Literature in English: Teaching

In colonies, the literary tradition of the mother country normally prevails. This was true in Canada, where it has taken English-speaking Canadians a long time to accept their own literature as a legitimate subject for study. Throughout the late 19th century, English language and literature, with some admixture of CLASSICS, held undisputed sway in the literary curricula of Canadian schools and universities. Outside the institutions, however, the groundwork of an indigenous literature was being laid.

The first Canadian anthology was E.H. Dewart's Selections from Canadian Poets (1864). Although there is no evidence that this book was used in the schools, it was the first of many anthologies that would support the teaching of Canadian literature as the subject gained recognition. W.D. Lighthall's Songs of the Great Dominion (1889) was another landmark volume. BIOGRAPHY and literary history had their beginnings in H.J. Morgan's Bibliotheca canadensis: A Manual of Canadian Literature (1867). By the end of the century, to such names as Haliburton, Moodie and Richardson had been added Lampman, Carman, Roberts and Scott. The making of a teaching canon of early Canadian writers was in sight.

Records of pioneering attempts to bring Canadian literature into university curricula are often unreliable. In 1924 the Canadian Bookman published the results of a survey undertaken by the Canadian Authors Association on the status of "Canadian Literature in Education." Most universities reported, rather defensively, that they keenly supported the subject. The public schools said they liked to use Canadian authors "to diffuse a sane view of patriotism." These were, however, apparently only token interventions. Desmond PACEY claims that the first undergraduate course was offered by J.B. Reynolds at Macdonald Inst (see UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH) in 1906-07. The McGill calendar for 1912-13 listed a course in "American and Canadian Literature." Its instructor, Susan E. Cameron, seems to have taught in this field as early as 1907-08. The "Am-Can" combination (satirized by Robertson DAVIES in Leaven of Malice, 1954) soon became a common expedient for allowing Canadian literature a place in the sun. In practice the balance usually favoured the American component. Although the University of Toronto was late in giving its formal blessing to the study of Canadian literature (an Honours American-Canadian course was first offered in 1933-34), it had endorsed a series of "popular" lectures emphasizing Canadian subjects at the turn of the century. A full-fledged course in Canadian poetry, given by Alexander W. Crawford, was in place at U of Manitoba, 1919-20.

A more serious claim to the pioneering role comes from Acadia U, where in 1915 John Daniel LOGAN began lecturing on Canadian literature. Logan joined the army in 1916, but in 1919 he returned as "Special Lecturer in Canadian Literature without salary." The Acadia Bulletin had called the 1915 series "the first course of lectures on distinctively Canadian Literature which has ever been given in a Canadian University." The appointment of 1919 was hailed by the Toronto Globe as "an innovation of national importance." The same year V.B. Rhodenizer taught "The History of Canadian Literature," a half course. Logan later attacked Archibald MacMechan and Dalhousie U in Dalhousie University and Canadian Literature ... (1922), a broadside discounting their claim to lead the way in teaching Canadian literature by offering a half course in 1921-22.

Expediency and compromise governed the entry of Canadian literature into academe: noncredit courses; courses not acceptable for credit in majors or honours programs; half-credit courses; courses treating Canadian literature as a wayward extension of English literature or as a footnote to American literature were offered. Carlyle King's full-fledged, upper-level and fully accredited course at U Sask in 1946-47 may have been the first of its kind.

In fact, a new, strengthening current reached critical force just before and after WWII. Although the 1920s and 1930s had produced few curricular developments, there had been an increasingly widespread awareness of writers and writing in Canada. The Canadian Authors' Association (fd 1921) had preached literary nationalism and had created the necessary tension to spark the coming of modern poetry to Canada by the decade's end. Moreover, 68 anthologies and collections were published 1920-40. A handful of texts, such as Our Canadian Literature (1922) by Watson and Pierce and A Book of Canadian Prose and Verse (1923) by Broadus and Broadus were designed specifically for school and university use. J.D. Logan and D.G. French published Highways of Canadian Literature (1924), one of 6 literary histories which appeared in the 1920s. It was also important, in the context of teaching, that the criticism of Canadian literature had begun to fall to a new breed of established scholars. W.E. Collin's The White Savannahs (1936) brought an urbane manner and sophisticated techniques to bear on the work of selected Canadian poets. E.K. BROWN and a roster of experienced scholars contributed, from 1936 on, incisive annual reviews of contemporary Canadian writing to the "Letters in Canada" supplement of UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY.

Symbolic of a general quickening of literary energies was the publication in 1943 of Brown's On Canadian Poetry, the first extensive and scholarly treatment of the tradition of poetry in Canada, and A.J.M. SMITH's Book of Canadian Poetry, the first such anthology compiled on scholarly principles. Publication of new poetry was on the upsurge. The return of the war veterans set the stage for the dramatic expansion of university enrolment over the next 20 years.

Until at least 1960 the introduction of Canadian courses continued to face opposition from defenders of the traditional curricula of English departments. American literature, moreover, which had been an expedient for getting Canadian literature into course work, became, especially 1960-70, a threat when a high incidence of American appointments to Canadian departments was reflected in a sometimes smothering expansion of American courses.

The establishment of postgraduate studies in Canadian literature at U of T (1947-48) was an important development. C.T. Bissell and R.L. McDougall were early instructors. On the one hand this development marked a first step towards the legitimization of Canadian literature as a subject for advanced study, and on the other it charted the way for the first generation of scholars trained in this specialty.

The next 20 years saw strong postgraduate centres established at Carleton, U of New Brunswick, McGill, Queen's, Western, U of Alberta and U of British Columbia. Among those who set the pace were C. KLINCK, Malcolm ROSS, D. Pacey, R.L. McDougall, L. DUDEK, R. Watters, F. COGSWELL, A. Lucas, G. Roper and J. Matthews. The expansion of course work was nourished by (and in turn nourished) the publication of texts and supporting critical material. Landmark publications were Klinck and Watters's Canadian Anthology (1956); the New Canadian Library series of reprints (est 1957); the Literary History of Canada (1965; rev 1976); and the periodical Canadian Literature (est 1959).

Finally, demographic, economic and cultural factors produced a dynamic development of Canadian courses and enrolments in the 1960s. The development was fed by the arrival at university age of the youth of the postwar BABY BOOM; it was accelerated by a prosperous economy and the wishes of a generation of students seeking "relevance" in education. It was at the same time fuelled by a national movement towards "Canadianization," the term used by Robin Mathews and J. Steele in their highly public efforts to increase Canadian content in the educational system.

By 1970 there seemed little reason to question the status of Canadian literature as an academic subject. In 1948, 10 universities had offered half courses in Canadian literature; 2 offered full courses. In 1972, 38 universities offered 90 full undergraduate courses, for a total enrolment of over 6000 students. At the graduate level, offerings had risen from virtually nothing in 1948 to 30 graduate offerings in 22 universities 1972-73, for a total enrolment of over 200 students. Nevertheless, T.H.B. SYMONS stated in To Know Ourselves (1975), the report of the Commission on Canadian Studies, that undergraduate courses in Canadian literature represented only 8% of the total offerings of departments of English. Perhaps more serious was the commission's finding that the atmosphere of denigration which had surrounded the teaching of Canadian literature for the better part of 50 years was far from dead. The 1970s closed with severe financial stringencies imposing new priorities on the universities. In the 1980s Canadian literature took its natural place in our curriculum for English studies.