Calling All Readers: Where Are Canada’s Literary Landmarks?

tagged : book news

We had the pleasure of attending a great Ottawa literary event in October: the unveiling of the Project Bookmark Canada plaque commemorating Elizabeth Hay’s Garbo Laughs. Hay read a scene from her book—alternating with a friend who read a beautiful French translation—in the exact spot it took place (Old Ottawa South by the Rideau Canal). The group of us who clustered by her to listen experienced the narrative in an entirely new way.

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Elizabeth Hay reading from Garbo Laughs at her Bookmark unveiling in Old Ottawa South

“Commemorating” is not exactly the right word, in fact, summoning as it does notions of the past and the finished. While Project Bookmark Canada celebrates writers’ works and offers them an enduring place in the landscape, it is very much a present sort of thing. As the website explains:

“Project Bookmark Canada [brings] written narratives beyond the page and into our physical spaces. Through a series of permanent markers bearing a fragment of text, Project Bookmark Canada reveals where our real and imagined landscapes merge, allowing the writers’ words, images and characters to stir us (residents and visitors, pilgrims or passersby) in the very locations where the stories take place.”

So far these are the writers and places honoured by Project Bookmark Canada plaques (see also Open Book Ontario’s cool map featuring the Bookmarks and other literary landmarks):

  • Michael Ondaatje (In the Skin of a Lion): Toronto, Bloor Street Viaduct
  • Ken Babstock (“Essentialist”): Toronto, St. George and Bloor Streets
  • Anne Michaels (Fugitive Pieces): Toronto, College and Manning Streets
  • Terry Griggs (Rogues’ Wedding): Owen Sound, waterfront
  • Bronwen Wallace (“Mexican Sunset”): Kingston, Princess and Clergy Streets
  • Elizabeth Hay (Garbo Laughs): Ottawa, near Colonel By and Fulton Streets
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Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion Bookmark in Toronto at the Bloor Street Viaduct
(photo: Lisa Sakulensky)

Miranda Hill, the founder and executive director of Project Bookmark Canada, is on a mission to roll out Bookmarks all over the country: “There are countless stories and poems set in recognizable locales⎯from St. John’s to Toronto to Vancouver. It would be wonderful to Bookmark them all. My vision is that you should be able to read your way right across Canada.”

Hill is looking for collaboration—suggestions from Canadians across the country for Bookmarks celebrating great Canadian writing that features recognizable local spaces. Here’s the criteria:

  • The reader must be able to stand in the place where the scene takes place, right in the footsteps of the characters or narrator
  • It must be a significant passage (up to 500 words) that works as an excerpt but makes you wonder what came before and what comes next, encouraging readers of the Bookmark to become readers of the book

Please send your suggestions to hello@canadianbookshelf.com and we’ll pass them straight to the Project Bookmark Canada team.

November 3, 2010
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