From the Country: Writings About Rural Canada


303 pages
ISBN 0-921820-21-6
DDC C818'.540808'0327





Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


This is an admirable compilation. In his introduction, Grady is careful
to define his terms and criteria. “Rural Canada,” for the purposes
of this book, does not mean “nature Canada” or “agricultural
Canada”; in effect, it means “populated nonurban Canada.” The
essays and extracts he gathers together—some fiction, some nonfiction,
some inhabiting an intriguing no-man’s-land between the two—avoid
straight description; instead, they portray ways of life outside the
towns and cities across the land. As the back cover indicates, it is
“a literary journey”; the selections are arranged in rough
geographical order to extend from the Atlantic seaboard across to
British Columbia.

But this is more than just an anthology of rural writing. From the
Country is a wonderful collection of kinds of prose. The tone ranges
from the chattily informative through the movingly evocative to the
richly imaginative. Marion Botsford Fraser explores the curious
“undefended border” between Quebec and Vermont; George Johnston
offers a quietly paced impressionistic account of the intricacies and
mysteries of beekeeping; Robin Skelton recreates a tall tale from the
West. On the one hand, we have examples of journalism at its best, like
Heather Robertson’s report on a closeknit but dying Prairie community;
on the other, Wallace Stenger’s superb Proust-like opening to Wolf
Willow is reprinted, and in Alistair Macleod’s “The Closing Down of
Summer,” a fictional memoir of an itinerant mining-team from Cape
Breton, we are clearly in the presence of great literature.

I have only one reservation. Several of the contributors are well known
(these include, in addition to some already mentioned, Harold Horwood,
Norman Levine, Matt Cohen, and Rudy Wiebe). But others are not. Yet no
information is provided, beyond the obligatory “permissions” pages.
Interested readers will want to know who these writers are and what else
they have written. An extraordinary omission. Still, this is the one
blemish on an otherwise excellent book which deserves a wide readership.


Grady, Wayne., “From the Country: Writings About Rural Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 29, 2024,