Allison Mitcham (novelist, short-story writer, and English professor) was born in 1932 in Tisadale, Saskatchewan. For most of her life, however, she has resided in Sackville, New Brunswick, where she raised three children with her husband Peter. Peter, who passed away 30 November 2010, also illustrated many of her books. Mitcham's published work reveals her fascination with coastal islands and the lives of those who inhabit them. Much of her work is inspired by her Maritime setting.
Mitcham came to New Brunswick to complete her master’s degree at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in Fredericton. She later completed her PhD in English there as well. In her early career, she taught language at UNB and in Saskatchewan. She also was a professor at Université de Moncton, where she taught graduate and undergraduate English literature courses before retiring in 1987 and devoting herself exclusively to writing. Her work has appeared in many periodicals, magazines, and anthologies both in Canada and the United States.
When Mitcham was a girl, her mother, who was also a writer, advised her against taking up writing as a career. The advice did not stick because she now has twenty-six books to her name. Her work ranges widely from poetry, to fiction, to historical studies. She has also worked with her own daughter, a veterinarian, in creating and illustrating two books on goats. Her son, a published historical writer, has also benefited from his mother’s example.
Some of Mitcham’s major books are Offshore Islands of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (1984), Three Remarkable Maritimers (1985), and, with Theresia Quigley, Maritime Voices: Twentieth Century Stories by Women (2000). Mitcham has received considerable acclaim for her writing. Charles Lillard, in the Victoria, BC newspaper the Times Colonist, called her book Taku “an engrossing story” (qtd. in Maritime Voices 106). Another of her books, Angels in the Snow, was described as “spare, but it effectively conveys the love that bound mother and daughter together through the greatest changes humans can experience” (Clemence 13). Mitcham also received extensive praise for her book The Northern Imagination: A Study of Northern Canadian Literature. Sherrill Grace describes it as “A critical construction of a deadly, inhuman North characterized by mystery, danger, and adventure” (168).
Mitcham has been a generous writer, showing her appreciation for other authors. Three Remarkable Maritimers (1985) is a biographical study of Nova Scotia’s Silas Tertius Rand, the celebrated missionary, educator, and student of the Mi'kmaq language and culture; and of New Brunswick's Moses Henry Perley and William Francis Ganong. Perley was an Indian commissioner, Fisheries commissioner, and Immigration agent, among other things, and Ganong was a pioneering scholar of the province's geography and history. Offshore Islands and Three Remarkable Maritimers were on the Halifax Herald’s bestseller lists. Her book Taku won British Columbia's Lieutenant-Governor's award in 1994.
Mitcham continues to write about New Brunswick and her work continues to attract a wide readership. She makes the claim that though her characters are not real, she trusts that they are dead ringers for people she has known: “I am inclined to agree with Gabrielle Roy’s somewhat paradoxical contention that the best way to get at the elusive truth about people and situations is not through an exact factual recounting, but a fictional rendition” (Truth to Tell 1).
Jillian Hogan, Spring 2010
St. Thomas University
Bibliography of primary sources
Brown, Alice Cameron. Burning Straw-Stacks: Prose and Poetry of Alice Cameron Brown. Ed. Allison Mitcham. Hantsport, NS: LAncelot Press, 1993.
Mitcham, Allison. Atlin, the Last Utopia. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1989.
---. Grey Owl’s Favorite Wilderness. Toronto, ON: Penumbra Press, 1981.
---. Halcyon Days. Saint John: DreamCatcher, 2005.
---. Inuit Summer. Illus. Peter Mitcham. Trans. Gérald Bellefleur. Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quills, 1979.
---. Island Keepers. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1989.
---. Ivan Hicks: Fifty Years of Fabulous Fiddle Music. Hansport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1996.
---. The Literary Achievement of Gabrielle Roy. Fredericton, NB: York Press, 1983.
---. The Northern Imagination: A Study of Northern Canadian Literature. Moonbeam, ON: Penumbra Press, 1983.
---. Offshore Islands of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Illus. Peter Mitcham. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1981.
---. Paradise or Purgatory: Island Life in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Illus. Peter Mitcham. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1986.
---. The Pond Shore and Beyond. Sackville, NB: Brothers Publishing, 1981.
---. Prophet of the Wilderness: Abraham Gesner. Illus. Peter Mitcham. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot, 1995.
---. Signs of the Times. Illus. Peter Mitcham. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1990.
---. Snow Ghosts. London, ON: Killaly Press, 1976.
---. Strange Lights at Midnight: A Maritime Island Adventure. Saint John, NB: DreamCatcher, 2003.
---. Taku: The Heart of North America's Last Great Wilderness. Illus. Naomi and Peter Mitcham. Hantsport, N.S: Lancelot Press, 1993.
---. Three Remarkable Maritimers. Illus. Peter Mitcham. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1985.
---. Truth to Tell: Stories from Here and Away. Saint John, NB: DreamCatcher, 2004.
Mitcham, Allison, Réjean Roy and Serena Sock. The Mighty Glooscap Transforms Animals and Landscape / Le Maître Glooscap Transforme Animaux et Paysages / Mawiknat Klu'scap Sa'se'wo'laji Wi'sisk Aqq Sa'se'wa'toq Maqamikew. Illus. Réjean Roy. Moncton, NB: Bouton d'Or Acadie, 2011. Wabanaki.
Mitcham, Allison and Stephanie Mitcham. Think Like a Goat. Illus. Naomi Mitcham and Peter Mitcham. Sumner, IA: Crane Creek, 2005.
Mitcham, Allison, and Theresia Quigley, eds. Maritime Voices: Twentieth Century Stories by Women. Saint John, NB: DreamCatcher, 2000.
---. Poetic Voices of the Maritimes: A Selection of Contemporary Poetry. Hantsport, NS: Lancelot, 1996.
Mitcham, Allison, and Yvonne Wilson. The Editor Makes House Calls. Saint John, NB: DreamCatcher, 2003.
Bibliography of secondary sources
“Allison Mitcham”. Sackville, New Brunswick Canada. Cultural Capital of Canada, 2008. 16 Feb. 2010. <http://www.sackville.com/community/heroes/allison_mitcham>.
Black, W. David. Pioneers of New Brunswick Archaeology II: Abraham Gesner. New Brunswick: UNB, 2008.
Clemence, Verne. “Green and White.” Rev. of Angels in the Snow by, Allison Mitcham. Crane Creek Publications 20 Feb. 2005: 13.
Grace, Sherrill. Canada and the Idea of the North. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP. 2001.
Harber, K. Phillip. “Book Review: Canadian Materials for Young People.” Rev. of The Northern Imagination: A Study of Northern Canadian Literature, by Allison Mitcham. Toronto Board of Education 2 March 1984:30.
Leeder, John. “Book Recordings.” Rev. of Ivan Hicks: Fifty Years of Fabulous Fiddle Music, by Allison Mitcham. The Canadian Folk Music Bulletin 12 Dec. 2008: 49.
McMullin, Vince. “New Brunswick Authors.” Rev. of Offshore Islands, by Allison Mitcham. Brothers Publishing 4 Feb. 2007: 6.
Moss, John. Echoing Silence: Essays on Arctic Narrative. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1997.
Quigley, Theresia. I Cry for Innocence. Saint John: DreamCatcher, 2002.
Schreyer, Christine. Reserves and Resources: Local Rhetoric on Land, Language, and Identity Amongst the Taku River Tlingit and Loon River Cree First Nations. Daveluy, Michelle: University of Alberta Libraries, 2009.