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May/June 2003
Vol. 35, no. 3
ISSN 1492-4676

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On the Road:
Jack Kerouac Is Gone, But His Road-Weary Spirit Lives On

Trevor Clayton, Communications

That spirit is the heart of On the Road, a 300-year retrospective of cross-cultural influence between Canada and the United States in the form of rare books, brochures and posters on display at the Library and Archives of Canada (L&AC;) and in collaboration with the Embassy of the United States.

The grand opening was held on March 12 in the main foyer of the LAC with speeches from National Librarian Roch Carrier and U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci.

"Jack Kerouac was born 81 years ago today," began Mr. Carrier. "This exhibit could be called a celebration of the ghost of Kerouac."

Ambassador Cellucci referred to the L&AC; as a world-class institution and the exhibit as a romantic illustration of cross-border experience.

"The Embassy of the United States is very proud to sponsor this exhibit with the National Library. Our two countries remain steadfast friends and allies," he said.

The exhibition traces the movements of Native peoples, loyalists, patriots, refugees, writers, printers, adventurers, explorers and gold prospectors throughout Canada and the U.S. The records of their travels and experiences bring to life North America’s shared history.

Beginning with Natives who ignored the border and whose languages subsequently became common to both countries, Canadians and Americans from all walks of life have for centuries been compelled to journey across each other’s homelands. During the American Revolution, some felt politically persecuted in their own country and sought refuge in the other while some travelled across the border to rally men for their cause. Printing entrepreneurs headed north and south to establish publications that would invariably become indispensable to scholars of North American history. Botanists and diarists wrote almanacs and journals when crossing the border. Others simply needed to see what was on the other side.

"This selective grouping of works, all from the Rare Book Collection at the National Library, will show visitors that the roads between our two countries are well-travelled indeed," said Michel Brisebois, curator of the exhibit.

Highlights of the exhibit include prayer books and fairy tales translated into Mohawk, Ojibway, Chinook jargon and Blackfoot for Natives on both sides of the border; travel journals and guides written by Americans for people visiting Canada; a railroad poster promoting American settlement in western Canada; a petition signed by hundreds of Americans for the release of William Lyon Mackenzie from an American jail; first editions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which was available in Canada before it was published in the U.S., and Anne of Green Gables which was published in the U.S. decades before a Canadian edition was produced; the first edition of Kerouac’s On the Road, valued at $10 000; and a 1968 manual for draft-dodgers living in Canada.

This is the third in a series of collaborative exhibits with embassies (the others were with Australia and Belgium). On the Road was organized and researched by both Michel Brisebois and Jan Cellucci, wife of the American Ambassador.

Excerpted here are passages on "Canadian Voyageurs" from the book Astoria, or, Enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains, written by celebrated American author Washington Irving in 1836 and included in the exhibit:

"They inherit, too, a fund of civility and complaisance; and, instead of that hardness and grossness which men in laborious life are apt to indulge towards each other, they are mutually obliging and accommodating; interchanging kind offers, yielding each other assistance and comfort in every emergency.

"Never are they so happy as when on long and rough expeditions, toiling up rivers or coasting lakes; encamping at night on the borders, gossiping around their fires, and bivouacking in the open air."

On the Road will be on display until May 12 at the Library and Archives of Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa.

For more information about On the Road, contact

Michel Brisebois
Rare Book Curator, Library and Archives of Canada
Telephone: 613-992-6961
Fax: 613-943-1112