Prairie Sense of Place


Alberta author Rudy Wiebe once said that “place is more important than race” in reference to a discussion on what has influenced him as an author. The prairie landscape in particular has been a powerful influence in Canadian literature. Although W.O. Mitchell has been credited with turning the Canadian prairie into an acceptable setting for literature, many authors have followed in his footsteps. What has proved most interesting about this tribe of writers is the influence of the landscape on the characters in their stories.

The following quotes are taken from the writings of Henry Kreisel and Margaret Laurence, two more prairie authors.

Henry Kreisel

“The long journey West was one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had. There were moments of weariness and dullness. But the very monotony was impressive. There was a grandeur about it. It was monotony of a really monumental kind. . . . I also began to understand why Nick Solchuk was always longing for more space and more air, especially when we moved into the prairies, and the land became flatter until there seemed nothing, neither hill nor tree nor bush, to disturb the vast unbroken flow of land until in the far distance a thin, blue line marked the point where the prairie merged into the sky.”

“The Broken Globe”

“We sat for a while in silence, and then I rose. Together we walked out of the house. When I was about to get into my car, he touched me lightly on the arm. I turned. His eyes surveyed the vast expanse of sky and land, stretching far into the distance, reddish clouds in the sky and blue shadows on the land. With a gesture of great dignity and power he lifted his arm and stood pointing into the distance, at the flat land and the low-hanging sky. ‘Look,’ he said, very slowly and very quietly, ‘she is flat, and she stands still.’”

“The Broken Globe”

“All discussion of the literature produced in the Canadian West must of necessity begin with the impact of the landscape upon the mind. . . . Only one other kind of landscape gives us the same skeleton requirements, the same vacancy and stillness, the same movement of wind through space—and that is the sea.”

“The Prairie: A State of Mind”

Margaret Laurence

“When one thinks of the influence of a place on one’s writing, two aspects come to mind. First, the physical presence of the place itself—its geography, its appearance. Second, the people. For me, the second aspect of environment is the most important, although in everything I have written which is set in Canada, whether or not actually set in Manitoba, somewhere some of my memories of the physical appearance of the prairies come in. I had, as a child and as an adolescent, ambiguous feelings about the prairies. I still have them, although they no longer bother me. I wanted then to get out of the small town and go far away, and yet I felt the protectiveness of that atmosphere, too. I felt the loneliness and the isolation of the land itself, and yet I always considered southern Manitoba to be very beautiful, and I still do. I doubt if I will ever live there again, but those poplar bluffs and the blackness of that soil and the way in which the sky is open from one side of the horizon to the other—these are things I will carry inside my skull for as long as I live, with the vividness of recall that only our first home can have for us.”

“A Place to Stand On”

“Writing, for me, has to be set firmly in some soil, some place, some outer and inner territory which might be described in anthropological terms as ‘cultural background.’ But I do not think that this kind of writing needs therefore to be parochial. If Hagar in The Stone Angel has any meaning, it is the same as that of an old woman anywhere, having to deal with the reality of dying. On the other hand, she is not an old woman anywhere. She is very much a person who belongs in the same kind of prairie Scots-Presbyterian background as I do, and it was, of course, people like Hagar who created that background, with all its flaws and its strengths. . . . I remember saying once . . . that I felt I had written myself out of that prairie town. I know better now. . . . I may not always write fiction set in Canada. But somewhere, perhaps in the memories of some characters, Manawaka will probably always be there, simply because whatever I am was shaped and formed in that sort of place, and my way of seeing, however much it may have changed over the years, remains in some enduring way that of a small-town prairie person.”

“A Place to Stand On”