When most people think of Canada, they think snow, hockey, and faux-politeness.
But Canada also has a track record for producing some of the best literary minds in the world. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Instagram Poet Rupi Kaur, Novelist and Poet Joshua Whitehead, and so many others, weave a dense and diverse Canadian literary tapestry.
And where did they develop their love of reading?
For most, it will be in the bookstores and libraries across Canada. Browsing the aisles, finding new worlds to discover, turns buildings into gateways to magic.
This list focuses on the independent bookstores in Canada, who have a real passion for the written word, and not the chain bookstores that are more interested in selling knick-knacks than books.
Hopefully, you’ll find as much inspiration from these stores as plethora of writers have.
1. Black Squirrel Books – Ottawa, Ontario
This quaint bookstore is located in the heart of trendy Ottawa neighbourhood, the Glebe.
Black Squirrel is a tiny, cozy bookstore that, despite its limited shelf space, somehow manages an incredibly diverse and full collection of books. From the highly literary works such as Ocean Vuong to the disturbingly creepy graphic novel Uzumaki, Black Squirrel Books has something for everyone!
On occasion, the store has even been known to host loud and aggressive music shows! If you’re ever in Ottawa, take a trip to Black Squirrel, you won’t be disappointed!
2. The Owl Pen Book Shop – Bracebridge, Ontario
Nestled in the heart of the Ontario Cottage Country, The Owl Pen Book Shop is a cozy used book store, family owned and operated.
The Owl Pen specializes in used books, but they somehow manage to keep their shelves incredibly diverse. When I go into Owl Pen looking for a specific author, it’s very rare that I’m not able to find something.
While the bottom floor hosts an impressive used book selection, the second floor is where you can find some real gems! Upstairs, Owl Pen keeps their first edition and rare or collectible books.
They’re a bookstagrammer’s dream! If you’re in Muskoka, Ontario, you should stop by Owl Pen Book Shop in downtown Bracebridge!
3. The Beguiling – Toronto, Ontario
The Beguiling Books and Art is a comic book store on College Street in Toronto, Ontario, just north of the famous Kensington Market.
This bookstore screams of old-school comic shop nostalgia. But they don’t just carry the typical Marvel and DC superhero fare, though they do stock those too! The Beguiling is a place where you find truly unique graphic novels and comics.
You can also find work by the best boundary-pushers working in the field of graphic story-telling today! If you’re in downtown Toronto and looking for a unique graphic novel, check out the Beguiling!
4. MFLIBRA Antique Books – Montreal, Quebec
Montreal, the city of wild concerts, wild bars, and smoked meat sandwiches…and antique books?
MFLIBRA specializes in antique books, mostly hardcovers, special editions, and illustrated classics. You want your shelves at home to look impressive? MFLIBRA is the place for you.
So after you’ve had your fill of Quebec poutine (and after you’ve cleaned your hands), check out MFLIBRA’s curated collection of antique literary offerings!
5. Pulpfiction Books – Vancouver, British Columbia
Find yourself in need of reading material on the west coast? Pulpfiction Books, located in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, are renowned for their rare books. You can raid this place for pulp paperbacks.
Locals know that Pulpfiction Books has a constantly revolving door of unique paperbacks. Much like Forest Gump’s chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Though Forest could’ve just read the guide that comes with chocolate boxes 😉
If you’re in the mood for classic Daphne Du Maurier, or you’re hunting for an older edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s greatest hits, check out Pulpfiction Books. Bonus, they’ll deliver anywhere in the lower mainland!
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6. Shelf Life Books – Calgary, Alberta
A literary haven in the heart of oil country, Shelf Life Books spread a love of reading for all readers, and shine spotlights on marginalized and local authors.
Shelf Life is extra awesome because of their pro-dog policy. Check out their Instagram for a feed of cute canine customers! Definitely, one of the best independent bookstores in Canada.
Shelf Life Books carries a wide array of genres, from poetry to kidlit, to non-fiction and beyond! This should definitely be one of your top stops in Calgary!
7. Well-Read Books – Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Have you found yourself in Canada’s far north? Have you meandered east after racing Alaska’s Iditarod?
Well-Read Books proudly serves as the Yukon Territory’s only used book store since 1999. They boast of an impressive selection of used books, including first editions and out-of-print books from authors of the north.
They are committed to serving their community, spreading literacy and a love of reading, and preserving Klondike history. Certainly, a deserving entry on the list of best independent bookstores in Canada.
8. King’s Co-Op Bookstore – Halifax, Nova Scotia
A Co-operative bookstore in Halifax, Nova Scotia, self-titled “Canada’s hardest to find indie bookstore”.
King’s Co-Op is committed to amplifying new and local authors while stocking a comprehensive catalog of well-known writers across all genres. King’s also hosts a ton of different events, both in-person and digital.
What is exceptionally cool about King’s Co-Op is that it also serves as the focal point of a low-residency Master’s in Fine Art program for aspiring non-fiction writers. King’s is definitely worth a gander if you find yourself among the maritime.
9. Bison Books – Winnipeg, Manitoba
If you’ve found yourself in the city colloquially known as “Winterpeg”, chances are, you’re going to need some reprieve from the cold. Why not take it in Bison Books?
Bison is a seller of antiquarian, used books, across genres, including academic literature. They boast of a stock of over 20,000 used and rare books. The other day I saw the first edition of Karl Marx’s Das Capital!
Near the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and the University of Winnipeg, Bison Books is definitely worth a visit.
So, there you have it – the 9 top independent bookstores in Canada. A starting place for the amazing offerings the Canadian literary scene has to offer. And I do mean a starting place, as this list barely scratches the surface of the amazing book stores Canada has.
Local bookstores really are so foundational to improving readership and literacy in our world, and anytime you have the chance to, you should try and support them.
You also support the writers as indie bookstores are likely to pay a lot more than an Amazon for the books they sell. While Amazon might show you the exact book you were looking for, you can’t replicate the feeling of browsing wood shelves and discovering new worlds you never knew you were looking for.
So, find a local bookstore, support a local bookstore, and support the future generations of literature!
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