Book Cover: Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place, Daniel Coleman

Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place

Daniel Coleman
  • $20.00

May 2017
272 pages | ISBN 978-1-928088-28-8

**Shortlisted for the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction**
**Winner of the Hamilton Arts Council Literary Award for Non-fiction**
**Winner of the Hamilton Arts Council Kerry Schooley Award**

How can you truly belong to a place? What does being at home mean in a society that has always celebrated the search for greener pastures? And can a newcomer ever acquire the deep understanding of the land that comes from being part of a culture that has lived there for centuries?

When Daniel Coleman came to Hamilton to take a position at McMaster University, he began to ask himself these kinds of questions, and Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place is his answer. In this exploration of his garden – which Coleman deftly situates in the complicated history of Cootes Paradise, off of Hamilton Harbour – the author pays close attention to his small plot of land sheltered by the Niagara Escarpment. Coleman chronicles enchanting omnivorous deer, the secret life of water and the ongoing tension between human needs and the environment. These, along with his careful attention to the perspectives and history of the Six Nations, create a beguiling portrait of a beloved space.

Reviews | Interviews | Articles | Excerpt | Videos | About the Author


Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place by Daniel Coleman (Vivian M. Hansen, The Goose, 10/08/2018)
"Coleman's work is well-researched into the local lore of Hamilton, the families who settled there, and the Indigenous people who lived on the land prior to European settlement. He is inclusive of those stories; of recorded family history in old Bibles, the ceremonial and oral narratives of Indigenous peoples."

Hamilton's McMaster prof Daniel Coleman pens Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place
(Jane Mulkewich, Dundas Star, 18/08/2017)
"His new book, Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place, pulls together diverse strands of knowledge about a very specific plot of land (his backyard), that will surprise, delight, and inform readers — whether they are interested in wildlife, plant life, geology, water management, genealogy, history, or Indigenous issues."

Hot Hamilton Reads (Jessica Rose, Hamilton Magazine, 01/06/2017)
"In his latest book, Yardwork, McMaster University Professor Daniel Coleman compels readers to pause and observe the natural spaces in which they live -- beginning first with their own backyards."

A Review of Daniel Coleman's Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place (Angie Abdou, Hamilton Review of Books, 01/05/2017)
"In Coleman’s work, paying close attention to the ground we stand on becomes a spiritual act. He reminds readers too that the more we focus in on a small space, the bigger it grows – and the more it can tell us about the larger world, the global network of which the one small place and all of its inhabitants are a part. The book will encourage all readers to engage in this kind of intensive “Place Thought” as a way to connect with the natural world to which they belong."


Nature Writers Discussion | Hamilton Reads 2021 (Daniel Coleman, Hamilton Public Library, 10/11/2021)
Canadian authors Helen Humphreys, Isaac Yuen and Daniel Coleman chat with Hamilton Reads 2021 author of Blaze Island, Catherine Bush about the life forces around us, near and far.

The Environmental Urbanist episode for 2019-12-17 (Jason Allen, The Environmental Urbanist, 17/12/2019)
An interview with Daniel about a city dweller's complex relationship with water.

Daniel Coleman reveals the best and worst parts of writing his RBC Taylor Prize-shortlisted book, Yardwork (Jane van Koeverden, CBC Books, 01/03/2018)
"It's always a challenge to find sentences that surprise and sparkle without shouting for attention to themselves as sentences. I admire writers who can use everyday language that doesn't announce itself as poetic or erudite or beautiful even as it makes me as a reader suck in my breath and see the familiar in a totally new way. I aspire to write like that."

RBC Taylor Prize nominees on the importance of truth-based storytelling in an era of fake news (Brad Wheeler, The Globe and Mail, 23/02/2018)
"Getting it right has to do with me being pretty conscious of living in a whole set of relationships in this place, to which I am accountable. If I'm telling the story of my block, I've got neighbours who can check me. I have to get it right. […] [T]here's an accountability, too, of telling the story about the history of this place that doesn't repeat the erasures involved within the Canadian settlers story. Getting it right gets into the details of trusting your information."

Daniel Coleman on the Complexities, Labour, and Reward of a Connection to the Land (Open Book, 14/07/2017)

"Daniel tells us about a friend with a very helpful suggestion, shares a fantastic title from an Australian memoir, and gives us a peak at some of the working titles that existing along the way for Yardwork."


Read Hamilton (Open Book, 27/11/2023)
A wonderful gathering of Hamilton books in one place, including Daniel's book.

'Yardwork a double winner at Hamilton Literary Awards (Graham Rockingham, Hamilton Spectator, 11/12/2018)
"'Yardwork,' a social and historical biography of Coleman's backyard garden near Cootes Paradise, won in the non-fiction category as well as taking the Kerry Schooley Award for the book 'most evocative of Hamilton.'"

Hamilton author finds home through stories in his own backyard (Laura Clementson, CBC Hamilton, 26/02/2018)
"The book as antidote to a distracted life and as an antidote to an existence that is too fast-paced resulting in superficial engagement with real-world surroundings."

Tanya Talaga and James Maskalyk among finalists for $30K RBC Taylor Prize (Ryan B. Patrick, CBC Books, 18/01/2018)
"When Daniel Coleman decided to move to Hamilton, Ont. — one of Canada's most polluted cities at the time — it started a process of learning more about the history of his newfound home. Using creation myths and geology as a starting point, Coleman looks at the history of the region, through the European settler era and up to the present. Coleman is a professor of English at McMaster University."

Hamilton author on RBC Taylor book prize shortlist (The Hamilton Spectator,10/01/2018)
"Hamilton author Daniel Coleman is among the five finalists for the $30,000 RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction. Coleman's exploration of the Niagara Escarpment, "Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place" (Wolsak and Wynn) was among the contenders selected by a three-member jury for the prestigious award, to be handed out Feb. 26 in Toronto."

Five finalists announced for RBC Taylor Prize (Brad Wheeler, The Globe and Mail, 10/01/2018)
"Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place, by Hamilton's Daniel Coleman. Published by Wolsak and Wynn, the book is an exploration of the Niagara Escarpment from the author's backyard. The Taylor Prize jury (comprised of former Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, Simon Fraser University chancellor Anne Giardini and Toronto editor James Polk) lauded Yardwork as a "masterpiece of nature writing, reimagining civics and possibilities.""

RBC Taylor Prize Jury Names 2018's Five Best Books in Literary Non-Fiction (Cision, 10/01/2018)
"Of the book, the jury wrote: "Daniel Coleman explores the world from a small patch of land at the back of his house, a mini-empire between Coote's Paradise Marsh and Hamilton Harbour. In vivid, exacting prose, Coleman tells us of the moods and beauty of the Niagara Escarpment, the paths of local animals, the wayward tricks of the water table, the rich indigenous history of the area, and of our modern inroads into the environment — highways, houses, slag and built culture. This is a masterpiece of nature writing, reimagining civics and possibilities, as Coleman surveys what he understands is 'a holy land right here' behind his house and beneath his feet."

These are the five very different books shortlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize (Brian Bethune, Maclean's, 10/01/2018)
"Daniel Coleman's Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place, on the other hand, stays close to home: there is no adrenaline rush, only a deep contemplation of the ground beneath Coleman's feet, right outside his door."

Daniel Coleman, James Maskalyk, Tanya Talaga shortlisted for 2018 RBC Taylor Prize (Dory Cerny, Quill & Quire, 10/01/2018)
"At the announcement, Taylor Prize founder and chair Noreen Taylor noted she was "staggered by the breadth and power of our storytellers, and the appetite of Canadian readers for stories about ourselves, about our neighbours, about our shared earth, and the historical and current challenges we all face.""


Click here to read the prologue and the first chapter of Yardwork.

Click here for an excerpt on All Lit Up for its Where In Canada series.


The Agenda with Steve Paikin: Canada's Finest Non-Fiction. The Agenda welcomes the five non-fiction finalists to discuss their books. February 23, 2018.

Interview with Daniel Coleman, nominated for Yardwork: A Biography of an Urban Place (Wolsak & Wynn). February 22, 2018.

About the Author

Daniel Coleman was born and raised the child of Canadian missionary parents in Ethiopia, an experience he has written about in The Scent of Eucalyptus: A Missionary Childhood in Ethiopia. He moved to the Canadian prairies in the 1980s and completed his PhD in Canadian Literature at the University of Alberta in 1995. He went on to publish scholarly books on Canadian immigrant writing and on how Canada became a white, British place. Since 1997, he has lived in Hamilton, Ontario, where he teaches Canadian Literature at McMaster University.

Other Books by This Author

Grandfather of the Treaties: Finding Our Future Through the Wampum Covenant (2024)

We Also Recommend