Canadian Short Stories

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Canadian Short Stories

An Overview of Canadian History

Around the year 1000 Vikings landed on the eastern coast of Canada, nearly five hundred years before the official discovery of the New World by Columbus. A reconstruction of a settlement of thatched houses in Newfoundland is a reminder of these first European settlers on the North American continent.
Five years later, in 1497, the Italian Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) who was in the employ of the English King Henry VII, travelled round the coast of what later became the Atlantic Provinces and claimed them for England.
In the 1630's, Jacques Cartier claimed the area around what was to become Quebec as French territory. Another seventy years would go by, however, before the first French settlement would be established in Port Royal. From the early 17thcentury onwards French explorers pressed further into the interior of the country, looking for new shores, while English marines sailed round the north of America unaware.
The British fur trading company, the Hudson's Bay Company, founded in 1670 under English royal patronage, put a stop to the uncontrolled French colonisation of Canada, and brought the entire countryside in its area under its control. Battles between the two sides over land rights, spheres of influence, and rights to hunting and fishing grounds, became the norm over the next one hundred years, until the Treaty of Paris in 1736 settled ownership issues in North America once and for all.
Although the majority of the population was clearly French, Canada fell to Britain. The Quebec Act of 1774 merely guaranteed the French cultural autonomy under British sovereignty. The English - speaking Canadians were joined by more fellow countrymen following the American War of Independence, when many Britons loyal to the mother country left the newly - formed United States of America. The old French Province of Quebec divided into the Anglophile Upper Canada and the Francophile Lower Canada (the modern - day Provinces of Ontario and Quebec).
In the last war on Canadian soil, the British - American War of 1812 - 1814, a number of skirmishes took place on different fronts. The ensuing peace treaty fixed the actual border between the two provinces at the 49thParallel. Towards the end of the 18thand the beginning of the 19thcentury, explorers like Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser and David Thompson, in the employ of fur trading companies, opened the gateway to the west, up distant rivers and unknown paths. By the first half of the 19thcentury the fur trade had reached its apex and was a lucrative business for the white, for whom the Indians acted as suppliers and merchants in the wilderness.
The Dominion of Canada was founded in 1867, with the Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Politically, the new country enjoyed internal self - government, but it was firmly tied to its distant but immensely powerful motherland insofar as trade was concerned. Two years later, Canada acquired the landholdings of the Hudson's Bay Company, the so - called Rupert's Land. This area became the Western provinces of Manitoba (1870), Alberta and Saskatchewan (1905) as we know them today.
In 1885 the Canadian Pacific Railway achieved the first transcontinental railway link between the east and west coasts of this vast country and triggered off the rush to settle the Pacific Province of British Columbia. The Statute of Westminster in 1931 conferred on Canada complete autonomy from the motherland of Great Britain. Newfoundland joined the Dominion of Canada in 1949 as the tenth and last province, whilst the huge area of the northern territories (the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories), which are largely inhabited by Inuit and Indians, also came under the rule of Ottawa, the federal capital.
In the 1960's Canada saw a resurgence of conflict between its French - and English - speaking people. The Separatist Movement of Quebec was rekindled after a visit to Montreal by the French President Charles de Gaulle, who supported a free Quebec. As a result, countless businesses moved their headquarters from French - speaking Montreal to English - speaking Toronto, which rapidly became the largest Canadian city. The election of Pierre Trudeau in 1968 brought bilingualism to Canada and greater autonomy to the provinces. Calls for independence for Quebec gradually waned.
In 1982 the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, signed the Constitution Act, thus severing the last legal tie between Canada and Great Britain. Since 1968 every change to the Constitution had required British consent. Canada, however, remains a member of the Commonwealth and Elizabeth II remains the sovereign.
The 1990's have brought enormous political changes to Canada. The US - Canadian Free Trade Agreement allows the unimpeded trade of goods and services between the two countries.
The Inuit and Indians as native Canadians are demanding greater political rights.
And the Quebec Separatist Movement is again raising its head in strident tone. The French province is insisting on constitutional recognition as a distinct society with overriding political rights, but it has so far failed to carry it through.

General Features of Short Stories:

A short story contains some of these elements. It need not to contain all.
    limited number of characters short time span one main action limited places of action characters are not fully developed open ending no exposition - text starts with the action itself special event in the life of the characters

Selected Short Stories

Margaret ATWOOD: Scarlet Ibis
Margaret ATWOOD: Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother
Margaret ATWOOD: The Little Red Hen Tells All
Alistair MACLEOD: The Return
Joyce MARSHALL: Old Woman

Scarlet Ibis
(Margaret Atwood)


Christine, Don and their youngest four - year - aged daughter Lilian spend their vacation in Trinidad. Don is exhausted and irritable because of his work. But the holidays are not that relaxing for him. His wife feels a pressure he is under. And she thinks she the pressure. Christine tries to plan activities for the three of them. One day she suggested to go to a place where red birds called Ibises can be watched. They take a taxi to the swamp where the birds live. There the meet other people who want to watch the Ibises. Together with all kinds of tourists they make a boat trip in the swamp in order to get to the roosting area of the birds. Suddenly the boat crashes against the root of a mangrove and the boat springs a leak. But the Indian who is steering goes on as if nothing has happened. The passengers try to put the water away using beer cans without success. So a woman sits down on the hole to prevent the water from coming in. When they reach their destination they watch the Ibises flying. Don is very impressed, he even takes his wife’s hand.
Every time Christine tells this adventure to somebody she presented it as a form of entertainment.


Margaret Atwood shows the crisis of a couple. The wife tries to help her exhausted husband to relax. But she does not have much success. Her husband, her daughter and she herself do not enjoy their vacation. When she plans the boat trip to the Ibises she hopes to get some relaxation. But the tour seems to become a horror trip. The boat leaks, it starts to rain and the steering Indian does not want to return. But for a moment she has reached what she want: Her husband takes her hand for no reason. Only because he is so impressed. But the end of the story shows the family acting as before: The wife tells their adventure as a normal entertainment trip.

Form and Style
The story is told by a third - person narrator. He portrays what the family do and what they think. He focuses on Christine. He shows her feelings and motivations.
The story is written in formal English. The author wrote a short exposition: He introduces the family and describes where they are.

Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother
(Margaret Atwood)


A daughter tells some details about her mother’s life, especially about her childhood. So I will give some examples

For example when the mother is only a few years old she is given a basket full of baby chicks for Easter. She loves them to dead because she does not know how the raise and look after them.

The mother’s father is a country doctor. His office is in their house. So the mother often sees people with cut off fingers, hands, toes and so on. Because of this experiences with illnesses she advises her children never getting ill. And she also hardly becomes ill. But once she almost dies because her appendix burst. Her father has to do the operation although he does not like to do it because she is his daughter. That is one of the few weaknesses the mother admit her father has.
Once the narrator’s grandfather and one of his brothers invest money in muskrats. The want to breed them and sell their furs. But an apple farmer washes his spraying equipment upstream and the muskrats are poisoned.
Another episode is about playing with urine samples: The mother and one of her sisters takes bottles with yellow liquid and plays in their tree house with them. As punishment their are beaten.
When the mother was 16 she has her hair very long. Her father does not allow her to let it cut. So she asks him if she may cut it while he is at the dentist’s and has tooth - ache. The daughter also tells that her father was upset when she let cut his hair.
When the mother was 17 she started teaching in school in Truro. She boards with a family with several sons more or less in their age. One of their amusements is performing theatre. For on play the need a cat. So the take the family cat. Then one of the sons drives her to the place where they are performing. On the way their the cat urinates on the mother’s skirt. She is very embarrassed but she does not talk with the guy about that.

The daughter describes her mother by telling episodes her mother often tells. So she shows how the mother behaves. She shows how much she loves and admires her mother. And she describes how life was when her mother was young. She sometimes compares her mother and her life by telling stories her mother often tells and by remembering how mother cares about her.

Form and Style:
The frame of the story is told by a first - person narrator. The woman who is the narrator tells episodes of her mothers life. She tells them as a limited third - person - narrator. She only knows what her mother told her but she also interprets the stories and give her own opinions.
The story is written in upper colloquial English. The author sometimes uses direct speech. The author jumps between several episodes of the mother’s life and the explanations and the point of view of the daughter. But he does not jump between episodes that happens earlier and episodes that happens later.

The Little Red Hen Tells All
(Margaret Atwood)


A Hen finds a Grain of wheat. She asked the other animals if they can help her planting the crop. But every animal refuses. So she plants it without support. She waters it. She guards it during day and night. And it grows. And makes more wheat of it. So she plants these crops and cares about them. Finally she gets enough wheat for a loaf of bread. After she has baked the loaf she asked the other animals if they will help her eating the bread. And everybody wants to. They ask the hen, write petitions to her. And then they become depressed and accuse her of selfishness. They say she can bake more bread. So the hen apologizes for having the idea of baking the bread, for her luck, for being a good cook, for being a hen. And she offers them her bread.


This parable shows the problems women still face in our world: Nobody wants to support them, but after the work is done everybody want to have the fruits. They even accuses the hen of not having done enough.
Margaret Atwood retells the well - known children tale. But she makes the hen to a woman. She tries to show the attitude our society have towards women.

Form and Style

The story is told by a first - person narrator. The hen describes the situation she is in and how it has developed. The author starts with the end: She tells that everybody wants to have the bread. In the second paragraph she shows the development. In the third the hen apologizes.
The narrator enlightens what happens. She talks to the reader. She uses direct speech to talking with the other animals.
The story is written in colloquial English.

The Return
(Alistair MacLeod)


Angus, his wife Mary and their son Alex are going from Montreal to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia where Alex grew up by train. They want to see Angus’ family whom Alex does not know. Mary does not like it because she thinks their son can be badly influenced there.
At the railway station they are picked up by two of Angus’ brothers. They bring them to their parents. Alex has never met his grandparents before. Angus talks with his father about his relationship two his parents - in - law.
The next day Alex is introduced to some of his cousins. Together they go to the town. When two older boys threaten Alex because of his neat clothes his cousins defend him because he is one of their clan.
Another day Angus and Alex visits Alex grandfather at work. He is a coal mine worker as most people living on the island.
When they have to leave to Montreal the grandparents say to Alex that he is their only grandchild they will never know.

The story shows deep emotions. Angus parents think in the old Gaelic clan system. They think the have lost Angus to his family - in - law. Angus likes his parents and the place where he grew up. But he cannot live there know. He has changed to much. Now he feels a little bit like his wife.
The story illustrates one great problem of the large country: Families are separated. Alex does not know his father parents for ten years. He had now chance to meet them before because they live very far away. The story also illustrates the differences between the educated people living in an urban environment and the worker milieu in the country.

Form and Style:
The story is told by a limited first - person narrator: By Alex. He reports everything he hears, but he does not understand the connections.
The story is written in standard English. This shows Alex’ educational standard. The direct speech is adjusted to the person talking.

Old Woman
(Joyce Marshall)


Molly and Todd married in England during the war. He was there as a soldier. When Toddy went back to Canada Molly still stays in England because she had to care about her mother.
Three years later she travels to her husband in Canada. Together they go to their home in northern Quebec near to Missawani by train. Molly realizes that Toddy has changed.
When they arrive their home Todd shows her everything but the power plant he works in. He looks after the machines all day. One week later he finally shows the power house to Mary.
After Mary has cleaned the whole house she starts to be bored. She asks her husband if he can teach her how to drive the sleigh but he always claims he has no time because of the machines.
One day a worker asks Molly if she can help his wife who has problems with nursing their child. Molly knows what to do and so she become a birth helper. Her husband does not want her to do that. He wants her to stay at home all day.
One day he does not come home from the power house. So Molly looks after him. She finds him with his machines. He seems to be one with the machines. He does not react when Molly shouts his name. During the years he has fallen in love with his machines. Now they are his life.

Todd has fallen in love with his machines. Now they are his world. When people are lonely for years they forget real live. They become like Toddy: Bushed. That is one of the problems of the country, especially in the northern regions. People become strange.
The story illustrates the landscape of Canada. The author often describes the beautiful country Molly sees.

Form and Style:

The story is told by a third - person narrator who reports Molly’s point of view. It is written in standard English, even the direct speech.

There is no exposition. The story starts with some of Molly’s thoughts during her trip to Missawani.

Canadian Short Stories

According to Margaret Atwood Canadian short stories does not distinguish from anyone’s else stories, if they are considered individually. Together they are one whole body of work. Then a few generalizations can be made: Many authors are women; there are many young authors who started to write in the 60ies and 70ies; and the number of authors in the western country is increasing.
The problem is: What is Canadian? What does the Canadian nation distinguish from other nations? The answer is difficult. But it is difficult for every country. In Europe countries can find their identity in their history. The USA have their dream. Canada does not have a long own history. And it does not have its own dream. Canada has stood between the United Kingdom and the United States.
One typically feature for Canadian short stories are the emotions shown. For example in "Scarlet Ibis" the crisis of a couple are illustrated very well.
Another feature is the landscape: Canada is a very large country, and some parts have not been explored. Many authors describe the landscapes their story take place.
Because of the low population loneliness is another theme. For example in "Old Woman" the man loves his machines more than other human beings because he has been lonely a long time.

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