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Environments of memory : bio-geography in contemporary literary representations of Canada and the Great War Robertson, Megan Allison

Abstract

Canadian remembrance of the Great War (1914-1918) in the early twenty-first century is often associated with grand gestures at national monuments like the opening of the new Canadian War Museum in 2005 and the restoration of the Vimy Ridge Memorial in 2007. However, these sites of memory, what Pierre Nora terms lieux de mémoire, are not part of the everyday environments of memory, the milieux de mémoire, of most Canadians. In my investigation of three contemporary works of Canadian literature: The Danger Tree by David Macfarlane, Broken Ground by Jack Hodgins, and Unity (1918) by Kevin Kerr, locally-based storytellers describe the continued influence of the Great War on their individual Canadian communities. The fictionalized narrating personas in these three works create what I refer to as bio-geographies: first-person accounts of the narrator’s particular social and memory environments. While the bio-geographers in these three texts lack first-hand experience of the Great War, their writing reflects the continued repercussions of the conflict in the weeks, years, and decades after the 1918 armistice. The Great War differentially affected thousands of communities in Canada and Newfoundland. Constructing a coherent national narrative that accounts for the multiple lived experiences of individuals in communities across North America is virtually impossible. Turning to local representations of the Great War (in the case of the three bio-geographic texts: depictions of communities in Newfoundland, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan) provides a sense of the nation as a diverse landscape of memory with multiple vantage points. Negotiating the complex terrain of self, place, and memory, the bio-geographers in the three works I examine create representations of the past that reveal how sites of memory, lieux de mémoire, come to be firmly embedded in the ongoing lived experiences of comunity members, the milieux de mémoire.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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