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Translation is the road by which Canadian theatre artists reach each other, but the phenomenon of translating plays is a relatively new one.

As far back as 1764, prose and poetry was being translated in Canada in many cases by newspapers and especially by the Quebec Gazette which published in both French and English. Later, some creative writers turned to translation. But it was not until the political problems of the early 1960s literally exploded that the two solitudes exhibited much curiosity about each other's theatre. Certainly, before then, Shakespeare, Molière and some of the other big names had been seen in translation, and Gratien Gélinas was bringing his own plays (Tit-Coq, Bousille et les justes) to anglo audiences, but it was with Bill Glassco and John Van Burek's interest in the works of Michel Tremblay that a steady traffic of works was created. Translators like Maryse Warda, Pierre Legris, Shelley Tepperman and Linda Gaboriau keep the exchange of ideas steady.

But translation in Canada does not only include French to English or vice versa. Some translators like Jean-Luc Denis and Paul Lefebvre are bringing the new German writers to francophone audiences. Translation/adaptations of the classics are undertaken by our highest-profile playwrights like Denis Chouinard (One Thousand Cranes), Linda Griffiths (Hedda Gabler), Sheldon Rosen (Enemy of the People) and David French (The Seagull). Martin Bowman, with his accomplice Bill Findlay, translates Quebec works into Scots. Also artists like Benoit Girard and Michel Dumont undertake translations of works they are interested in performing or directing.

Literary translation is taught at universities across the nation, usually within French, English or comparative literature departments. One sector where the art of translation continues to grow in Canada is in the translation of Indigenous works.

Commentary by Gaetan Charlebois

Last updated 2019-10-22