When you dig into Canada's literary scene, you’ll find a country teeming with quirky independent bookstores, inspiring geographies that are settings for renowned books, and the home of many celebrated writers like Margaret Atwood and Yann Martel.
This Canadian bookish itinerary goes from from east to west, province to province, outlining the who, the what, and the where of Canada’s exciting book scene.
Editor's note: local travel restrictions or changed opening hours may be in place due to COVID-19. Please check ahead before booking a trip and follow government health advice.
Newfoundland and Labrador: Vikings and sci-fi
Begin your trip in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s easternmost province. Home to the first European settlement in North America, L'Anse aux Meadows, it was here that Viking explorer Leif Erikson spent years of his life adventuring, and his Newfoundland exploits can be found in the Vinland Sagas, two 13th century medieval Iceland texts.
After buying your copy of the Vinland Sagas at Elaine's Books in St. John’s, you can head to the L'Anse aux Meadows Unesco-protected archaeological site to catch a glimpse of what Leif left behind. Then you can do a complete 360 from Vikings to post-apocalyptic science fiction; Newfoundland is also the geographical inspiration for John Wyndham's famous sci-fi novel, The Chrysalids.
Nova Scotia: Black history
More than just a place to eat lobster and admire lighthouses, Nova Scotia is also the setting of award-winning Canadian writer Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes (published as Someone Knows My Name outside of Canada). This historical fiction is named after the very real Book of Negroes document, detailing the names and descriptions of 3000 Black Loyalists who escaped the USA during the American Revolutionary War, and became the first free people of color Black settlement in Canada. Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy is also home to Ami McKay, award-winning writer of The Virgin Cure and The Birth House.
After picking up all three of these amazing novels at The Odd Book, you can take them to Birchtown Nova Scotia where the first Black Loyalist settlement started. Scots Bay is also worth a visit and is the isolated setting of The Birth House.
Prince Edward Island: all about Anne
Canada’s tiniest maritime province is synonymous with the famous 20th century children’s classic, Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maud Montgomery grew up on the island, and her childhood can be experienced in the gorgeous descriptions of PEI’s famous landscapes through the eyes of her protagonist, Anne Shirley.
Popular literary treasures in PEI include The Bookman bookstore in Charlottetown, which is towering with floor-to-ceiling books. You can also partake in literary tours inspired by Anne of Green Gables, and visit the picturesque Avonlea Village, filled with replica buildings from the books.
New Brunswick: an adorable bookstore
New Brunswick, the fourth and final Atlantic province, may not have any big names and literary historical sites, but it does have the very adorable Westminster Books Ltd that you should stop at during your road trip. Here you can pick up novels by beloved local authors like David Adams Richards, author of The Bay of Love and Sorrows (now a film).
Québec: dream of Dickens
Québec’s cobbled streets and ivy covered historic buildings are so inspiring that even Charles Dickens wrote a few flattering lines about them on his tour of the Americas. Québec was also an inspiration for the famous 20th century American writer, Willa Cather, who wrote Shadows on the Rock about French colonists in Québec. As you go down to Montréal, the setting of Heather O'Neill’s award-winning Lullabies for Little Criminals, the literary scene gets a little more grungy.
After driving through acres of beautiful Québec farmland, make sure to stop by the Dufferin Terrace where Charles Dickens admired the river of Old Town, as well as the stunning Maison de la littérature, then head to Librairie Drawn & Quarterly in Montréal to pick up some fresh reads.
Ontario: home to the heavyweights
Your next stop is Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, home of the nation’s capital of Ottawa, and its most bustling metropolis, Toronto. To name drop just a few writers, Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, lives in Toronto, as does Maureen Jennings, the crime writer behind Murdoch Mysteries. Emma Donoghue, author of Room, settled in Ontario after moving from Ireland. Short story writer and Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, and the late Robertson Davies (Fifth Business), also call Ontario home.
Ontario is also the setting of perhaps Canada’s most controversial novel, Marian Engel’s Bear. Surprisingly enough the novel detailing an intimate relationship between a librarian and the bear she loved won the Governor General's Literary Award, a Canadian literature award almost as coveted as the Giller Prize.
After stopping by Black Squirrel Books & Espresso Bar or The Book Bazaar in Ottawa, make your way down to Toronto through Kingston (the setting of Atwood’s Alias Grace and Canada’s most notorious penitentiary). In Toronto you can visit Atwood’s neighborhood, The Annex, buy a novel at Canada’s first LGBTQ bookshop, Glad Day, and finish your trip in the stunning Algoma Country, the setting of Bear.
Manitoba: creative isolation
If you’re someone who needs isolation to work, Manitoba is the perfect place to pen your own great book with gorgeous cabins and cottages dotting Lake Winnipeg (you’re more likely to see a polar bear than a neighbor). Lawrence Hill’s debut novel, Some Great Thing, takes place in Manitoba’s capital Winnipeg, as well as Katherena Vermette’s award winning Indigenous crime novel, The Break. You can pick any of these books up at Bison Books or Poor Michael's Emporium.
Saskatchewan: cookbook central
Saskatchewan is perhaps more known for copious amounts of cookbooks like All the Sweet Things by blogger Renée Kohlman than novels, so be sure to sample the farm fresh produce wherever you go. You can pick up a copy of her book at McNally Robinson. While in Saskatoon you may run into the Booker Prize winning writer of Life of Pi, Yann Martel, who lives there for the brooding landscapes.
Alberta: a writing retreat
Alberta is another inspiring province for a writer-to-be. Here you can cozy up in the picturesque Rocky Mountain villages with a few books bought at Wee Book Inn, Pages on Kensington, or Pandora’s Box, a few of the many independent bookstores in Alberta. If you’re not comfortable pulling a Henry David Thoreau in Alberta’s mountainous wilderness, you can attend a writing retreat with the Writers’ Guild of Alberta or Big Sky Author Services instead. You may also catch a glimpse of 419 Giller Prize-winning writer Will Ferguson roaming around Alberta’s biggest city, Calgary.
British Columbia: exceptional bookstores
The mountains, rivers, lush forests, and pacific coastline of British Columbia is the perfect place to escape with a tote bag full of books, and maybe even a stack of lined paper and an idea. Although B.C. may not have the globally established writers that Ontario boasts, it does have a few nominations under its belt like Gail Anderson-Dargatz's The Cure for Death by Lightning for the Giller. You can actually visit Shuswap Country where this book took place – tucked away in the Rockies, it can feel as isolated as Gail describes it. B.C. author Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being was nominated for the Pulitzer and Man Booker awards; you can take a trip to Cortes Island from Vancouver where half the novel takes place (just be prepared to take your car onto three ferries to get there!).
B.C. is the proud home of some of Canada’s most gorgeous independent bookstores. On your way to Vancouver, stop at Pulp Fiction Coffee House in Kelowna. To continue on your bookstore hopping journey, make sure to add The Book Man in Chilliwack, and Wendel's Bookstore & Cafe and MacLeod's Books in Vancouver to your itinerary. If you make it all the way to Victoria, Munro’s Books and Russell Books are showstopping booksellers that make the drive to Vancouver Island totally worth it.
Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories
A special mention goes to the Territories which are so massive (and cold) it may be difficult to get to on one trip. If you do intend to go all the way, make sure to drop by Well-Read Books in Yukon and The Yellowknife Book Cellar in Northwest Territories. You can pick up a copy of Dan Simmons’ The Terror, which takes place in the Northwest Territories, although try not to let it spook you from visiting Canada’s beautiful arctic.