The Best Canadian Books to Read Before You Visit Canada

The Best Canadian Books to Read Before You Visit Canada

I’ve always loved the quote ‘Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are’ and I believe that it’s very true. So, whether you’re planning a future trip to Canada or just want book recommendations, you’re in the right place. These Canadian books will give you a glimpse into life in the Great White North and Canada’s complicated history. They will also hopefully inspire you to visit one day.

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One of the ways that I like to read while saving money is by using Scribd. Scribd is like iTunes or Spotify but for books. You pay $8.99 USD per month and get access to UNLIMITED audiobooks, ebooks, recipe books, and even sheet music. Many of the books on this list are available through Scribd. Click here to get 60 days of free reading when you sign up for Scribd! If you use the link to get 60 free days of reading, it will also allow me to save some money on my own Scribd Subscription.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

Submitted by Janine from Janine in the World

In the Skin of a Lion is set in the Toronto area in the early 1900s and follows the main character, Patrick from boyhood to adulthood. Patrick’s co-protagonist is the city of Toronto and Ondaatje tells both of their stories through a series of vignettes that depict the experiences of immigrants during this time period of growth in Toronto. The story has a little of everything: mystery, romance, history, class struggles, and so much more. 

The book deals with compelling themes, including labor and how it relates to the immigrant experience. Particularly, the fact that Toronto was built by immigrant labor that often goes unrecognized. 

Another one of the major themes in the book is language. Patrick, a native Canadian, often feels like an outsider because the people around him speak languages he doesn’t know. He envies them and the community they have because he has led a very solitary life. 

Apart from the fact that the novel is so thought-provoking, I love how vivid the language is. Ondaatje does a wonderful job of bringing the setting to life. Labor is a huge part of the book, and Ondaatje does an incredible job of depicting how hard the work is, and the physical state of the workers. He describes everything from the physical stance of the workers to the scent of their clothes at the end of the day. It really drives the point home: these people worked HARD.

There’s so much to love about this novel, and I really think it has a quintessentially Canadian feel to it. If you like feeling like you’ve been truly transported somewhere when you read, you’re sure to love this book.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Submitted by Kay from The Awkward Traveller

Children are both the most honest and reliable narrators possible. That is why The Marrow Thieves is not only one of the best pieces of Canadian literature but also an incredibly beautiful piece of literature anywhere. It is a dystopian novel that is just an arm’s reach from reality. Frenchie, the main character, is a young boy on the run after losing the rest of his family. After the world collapses from climate change, the Indigenous people of the Americas are rounded up and harvested for their bone marrow. Bone marrow which provides the unique quality of restoring dreams in non-Indigenous people. Aside from the engaging and exciting nature of apocalyptic genres, The Marrow Thieves is uniquely compelling because it tackles social issues from the perspective of Canada’s Indigenous community, who time and time again have been persecuted since colonial settlement in North America. The characters are diverse in personality and extremely well-flushed out, and the pace of the novel flows so effortlessly you can easily read uninterrupted for hours.

You can purchase a subscription and read The Marrow Thieves on Scribd here (with 60 days of your subscription for FREE).

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neille

Submitted by April from Just Leaving Footprints

Lullabies for Little Criminals takes place in Montreal, where Baby, a young teenage girl lives. She grows up living in a poor household with her father Jules who is a heroin addict, and who mistreats her. As she navigates the fine line between childhood and adulthood, a local pimp takes an interest in her and she is thrown into even more dangerous situations. This book tells us a lot about Montreal, Canada’s poorer neighborhoods, and the children who grow up in them. It’s a brilliant book and beautifully written.

You can purchase a subscription and read Lullabies for Little Criminals on Scribd here (with 60 days of your subscription for FREE.)

The Rez Sisters: A Play in Two Acts by Tomson Highway

Submitted by April from Just Leaving Footprints

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Tomson Highway is one of Canada’s most famous Indigenous authors. His book, The Rez Sisters: A Play in Two Acts is absolutely captivating. The story follows seven Indigenous women from a reserve who attempt to win at bingo. The bingo game they are entering is The Biggest Bingo in the World and winning could mean a way out of a painful life. The Rez Sisters is mysterious, funny and powerfully written. It shows us just a glimpse of what life on Canada’s reservations is like.

Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway

Submitted by April from Just Leaving Footprints

Another book that I just had to include by Tomson Highway is Kiss of the Fur Queen. This book is about two Indigenous Cree boys who grow up in northern Manitoba. They are forced into one of Canada’s residential schools where their native language is beaten out of them and they must assimilate to Catholicism. The two boys also get abused by priests. Wherever the boys go, a trickster called the Fur Queen who can shapeshift, follows, protects and guides them. This book is quite disturbing at times but it shows a glimpse into one of the most overlooked parts of Canadian history.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Submitted by April from Just Leaving Footprints

Anne of Green Gables is a true Canadian classic. My mom used to read this book to my sister and me when we were growing up and I honestly have never met a Canadian who hasn’t heard of it. Anne of Green Gables is about a girl named Anne who is an orphan. She is sent to a farmhouse on Prince Edward Island called Green Gables to live with a new family, the Cuthberts. With a vivid imagination, fiery temper and bright red hair to match, Anne knows she must somehow convince the Cuthberts to let her stay with them and not send her back to the orphanage.

Anne of Green Gables has become so popular that it was made into a TV show. You can also watch Anne with an E on Netflix which is based on the book. If you ever visit Prince Edward Island in Canada, you can actually visit the Green Gables Heritage Place which is the home and site that inspired LM Montgomery to write the book.

You can purchase a subscription and listen to Anne of Green Gables on Scribd here (with 60 days of your subscription for FREE).

Birdie by Tracie Lindberg

Submitted by April from Just Leaving Footprints

Birdie is a wonderful novel about a Cree woman named Bernice Meetoos who leaves her Northern Alberta home and travels to Gibsons in British Columbia. Birdie (Bernice) is on a vision quest and is seeking to understand some messages that come to her on a cooking show and in her dreams. Her other reason for going to Gibsons is to meet an actor named Pat Johns. When her Auntie Val and cousin Skinny Freda visit her in Gibsons to help out, she then is taught to face and learn from her past. This novel is beautifully written and the story is like poetry. The book blends dreams, road trips, and female experiences all set in two of Canada’s most beautiful provinces.

You can purchase a subscription and listen to Birdie on Scribd here (with 60 days of your subscription for FREE).

Other Canadian Books on My List to Read:

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The Best Canadian Books to Read Before You Visit Canada

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2 thoughts on “The Best Canadian Books to Read Before You Visit Canada”

  • Oooo Birdie sounds so good!! And I also appreciate you including so many FN authors and stories! Thank you for these suggestions!

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