An Acre of Time

Front Cover
Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 1996 - History - 243 pages
Winner of the Ottawa Citizen Award for Non-Fiction

Winner of the Canadian Authors Association Lela Common Award for Non-Fiction

Shortlisted for the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Nonfiction


Where is here? That question, Northrop Frye believed, was the key to Canadian identity, the secret of our collective psyche.

For Phil Jenkins, "here" is a single acre of land on LeBreton Flats in the nation’s capital, Ottawa. In this strikingly inventive book, he stakes that acre and recounts the story of its life. He rides a glass elevator up from the earth’s core, describing the geological strata he passes through before reaching the surface. He watches the land submerge beneath salt water that rises as high as the tallest Ottawa skyscraper, a place where 10,000 years ago beluga whales cavorted. He climbs a pine tree and sees Samuel de Champlain paddle up the Ottawa River, intent on converting the native Algonquins and claiming the acre for France. He walks down Duke Street in the early nineteen hundreds and reports on the desolate acre of today, studying its endangered flora, fauna and future.

The acre was part of the land expropriated by the National Capital Commission in the 1960s. Buildings were bulldozed, lives transplanted, and a huge government complex was envisioned. The Pope held a mass on the site in 1984, but to this day nothing has been built. The acre may eventually be included in a native land settlement; for the moment it serves as home to a group of street kids and as an overnight parking lot for tour buses.

An Acre of Time is about the way land becomes territory, territory becomes property, and property becomes real estate. It’s about the process by which man alters the place he inhabits. By taking a single acre of Canada and examining it in unexpected ways, Jenkins has produced a highly original celebration of place, a book at once eclectic, invaluable, and unique.

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About the author (1996)

Phil Jenkins is a maker and seller of fine English. He has written three works of creative nonfiction: a national bestseller on family farms, Fields of Vision; the award-winning An Acre of Time, later a play; and RiverSong. He was the books columnist for the Ottawa Citizen for six years.

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