Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Foreign Language Study Native American Languages

The Beginning of Print Culture in Athabasca Country

A Facsimile Edition & Translation of a Prayer Book in Cree Syllabics by Father Émile Grouard, OMI, Prepared and Printed at Lac La Biche in 1883 with an Introduction by Patricia Demers

introduction by Patricia Demers

translated by Naomi L. McIlwraith & Dorothy Thunder

foreword by Arok Wolvengrey

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Jun 2010
Native American Languages, Translating & Interpreting
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2010
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


A signal event in the move from oral to print culture for the Cree was Father Grouard's prayer book, written in Syllabics and printed in 1883. More than a century later, Demers, McIlwraith, and Thunder reproduce the text, along with a direct English translation, a transliteration into the Standard Roman Orthography now in use as well as in nineteenth-century SRO. Demers offers an introduction to the work within its cultural framework; the translators together discuss Grouard's use of Cree Syllabics, which illuminates the difficulties this missionary-pioneer faced in transferring the nuances of one language to another in which he was an ardent learner. Cree history scholars, linguists, and anyone interested in print history would be well served by adding this influential work to their library.

About the authors

A professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Patricia Demers is the author or editor of eleven books and over fifty articles. Her research interests range widelyâ??from early modern womenâ??s writing, Shakespearean and Jacobean drama, feminist hermeneutics, and childrenâ??s literature to contemporary Canadian womenâ??s writing. She is the recipient of a Rutherford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and a McCalla Research Professorship. In September 2005 she was awarded the University Cup, the University of Albertaâ??s highest recognition for outstanding teaching and research. In 2006, she was appointed University Professor.

Patricia Demers' profile page

Always an educator, writer, deep thinker, and conversationalist extraordinaire, Naomi McIlwraith teaches secondary English, Social Studies, and Aboriginal Studies.

Naomi L. McIlwraith's profile page

Dorothy Thunder is a Cree Instructor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.

Dorothy Thunder's profile page

Arok Wolvengrey is Department Head, Associate Professor, and Linguistics Program Coordinator at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina.

Arok Wolvengrey's profile page


  • Unknown, Alberta Book Awards - Scholarly and Academic Book Award

Editorial Reviews

"This volume contains a facsimile of a prayer book written in Cree syllabics by Father Emile Grouard and originally printed in 1883.... The syllabics are translated both into Cree and English, and include discussions of the problems encountered by the priest in preparing the book." Alberta History, Autumn 2010

"Demers, McIlwraith, and Thunder have openly noted the various cultural glasses we look through today, and warned us that, while we know some things of that moment and place, we should not assume that we know everything that transpired. Indeed the moment itself may well have been conflicted in its way of seeing itself." Earle Waugh, Equinox Press

"The Beginning of Print Culture in Athabasca Country is . . . a pioneer endeavour in two senses: not only does it open wide a previously under-explored chapter in Canadian print history, but it does so by interpreting a species of text uniquely representative of its time and place of origin." Eli MacLaren and Pascale Ryan, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Spring 2011)

"The judges felt [The Beginning of Print Culture in Athabasca Country] was an important undertaking. The volume opens up history in an accessible yet rigorous way. Given the highly specialized content, the publisher took a risk to ensure that the material was well presented; the choice to use print (rather than digital publication) demonstrates a commitment to high-quality scholarship and dissemination. The physical book was thoughtfully produced: the various texts are clear and cleanly presented, and the translation and transliterations will help readers appreciate the subject and context of Alberta's early print culture. This is an all-around excellent book, worthy of this award." Winner of Scholarly and Academic Book Award, 2011 Alberta Book Publishing Awards Jury Comments

"This book is a unique contribution to sociocultural history and to Aboriginal language studies. It introduces the reader to a forgotten document and calls attention to an often neglected dimension of early missionary work-its attention to language.. The authors, having positioned themselves at the interface of oral culture and textual representation, engage in a cultural linguistic analysis of the challenges they encountered in the process of transcription, transliteration, and translation. This book represents a major milestone in Aboriginal studies." Rosa Bruno-Jofré, Catholic Historical Review, January 2012

"Compared to its eastern equivalents, the history of printing in the Canadian Northwest has garnered meagre critical attention. This is a pity, since its inception promises to be as interesting to linguists and cultural historians as to bibliographers and textual scholars. The Beginning of Print Culture in Athabasca Country is, therefore, a pioneer endeavour in two senses: not only does it open wide a previously under-explored chapter in Canadian print history, but it does so by interpreting a species of text uniquely representative of its time and place of origin.... Its author--Father Émile Grouard--is as much an object of the translators' interest as the text itself, for it is in the life of this 'forgotten pioneer of print culture' (xv) that we witness an extraordinary confluence of European and Aboriginal thought.... The result is a uniquely hybrid text: a prayer book whose fundamentally Western modes of teaching and thought are shaped by the linguistic parameters of Aboriginal speech.... By offering these multiple avenues into the text, the book provide readers with a unique opportunity to examine the transformations and subtle shifts of meaning that occur at the 'interface of oral culture and textual representation' (445)." Sarah Mead-Willis, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Spring 2011

"[Grouard's] arrival at Lac La Biche in 1876 marks the beginning of the important linguistic, cultural, religious and bibliographic moment delineated in rich detail by this critical edition of one of Grouard's major liturgical publications.... The Beginning of Print Culture in Athabasca Country opens important new dimensions for study for modern scholars of mission, linguists, and Cree-language students. Historians of the Canadian Northwest are deeply indebted to these scholars and their Cree Elder collaborators for their work..." Richard Mammana, Anglicans Online, September 10, 2012 [Full review at]

"Perhaps the best way to see this restored book is as a collaboration, a conversation between cultures, the matrix on which the province was formed. Think of the epic journey these sacred, powerful words have made -- from their original ancient Hebrew and Greek, to Medieval Latin, to 19th century French, to Cree, old and new, and now to English." Paula Simons, Edmonton Journal

Other titles by Patricia Demers

Women's Writing in Canada

by (author) Patricia Demers

Cultural Mapping and the Digital Sphere

Place and Space

edited by Ruth Panofsky & Kathleen Kellett
foreword by Susan Brown & Mary-Jo Romaniuk
contributions by Jeffery Antoniuk, Constance Crompton, Ravit H. David, Patricia Demers, Shawn DeSouza-Coelho, Cecily Devereux, Teresa M. Dobson, Sandra Gabriele, Isobel Grundy, Andrea Hasenbank, Paul Hjartarson, Alexandra Kovacs, Vanessa Lent, Margaret Mackey, Stephanie Walsh Matthews, Breanna Mroczek, Bethany Nowviskie, Mariana Paredes-Olea, Harvey Quamen, Jennifer Roberts-Smith, Omar Rodriguez-Arenas, Stan Ruecker, Lori Saint-Martin, Michelle Schwartz, Stefan Sinclair, Mireille Mai Truong & Heather Zwicker

Regenerations / Régénérations

Canadian Women's Writing / Écriture des femmes au Canada

edited by Marie Carrière & Patricia Demers
contributions by Nicole Brossard, Susan Brown, Louise Dennys, Cinda Gault, Lucie Hotte, Dean Irvine, Gary Kelly, Shauna Lancit, Mary McDonald-Rissanen, Juliet McMaster, Mary-Jo Romaniuk, Julie Roy, Susan Rudy, Chantal Savoie, Maïté Snauwaert, Rosemary Sullivan & Sheena Wilson

Travels and Tales of Miriam Green Ellis

Pioneer Journalist of the Canadian West

by (author) Miriam Green Ellis
edited by Patricia Demers

Miriam Green Ellis

Champion of the West

by (author) Patricia Demers

Coelebs in Search of a Wife

by (author) Hannah More
edited by Patricia Demers

From Instruction to Delight

An Anthology of Children's Literature to 1850

edited by Patricia Demers

Staging Alternative Albertas

Experimental Drama in Edmonton

edited by Patricia Demers & Rosalind Kerr

Science and Ethics / La Science et l'Éthique

edited by Patricia Demers

The Creating Word

Papers from an International Conference on the Learning and Teaching of English in the 1980s

by (author) Patricia Demers

Other titles by Arok Wolvengrey