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  • Translations/Traductions
  • Agnes Whitfield

The election of a new government in Ottawa in the fall of 2015, with its commitment to bringing anglophone and francophone Canadians together and its promises to increase recognition and funding for the arts, has brought new hope for literary translation in Canada. Unfortunately, while the Harper years are now behind us, their dismal legacy remains. In 2014 structural weaknesses in the translation sector continued to impede reciprocal English-French and French-English literary translation and prevent anglophone and francophone Canadians from having ready access to each other’s literature. Literary translation in Canada remained very limited, particularly in English Canada. Although they do not necessarily include all translations published, the lists of titles submitted for the Governor General’s Literary Awards for translation and traduction offer a fairly representative overview of literary translation into both languages. According to these lists, French-English translations published in 2014 numbered thirty-one titles, down from thirty-three titles in 2013, whereas English-French translations totalled thirty-nine titles, up from thirty-three titles in 2013. When the relative population of each group is taken into account, this means that francophones translated more than five times as many books as anglophones. If translation activity is a measure of intercultural openness and curiosity, it appears that French-speaking Canada is progressively opening up to its cultural Other, whereas English-speaking Canada is firmly retreating from anglophone-francophone inter-cultural dialogue. In terms of overall literary production, however, translation remains a poor cousin in both cultures.

Two important structural dimensions of this troubling trend warrant attention. The first concerns publishers. The lists of titles submitted for the Governor General’s Literary Awards show a worrisome reduction in the number of publishers engaged in literary translation, particularly in English Canada, but also to a lesser degree in French Canada. Among anglophone presses, six published two or more translations and account for twenty-one titles, or 68 per cent of all translations: Guernica (6), Talonbooks (4), Exile (2), Tundra (4), Playwrights Canada (3), and Anansi (2). Among francophone presses, seven published more than one translation, for a total of 25 titles, or 64 per cent of translations: Boréal (9), Scholastic (3), Les Allusifs (3), Leméac (3), Alto (3), Flammarion (2), and VLB éditeur (2). In other words, translation activity is heavily concentrated, in both languages, leaving it vulnerable to the financial and editorial vicissitudes of a limited number of publishers. While the concentration of translation activity at one francophone press, Boréal, is of concern, [End Page 268] this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that overall twenty-one francophone presses engaged in translation in 2014, compared to only sixteen anglophone publishers.

To put these numbers in perspective, according to the Literary Press Group of Canada’s website, the Group brings together some sixty Canadian-owned and -operated publishers. A search under “literary” on the website of ANEL, the Association nationale des éditeurs de livres, identifies fifty-six francophone presses. In other words, whereas some 37 per cent of francophone literary presses are publishing translations, this is the case for only 26 per cent of anglophone presses. In practice, however, the situation is even worse than it appears. A quick look at the lists of titles submitted to the Governor General’s Literary Awards in the fiction category reveals that literary publishing in English Canada is increasingly dominated by two international conglomerates: Harper Collins Canada and Penguin Random House Canada, the latter under three imprints: McClelland & Stewart, Alfred A. Knopf, and Doubleday. Not being Canadian owned, these publishers are not part of the Literary Press Group of Canada. In 2014, excluding children’s literature, they produced only three fiction or non-fiction translations: Mãn by Kim Thúy, in a translation by Sheila Fischman (Penguin); Wonder by Dominique Fortier, also translated by Fischman (McClelland & Stewart); and Roch Carrier’s Montcalm and Wolfe, translated by Donald Winkler (Harper Collins Canada). Clearly, international control does not equate with an interest in local intercultural dialogue through translation. In recent years, smaller Canadian presses, such as Goose Lane and Cormorant, have stepped in to fill some of this gap, but in 2014 these two...


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pp. 268-299
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