When you think of our neighbor north of the 49th Parallel, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Why, romance, of course!
I’m not Canadian, but some of my best friends are, and I love to visit their country. It’s the land where a Stampede is a good thing, at least in Calgary, and you buy your coffee and doughnuts at Tim Hortons with “loonies” and “toonies”. Heck, Canadians gave the world Leonard Cohen and for that alone we should all be grateful and appreciative!
Sure, the U.S. invaded Canada once or twice, but that’s all behind us now (I hope), and in honor of Canada Day it’s time to pour yourself an ice-wine and raise a glass to The Great White North.
Canada doesn’t take a back seat to anyone in North America when it comes to romance. To readers in the United States, “Canada romance” means the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka The Mounties. In the early 20th C., Nelson Eddy crooning to Jeanette MacDonald in Rose-Marie made women’s hearts go pitty-pat for a man in a red coat. The RCMP, famous for always getting their man (and who doesn’t agree with that motto?), conjures images of Dudley Do-Right with his square jaw, the aforementioned baritone Nelson Eddy as Sgt. Bruce, and lovely lines of red-coated gents on parade.
But for a generation of romance readers there was only one Mountie we wanted, and his name was Sgt. Mike Flannigan, with “eyes so blue you could swim in them.” Was it any wonder that young Mary O’Fallon of Boston fell for the RCMP sergeant like a ton of snow bricks?
Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freeman is a classic enjoyed by readers since 1947. Mothers pass down their copies to their daughters, and while Mike’s the hero, it’s Mary who truly emerges as the strongest character as she deals with the blows life brings them on the Canadian frontier. Mike and Mary’s trials and celebrations in the Yukon inspired generations of young women, and gave them great role models as well.
Today’s Mounties include women, of course, and I’d love to know if someone’s writing romance novels about a woman in the RCMP. Everyone looks special in a red coat!
Another old-school Canadian author who’s still enjoyed today is Lucy Maud Montgomery. If you ask romance readers, “What do you think of when I say Prince Edward Island?”, the answer will be “Anne of Green Gables.” Plucky orphan Anne Shirley is sent to live in PEI with the aging Cuthbert siblings, who think they’re being sent a boy to help them manage their farm, Green Gables, at Avonlea.
Instead they get Anne, and she makes a place for herself in their hearts, and in the community. She also makes friends and frenemies, including Gilbert, a lad who teases her about her red hair. You know where the story goes from here.
While Montgomery said she wrote Anne and the subsequent books to be enjoyed by all ages, the Green Gables saga quickly became known as books for girls, and it’s remained there ever since, beloved by young women around the world.
A lesser known novel by L.M. Montgomery is one that was written with an adult audience in mind, The Blue Castle. It’s a personal favorite as it deals with a rather ordinary woman who remakes her own life.
Valancy Stirling is a spinster whose family beats her down emotionally, causing her to question her own self-worth. When she receives a diagnosis of a terminal disease, it’s not a death sentence so much as a wake-up call. Her personal bucket list becomes telling her family off and striking out on her own, helping a friend who had a child out of wedlock, and meeting a mysterious man who may or may not be the baby’s father.
The Blue Castle has enjoyed its own fandom over the years, and while it’s not as well known as the Anne books, it has a loyal following. It’s an excellent tale.
The Yukon Territory and western provinces have inspired writers since the days of Jack London (Call of the Wild—Buck is still my hero) and Robert W. Service (The Shooting of Dan McGrew). It’s the setting for the inspirational stories of Janette Oke in her Canadian West saga. Oke’s one of the most popular authors of inspirational romances, and her descriptions of the breathtaking landscapes and the rugged people of the west add a beautiful layer to her faith-based writing.
Another writer who bases her bestselling books in western Canada is Kate Bridges, drawing inspiration from the Mounties, the Yukon Gold Rush and settling the frontier in her slew of Canadian historicals.
Those cold winter nights can also inspire some hot reading, as we find in the collection Northern Heat—Best Canadian Erotic Romance Stories, edited by Opal Carew. I spent a romantic wedding anniversary in Quebec City (it was a stand-in for Paris…long story…) and could easily see how bundling up by the fire in a cozy chateau could lead to some naughtiness.
Surprisingly, most of the hockey romances I ran across were set in the U.S. What’s up with that? Sure, we love our hockey, but not like the Canadians (OK, maybe the Minnesotans do. They tend to be a bit rabid when it comes to loving hockey). Nonetheless, reading a good hockey romance could certainly inspire thoughts of Canada, so there you go.
What Canadian romances aren’t on this list? Share the love, and salute our rather massive neighbor to the north this Canada Day by educating folks south of the border on romance from the land of the maple leaf flag.
Learn more about the books mentioned in this post:
Darlene Marshall writes award-winning historical romance, mostly about pirates, privateers, smugglers, and the occasional possum. Her latest release: 2015 NECRWA Readers’ Choice winner The Pirate’s Secret Baby. For more information, www.darlenemarshall.com.