Read our pick of great books and movies based in or about Eastern Canada. Get a better idea of this wild and wonderful area of the Maritimes.
Travel this massive country from your armchair!
Canada’s best known Authors
Canadians on a “Staycation” or those from abroad wishing to visit this great country should have a look at these Eastern Canadian best books and movies. They will give you an idea of the interesting cultural identity of a special part of this huge nation, the Maritimes.
“Out of Towners” will soon find out, that Canada is a country of creators. Whether this means from simple craft work to artistic directors, playwrights, journalists, and novelists. It may be those long winter days and nights, but the output alone is impressive. Margaret Atwood is one of the most famous due to her grim, The Handmaid’s Tale. A poet, novelist, critic, activist, she once said, “War is what happens when language fails” has often gritty novels but is prolific to a high degree.
Equally famous and talented authors to seek out are; Yann Martel, Alice Munroe, Michael Ondaatje, Mordecai Richler, Margaret Lawrence, & Robertson Davies.
Here is a list of what we consider must watch Canadian movies and books to dip into before visiting the Eastern Maritime Provinces
Hollywood Stars in Canadian Based Movies
Best Drama set in Canada’s Maritimes
If you are looking to just put your feet up and enjoy some downtime, watch these movies about Nova Scotia and the Maritimes. Experience this fascinating area before getting there.
A good and thrilling one to start, is the 2001 excellent movie (based on the book of the same name),The Shipping News. Taking place in Newfoundland, Kevin Spacey plays a devastated man, trying to put his life back together after terrible personal tragedies. An all-star cast including Dame Judy Dench and Canada’s Gordon Pinsent, the story is filmed with the background of desolate fierce winter Maritime landscapes.
Hollywood Stars in Canadian Movies
A Nova Scotian based movie, is Margaret’s Museum (1995) starring Helena Bonham Carter. This drama piece set in 1940, is about a young woman overcoming the death of her father and brother in a mining accident. Determined for her lover, a bagpipe player, not to have the same fate, she makes him promise to find work elsewhere. You can probably guess what happens already but well acted.
Unique Canadian Content – Maple Syrup Theft
Something in the Non-Fiction range is Netflix’s Dirty Money Series which chronicles one of Canada’s biggest thefts – that of maple Syrup in Quebec, a place that provides the world with 75% of its Maple Syrup needs. The great syrup robbery, occurred over many months in 2011 and 2012, where 3,000 tons (10,000 barrels) of syrup was stolen, a cost of a 18 Million Dollar loss.
“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Canada’s Most Famous Books in Film
Speaking of Canada’s Best Books & Movies, you have to mention this one, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Filmed numerous times and appearing recently in Netflix (“Anne with an E”) and other channels, it is a true favourite. The best adaptation in our opinion, is the 1985 CBC version with Coleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth as the Cuthberts who take on Anne (Megan Follows). Follow Anne, the carrot top red head orphan who is loveable but always into trouble, through the years as she grows up. It is a classic book series and its international appeal is not surprising,
The turn of the century in the Maritimes never looked so good and it is a charming story. If you like to get weepy with nostalgia read this truly Canadiana classic set in beautiful Prince Edward Island.
Canada’s Best Books and Movies
Number #1 Canadian Film
A departure on what many would normally seek out on a Saturday night film, but to really appreciate the indigenous community of Canada, it needs to be listed. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) is an Inuit Artic retelling of a legend.
Directed and acted in an Inuit language it is beautifully shot and is worth settling down with. The film made enough of an impression that a group of Canadian filmmakers and critics declared it the greatest Canadian film of all time in 2015.
I’m not an apologetic Canadian…
I’m sorry, I’m just not
Canada, The Funniest Country in the World
Comedy is Canada’s forte!
Many Hollywood comedians, Mike Myers, John Candy, Jim Carey and Seth Rogan to name only a few, have come out of Canada, so it can be said that as a people, they do like a laugh.
Not technically set in the Maritimes but an isolated coastal village in Quebec, La Grande Séduction / Seducing Dr. Lewis (2003) is a comedy directed by Jean-Francois Pouliot and won awards at Sundance. Residents in an economically deprived village try to lure a doctor to stay and open a practice. This was redone, with a Netflix version, taking place in Newfoundland starring Brendon Gleeson (The Grand Seduction).
Both versions are very amusing but the Quebecois one really is excellent.
Best Canadian Indie Film
A true Canadian film gem is Don Shebib’s realistic drama, Goin down the Road. Don´t let the novice film making budget put you off, it is well acted. This 1970 film is about 2 young men (Paul Bradley and Dough McGrath) from Cape Breton, who strike out for Toronto to make it rich. Unfortunately, it’s not easy and they both lose their minimum wage jobs and turn to petty crime. The scenery is worth it, as is the pathos of it all. It really gives you a good feel of the experience of many economically deprived Maritimers.
The whole movie is on Youtube.com
GREAT BOOKS ABOUT CANADA’S FIRST NATIONS
One of the very interesting tomes to include on your Canadian best books and movies list is The Stone Canoe, 2 Lost Mi’kmaq Texts. An adult non-fiction piece by Elizabeth Paul and Peter Sanger, it gives importance to the indigenous peoples who were here before Cabot and the Vikings. Discovery of two manuscripts from the 1880s recording stories in 1st Nations language, has helped contribute to an appreciation and understanding of Indigenous literature.
More generally, another of Canada’s best literature pieces is from Farley Mowat, activist and author of People of the Deer, his intimate journey living 2 years with the Ilhalmiut peoples of Northern Canada. In 1886, the Ihalmiut people numbered seven thousand; 60 years later, it was 40. This is a Canadian masterpiece documenting a harsh life and of a decimation of a community and culture.
Mowat’s other book, Eastern Passage about his experiences sailing down the St. Lawrence River, from Montreal to Halifax, is also a good and applicable novel in his take no prisoners writing style.
I write better in Cape Breton… too many people around in Ontario. Farley Mowat – Author | Activist
Interested in more Aboriginal Writings from Canada?
Another recommended book about the First Nations experience is Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America which details how pop culture has done very well financially in the appropriation of the First Nations culture and symbols via film, art, tourist trappings, etc.
Junior readers and adult, will all enjoy The Marrow Thieves by Métis activist & author, Cherie Dimaline. A post apocalypse has left only the First Nations people, the ability to dream, found via experiments in their bone marrow.. You will not want to put this down. Her other mystery involving mythic characters, Empire of Wild is also a page turner.
BEST BOOKS ON NOVA SCOTIA’S MODERN HISTORY
In our list of Canada’s best books and movies, here is an eclectic collection about Nova Scotia and its diversity.
For a very good view of an incident that shaped modern Halifax and the province in general is Hugh Maclennan’s “Barometer Rising”. This is a readable history on the terrible collision of 2 boats in Halifax harbour which exploded in 1917 and killed 2000 people. The Town that Died: The true story of the Greatest Man-Made Explosion Before Hiroshima by Michael Bird is also interesting. Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker is another novel which takes this terrible event on as well.
Heading out to the Cabot Trail? Visit Baddeck
Alexander Graham Bell’s favourite place and burial ground home was Baddeck. Why not read, A Life From Beginning to End to get an idea of the inventive brain this family man really was. His work with the hearing impaired (including his wife) and his desire to create a workable language for them is impressive. Truly a visionary in so many aspects than the telephone for which he, of course, is most noted for.
Canada’s best books and movies about the Maritimes Multicultural History
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill is really outstanding and a fascinating if not grim true story of Aminata, an 11 year old young girl snatched from her village in Mali in 1755. Ending up a slave in the South, she escapes and helps the British in the listing of all freed slaves on the British side in the Revolutionary War. This is a real historical document in the National Archives at Kew, England.
Aminata is sent to Nova Scotia where she makes her life but mourns the loss of her children (taken from her by slave owners) and her beloved husband.
In 2015, there was also a 6 episode miniseries made of the same book.
Most famous Treasure Hunt in the World
You can not visit Nova Scotia without knowing about Captain Billy the Kidd’s treasure and the hunt for his treasure on Oak Island, started in 1795. A hunt that has provoked tales of ghosts, mysterious tunnels and curses, it is a truly fascinating Canadian mystery.
Read the Secret Treasure of Oak Island: The Amazing True Story of a Centuries-Old Treasure Huntby D’Arcy O’Connor, which describes the race to find the gold!
“To gaze into another persons face is to do two things: to recognise their humanity and to assert your own.”
Canadian’s Best Books on the Acadian Expulsion
The Maritimes have seen a lot of history, not all of it easy. The forced Expulsion of the Acadians from 1755-1764, “Acadia” (Eastern Canada and Maine) by the British, caused the deaths of thousands. Many later settled in Louisiana. Cajun, a pronunciation of Acadian, culture developed there due to it. Made most famous in literature in 1847, by American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie. The Romeo and Juliet styled tale of doomed Acadian lovers, caught people’s imagination. If interested in this era’s history and the forced destruction of the Acadian community, a very factual book is Christopher Hodson’s The Acadian Diaspora: An Eighteenth-Century History. A good kindle read and uniquely biographical story is Acadian Driftwood by Tyler LeBlanc, who shares his family research in a readable way.
Noblest of all the youths was Gabriel, son of the blacksmith!
Great Nova Scotian Books to Read
For a good holiday novel, pick up Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief mainly set up in Cape Breton (due to MacLeod’s love of the area and his summer home here). It is a critically acclaimed book and considered one of the Best Atlantic Canadian novels detailing the trials of a Scottish family.
Stephen Law is a local Nova Scotian writer who has written 2 very good novels which are stories based on his extensive experience in social activism and justice in Canada, Columbia and Guatemala. Tailings of Warren Peace, is a journey taking Warren into the heart of a political struggle for justice that stretches from the Cape Breton roots of a rural mining town, through the Indian diaspora of Toronto to a burial site in Guatemala.
Another of his novel’s, Under Her Skin, is about tattoo artist, Shaz, who comes to a reckoning with her own disjointed family experience and that of the large refugee community in Halifax.
The Birth House by Ami McKay takes an interesting look at Nova Scotian beliefs, customs having to do with birth and the story of Dora, a rural midwife, who has to come to terms with modernity and medical practices alien to her customs.
For a feel good read in a moment of distress is Jim DeFede’s The Day the World came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland, when over 38 jetliners were diverted to Canada’s Eastern city of Gander during this uncertain moment. A story of how a community came together in real Maritime style to help those stuck there during the turmoil. This is the true story that Inspired Broadway’s Smash Hit Musical Come from Away.