Modernism and the Fredericton Ferment

Mid-twentieth century modernism allowed not only freedoms of form and expression, but also brought new and quite daring ideas to New Brunswick’s deeply conservative culture. From A.G. Bailey’s reflections on Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous peoples (“Miramichi Lightning”), to Fred Cogswell’s embrace of non-Christian perspectives (“Zen: the Epicure”), to Kay Smith’s treatment of female sexuality (“When a Girl Looks Down”), to Robert Gibbs’s “making strange” of the familiar (“Conservation Procedures”), the modernists harnessed post-war energies to renew the New Brunswick past while also invigorating its present.

In the process, they pioneered the tools of cultural renovation – not only for New Brunswick but also for Canada. The founding of the Bliss Carman Society and The Fiddlehead, as well as the overhaul of provincial curricula, the enhancement of libraries and archives, and the strategic positioning of the University of New Brunswick as the central hub for New Brunswick and Canadian Studies brought established and new writers and artists to the cities of southern New Brunswick. While Bailey and Cogswell built these instruments of renewal at an institutional level, Gibbs and Smith taught and worked with writers and artists to create a critical mass of provincial artists and scholars. The influence of the modernists, then, is not just restricted to their innovations of form and embrace of new ideas, but in the construction of cultural infrastructure and critical direction for the province’s writers.


What readers will encounter in this module’s writers is a series of challenges to the conservative culture of New Brunswick.


For the full Module Page on Modernism, click here.