Marvelling at the legacy of Farley Mowat

Our Hero writes in the National Post . . .

The recent death of Farley Mowat
at 92 sparked heartfelt reminiscences and stirred up old controversies. But the
most interesting question, going forward, concerns legacy. Some of us contend
that Mowat was a giant. For starters, we cite numbers: 45 books, 60 countries, and
(ballpark) 15 million

copies sold. But if, as a writer, Mowat was a Gulliver in
Lilliput, and not just commercially, then surely he left a legacy? He must have
established or advanced some literary tradition? Profoundly influenced younger Canadian

The answer is an emphatic yes.
Born May 12, 1921, Mowat energized not only the Baby Boomers, my own
generation, but younger writers. Before going further, a clarification: as a
Canadian, Mowat is often linked with Pierre Berton, who was born ten months before
him. Both were prolific, larger-than-life personalities published by Jack
McClelland. Both wrote mainly nonfiction.

But Berton, who cut his
professional teeth as a journalist, became famous for sweeping Canadian
histories: The National Dream, The
Invasion of Canada, Vimy, The Great Depression, The Arctic Grail.

Contemporary Canadian historians who achieve readability while tackling big
themes are working in a tradition established by Berton and Peter C. Newman (The Canadian Establishment, Company of
Think of Margaret Macmillan and Paris, 1919, or of Christopher Moore and 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal. Think of such military
historians as Tim Cook, Mark Zuelke, and Ted Barris.

Farley Mowat did not write
history. He took a keen interest in prehistory, in archaeology and legend, and
so produced West-Viking and The Farfarers. But looking back at his
long career in context, we discover that Mowat was Canada’s first writer of
creative nonfiction (CNF). . . .


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