After a three-year hiatus because of the pandemic, the Lakefield Literary Festival is returning on Friday, July 14th and Saturday, July 15th to the Bryan Jones Theatre at Lakefield College School.
The festival will be presenting two authors on Friday evening, two authors on Saturday afternoon, and a headlining author on Saturday evening, with participating authors to be announced. Admission to individual events will be $35, or $90 for a pass to all the events. In addition, the children’s tent will return to Lakefield’s downtown Cenotaph Park to offer its popular Saturday morning program.
The Lakefield Literary Festival was established in 1995 as a celebration of Margaret Laurence, but has since become a celebration of the rich literary heritage of Lakefield and the surrounding area, including the works of Catharine Parr Traill, Susanna Moodie, and Isabella Valancy Crawford, all of whom lived and wrote in Lakefield.
The festival celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019, featuring renowned Canadian author Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient, Anil’s Ghost, Warlight) as the headlining author.
Due to the pandemic, the festival was cancelled in 2020, 2021, and 2022, although the festival’s annual young writers contest continued. First introduced in 1998, the writing contest is open to all students of Peterborough-area secondary schools, with awards presented for junior and senior fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. The deadline for entries for this year’s contest, sponsored by Patricia and David Morton, is Monday, May 15th.
For more information on the Lakefield Literary Festival, including the young writers contest, visit lakefieldliteraryfestival.com.
Lakefield’s literary history
The Village of Lakefield has a rich literary heritage, with two of Canada’s most important 19th-century writers — sisters Catharine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie — having lived in the area, as well as one of Canada’s most esteemed and beloved writers, the novelist and short-story writer Margaret Laurence.
Born in England almost two years apart, Susanna and Catharine Parr Strickland eventually married, respectively, John Moodie and Thomas Traill. In 1832, both families emigrated to Canada where they settled on adjacent bush farms along the eastern shore of Lake Katchewanooka just north of Lakefield, with the help of their brother Samuel Strickland.
Their experiences as pioneers led to Catharine Parr Traill’s book The Backwoods of Canada (1836) and Susanna Moodie’s book Roughing It in the Bush (1852).
In 1840, Susanna Moodie and her husband moved to Belleville, but she returned to the Lakefield area for a month each summer to visit her sister.
The prior year, the Traills sold their farm and then lived at various locations in Peterborough County until Thomas Traill died in 1859. Following her husband’s death, Catharine had a cottage built in Lakefield with the help of her brother Samuel.
She called it “Westove”, after her husband’s home in the Orkney Islands in Scotland. Except for short absences to visit family and friends, it was Catharine’s home from 1860 until her death in 1899.
Located at 16 Smith Street in Lakefield, it is now a private residence with a historical plaque located beside the home.
One of Canada’s most esteemed literary figures, Margaret Laurence, spent the last 13 years of her life in Lakefield. She is best known for her iconic books The Stone Angel (1964), A Jest of God (1966), and The Diviners (1974).
Called the “First Lady of Lakefield”, Laurence lived at 8 Regent Street in Lakefield from 1974 until her death there in 1987. She also had a cottage on the Otonabee River near Peterborough, where she wrote The Diviners during the summers of 1971 to 1973.
Laurence’s Lakefield home is located near Christ Church (62 Queen St.), a small stone church built in 1853 under the leadership of Samuel Strickland. It now houses the Christ Church Community Museum, which displays important historical artifacts and displays including the Strickland family history and information about Susanna Moodie, Catharine Parr Traill, Margaret Laurence, and 19th-century writer and poet Isabella Valancy Crawford, who also lived in Lakefield.
Christ Church Community Museum is only open to the public in the summer.