On the occasion of International Women's Day, we're rounding up Canadian nonfiction and compelling stories about women's work, art, history, bodies, and more.
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, by Kate Beaton
About the book: Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark! A Vagrant, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beaton, specifically Mabou, a tight-knit seaside community where the lobster is as abundant as beaches, fiddles, and Gaelic folk songs. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, Katie heads out west to take advantage of Alberta’s oil rush—part of the long tradition of East Coasters who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can’t find it in the homeland they love so much. Katie encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands, where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet is never discussed.
Beaton’s natural cartooning prowess is on full display as she draws colossal machinery and mammoth vehicles set against a sublime Albertan backdrop of wildlife, northern lights, and boreal forest. Her first full length graphic narrative, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands is an untold story of Canada: a country that prides itself on its egalitarian ethos and natural beauty while simultaneously exploiting both the riches of its land and the humanity of its people.
Halal Sex: The Intimate Lives of Muslim Women in North America, by Sheima Benembarek
About the book: An unprecedented glimpse into the sex lives of female and gender-expansive Muslims living across Canada and the United States.
In the Muslim world, sex is permissible (or halal) only within the confines of marriage. Outside of wedlock, the act is considered haram, a sin of the faith. Girls are taught to protect their virginity; their mothers, if not forgoing “the talk” altogether, obscure the facts with elliptical language and metaphors.
So, what happens when immigrants and the children of immigrants set about pursuing an open and active sex life on a more sexually liberated continent, amid western peers and attitudes? The six deeply personal stories in Halal Sex attempt to answer this question, bringing a hushed conversation out into the open.
Within these pages you’ll meet Hind, a niqabi in a polygynous marriage; Azar, a non-binary trans Sufi; Bunmi, a Nigerian navigating shame and Tinder; Eman, a lesbian stand-up comic in an interfaith marriage; Taslim, a virgin in her forties struggling to erect healthy boundaries; and Khadijah, an exotic dancer and sex worker.
With great empathy, Sheima Benembarek makes space for the honesty and vulnerability of each participant and handles their stories with gentleness and care. What emerges is a tapestry of a diverse Islam—encompassing a wide variety of cultural and religious and socioeconomic backgrounds—and a frank, feminist contribution to the advancement of Muslim sexual education and pleasure.
Crying Wolf: A Memoir, by Eden Boudreau
About the book: It's a tale as old as time. Girl meets boy. Boy wants girl. Girl says no. Boy takes what he wants anyway.
After a violent sexual assault, Eden Boudreau was faced with a choice: call the police and explain that a man who wasn't her husband, who she had agreed to go on a date with, had just raped her. Or go home and pray that, in the morning, it would be only a nightmare.
In the years that followed, Eden was met with disbelief by strangers, friends, and the authorities, often as a result of stigma towards her non-monogamy, sex positivity, and bisexuality. Societal conditioning of acceptable female sexuality silenced her to a point of despair, leading to addiction and even attempted suicide. It was through the act of writing that she began to heal.
Crying Wolf is a gripping memoir that shares the raw path to recovery after violence and spotlights the ways survivors are too often demonized or ignored when they belong to marginalized communities. Boudreau heralds a new era for others dismissed for "crying wolf." After all, women prevailing to change society for others is also a tale as old as time.
From the Heart: Family. Community. Service., by Mary Anne Chambers
About the book: A refreshing memoir that challenges readers to make the most of life’s opportunities.
After moving to Canada from Jamaica in 1976, a colleague at Scotiabank told Mary Anne Chambers not to be surprised if she didn’t get very far. The overlapping characteristics of her identity—Caribbean immigrant, Black businesswoman, Catholic, wife, and mother—were expected to hinder her both personally and professionally. Yet, against all odds, she went on to attain senior roles in both business and politics.
In her inspiring memoir, Chambers shares lessons from the moments that challenged and defined her. From the Heart encourages us to be our authentic selves, to embrace curiosity, to find value in our life experiences and those we meet along the way.
An Anthology of Monsters: How Story Saves Us from Our Anxiety, by Cherie Dimaline
About the book: An Anthology of Monsters, by Cherie Dimaline, award-winning author of The Marrow Thieves, is the tale of an intricate dance with life-long anxiety. It is about how the stories we tell ourselves can help reshape the ways in which we think, cope, and ultimately survive. Using examples from her books, from her mère, and from her own late night worry sessions, Dimaline choreographs a deeply personal narrative about all the ways in which we tell stories. She reveals how to collect and curate our stories, how they elicit difficult and beautiful conversations, and how family and community is a place of refuge and strength.
Chasing Rivers: A Whitewater Life, by Tamar Glouberman
About the book: The thrilling story of a female whitewater guide working on some of the most challenging and remote rafting rivers in North America, from Northern British Columbia to the Grand Canyon and beyond.
When Tamar Glouberman was in her twenties and thirties, rivers were flowing through every aspect of her life. Whitewater and the paddling community bring excitement, friendships, lovers and a connection to the natural world as she traverses the map in search of her next adventure. As a short woman who nearly failed high-school gym, Glouberman does not fit the stereotype of a kayaker or raft guide and must prove herself time and again. Yet she feels more at home on water than land.
Driven to guide increasingly dangerous rivers, Tamar overcomes her self doubts and challenges both on and off the water, using a combination of grit and wit. But when a rafting trip ends in a fatal accident, she is consumed by guilt and exiles herself from the rivers she loves, convinced she can never return. Tamar must eventually decide if being unable to save her passenger’s life means she also must sacrifice her own.
A raw and honest work from a talented new voice in adventure writing, Tamar’s memoir is a page-turner, transporting readers through wild rapids and breathtaking canyons, navigating eddies and currents, as she learns from the river that finding self-forgiveness might be the most hard-to-reach destination of all.
Redemption Ground: Essays and Adventures, by Lorna Goodison
About the book: In her first-ever collection of essays, poet and novelist Lorna Goodison interweaves the personal and political to explore themes that have occupied her working life: her love of poetry and the arts, colonialism and its legacy, racism and social justice, authenticity, and the enduring power of friendship. Taking its title from one of Kingston's oldest markets, Redemption Ground introduces us to a vivid cast of characters and remembers moments of epiphany—in a cinema in Jamaica, at New York's Bottom Line club, and as she searched for a Black hairdresser in Paris and drank tea in London's Marylebone High Street. Enlightening and entertaining, these essays explore not only daily challenges but also the compassion that enables us to rise above them. They confirm her as a major figure in world literature.
No Second Chances: Women and Political Power in Canada, by Kate Graham
About the book: As of September 2021, only thirteen women had reached Canada’s top political posts: elected or appointed provincial premier or prime minister. They have represented three major political parties and served across provinces and territories from coast to coast to coast. But, as professor and provincial candidate Kate Graham discovered, there are concerning similarities in their stories: women tend to reach the top only in challenging political circumstances; they last in the top job for about half as long as men do; and, when they run for re-election, they lose.
No Second Chances shares the stories of the rise and fall of women in Canada’s most senior political roles and examines the obstacles that prevent more women from reaching for and achieving these goals. Based on interviews conducted for the Canada 2020 No Second Chances podcast, Graham provides readers with a rare glimpse into the lives of female political leaders, from the perspectives of the women who know this story best.
Wanda's War: An Untold Story of Nazi Europe, Forced Labour, and a Canadian Immigration Scandal, by Marsha Faubert
About the book: What does it mean to be exiled? For the landmarks of your past to disappear?
In 1943, Wanda Gizmunt was ripped from her family home in Poland and deported to a forced labour camp in Nazi Germany. At the end of the war, she became one of millions of displaced Europeans awaiting resettlement.
Unwilling to return to then-Soviet-occupied Poland, Wanda became one of 100 young Polish women brought to Canada in 1947 to address a labour shortage at a Quebec textile mill. But rather than arriving to long-awaited freedom, the women found themselves captives to their Canadian employer. Their treatment eventually became a national controversy, prompting scrutiny of Canada’s utilitarian immigration policy.
Wanda seized the opportunity to leave the mill in the midst of a strike in 1948. She never looked back, but she remained silent about her wartime experience. Only after her death did her daughter-in-law assemble the pieces of Wanda’s life in Poland, Nazi Germany, and finally, Canada. In this masterful account of a hidden episode of history, Faubert chronicles the tragedy of exile and the meaning of silence for those whose traumas were never fully recognized.
Modern Fables, by Mikka Jacobsen
About the book: Modern Fables is a darkly funny, feminist collection of essays about love and place.
In this darkly funny book about love in the digital age, Mikka Jacobsen challenges the notion that a single woman in her thirties writing about love is simply desperate. Instead, in an unflinching collage of coming-of-age narratives, she both elevates singledom and upholds the value of finding profound love. A work of feminist thinking, these interlinked essays blend memoir with cultural and literary criticism, exploring first loves and teenage drug-slingers, sports culture and blowjobs, catfishing and the problematic advice of self-help gurus.
At the same time, Modern Fables considers how we are shaped as much by the places we are from as by the times in which we live. Growing up and living in the deeply conservative Canadian prairies, what does it mean when you're not at home at home? Whether she's writing about a settler mother's forays into shamanism in "The Indian Act" or considering the favourite writer of every Calgary man's online-dating profile in "Kurt Vonnegut Lives on Tinder," Mikka Jacobsen pulls no punches, delivering a fiery manifesto on love and place for our times.
Superfan: How Pop Culture Broke My Heart: A Memoir, by Jen Sookfong Lee
About the book: For most of Jen Sookfong Lee's life, pop culture was an escape from family tragedy and a means of fitting in with the larger culture around her. Anne of Green Gables promised her that, despite losing her father at the age of twelve, one day she might still have the loving family of her dreams. Princess Diana was proof that maybe there was more to being a good girl after all. And yet as Jen grew up, she began to recognize the ways in which pop culture was not made for someone like her—the child of Chinese immigrant parents who looked for safety in the invisibility afforded by embracing model minority myths.
Ranging from the unattainable perfection of Gwyneth Paltrow and the father-figure familiarity of Bob Ross, to the long shadow cast by The Joy Luck Club and the life lessons she has learned from Rihanna, Jen weaves together key moments in pop culture with stories of her own failings, longings, and struggles as she navigates the minefields that come with carving her own path as an Asian woman, single mother, and writer. And with great wit, bracing honesty, and a deep appreciation for the ways culture shapes us, she draws direct lines between the spectacle of the popular, the intimacy of our personal bonds, and the social foundations of our collective obsessions.
BLEED: Destroying Myths and Misogyny in Endometriosis Care, by Tracey Lindeman
About the book: A scorching examination of how we treat endometriosis today
Have you ever been told that your pain is imaginary? That feeling better just takes yoga, CBD oil, and the blood of a unicorn on a full moon? That’s the reality of the more than 190 million people suffering the excruciating condition known as endometriosis. This disease affecting one in ten cis women and uncounted numbers of others is chronically overlooked, underfunded, and misunderstood—and improperly treated across the medical system. Discrimination and medical gaslighting are rife in endo care, often leaving patients worse off than when they arrived.
Journalist Tracey Lindeman knows it all too well. Decades of suffering from endometriosis propelled the creation of BLEED—part memoir, part investigative journalism, and all scathing indictment of how the medical system fails patients. Through extensive interviews and research, BLEED tracks the modern endo experience to the origins of medicine and how the system gained its power by marginalizing women. Using an intersectional lens, BLEED dives into how the system perpetuates misogyny, racism, classism, ageism, transphobia, fatphobia, and other prejudices to this day.
BLEED isn’t a self-help book. It’s an evidence file and an eye-opening, enraging read. It will validate those who have been gaslit, mistreated, or ignored by medicine and spur readers to fight for nothing short of revolution.
Song of the Sparrow: A Memoir, by Tara MacLean
About the book: Singer/songwriter Tara MacLean has had an extraordinary musical career. From being discovered singing on a BC ferry to touring with Dido, Tom Cochrane and Lilith Fair, her solo albums and those with the band Shaye have touched legions of fans. But she hasn’t, until now, disclosed the details of how the power of song saved her from a childhood filled with danger.
From her earliest days in the backwoods of Prince Edward Island, Tara was surrounded by nature, the songs of her musician father and the love of her actor mother. But love was not enough to feed their growing family, nor were the Wiccan, then evangelical Christian teachings her parents followed. Hunger and uncertainty were constant companions, as were the dangers that began to enter her world. Predators can come in many forms from even the most trusted circles, and Tara soon learned that a young girl is never safe. It was only through Tara’s inner strength and the solace she found in singing that she created a refuge and a future for herself.
Song of the Sparrow is a daring, heartbreaking and provocative memoir of a life filled with music, told with the same raw, open and elegant poetry that Tara’s fans have come to expect. From Tara’s childhood in PEI through her teenage years in BC to her meteoric rise in music, Song of the Sparrow reveals her remarkable strength and shows that a song and a wide-open heart are the best weapons for fighting monsters.
All Things Move: Learning to Look in the Sistine Chapel, by Jeannie Marshall
About the book: A deeply personal search for meaning in Michelangelo’s frescoes—and an impassioned defence of the role of art in a fractured age.
What do we hope to get out of seeing a famous piece of art? Jeannie Marshall asked that question of herself when she started visiting the Sistine Chapel frescoes. She wanted to understand their meaning and context—but in the process, she also found what she didn’t know she was looking for.
All Things Move: Learning to Look in the Sistine Chapel tells the story of Marshall’s relationship with one of our most cherished artworks. Interwoven with the history of its making and the Rome of today, it’s an exploration of the past in the present, the street in the museum, and the way a work of art can both terrify and alchemize the soul. An impassioned defence of the role of art in a fractured age, All Things Move is a quietly sublime meditation on how our lives can be changed by art, if only we learn to look.
Hand on My Heart: A Canadian Doctor's Awakening in Afghanistan, by Maureen Mayhew
About the book: When Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) offered to send Maureen Mayhew to Taliban-occupied Afghanistan, she refused. Fearing she would be forced to give up her independence to preserve her safety, it was the last place on earth she wanted to volunteer medical expertise. But events didn’t unfold as she had anticipated and in April 2000, wrapped in unfamiliar clothing, she stepped out onto the Afghan dust for the first time. Walking toward Taliban immigration officials, a fire raged in her belly and a tremor shot through the hand grasping her blue knapsack. Little did she know that she would return to this country seven more times over the span of a decade, learn to converse in the regional Afghan language of Dari, and develop lasting relationships with women, men—even members of the Taliban—and families through her work as a physician.
In Hand on My Heart: Awakening in Afghanistan, Mayhew juxtaposes her experiences of Afghanistan as a foreign, female physician with her personal journey of questioning who she is as a professional woman in the 21st century. As she travels from one remote outpost to another, sharing cups of tea in secret, muddling through language barriers, and brokering trust with her patients, she finds her Western beliefs challenged and makes sense of her own struggles with gender roles. With curiosity and tenderness, Mayhew reflects on moments of disorientation, fear, wonder and joy. Hand on My Heart is a moving account that takes readers on an uncharted path into the mysteries of the human heart.
A Sentimental Education, by Hannah McGregor
About the book: How do you tell the story of a feminist education, when the work of feminism can never be perfected or completed? Hannah McGregor, the podcaster behind Witch, Please and Secret Feminist Agenda, explores what podcasting has taught her about doing feminist scholarship not as a methodology but as a way of life.
A Journey of Love and Hope: The Inspirational Words of a Mi'kmaw Elder, by Elder Sister Dorothy Moore
About the book: Mi'kmaw Elder Sister Dorothy Moore has spent a lifetime advocating for the rights of her people. As a well-known educator and a survivor of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School, she has broken down systemic barriers, leading the Mi'kmaq to access all levels of education, and worked tirelessly to reclaim and promote Indigenous ways of knowing and being.
In A Journey of Love and Hope, Sister Dorothy's words are collected in print, as she originally spoke them, for the first time. Included are speeches, talks, presentations, and ceremonies delivered between 1985 and 2015 to universities, government departments, and Indigenous organizations and gatherings. Thematic sections include Culture and Language, Spirituality, Racism, Education, and Prayers and Ceremonies, framed by Ikantek (introductions) from well-known Mi'kmaw writers and educators, as well as an Associate Sister of the Sisters of St Martha.
Sister Dorothy's talks and presentations will inspire and serve to disrupt the dominant narratives of complex Indigenous issues such as colonialism, oppression, racism, and discrimination. A Journey of Love and Hope gives a voice to Mi'kmaw lived experiences and provides a valuable resource for use in schools, postsecondary education institutions, and communities. Her words are an inspiration to all Treaty people.
Features original illustrations by celebrated Mi'kmaw artist Gerald Gloade and appendices, including a complete list of Sister Moore's talks and presentations and a timeline of life events.
Our Voice of Fire: A Memoir of a Warrior Rising, by Brandi Morin
About the book: A wildfire of a debut memoir by internationally recognized French/Cree/Iroquois journalist Brandi Morin set to transform the narrative around Indigenous Peoples.
Brandi Morin is known for her clear-eyed and empathetic reporting on Indigenous oppression in North America. She is also a survivor of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls crisis and uses her experience to tell the stories of those who did not survive the rampant violence. From her time as a foster kid and runaway who fell victim to predatory men and an oppressive system to her career as an internationally acclaimed journalist, Our Voice of Fire chronicles Morin’s journey to overcome enormous adversity and find her purpose, and her power, through journalism. This compelling, honest book is full of self-compassion and the purifying fire of a pursuit for justice.
Thick Skin: Field Notes From A Sister In The Brotherhood, by Hilary Peach
About the book: Thick Skin: Field Notes from a Sister In The Brotherhood, is a deep dive into the secret language and hidden culture of one of the most esoteric heavy construction trades: Boilermaking. For more than two decades, Hilary Peach worked as a transient welder—and one of the only women—in the Boilermakers Union. Distilled from a vast cache of journals, notes, and keen observations, Thick Skin follows Peach from the West Coast shipyards and pulp mills of British Columbia, through the Alberta tar sands and the Ontario rust belt, to the colossal power generating stations of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. At times edging up to the surreal, Thick Skin is a collection of strange stories carefully told, in tenderness and ferocity, for anyone who has spent time in a trade, or is curious about the unseen world of industrial construction.
British Columbiana: A Millennial in a Gold Rush Town, by Josie Teed
About the book: Unsure of her next steps after graduation, twenty-something Josie Teed accepts a position at Barkerville, a remote heritage site in British Columbia showcasing the nineteenth-century gold rush. She lives in the adjacent village of Wells, population 250. There is no cell reception and the grocery store is an hour away. Once a thriving gold mining community in the 1930s, Wells has become a haven for white Gen-X artists and flower children, struggling actors-turned-heritage-interpreters, and transient miners.
Eager to move on from a master’s thesis that left her questioning her passion for history, Josie dives headlong into her new job and life in a small town. Faced with the prospect of remaining long-term, she must decide if she will fight to carve a place for herself in Wells’s idiosyncratic community. What follows is the story of a young woman trying to find connection and purpose in the twenty-first century while living in a village seemingly frozen in the past.
Still, I Cannot Save You: A Memoir of Sisterhood, Love, and Letting Go, by Kelly S. Thompson
About the book: Kelly Thompson and her older sister, Meghan, are proof that sisterhood doesn’t always equate to friendship.
Growing up within a military family, the girls were close despite being temperamental opposites—Kelly, anxious and studious, looked to her big sister for comfort, and Meghan, who battled kidney cancer as a toddler, was gregarious and protective. But as she approached adulthood, Meghan spiralled into a cocaine and opioid addiction, and Kelly’s relationship with her sister was torn apart.
Their paths diverge as they live their own lives, and it is only when Meghan becomes a mother that she and Kelly tentatively face past hurts and reexamine what sisterhood really means. But their reunion is threatened when Meghan receives a shocking new diagnosis on a day that should be one for celebration. Now, as the family reels at the prospect of the biggest loss imaginable, Kelly and Meghan must share all that they can in the time that they have, using their mutual sense of humour to chart a course through the darkest of days.
At once funny and heartbreaking, Still, I Cannot Save You is a story about addiction, abuse, and tragedy, but above all, it is a powerful portrait of an enduring love between sisters.
Low Road Forever: Essays, by Tara Thorne
About the book: A book of snarky, feminist essays covering #MeToo, pop culture, and LGBTQ+ topics, from longtime arts-and-culture columnist, for fans of Lindy West, Anne T. Donahue, and Sara Irby.
A self-proclaimed "gay feminist harpy since before it was cool," Tara Thorne is situated somewhere between the sharp-eyed urban commentary of Nora Ephron and ribald cultural analysis of Lindy West. In her debut book of essays, the Halifax-based filmmaker, arts critic, and recovering journalist gives readers her unvarnished take on the films and music that made her a feminist, how the #MeToo reckoning led her to write a misandrist vigilante film, what it's like being the only woman in a band, and the snarky tweet that made her lose her position as CBC Radio's arts and culture columnist. Alongside are musings on coming out later in life, remaining resolutely child-free, and why she's decided to step back from being professional to the point of erasure: after two decades, it's time to take the low road.
With the cranky forthrightness of Fran Lebowitz in Pretend It's a City, Thorne's voice is both self-assured and deeply self-effacing as she exposes the light haze of misogyny that hangs over us all to find what's funny, what's true, and what needs to be said.
Ordinary Wonder Tales, by Emily Urquhart
About the book: A journalist and folklorist explores the truths that underlie the stories we imagine—and reveals the magic in the everyday.
“I’ve always felt that the term fairy tale doesn’t quite capture the essence of these stories,” writes Emily Urquhart. “I prefer the term wonder tale, which is Irish in origin, for its suggestion of awe coupled with narrative. In a way, this is most of our stories.” In this startlingly original essay collection, Urquhart reveals the truths that underlie our imaginings: what we see in our heads when we read, how the sight of a ghost can heal, how the entrance to the underworld can be glimpsed in an oil painting or a winter storm—or the onset of a loved one’s dementia. In essays on death and dying, pregnancy and prenatal genetics, radioactivity, chimeras, cottagers, and plague, Ordinary Wonder Tales reveals the essential truth: if you let yourself look closely, there is magic in the everyday.
Lights to Guide Me Home: A Journey Off the Beaten Track in Life, Love, Adventure, and Parenting, by Meghan J. Ward
About the book: Meghan J. Ward was 21 years old when she journeyed across the country for a summer job in the Canadian Rockies. As an inexperienced hiker from the suburbs of the nation’s capital, she knew she was in for an adventure. But what she didn’t know was that her move to the mountains would result in a 90-degree turn towards a life she never expected.
In the Rockies, Meghan fell in love with the wilderness, the high elevations, and a man whose way of life expanded her horizons. As that summer drew to a close, she took her first of many courageous steps off the beaten path to create the life of her choosing—one that brought her a sense of purpose and meaning, and a new set of challenges.
In Lights to Guide Me Home Meghan takes us on a trip around the world while chronicling her transitions through some of life’s major milestones. From Costa Rica to Nepal, Rapa Nui to Malta, Meghan explores what it means to carve out her own identity amidst family expectations, her responsibilities as a parent to young children, and her marriage to an ambitious travel and landscape photographer. Whom will she discover beneath these entanglements?
More Than a Footnote: Canadian Women You Should Know, by Karin Wells
About the book: There are women throughout Canada’s history who when faced with a locked door, have looked for a key—or a battering ram. Award-winning writer Karin Wells tells the stories of women like the fierce and iconoclastic Mina Benson Hubbard, who finished the mission to map northern Labrador that had killed her explorer husband, and Vera Peters, MD, who revolutionized treatments for Hodgkins lymphoma and breast cancer. Or the painter Paraskeva Clark, child of the Bolshevik Revolution, who rattled staid Toronto when she took Norman Bethune as a lover and spoke out for art as a tool of social change. And have you heard of Charlotte Small, a Métis woman who canoed and trekked 42,000 km—more than three times further than the American explorers Lewis and Clark—and had five babies along the way?
Some were outrageous, some were unassuming, most were not polite, but they all ignored the voices that said women could not paddle a canoe, program a computer, understand the universe, or cure a disease. They lived big lives—often at great cost—and they made a difference.
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