University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

New York Stories

Many early Canadian writers migrated to the U.S.

Canadian writing wasn’t born in Toronto or any other large Canadian centre, but in New York, according to English professor Nick Mount.

In 1901, only 56 people in Canada identified themselves as writers, he says, because most migrated to New York City or, in lesser numbers, London. Mount’s forthcoming book, tentatively titled Exodus: When Canadian Literature Moved to New York, explores the relationships between American writers and the writers who left Canada in the 19th century.

“Most scholars are aware that many Canadian writers such as Ernest Thompson Seton, Sophie Almon Hensley and Palmer Cox [writer and illustrator of the Brownies stories] had to leave Canada to make their fortunes,” he says. “However, no one has examined the historical and social consequences of having all these Canadian writers in one place [New York] before.”

Expatriate communities soon formed in New York’s pubs, rooming houses and publishing outlets and helped provide public exposure to writers still living in Canada, says Mount. “Many Canadians started to get published in American magazines through the efforts of these expatriates. Also, these writers proved to those still in Canada that it was possible to make a living from books, poetry and magazine articles.”

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