Last Weekend to See Margaret Atwood Exhibit in Mississauga


Published April 15, 2016 at 1:48 pm


Not everyone knows this, but Mississauga has a thriving (and growing) arts scene and is currently home to a truly unique exhibition that’s only here for one more weekend.

If you’re in the mood to celebrate history, culture and literature, you might want to check out the Charles Pachter and Margaret Atwood: The Journals of Susanna Moodie exhibit at the Bradley Museum.

The exhibit features 30 prints from The Journals of Susanna Moodie, a book of poetry by acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood featuring illustrations by Charles Pachter. The exhibit will close on Sunday, April 17 at 4 pm, so this is your last chance to take a gander at some iconic Canadian work within the confines of a 19th century landmark.

As what inspired the work featured in the exhibit, it actually — believe it or not — all came to Atwood in a dream. While she was studying at Harvard, she dreamed about writer and English settler Susanna Moodie, an upper-class woman who found herself struggling to survive in the harsh Canadian wilderness in the 19th century. The dream inspired Atwood to write a series of poems about Moodie and The Journals of Susanna Moodie was published in 1970. The book was later re-published with Pachter’s illustrations in 1997.

We actually got the chance to chat with Atwood for roughly seven fascinating minutes about not only the exhibit, but her feelings on Mississauga — namely Hazel’s memorable election ad.

Here’s a look at our convo.

Why did Moodie’s work affect you?

It’s a long story! Here’s what happened — in grade school we had these things called readers, which was like an anthology that had excerpts from different people’s work. One had an excerpt from Susanna Moodie, it was from the late 1940s and it was the episode in which her house burns down and I always remembered that. I ended up at graduate school at Harvard and I was studying literature and at that time, women were not allowed in the Lamont library where all the modern poetry was, but they were allowed into [a different library] so I was doing my work there when I found some Canadian literature tucked away there. It was right next to the witchcraft and demonology section, so I started poking around in there. Then I had a very vivid dream and the dream was that I’d written an opera about Susanna Moodie and it was all very unlikely because I don’t read music. I got Roughing it in the Bush and Life in the Clearings and read them and then I started writing these poems.

Did this spur your interest in women’s Issues?

Don’t count me in that pigpen for only one thing. My point of view is, women are half of the human race. Why wouldn’t people write about them? It’s not a special lobby group and that means there’s good ones, bad ones, tall ones, short ones. We all went to grade school; we know women are not angels. [With Moodie] it wasn’t so much that she was a woman, it was that she was the first on the ground. It was interesting that she was a woman, but in those days, women had a bit more [permission] to do writing and painting than men did in Canada because it was a frontier society and men were supposed be out there building bridges and chopping down trees and manly things and women could do ‘girly’ things like writing and painting and flowers, which is what she also did. But she was also constantly strapped for cash, so one of the reasons she was writing was to make enough money to, for instance, buy shoes for her children.

That whole story about an English gentlewoman plopped down in the middle of the bush where I grew up – it wasn’t any secret to me – I was the reverse and I was plopped down in a place with flush toilets and vacuum cleaners and that was scary for me. In a way, it [was about] how we react when we’re displaced and taken out of the environment where we feel at home. She was plucked out of England. Her husband thought he’d go to Canada and become a gentleman landowner, but instead he’s in the middle of the woods. None of them knew anything. They were trying to cope, and that was the interesting thing to me. It wasn’t “women this and women that,” it was that she was this person who had been taken out of her context and stuck in a place that was entirely strange to her and not what she had expected at all.

She was an upper class English person in the middle of the woods without any money. What a nightmare – and that’s what she says in her book. She got shit for that and people attacked her, but she was right. People had problems [adjusting]. A lot of inept people came and tried to make the most of what sounded like a good deal, but they didn’t know what kind of land they were dealing with.

Any thoughts on Mississauga?

Hazel did a fantastic ad during the [federal] election. ‘Stephen, do I look scared to you!’

Favourite Place in Mississauga?

I’m very bad at favourite questions and never answer them because when you do answer them, everyone else says “why not me?”

If you want to see the exhibit this weekend, you’ll find the Bradley Museum on 1620 Orr Road. The museum is open on Fridays from 9 am – 4 pm and from 12 pm – 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. The exhibit is free of charge. 

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