By the time Hugh MacLennan joined McGill's faculty as a part-time English professor in 1951, he had already been honoured with three Governor General's awards, Canada's highest literary prize. When he retired in 1980, he had won a total of five for both fiction and non-fiction, a number unmatched by any other writer.
MacLennan helped to develop a literature that was distinctively Canadian, a quality evident even in his early writing. A rejection letter from a U.S. publisher in the 1930s puzzled, "He does not write like an American and he does not write like an Englishman. Who is he?" Soon, the answer would be clear. MacLennan was a Canadian writer.
His first novel, Barometer Rising, describes the social class structure of Halifax through the lens of the 1917 explosion that MacLennan had seen level the city as a ten year old. But it was his classic novel Two Solitudes, an allegory of the relationship between French and English Canada, for which he is best remembered. Ironically, the phrase "two solitudes," now a national catchphrase, has come to mean irreparable political differences, though MacLennan intended it to evoke two unique groups who could eventually come to respect and protect each other.
Shortly after MacLennan's death in 1990 author and journalist Philip Marchard, acknowledged MacLennan's impact on the coming-of-age of Canadian literature when he wrote in the Toronto Star that MacLennan "showed how the writer of fiction can help to define a country in the imagination of its citizens."