The best books about Canadians

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Canadians and why they recommend each book.

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By Cathy Ostlere,

Book cover of Karma

In 1984, a 15-year old Indo-Canadian Maya travels with her father to India to consign her mother's ashes to the Ganges. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated the very day they arrive and Delhi descends into state-sponsored carnage as Sikh men and women are held collectively responsible. Separated from her father, Maya has to find her way home. This novel in verse is by Canadian writing across ethnic and religious lines. As a Sikh, I am familiar with details of the pogrom. Instead of applying the usual Western label of “senseless violence” Ostlere sensitively explores the impact on two ordinary young people.

Who am I?

I am a Canadian-American writer of Indian heritage, an award-winning novelist and short fiction writer, playwright, and poet. I grew up in Delhi, hearing stories from my maternal grandparents who were refugees during the 1947 Partition of India. So, as my work reflects, I’m drawn to stories of resilience in the face of cultural conflict, religious upheaval, migration, immigration, and displacement. My MBA is from Marquette University, and my MFA from the University of British Columbia. I am working on another novel.

I wrote...

The Tiger Claw

By Shauna Singh Baldwin,

Book cover of The Tiger Claw

What is my book about?

The Tiger Claw is a novel about Noor Inayat Khan, the Muslim woman who in 1943 was landed into war-time France by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) to work as a spy and radio operator for the Résistance. Noor goes in search of her Jewish beloved...and the rest is history.

Murders and Mysteries

By William Stewart Wallace,

Book cover of Murders and Mysteries: A Canadian Series

Wallace—a history professor, librarian, and bookseller—was one of Canada’s first true crime writers. This collection of sixteen stories of murder and mayhem, first published in 1931, is a trove of long-forgotten tales. Some of the crimes he chronicles made international headlines. Harry and Dallas Hyams, identical twin brothers from New Orleans, were accused of killing an employee in Toronto in 1893 to collect on insurance policies. Adelard Delorme, a Catholic priest in Montreal, stood trial four times for the 1922 murder of his brother and was ultimately set free. Wallace apologized for straying from mainstream history into the realm of the gruesome and sensational to record, as he put it, “what God in His wisdom saw fit to permit to happen.”

Who am I?

True crime stories offer a window into the past, transporting readers to another time and place. They reveal human behaviour at its worst and people striving to do the right thing. And the narrative is always dramatic and compelling, with mysteries to be solved, suspects to be captured, justice to be done. My books profile a Jazz Age con artist, a Victorian Era serial killer, and a gentleman jewel thief of the 1920s. I write a column of true crime stories and book reviews for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and I teach in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

I wrote...

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer

By Dean Jobb,

Book cover of The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer

What is my book about?

Before Jack the Ripper, before The Devil in the White City’s H.H. Holmes, the world's deadliest serial killer was the Canadian doctor Thomas Neill Cream. He murdered at least nine women and one man in Canada, the United States, and England before he was finally brought to justice in 1892. This is the first complete account of his crimes, his victims, and how Scotland Yard’s best detectives struggled to identify and capture the ruthless “Lambeth Poisoner.” It exposes the flawed police investigations and primitive forensic tests that enabled him to evade suspicion and detection, how he was convicted and imprisoned in the midst of his poisoning spree, and why he was freed to kill again.

Random Passage

By Bernice Morgan,

Book cover of Random Passage

I am in awe of the strength, determination, and hope of early pioneers. Imagine uprooting your family from what few comforts they know and travelling across the ocean to an unknown barren land to start over. Where survival means every member working hard day in and day out to build a place of shelter, gather and grow food, and fish the cold Atlantic waters in order to care for and build a life while struggling to survive harsh weather and dangerous seas. Would I be strong enough to endure such a difficult life?

Who am I?

I am a Canadian who enjoys travelling and reading historical fiction from around the world. Having had the privilege of living in a variety of areas in Canada from coast to coast since childhood, I can recall listening to the stories of past generations and exploring the locations where some of these events took place. With a passion for Canada’s beauty and the history of its people, I like to research, explore, and incorporate these passions into my own stories.

I wrote...

Freedom Reins

By E.M. Spencer,

Book cover of Freedom Reins

What is my book about?

Charlotte Logan, affectionately called Charlie, spent her adolescent years under the control of the Grey Nuns. Now, her free spirit needs to be set loose. When the confined surroundings challenge her sense of adventure, she uses the art of manipulation to join a small wagon train heading west to the Fraser River in search of gold.

Travelling across untamed land brings new relationships and the discovery of her place in the world. When adventure turns to danger, Charlie finds her source of strength in the middle of gunfights, kidnappers, and a battle for her relationship against the temptress called gold.

Omar Khadr, Oh Canada

By Janice Williamson,

Book cover of Omar Khadr, Oh Canada

Omar Khadr is a personal friend of mine, the gentlest soul I have met since setting foot on Canadian soil. This collection has been essential to my understanding of Canada’s unwillingness to stand up for one of its own citizens. It highlights how belonging in the nation is not necessarily a right all citizens enjoy, and invites a serious reflection on what citizenship means in this country.  

Who am I?

I am a historian and a social geographer whose main interest is in examining why some of us are embraced (legally, politically, economically, culturally) by the society we live in while some others are excluded. Probably due to my status as someone who is an immigrant to Canada and also a person with a disability, the topic of belonging and exclusion fascinates me. 

I wrote...

Not Good Enough for Canada: Canadian Public Discourse Around Issues of Inadmissibility for Potential Immigrants with Diseases And/Or Disabilities

By Valentina Capurri,

Book cover of Not Good Enough for Canada: Canadian Public Discourse Around Issues of Inadmissibility for Potential Immigrants with Diseases And/Or Disabilities

What is my book about?

Not Good Enough for Canada investigates the development of Canadian immigration policy with respect to persons with a disease or disability throughout the twentieth century. With an emphasis on social history, this book examines the way the state operates through legislation to achieve its goals of self-preservation even when such legislation contradicts state commitments to equality rights.

Looking at the ways federal politicians, mainstream media, and the judicial system have perceived persons with disabilities, specifically immigrant applicants with disabilities, this book reveals how Canadian immigration policy has systematically omitted any reference to this group, rendering them socially invisible.

On the Storm/In the Struggle

By Adebe DeRango-Adem (editor),

Book cover of On the Storm/In the Struggle: Poets on Survival

This anthology attempts to answer ongoing questions about struggle in poems that engaged, challenged, and comforted me. What might survival sound or look like to us in our daily lives? Is it loud, refusing silence, demanding action? Or quiet, interior? What does surviving feel like in the body, this long into the pandemic? What techniques have helped us exist, continue to bear witness, learn to live with illness, grief, and pain? Is survival the continual interrogation of inequity and oppressive structures? What happens when we get tired of fighting?

Survival may very well be a composite of things; both a tending to one’s inner life and to the processing of life events, as well as the will to act, retrieve momentum. It is also a plurality/multiplicity of practices that serve to keep us well—as persons and with respect to our communities, the ongoing project of social justice/civil rights, which involves…

Who am I?

I love gathering poets together to celebrate different causes. In fact, I hosted a weekly literary radio show, Gathering Voices, for seven years and published a book/cd collection, Gathering Voice. Since 1972, I have been publishing poetry as well as editing anthologies that collect differing voices, as an activist and poet/editor: gathering voices for women, nature, and social justice is my passion. Given the immensity of suffering in the war on Ukraine, I was galvanized to gather together poems in solidarity with Ukrainians. The anthology, co-edited with Richard-Yves Sitoski, was launched 3 months after the invasion began: a huge endeavor that included 48 activist poets.

I edited...

Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology in Support of Ukraine

By Penn Kemp, Richard-Yves Sitoski,

Book cover of Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology in Support of Ukraine

What is my book about?

Canadian poets Penn Kemp and Richard-Yves Sitoski have co-edited Poets in Response to Peril, this anthology that brings together 61 poems by 48 Canadian activist poets responding to such current crises. 

These passionate, often heartbreaking, poems invoke sunflowers and broken earth; intimacy and grief; falling bombs and the fragility of flesh; AK-47s and a bride’s bouquet. Gathering voices in the white heat of the moment, this anthology couldn’t be more timely or more necessary. The book continues with an ongoing YouTube playlist of videos submitted by poets expressing solidarity with those afflicted by war (YouTube > Poets in Response to Peril). Profits go toward PEN Ukraine.

Who Has Seen the Wind

By W.O. Mitchell,

Book cover of Who Has Seen the Wind

Set on a Canadian prairie plain in the 1930s, Who Has Seen the Wind tells the coming-of-age story of a young Saskatchewan boy, Brian O’Connal, as he seeks meaning in life, death, and God. I love this book for its lyrical use of the wind which constantly sweeps across the prairie and through every aspect of the story. This book influenced me as a writer because I hoped to personify the sea the way W.O Mitchell did the wind.

Who am I?

I was born and raised on the rugged island of Newfoundland and am enthralled by the ocean, its rhythm, its power. The setting of The Kerrigan Chronicles is the setting for my early life: same area, different era. As a child, I was unaware of the sacrifices and struggles of my ancestors. During cross-country telephone conversations with my aging father, I heard stories of poverty, illness, and war. When Dad described the earthquake and tsunami of 1929, I was hooked. I have written other novels, modern-day suspense that could quite frankly have been written by other people but The Kerrigan Chronicles are mine and mine alone.

I wrote...

Of Sea and Seed: The Kerrigan Chronicles, Book I

By Annie Daylon,

Book cover of Of Sea and Seed: The Kerrigan Chronicles, Book I

What is my book about?

Set on the rugged island of Newfoundland, Of Sea and Seed takes the reader on a tragic journey through the 1920s as one family struggles with secrets, betrayal, and a tsunami. Chronicling this journey is the family matriarch, Kathleen Kerrigan, who is condemned to an afterlife of atonement for her crimes in life. But what could cause heaven to banish this loving mother, grandmother, and storyteller?

A poetic, literary masterpiece, this first book of The Kerrigan Chronicles illuminates the depths of the human heart as it follows three generations of lives entangled with the sea. This suspenseful account of early twentieth-century Newfoundland is as stunningly lovely as it is devastatingly heartbreaking. Of Sea and Seed is a gripping family saga—an unforgettable must-read.

Hockey Dreams

By David Adams Richards,

Book cover of Hockey Dreams: Memories of a Man Who Couldn't Play

This book by an award-winning Canadian novelist mixes memoir and essay. The memoir is set in New Brunswick’s Miramichi region in 1961. Richards has no use of his left arm; his best friend is going blind due to diabetes. They are in their last year of playing hockey. Woven into that story are other memories—including of distasteful meetings with people who don’t like the sport—as well as his thoughts on the game and its place in the Canadian psyche. Hockey Dreams is highly personal, so it may not be for readers, but I loved it. 

Who am I?

I’ve been reading hockey books since I was a kid and could usually count on finding one under the Christmas tree. I still keep many of those books from my childhood on the shelves in my office. Eventually, I was old enough to buy my own books, some of which are about hockey (and, lucky for me, I continue to receive hockey books as gifts on occasion). When I started to write books, I knew that someday I would write one about the game I love to play, watch and read about.

I wrote...

Klondikers: Dawson City's Stanley Cup Challenge and How a Nation Fell in Love with Hockey

By Tim Falconer,

Book cover of Klondikers: Dawson City's Stanley Cup Challenge and How a Nation Fell in Love with Hockey

What is my book about?

Early in 1905, an unlikely team of dreamers arrived in Ottawa to play for the Stanley Cup. The Klondikers had travelled—by foot, bicycle, train, ship, and more trains—for three-and-a-half weeks from Dawson City, Yukon. This is the story of their audacious trek and their equally audacious desire to win the Cup. It’s also the story of how hockey grew from a niche, regional sport when Lord Stanley donated his trophy in 1893 to a national obsession within a dozen years.

Unforgettable characters include Weldy Young, the former Ottawa star who never lost his hunger for the Cup; Joe Boyle, the Klondike King who managed the team; and “One-Eyed” Frank McGee, the game’s original superstar. For lovers of hockey, Canadian history and entertaining tales.

Canadian Whisky

By Davin de Kergommeaux,

Book cover of Canadian Whisky: The New Portable Expert

Canadians have been making whisky for a few centuries, but drinks experts long have given the nation’s hooch scant attention. This is understandable, as Canadian distillers spent much of the 20th century churning out an ocean of low-priced and bland-tasting blends like Seagrams 7 and Canadian Club. Times have changed, though, and Canada is producing single malts and various high-end, sophisticated whiskies that have garnered international acclaim. David de Kergommeaux is the preeminent expert on whisky in the Great North, and his book is an indispensable guide to anyone who wants to learn the what-and-how of Canadian whisky-making and its history through the current day. He also directs readers’ attention to the brands of Canadian whisky worth buying, and his recommendations are spot on.

Who am I?

I am the author of two books on distilled spirits and have been blogging at since 1998. I have written about drinks, drinks history, and drinks politics for the New York Times and the American Spectator magazine. Whiskey is my favorite distilled spirit—there are so many fantastic types and brands of it. For consumers, it can be really bewildering to navigate. So, I take it as my duty to help people navigate the wide and wild world of whiskey!

I wrote...

Whiskey: A Global History

By Kevin R. Kosar,

Book cover of Whiskey: A Global History

What is my book about?

Whiskey: A Global History introduces readers to the various types of whiskey, including bourbon, Canadian whiskey, corn whiskey, rye, Irish whiskey, Scotch, single malts, and blends. The book explains the drink’s often crazy history, from its obscure medieval origins to the globally traded product that it is today.

Whiskey: A Global History also recommends some great brands and classic cocktail recipes for the thirsty reader.

A Siege of Bitterns

By Steve Burrows,

Book cover of A Siege of Bitterns

A Siege of Bitterns features an unusual protagonist: a reluctant detective. DI Domenic Jejeune is a Canadian transplanted to the UK, to premier birding country. Jejeune likes bird watching as much, if not more, than solving murders. He occasionally comes across as a tortured eccentric. One wonders how he can solve crimes. But he does. His odd individualism is reminiscent of famous fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. A Siege of Bitterns features a tangled bird’s nest of false starts and red herrings. Burrows doesn’t shy away from descriptive prose and yet the novel doesn’t lose momentum. It stays focused on the prize: the whodunit.

Who am I?

I write North Noir, detective fiction set in the Northeastern USA and Canada. I like mystery/detective stories told with descriptive flair, with clever twists and unforgettable protagonists. Why would you want to read my recommendations? I’ve read hundreds of mystery/detective novels, in all subgenres, from cozy to noir. I’ve been a book review editor, for all types of books. I don’t go for bent cops or over-the-top bloodbaths. If you like character-driven mystery/detective novels, try these five.

I wrote...

Bay of Blood

By A.M. Potter,

Book cover of Bay of Blood

What is my book about?

“Quintessential Canadian mystery” | “Vivid page-turner” ~ Kudos for Bay of Blood

World-renowned painter Thom Tyler is murdered in Georgian Bay, Canada. The consensus is that Tyler had no enemies. Why would anyone murder him? Detective Sergeant Eva Naslund goes to work with a homicide team from OPP Central. They find no useful blood, print, or DNA evidence. They turn to financial forensics and criminal psychology. Tyler’s paintings are worth millions, yet he’s deeply in debt to banks and his art agent. Just as the investigation opens a new lead, courtesy of Tyler’s friend, J.J. MacKenzie, MacKenzie is murdered. The team is back to ground zero—with two murders to solve.

The Beautiful Mystery

By Louise Penny,

Book cover of The Beautiful Mystery

In this installment of her beloved Three Pines series, Penny locates the crime in a remote abbey in Quebec, where a couple of dozen monks – renowned for their singing – are cloistered. When the choir director is murdered, enter the series hero Inspector Gamache, who unfolds a story of timeless yet sinister beauty about the origins of Gregorian chant. This is the second book on my Best Five list that is set in a monastery, which speaks to how I can’t resist well-written mysteries set in closed communities – there’s just something so frightening and compelling about that small ring of victims and suspects, not to mention palpable atmosphere and themes that matter. I’m really interested in the psychology of a killer who places an obsessive love of an art object above the sanctity of life. 

Who am I?

One of the advantages of growing up in New Jersey is the proximity to the museums in New York City. What great school field trips! And I really believe that’s where my love for art and history began. My cathedrals are art museums, great libraries, Civil War battlefields, wilderness shorelines – experiencing these places lifts me out of the dailiness of life, reminds me of struggle, greatness, and excellence. I guess it was just a matter of time before my sweet spot as a writer and reader is the point of intersection between great art and terrible crimes. Things worth writing about. 

I wrote...

A Killer's Guide to Good Works

By Shelley Costa,

Book cover of A Killer's Guide to Good Works

What is my book about?

When Senior Editor Val Cameron’s best friend, a curator, returns to Manhattan from an abbey in England, she invites Val to see a priceless relic that has mysteriously found its way into her carry-on. But by the time Val arrives at the museum, her friend has been murdered – and the relic is gone. Val soon learns that a young monk at the abbey has also been murdered. Is there a single killer at work? What dark purpose is attached to the relic that has led to two murders? Now she has to unmask a killer who stops at nothing to fulfill an ambitious plan – and Val Cameron is just the latest person to stand in the way.

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