Canadian Literary Tourism

Mary Anne Gonzales (University of Waterloo, Canada)

Canadian literary tourism is motivated by literature written by Canadian authors or authors who have profound connections with Canadian culture. Furthermore, this form of literary tourism promotes Canadian national landmarks, traditional practices, history, heritage, and culture. The destinations that are part of the itinerary of this form of tourism interpret Canadian culture in the same manner that it is expressed and described in literature.

Visitors who engage in Canadian literary tourism do so with the intention of seeing Canadian sites that they have encountered in literature. In this sense, tourists who participate in Canadian literary tourism can be considered as members of the same literary community. Brought together by their mutual knowledge of Canadian sites from literature, these literary communities manifest in tourism. As the geographical destination of literary tourism, Canada mediates and serves as the meeting place of literary communities inspired by Canadian culture (Scherf, 2021: 3).

The connection between tourism and national identity intertwines and promotes the nation-state. In Canada, tourism growth was most evident in the first half of the twentieth century with the publication of maps and travel guides to Canadian sites. As highlighted by Robert Zacharias (2021: 625), examples of these texts include:

  • The Northumberland Map of Truthful Tales (1926);
  • A Literary Map of Canada (1936); 
  • Canadian Literary Landmarks (1984); 
  • Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to Canada (1987).

Common among these literary works is the promotion of Canadian landmarks as worthy of visiting in learning more about Canadian culture through its topography. Another shared quality among these publications is their provision of landmarks associated with acclaimed literary works produced by Canadian authors. It is also evident that the purpose of these publications was to encourage readers to visit Canadian sites as a literary experience that makes what they read in books vivid.

Canadian literary tours vary in size depending on the number of destinations included in the tour and the distance between destinations. Some tours, like the Montgomery literary tour from Japan to Prince Edward Island inspired by the novel Anne of Green Gables (1908), involve a quick stop to Norval, Ontario, where Lucy Maud Montgomery once lived. In this instance, the tour spans multiple provinces in the country. Alternatively, the individual sites function as their own destinations within their localities.

Canadian literary tourism is often grounded in a cult of personality dedicated to an author and where they lived in Canada. Canadian author homes are often designated as National Heritage Sites due to the acclaim of the literary works associated with the author and their impact on national Canadian culture. Designating author homes as heritage places became common in Canada’s postwar era when national fervour shaped the classification of what was considered heritage (Zacharias, 2021: 624; Vance, 2017: 41). Indeed, the official designation of an author’s home as a heritage site speaks volumes about what a community and, in the case of literary tourism, the nation values as “heritage” (McAtackney, 2020: 167).

Destinations of Canadian literary tours include cities, author homes, places that inspired them, or simply ones that they described in their literary works. Moreover, literary tourism destinations can be classified into three categories: factual, imaginative, and socially constructed. Factual sites are defined by historicity as places associated with authors, such as their family homes and gravesites (Zacharias, 2021: 625). Imaginative sites refer to locations that have inspired a literary work or served as a setting mentioned in a literary work (Zacharias, 2021: 625). Lastly, socially constructed sites are purely inspired by literary works and replicate structures mentioned in them to serve as tourist attractions (Zacharias, 2021: 625).

The most famous literary destinations and tours in Canada are associated with Lucy Maud Montgomery, the world-renowned author of Anne of Green Gables (Fawcett & Cormack, 2001: 686-690). While her novels depict a fictional town in Prince Edward Island called Avonlea, tourists flock to PEI inspired by Montgomery’s descriptions of the island’s scenic sites. In this sense, tourists’ imagination and expectations are largely influenced by the romanticisation of sites by literary works.

Creating a sense of “authenticity” is of utmost priority in destinations of literary tours and caters to the imagined world and time tourists hold. The production or staging of authenticity in literary destinations depends upon the interpretation of fiction by site managers and curators in the material site (Zacharias, 2021: 634; Fawcett & Cormack, 2001: 687). Defining concepts of authenticity consider it alongside the entrepreneurial interests and bureaucratic objectives of organisations that may be responsible for overseeing heritage sites (Fawcett and Cormack, 2001: 687). In the case of a literary site dedicated to an author's life, the site's physical appearance must match its description in literature. Consequently, authenticity is informed by tourists’ expectations and romanticisation of a site that they read about or imagined according to the literary works that they have read.

Tourist experience is critical to measuring the efficacy of authenticity promoted by a literary site. In small communities where author homes are located, visitors might expect to have a positive experience interacting with the residents of the community (Tomaz, 2021: 66). Additionally, it must offer an experience to tourists that makes them feel immersed in the author’s life.

For small communities, literary tours are a creative and sustainable strategy for building its tourism industry. Alongside a heritage site, local knowledge, skills, and features unique to the community can contribute to how tourists experience the literary destination. Indeed, when visiting a literary site associated with a Canadian author, the surrounding areas and nearby sites become part of the destination.

Important Canadian destinations that have been destinations of literary tours include:

  • Green Gables Heritage Place (Prince Edward Island) – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • L’Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland) – Vinland Sagas
  • McCrae House (Ontario) – In Flanders Field by John McCrae

How to cite this dictionary entry: Gonzales, M.A. (2023). Canadian Literary Tourism. In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

  • Fawcett, C., & Cormack, P. (2001). Guarding authenticity at literary tourism sites. Annals of Tourism Research, 28(3), 686–704.
  • Green Gables Heritage Place. (2023). Prince Edward Island Canada.
  • McCrae House. (2023). Guelph Museums.
  • McAtackney, L. (2022). Material culture and heritage. In L.A. De Cunzo & C. Dann Roeber (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of material culture studies. Cambridge University Press.
  • Sagas and Shadows – Parks Canada L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site. (2023). Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • Scherf, K. D. (2021). Creative tourism in smaller communities: Collaborative and cultural representation. In K.D. Scherf (Ed.), Creative tourism in smaller communities: Place, culture, and local representation, 1-26. University of Calgary Press.
  • Tomaz, E.C.N. (2021). The Interplay between culture, creativity, and tourism in the sustainable development of smaller urban centres. In K.D. Scherf (Ed.), Creative tourism in smaller communities: place, culture, and local representation, 61-78. University of Calgary Press.
  • Vance, J. F. (2017). “Some Great Crisis of Storm and Stress”: L.M. Montgomery, Canadian Literature, and the Great War. In J. Ledwell & A. McKenzie (Eds.), L.M. Montgomery and war, 41-55. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Zacharias, R. (2021). “Merely to See and Touch It”: On Service, McCrae, and literary tourism in Canada. Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'études canadiennes, 55(3), 621-648.