Walk in the footsteps of your favourite writers or fictional characters on your next adventure.
Who hasn’t closed a book or finished a story wishing the journey could continue? Or pondered what it would have been like to experience the settings of the characters you just spent time reading about? It’s not always clear where an author grew up – or where the forests or cottages, schools or restaurants that inspired their writings are located.
You have probably heard of some of the more popular literary tourist spots. But there are so many others that are a bit less obvious.
Here is a list of nine popular places for literary tourists to visit in Eastern Canada, followed by some resources to find more obscure literary tourism guides.
Some of these options are so near to one another you can bundle them up into one literary-themed road trip.
While there are many former homes of writers, a hotel and a park on this list, it excludes libraries, bookstores and literary festivals. This is because there are so many that including them here would make this list never end. Those will be on another itinerary!
Green Gables Heritage Place
– 8619 Cavendish Road, Cavendish, Prince Edward Island
This is the environment that inspired one of Canada’s most treasured writers and her popular fictional character Anne of Green Gables. Located in Cavendish, within the Prince Edward Island National Park, you can visit the historic home of L.M. Montgomery.
Additionally, there are several museums and sites related to the author and the popular fictional character in the area. You can see Montgomery’s own patchwork quilt. Or you can go to the location where she married and see some items used during her wedding. Anne fans will often go there to get married in the same spot. There are wedding services offered on the Anne of Green Gables Museum’s website.
The museum even includes a gift shop where you can buy “Anne of Green Gables” raspberry cordial – the same beverage Anne mistook currant wine for in the book when she accidentally got her young friend drunk.
You can also explore the Haunted Woods and Balsam Hollow Trails featured in the L.M. Montgomery’s works of writing.
Poet’s Corner Monument
– 20 Bailey Drive, Fredericton, New Brunswick
It is largely a symbolic landmark but it pays tribute to three historical Frederictonian poets who were born in the second half of the 19th century: Bliss Carman, Charles G.D. Roberts and Francis Sherman. It was originally erected in 1947 by the federal government at the University of New Brunswick, so of course it… lacks diversity.
Carman was the son of a registrar for the provincial Supreme Court. Charles G.D. Roberts was Carman’s cousin and he was the one who encouraged Sherman to write poetry. Carman even taught Sherman at one point. In fact, in 1934, Roberts advocated to the Royal Society of Canada on Sherman’s behalf, stating that Sherman had been completely neglected by literary critics. The next year, Sherman’s Complete Poems were published. Just 10 years later, he was added to the federal government’s list of Persons of National Historic Significance. So the three were pretty close.
The plaque reads: “Born in or near Fredericton, educated in this University, and buried in the cemetery of Forest Hill. Their gifts of verse enriched Canadian literature and gained for their common birthplace the designation.” The Poet’s Corner monument was originally located by the Sir Howard Douglas Hall but was moved in the 1970s closer to the Harriet Irving Library. Since then, the plaque has been updated to a bilingual version.
Most of their literary works included themes of nature’s beauty and the landscapes of the region, so while you are in Fredericton, explore your surroundings in the spirit of these poets. You can also go in to the Arts building on campus, which was where Carman and Roberts graduated.
Additionally, you can visit Carman’s birthplace at 809 George Street, his adult home at 83 Shore Street, the home of his sister at 745 George Street (Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald was also an accomplished yet under-recognized poet) or you can go to the Forest Hill Cemetery where the poets are buried.
Elizabeth Bishop House
– 8740 Highway #2, Great Village, Nova Scotia
The American-born writer spent her childhood living in a little white house near Truro, Nova Scotia. Part of the house originally stood on Mount Pleasant.
Bishop believed it had been “an old wayside inn of ‘ill repute’” that her grandfather had moved to the village.
Exactly when the move occurred is not known, but her grandfather bought the property from Hibbert McLellan in 1874. This is the home of Bishop’s childhood before she moved back to Massachusetts to live with grandparents in 1917, shortly after her mother’s breakdown.
The house is now used to host artist retreats. It isn’t a museum but Bishop fans are welcome to visit or you can exploring your own creativity by attending the retreat.
– 44 Chausée des Écossais, Quebec City, Quebec
OK, OK, this is a library, technically. But this library and cultural centre made the cut because it is much more than just a library. It used to be a prison, then a college and the headquarters of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec.
It has a lot of history, including literary history. The province’s first French-language novelist Philippe Aubert de Gaspé actually did time at the prison during its days as a jail. He served three years in a cell from which he was able to see his own home right across the street.
By 1867, the jail was closed and the space was shared by Morrin College and the LHSQ. Charles Dickens once lectured there. It is also the setting for a Louise Penny mystery novel.
With jail cells spread out between spiral staircases and walls full of bookshelves, it has a spooky, literary, historical and mysterious aesthetic all at once.
Wilensky’s Light Lunch and Mordecai Richler’s home
– 34 Ave. Fairmount Ouest/West and 5257 St. Urbain, Montreal, Quebec
Featured in Mordecai Richler’s The Adventures of Duddy Kravitz, the Wilensky “Special” is a meat sandwich. It has one slice of baloney and five slices of salami. Cheese is optional. But mustard is not. They used to charge 5 cents extra to make it without mustard but that went up to 10 cents.
It is a fun, time warp deli or lunch counter dating back to 1932 with mint green walls, tin ceiling and hand-mixed sodas. The original location moved a block away in 1952 but pretty much everything else is the same.
You can also see the apartment that Richler grew up in. His address was 5257 St. Urbain.
Richler wrote, “Our world was largely composed of the five streets that ran between Park Avenue and the Main: Jeanne Mance, Esplanade, Waverly, St. Urbain, and Clark. Standing tippy-toe on St. Urbain’s next-to-the-bottom rung, you could just peer over Park Avenue—Park Avenue, the dividing line—into blessed Outremont, with its tree-lined streets and parks and skating rinks and (oh my God) furnished basements.”
Those are the streets you can walk through to see the remnants of Richler’s inspiration for his works.
Margaret Laurence’s last home
– 8 Regent Street, Lakefield, Ontario
While the home Margaret Laurence lived in as a child is located in Manitoba, the last home she lived in is in Lakefield, Ontario, near Peterborough.
Laurence lived there from the 70s until her death in 1987. The place is not too far from the Otonabee River, which is the river she would sit by to write most of The Diviners.
The house even has a small stone angel in the yard, a nod to her novel The Stone Angel.
Original homestead of Susanna Moodie
– Corner of Moodie Drive and Stenney Road, Lakefield, Ontario
Another literary spot to visit around Lakefield is the home of Suffolk-born Susanna Moodie, of Roughing It In The Bush fame. The homestead is near Katchewanooka Lake in the township of Douro, north of Peterborough.
For about five years starting in 1834, Moodie lived there with her husband and two daughters, trying to tame the wilderness. The family then moved to Belleville in 1840.
She was the youngest sister of a family of writers, which included Agnes Strickland, Jane Margaret Strickland and Catherine Parr Traill. Moodie was primarily a children’s author in London before she wrote Roughing It In The Bush, which she is most known for today. She died in Toronto in 1885.
Her life and work was an influence for Margaret Atwood who wrote the poetry collection The Journals of Susanna Moodie, published in 1970 and then used information from Moodie’s writings about Grace Marks to inspire her historical novel Alias Grace.
Franklin Children’s Garden
– 9 Queens Quay West, Toronto, Ontario
This Toronto Island Park is perfect for families of book lovers who would be bringing their young ones on their travels. There are several sections in the garden – a place to garden, a place to tell stories, a place to explore wildlife, a “Snail Trail” and even a Hide And Seek Garden.
Besides many Franklin the turtle statues of himself and his fictional friends, the park also includes an actual turtle pond. There is a wooden, wheelchair accessible playhouse for kids to explore, as well as a high lookout point with binoculars.
Children can learn how to plant vegetables and flowers, as drop-in workshops run all summer. And the Storybook Amphitheatre has shows and storytelling.
The Library Bar in Fairmount Royal York Hotel
– 100 Front Street West, Toronto, Ontario
This one is probably not for the kids. Tucked into a corner of The Royal York Hotel’s main floor is a bar called The Library Bar. Reward yourself with some literary libations at the end of your travels.
The hotel has only slight connections to fiction. It was featured in The Handmaid’s Tale T.V. series based on Margaret Atwood’s bestseller.
This bar is dimly lit and furnished like a fancy living room slash parlour slash old-fashioned library.
For the keener, more advanced literary tourists
If you are looking for less obvious potential literary wanderings consider looking into the research and guides created by The Literary Tourist. This is a site run by Ottawa-based writer and broadcaster Nigel Beale. He is able to sleuth out locations of book settings and author homes like no other.
Another excellent resource to find more obscure and specific literary tourism ideas is Project Bookmark. The Toronto-based organization has been collecting literary locations in Canada for over a decade. From specific hillsides, to shores, to even schoolyards, the project helps erect a “bookmark” plaque at the spot where a Canadian writer has referenced it in their writing.
On its own website, Project Bookmark Canada states it “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.”
The bookmarks are chosen with the following criteria in mind: they are places the writer can stand to read their work right in the spot they wrote about and they must represent a significant passage up to 500 words.
Project Bookmark Canada is always looking for keen readers and writers to let them know about more locations.
The bookmark locations can be obscure, off the beaten path or even quite mundane. One example is the field behind Mississauga Valley High School. It was bookmarked because it is mentioned in a poem by Canadian writer Jeff Latosik.
Another example is Old Ottawa South by the Rideau Canal. This is a spot featured in Elizabeth Hay’s Garbo Laughs. She read an excerpt there in November 2010. Even the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto has been bookmarked as a literary landmark, because it was written about in Michael Ondaatje’s In The Skin of A Lion.
So there you have it – nine popular book lover destinations and a whole treasure trove of inspiration for more specific literary tourism ideas. For Canadian book lovers who want nothing more than to feel the places they have read about, there is a whole world of literary tourism possibilities out there.