Canadian Literature Of World War I

A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to an excellent conference in Ottawa from July 31 to August 2 2014.  We will continue to post relevant information and links on the “Postings” page for the next few months.



The conference marks the 100th anniversary of the “war to end all wars.” Though Allied nations celebrated the armistice on 11 November 1918, Margaret MacMillan has argued that the War only ended, in a sense, in the fall of 2010, when Germany finally finished paying off the “interest on bonds that had been taken out by the shaky Weimar government in an effort to pay the war reparations imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.” Indeed, the Great War haunts us still. Its potent symbols of remembrance and commemoration still resonate widely among Canadians, whether in annual parades, “poppy drives,” and memorial services or in the newly-issued twenty-dollar polymer bill featuring the Canadian National Vimy Memorial flanked by poppies alluding to the best-known WWI poem, John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” (also excerpted in the new ten-dollar bill). For nearly a century, Canada’s role in the War has also elicited a range of critical and literary responses. The multi-disciplinary collection of essays, A Sisterhood of Suffering and Service: Women and Girls of Canada and Newfoundland During the First World War (2013), to name one recent study, explores the wartime experience of Canadian women, a legacy long left out of most historical narratives. In poetry, drama, and fiction Canadian writers, too, have continually engaged the War, from Mabel L. Stuart’s Arthurian legend-laden poem, “For Canada” (1919), to Timothy Findley’s iconic novel, The Wars (1977), John Gray’s musical drama, Billy Bishop Goes to War (1981), Paul Gross’ film, Passchendaele (2008), and Joseph Boyden’s novel portraying the Cree experience of the horrors of trench warfare, Three Day Road (2008), among many others. Our conference contributes to the contested debate about Canada’s participation in World War I from literary, aesthetic, critical, political, historical, cultural, and other perspectives.


Sponsors: University of British Columbia, University of Ottawa and Canadian War Museum

Plenary speakers: Margaret MacMillan, Frances Itani, and Tim Cook