Northrop Frye was a literary theorist, critic, educator, and one of the most respected Canadian intellectual figures in the second half of the 20th century. Frye argued for a systematic approach to literature, which examined the underlying myths and symbols that inform all of English literature. Frye’s work in literary theory and criticism challenged existing critical paradigms and had a significant international influence in the field.
Today, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Member of Parliament for Toronto—St. Paul’s, commemorated the importance of Northrop Frye as a person of national historic significance. A special ceremony was held at Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto with members of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, faculty, students, and residents of the City of Toronto. The announcement was made on behalf of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, the Honourable Catherine McKenna.
Born in Sherbrooke, Quebec in 1912, Frye was a quiet, studious child who grew up in Moncton, New Brunswick with his father, a hardware salesman, and his mother, a firm Methodist who encouraged his love of reading. In 1929, Frye began studying English and Philosophy at Victoria College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto. He received his Bachelor of Arts in 1933 and then followed the theological course at Emmanuel College and was ordained in the United Church of Canada in 1936. After further education that included a Master’s degree in English literature from Oxford University, Frye returned to Victoria College where he spent the rest of his career, eventually becoming chair of the English department in 1952, principal of Victoria College (1959-67), and then chancellor of Victoria University (1978-91).
Throughout his remarkable career, Frye published hundreds of essays and numerous books, including Fearful Symmetry: a Study of William Blake (1947), which offered a rereading of the often-obscure works of the 19th century poet, and Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (1957), which argued for a systematic and detailed approach to the study of literature. While the former book put Frye on the map, it was Anatomy of Criticism that cemented Frye on the international stage as a powerful force in English literature. His later books, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (1982) and Words with Power: Being a Second Study of “The Bible and Literature” (1990), were influential on the world stage.
The Government of Canada, through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognizes significant people, places, and events that shaped our country as one way of helping Canadians and youth connect with their past. The commemoration process is largely driven by public nominations. To date, more than 2,000 designations have been made.
The Government of Canada is celebrating families with free admission to Parks Canada’s sites for youth 17 and under, and free admission for one year for new Canadian citizens. We invite Canadians to learn more about our history – from lighthouses to battlefields, historic neighbourhoods to Indigenous contributions to Canada, there is an amazing array of places and stories to discover.