A love of books from P.E.I. and beyond

The Guardian expresses its appreciation to reviewer Elizabeth Cran for 27 years of service

Sally Cole scole@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 29, 2016

Elizabeth Cran has successfully completed 27 years of service as The Guardian’s book reviewer. Her last column was Feb. 6.

©Submitted photo

Elizabeth Cran is passionate about literature.

“I read mysteries in the evening and serious books during the day,” says Cran, who has written book reviews for The Guardian for the past 27 years.

Over that time, she has introduced hundreds of books to Guardian readers.

Whether it’s “Molly and Company” by Margaret A. Westlie, “The Reluctant Detective” by Finley Martin (Acorn Press) or “William Forrestall: Paintings  and Drawings” by Allen Bentley and Peter J. Larocque, Cran has worked to increase the profile of books in Atlantic Canada.

“My favourite authors are Guy Gavriel Kay and Lyn Hamilton,” says Cran, 85, during a telephone interview.

Her love for literature comes naturally.

“My mother taught me how to read when I was four....I remember reading a lot of books when I was small,” says Cran, who grew up to be a teacher.

A former student sings her praises.

“Elizabeth Cran was the most important teacher I ever had. I met her at Loyola College in Montreal and the transformation she effected in my knowledge and attitude to life is astonishing,” says P.E.I. historian Reg Porter.

As an academic, “her unique culture and education made her a valuable contributor who displayed both sympathy and discipline in her reviews.”

Cran (nee Burgess) grew up in Montreal and received her early education at The Study, a private girls’ school. From there she went to McGill where she took an honours degree in Romance languages, winning a scholarship in her final year to Harvard, where she continued her studies at the graduate level.

After finishing her education, she went to England and Scotland where she met and married her husband, Willie Cran. They returned to Quebec to farm in the Eastern Townships. They had two children, Alison and Anthony.

Cran eventually gravitated back to the university environment. In the early 1960s, she took a position in the classics department at Loyola College. Cran also became closely associated with the Thomas More Institute for Adult Liberal Studies, a Montreal organization that gave university level courses in the evening to any interested adults.

In 1964, she met Porter, a student at the college, who told her of his dream to return to his hometown of Tignish, P.E.I., to set up a cultural centre.

“She visited Tignish and eventually, with the support of Alma Buote, a retired local artist, and Henri Gaudet, the local church organist and local historian, approached Walter Shaw’s government and received his enthusiastic support for what would soon be incorporated as the Tignish Arts Foundation,” Porter added.

Her work in Tignish continued for five years and produced results that would have a long-term effect in the establishment of a community museum, the restoration of the church organ with recitals that continue to this day and the encouragement of local performers in folk music and the collection of folklore and local history.

“The work of the foundation came to an end when the new Liberal government withdrew its support for the summer activities,” Porter says.

In 1966, Cran left Loyola College for a position in the French department at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., where she taught both French and linguistics. She stayed in Sackville until 1974 when she moved back to Montreal and got a job working at the Yellow Door, the headquarters of the Student Christian Movement. Five years later she returned to Tignish.

“They told me that there was no work there, but I managed to find work of one kind or another for 27 years,” says Cran who, along with her reviews, wrote a weekly column in the Acadian newspaper, “La Voix Acadienne”, about the history and culture of the Tignish area.

She also began work on a history of Tignish, “Success on the Edge: Portrait of a Small Town”, which was published in 2000, and co-wrote “Working Together: Two Centuries of Co-operation on Prince Edward Island” with Marian Bruce.

Cran also experimented in raising sheep, her dream, and followed up her interest in painting by taking part in different art shows.

“I was a serious artist,” Cran says.

Eventually, she moved to Saint John for health reasons and to be near her daughter, grandson and great-granddaughter.

Her desire to write continued every week as she wrote a book review for “The Guardian”.

“Her writing reflects this lifelong development, just as her conversation draws you into its brilliant and varied sphere,” Porter adds.

“Knowing Elizabeth Cran, or being a friend, could be a life-changing experience.”