The Canadian Online Lit Scene


Canada is a country of vast open spaces dotted with urban centers. Links between separated people have always been an important part of the nation's culture whether it be building a cross-country railway in the 1880s, or the current plan to build a high speed internet network to span the distance between Canada's three oceans.

Perhaps it is also no surprise, then, that Canada is home to 30 million people, and almost as many writers. At least, that's the way it seems sometimes. Canada is also recognized by the United Nations as one of the most wired countries in the world. It also seems to have more than its fair share of scribblers.

Put those two facts together and you get a rich resource of online literary information.

This feature will provide an overview of some primary sources of information about what's happening on the Canadian literary scene from a WWW point of view.


The Canadian literary economy like the literary economy in any other country includes everything from bedroom-based 'zinesters to international publishing houses. Most Canadian publishers belong to the Association of Canadian Publishers. Their web site includes an alphabetical listing of Canadian publishers, links to industry resources, training information for publishing professionals, and other basic advice about the publishing industry.

Canada is also home to a healthy network of small presses, 40 of whom are members of the Literary Press Group, a non-profit association of smaller Canadian-owned book publishers. The LPG helps its members sell, distribute and market their books. Members save money by sharing centralized resources. LPG projects include a distribution agreement with a recognized Canadian distributor; a national trade salesforce; advertising and marketing projects targeted to booksellers, librarians and consumers; and promotional events for members' books.

"Little Magazines" to borrow a phrase from Martin Amis also dot the Canadian countryside. Internationally recognized literary rags like The Antigonish Review, based in Nova Scotia, and The Malahat Review, based in British Columbia, have been around for decades, and continue to challenge their readers with their regular excellence. The advent of the WWW, meanwhile, has introduced a new crop of challengers and a new way of doing business.

Canada's online literary magazines are an eclectic group. At the top end is Qwerte, a publication of the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Out of Toronto, Ontario, comes the trio of The Danforth Review, Pagitica, and paperplates. All three publish new creative writing, reviews, and feature content, including interviews with Canadian writers of all sorts and stripes. All of these online magazines are traditional in their approach, using the WWW has the new medium to deliver a known product.

Twisting the form in a different direction is The Edgewise ElectroLit Centre, a non-profit organization based in Vancouver, British Columbia, which describes its mandate as making "poetry and new media accessible to all members of society. We assist Canadian poets and writers in expanding their potential through an electronic forum, to reach their community as well as an international audience."

Canadian writers and literary organizations are assisted in their efforts by various regional and national arts funding agencies, based in both the public and private sectors. Perhaps the most significant of these is the Canada Council for the Arts, which is an agency of the federal government. The Canada Council funds individual writers for specific time-limited projects. It also funds literary publishers and provides funding for organizations to hosts regular public readings by authors. Similar arts funding agencies exist at both the provincial and municipal levels of government as well.

Writers in Canada also belong to professional associations. Prose writers can choose between the Canadian Authors Association and the Writers Union of Canada. Poets can choose between Canadian Poetry Association and the League of Canadian Poets. Editors are served by the Editors Association of Canada. And publishing staff can choose to belong to the Book Promoters Association of Canada.

Book news comes from a variety of sources. Quill & Quire is the Canadian publishing industry's trade magazine, and it includes monthly articles on publishing trends, industry job ads, plus dozens of reviews of the latest releases from both the large and smaller houses. The Globe and Mail, which bills itself as "Canada's National Newspaper", dedicates part of its vast web site to book news under the title Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC, also dedicates part of its web site to books and writers in the section CBC Infoculture Books & Writers.

Other sources of online Canadian book news include: January Magazine, a web magazine based in British Columbia, with a focus on popular books; Geist, a quirky Canadian magazine which frequent features book excerpts; and Prairie Fire Review of Books, the web version of a renowned "little magazine" based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Canada's international authors festivals and other public reading events are another important part of the nation's literary culture. Toronto's Harbourfront Reading Series, along with its annual International Author's Festival every October, is the granddaddy of all Canadian authors festivals and one of the premier literary reading stages in the world. Some of the other prime reading stages across the country include: Vancouver's International Writers Festival, Winnipeg's International Writers Festival, the annual Word on the Street, which takes place in locations coast to coast. Finally, the uniquely named Scream in High Park in Toronto has become one of the reading public's favorite annual one-day events.

Micropresses deserve a mention here, because they are often the spawning ground for the new generation of talent or talent that persistently refuses to be assimilated into the mainstream. Canada is home to dozens, if not hundreds, of independent publishers. The magazine Broken Pencil provides this 'zinster culture with a voice, filling each issue with reviews of 'zines, chapbooks, and other odd-ball cultural tidbits. Otherwise, chapbook publishers like above/ground press, Junction Books, and Thirteenth Tiger Press produce work of a more consistently literary sensibility. They also provide hope that the ground will continue to shake with new voices. In Canada and across the world.

Michael Bryson is the author of 13 Shades of Black & White (Turnstone Press, 1999) and Only a Lower Paradise and Other Stories (Boheme Press, 2000). He also publishes and edits The Danforth Review. He lives and writes in Toronto.