! blog series with reflections on important books that have received ASPP funding, exploring what those books have meant to their discipline, or to them personally as researchers, teachers or students.
As someone who was transplanted to Atlantic Canada from the heart of Central Canada (dare I say it: Toronto) at the ripe old age of twenty-seven to take up a tenure-track job in Canadian literature at the University of New Brunswick, I found myself during the first few years of my time living in Fredericton trying to understand a place and culture that was continually challenging the reductive stereotypes of the region that I had myself consumed and perpetuated prior to my arrival. So I began to read. What I was discovered was a veritable treasure-trove of literary works produced by contemporary Atlantic Canadian writers, texts that defied my expectations and forced me to look differently at my adopted home. My previous experiences of Atlantic Canada were all those of summer holidays, consisting of a series of camping trips with my boyfriend (now husband) as we toted a rickety pop-up trailer from the 1970s behind a gas-guzzling Lincoln borrowed from his parents in an effort to see “The East Coast.” Our main goal during those trips was to spend most of our money on delicious food, with the compromise being the fact that staying in campgrounds was the only way to afford the vacation. We paid homage to Anne of Green Gables, visiting every tourist site remotely related to her story, ate enough fried fish to end up sick to our stomachs, and hoarded fresh baked scones from Keddy’s Motor Inn whenever we abandoned the tent for a night in a motel. Shortly after moving to New Brunswick, in a moment of nostalgia, I looked up the Keddy’s Motor Inn chain only to discover that in the midst of summer, the height of the tourist season, they had gone bankrupt. Suffering from the recession of the 1990s, and unable to honour its creditors, the company was searching for a buyer and had placed its nearly 1,000 employees on day-to-day contracts. It was a reality-check and a reflection of what Herb Wyile so accurately describes in Anne of Tim Hortons: Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011) as the increasing impact of neo-liberalism and globalization on Eastern Canada.
Published in 2011, Anne of Tim Hortons explores the collision between “outsiders’ expectations about life in the region and the more complicated and less idyllic lived realities of Atlantic Canadians” (1) through close readings of a rich array of contemporary novels, poems, plays, and short stories. While the popularity and abundance of contemporary Atlantic-Canadian literature make it a treasure-trove for literary analysis, Wyile is careful to note the benefits and dangers of this trend, explaining that while it may reflect the “quality of the writing and the development of a much more sustaining and nurturing cultural community inside and outside the region,” there is always the potential for Atlantic-Canada to remain an exoticized ‘Other,’ valued as a commodity to be consumed until capitalism moves on to mine new objects (24). The monograph is structured thematically to address key concerns, including: the changing nature of work, challenges to the “hegemonic Folk image of the region” as manifested through cultural stereotypes and the tourist industry, and the legacy and limitations of historical commemoration, often done paradoxically through “the vehicle of historical fiction” in order to comment on the “the region’s conflicted present” (28). Central to his argument is a thoughtful reconsideration of Ian McKay’ influential The Quest of the Folk (1994). For Wyile, Atlantic Canadian literature embraces and ironizes the perceived simplicity of Folk culture, in order to engage with and probe the changing socio-economic and cultural contexts of the region in a way that makes room for both the past and present. As Wyile explains, “fiddles and shopping malls, lobster boats and satellite dishes can and do happily and unselfconsciously coexist” in Atlantic Canada (25). What stands out in this monograph is the accessibility of the writing and the tightly argued yet always flexible and nuanced treatment of a wide variety of texts by authors ranging from Alistair MacLeod, Lisa Moore, and Leo McKay Jr. to Wendy Lill, Lynn Coady, Sheree Fitch, Edward Riche, Rita Joe, Maxine Tynes, Kenneth Harvey, Michael Crummey, Harry Thurston, Wayne Johnston, Michael Winter, and Bernice Morgan. The care with which Wyile develops his analysis is evident to the last pages of the book, where he outlines with characteristic modesty, the limitations of his study. He urges readers not to simply exchange “Folk Innocence” with “post-Folk, Ironic Archness in its place” (239) and to attend to the specificities of contemporary Atlantic-Canadian literature, which wrestles directly with “a turbulent present” riddled with economic, social, and political challenges, as the region continues to be marginalized nationally and internationally (240).
Anne of Time Hortons won the 2011 Gabrielle Roy Prize for the year’s best work of Canadian literary criticism in English. For me, the book embodies the best of Canadian literary scholarship—I have assigned sections of it in undergraduate and graduate classes with great success because it gives students a way to understand the region that many of them come from and to counter the clichés that students from other parts of Canada or from abroad may arrive with. In my own work, it is a critical point of departure for thinking about where I live and what I teach and write about. Recently, I have begun to examine American literary constructions of Atlantic Canada (from Longfellow’s Evangeline to present day) and Wyile’s voice is ever present, cautioning me to balance the tendency of American authors to fetishize Atlantic Canada with the ways in which the region offers a place to reflect on and articulate the complexities and ambivalences of American nationalism, particularly for those who find themselves located on the margins due to race, class, sexual orientation, gender, or religion. Anne of Tim Hortons makes sense of a region where the municipal government installed a sign in 2009 to guide downtown traffic in Fredericton; the sign explicitly bans left turns into the local Tim Hortons, in order to cut down on automobile congestion in the morning. When I first saw the sign I mock gasped in horror, and then silently chuckled. Eventually, I took a picture of it to send to Herb, knowing that he was working on the manuscript that would become Anne of Tim Hortons and would appreciate its layers of meaning. As Wyile notes in the opening page of the book, “the young girl in Eastern Canada is less likely to be found in a quaint, gabled farmhouse than in an internationally successful donut chain” (1). So too, through Anne of Tim Hortons, have I come to cherish the intricacies and contradictions that shape life in Atlantic Canada, a place where a freckle-faced straw-hatted red-head can adorn a box of chocolates, a bottle of raspberry cordial, and a variety of other products in one glance, and at the next, may be manning the drive-thru at Tim Horton’s, wearing a headset and hairnet to keep those unwieldy braids in place as she takes orders while talking to regulars who relish, like Matthew Cuthbert did, her love of words and her ability to bring differing versions of Atlantic Canada to life.
Tragically and suddenly, Herb Wyile died on July 3, 2016, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer; he will be deeply missed.
A member of the ASPP’s Academic Council, Jennifer Andrews is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of New Brunswick. She is the author of In the Belly of a Laughing God: Humour and Irony in Native Women’s Poetry (UTP, 2011) and co-author of Border Crossings: Thomas King’s Cultural Inversions (UTP, 2003). A transplanted Ontarian, she proudly calls Atlantic Canada home.
As the voice of the humanities and social sciences in Canada, the Federation is a great supporter of books. Our Awards to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP) has supported the publication of important Canadian scholarly books since 1941. Bookmark it! shares the story behind some of these fascinating books. Occasionally, we’ll also highlight other books that are significant to Canadian culture, society and research. Read more posts.
Livres à vous!
En tant que porte-parole des sciences humaines au Canada, la Fédération est une fervente défenseuse des livres. Notre Prix d’auteurs pour l’édition savante (PAES) soutient la publication d’importants livres savants canadiens depuis 1941. Livres à vous! dévoile les coulisses de ces livres fascinants. De temps en temps nous mettrons en avant d’autres livres qui jouent un rôle important pour la culture, la société et la recherche canadiennes. Lire d’autres billets.