Unsettling <i>North of Summer:</i> Anxieties of Ownership in the Politics and Poetics of the Canadian North


  • L. Camille van der Marel University of Alberta


Al Purdy, Canadian Arctic, Settler Colonialism, North of Summer, Colonial History, Poetry


An examination of Canada’s unsettled relations with its Arctic territories, this essay contends that settler-invader practices of land possession hinge on agricultural-cum-epistemological limits that find resistance in the Canadian North’s environmental conditions. Drawing firstly from Al Purdy’s 1967 collection North of Summer: Poems from Baffin Island and secondly from the CBC Radio’s 2011 feature “Northwords,” this essay demonstrates that anxieties resulting from these incomplete colonial land claims, those that could only fail in the face of Arctic environments’ natural resistances, linger throughout poetic representations and political policies concerning Canada’s northern territories. Behind these anxieties are still unanswerable questions that shape Canada’s relations with the North: 
what are the limits of settler-colonial ideology? With whom does it end? Is the only resistance to settler-colonialism conceptual, captured by the failure of colonial language to represent colonized landscapes—the focus of so much critique at the crossroads of postcolonial and ecocritical though—or are there also intensely physical limits to this ideology, limits rooted in environmental conditions that deny colonial demands of nature and the natural?
 Literary works demonstrate the disconnect between Canada’s southern and northern experiences of colonization. By troubling invaluable but thus far incomplete considerations of Canada’s settler-colonial history, this essay suggests that Canadian writers continue to struggle with their ambivalent settler-colonial inheritances, especially as they relate to Canada’s North.

Author Biography

L. Camille van der Marel, University of Alberta

L. Camille van der Marel is a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. Her thesis research draws from diaspora studies, postcolonial critique, and new economic criticism to examine discourses of debt, ownership, and possession as they circulate across the breadth of Canadian literature, with a special focus on Caribbean-Canadian authors.