October 17th, 2014
2014 being the centenary of the publication in Paris of Maria Chapdelaine, Hémon’s classic novel of Quèbec pioneer life, the steering committee of the Writers’ Chapel chose Hémon who had died tragically the year before having never seen his novel in print, as the writer to be commemorated on October 17th, 2014 at 6.00 PM with a memorial plaque to be installed on the wall of the Writers’ Chapel of St. James the Apostle Anglican Church in Montreal. Hémon will be the sixth (and the first francophone) writer to be thus honoured.
When the Chapel was first created with the installation of a plaque in memory of John Glassco (1909-1981), the intention was to place in the public's eye Canadian writers who had made an important contribution to Canadian literature but who may have slipped into undeserved neglect or obscurity. A secondary consideration was the seeming "retreat" of Anglophone literary culture in the face of a particularly vibrant Quèbec literary scene. Plaques honouring Frank Scott, Arthur Smith, Hugh MacLennan and Gwethalyn Graham addressed that issue. The case of Hémon, it was felt, was not only eminently deserving of the Chapel’s attention, but would also serve to celebrate the diverse and broadened cultural identity of Canada. Moreover, Maria Chapdelaine is one of the best known novels about the Canadian experience having been translated into many languages, and having appeared in some four hundred editions in the course of its published life, and having sold several million copies. The commemoration is also made appropriate by the fact that Hèmon, tramping westwards on railroad tracks, was killed by a train and lies in an unmarked grave somewhere in Northern Ontario.