The best hidden gems by Canadian writers

Danielle R. Graham Author Of All We Left Behind
By Danielle R. Graham

Who am I?

I’m a Canadian psychotherapist who worked as a social worker for nearly a decade before going into private practice for the next two decades. I dabble in history and literature and when I find a Canadian book that combines elements of social justice, historical wrongs, heart-wrenching human experience, feminism, and Canadian wilderness I want to share it with everyone. As a bonus, if one of the characters happens to be a young person who is coming of age, the book will earn a very top position on my bookshelf. I hope you enjoy this small list of what I consider hidden gems by Canadian authors.


I wrote...

All We Left Behind

By Danielle R. Graham,

Book cover of All We Left Behind

What is my book about?

As the war rages around the world, Hitler’s fury is yet to be felt on the peaceful shores of Mayne Island, Canada. Sweethearts Hayden and Chidori are in love. But everything changes after Pearl Harbor. Now seen as the enemy, Chidori and her family are forced into an internment camp for Japanese Canadians. Powerless to help them, Hayden joins the Royal Canadian Air Force to bring about an end to this devastating war. Will they both survive long enough to be reunited? Or will the war rip away all that they left behind?

The books I picked & why

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The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

By John Vaillant,

Book cover of The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

Why this book?

A true story of myth, madness, and greed, The Golden Spruce is one of those books that has hauntingly stuck with me since I read it. It’s the story of a forestry worker named Grant Hadwin who committed a bizarre act of environmental violence in Haida Gwaii and then mysteriously disappeared under suspicious circumstances. The book traces the life and career of Hadwin in an attempt to explain what possessed him to cut down a 300-year-old mystic golden Sitka Spruce known as Kiid K’iiyas, which has been a sacred part of the Haida People’s oral history for generations. John Vaillant’s description of the psychology of the man and the beauty of the wilderness in which Hadwin spent his life left such an impact on me that when I visited Haida Gwaii I hiked the trail to the now fallen sacred tree.


Medicine Walk

By Richard Wagamese,

Book cover of Medicine Walk

Why this book?

The gentle pacing of this story is so powerful. As his dying wish, Eldon Starlight, a war vet who has a fractured relationship with his soft-spoken 16-year-old son, Franklin, sends for his boy to take him to the mountains so he can be buried sitting up and facing east, in the Ojibway warrior way. I felt as if I too was moving step by step through the complex emotions as the estranged father and son navigated their way through the Canadian wilderness on the journey to heal past traumas and their relationship. The fact that such subtle writing can be so profound is something I think all readers will appreciate in this Canadian gem.


North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both

By Cea Sunrise Person,

Book cover of North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both

Why this book?

The full title of this memoir by Cea Sunrise Person is North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Counter Culture Family, and How I Survived Both, which basically sums up this fascinating and wild ride through Cea’s unconventional upbringing in a pot-smoking, free-loving, clothing-optional, canvas tipi-sleeping, non-conforming family in the Canadian wilderness. Gaining this unique view into the psychology and emotional fallout of the eccentric family lifestyle was shocking, heart-breaking, and inspirational all at once. You will never read another book quite like it.


The Break

By Katherena Vermette,

Book cover of The Break

Why this book?

Fair warning, you need to be in the right mood to take on this story. And it’s not quite a hidden gem since it has won numerous awards. It starts with a Metis woman who witnesses an assault on a barren ice-covered field on an isolated strip of utilities land outside her house in the Canadian Prairies. The story weaves through multiple narratives of people connected to the victim and exposes the reader to the lives and social issues that impact multiple generations of women in this indigenous family. Although difficult to read, it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. As with all social issues, if we ignore the reality of poverty and turn away from the harshness of the violence or pretend discrimination and injustice don’t exist, how will anything ever change?


They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School

By Bev Sellars,

Book cover of They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School

Why this book?

Xatsu’ll chief Bev Sellars spent much of her childhood in a Canadian Indian residential school called St. Joseph’s Mission and in a hospital to treat the tuberculosis she contracted while at the school. This is her first-person account of how the trauma of being taken from her family and community impacted not only her, but every member of her family for three generations. It also discusses her path to healing. The title refers to the fact that in an attempt to strip the children from all sense of their culture and identity, they were referred to by a number rather than their names. I studied the impact of the Canadian Indian Residential School system as part of my social work degree and read many books on the subject but this personal account resonated most profoundly for me.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Canada, indigenous peoples, and Washington D.C.?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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