Tag Archives: Canadian history

In Defense of Actually Reading Books in 2017 |Mention of Angie Abdou’s “In Case I Go” Arsenal Pulp Press

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This will be my final post for 2017. And there are a few things I want to accomplish with it.  Most importantly I want to reflect on one of my favourite books of 2017- In Case I Go by Angie Abdou. I also know that it has been a bit of time since I posted here and my followers have been wondering why, so here is a quick note. (I have been busy with earning money to purchase more reading material – so expect more posts in 2018.)

Now to In Case I Go. I was heartbroken to read and hear some of the slagging that this book has been receiving. Abdou documented not only for me but for many people I know a reality that is true in this book. The plot deals with a young white boy realizing that his descendants were far from perfect in their actions in dealing with minorities and that the present-day actions of his parents are far from ideal. Now, there has been a lot of empty talk of some of the details that Abdou used to move this plot forward. I admit that I don’t know some of the facts behind some of these discussions but they seem trivial and petty. Abdou has captured for me some of the angst that I remember as a child coming aware in a far from perfect world and that is for me the mark of a great piece of literature. And for many of my fellow readers who work long hours in dirty jobs, have far from perfect credit ratings and who’s feet stink because they been on them all day, this was a work that reflected some of the pain of their reality as well. And it was a pleasure to hear Angie read from this book a few months ago when the staff at a local library made an extra effort to bring her in a Friday night and let us book-lovers hear her words and thoughts.

There were many great works this past year that were worthy of unwinding and pondering over but this book was the one that caught my eye the most. Thanks to all the writers whom captured my attention this past year with their dedicated craft.

However In Case I Go by Angie Abdou is the one item on my bookshelf now that holds a special place for me. I wept when reading it because I found a reality that documents my life. Trust me this is the one book that should be read. (And I spend my days wading through tripe that should be trash but is revered. ) And I know that I am not alone in calling this a great piece of literature.

go

*****

Link to Angie Abdou’s website

 

Making Us Think about History Again | Review of “Lost In September” (2017) Alfred A. Knopf Canada

Lost

Amidst the celebrations around surrounding Canada’s 150th year since Confederation, there was some serious soul-searching about some of the ‘treasured’ events many of us were told were important historical dates in relation to our country. Were many of those dates really just as important and even positive events as our history teachers wanted us to believe? Talented novelist Kathleen Winter has taken a look at one such event and built a narrative around it (making many of us readers ponder history a bit more carefully) in her latest work Lost In September.

Pages 64-65

“Sophie, I need to talk about today. . . . I was thinking on the bus. . . .”

“Hang on!” She’s lit Facebook-blue. this is far from the kind of listening my mother provided, but it’s all I have.

I can’t always recall what happened in combat at Dettingen or in Culloden or at Quebec or anywhere else. Events have become entangled: all my wars now transpire in a single battlefield during one timeless period – darkness cut with spears of flame in whose light any instant of my soldiering might have played out. Sophie is supposed to help me disentangle the years. That has been our arrangement, from our first September to this one.

“Please?”

“Okay, shoot.”

“On the busy today I remembered flames, fire, all the times I made things burn, or made people burn, or when other people burnt things. . . . ~

“Forget about what other people burnt.”

“I never burnt anyone on purpose.”

“Okay.”

“Did I? Not directly . . .”

“You burnt people indirectly?”

“I see them scream and burn – but – I was not barbaric.”

“Weren’t you?”

“The enemy were the barbaric fiends”

“Which enemy?”

The answer to this is always hard to remember.

We all have heard some variation on the line `that ​those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.` But what if we muddle our history. We were all exposed to that infamous painting of General James Wolfe dying on the Plains of Abraham after defeating the French troops. But when we saw that painting in our history textbooks, did we read the story surrounding that battle with consideration or were we good little students and turn the page without giving the incident a second thought? Winter has done something unique here by bringing a version of “General Wolfe” to the streets of present-day Montreal and allowed his thoughts run amok by what he sees and what he thinks.

Page 147-148

I met a rugby coach on the train during my failed attempt to reach Quebec City last autumn, and he said, “I have a riddle for you: What’s worse than losing the championship game?”

“Winning the game,” I said, “is far more injurious to the soul.”

He looked at me anew, taking in my facsimile coat and hat. “Aye,” he said, “I guess a soldier would know.” He proceeded to recount to me the mountains of dolour and grief from which he had to dig his rugby players each season they were victorious. “They get depressed,” he said. “They get to asking what it’s all for. Some of the best hang their cleats up for good and I can’t stop ’em. It’s all I can do not to pack it all in myself and go on the beer.”

“My favourite poem is about that very thing,” I said.

“Favourite what?” He looked the way some people’s faces turn at the mention of coriander, or asafoetida, or even excrement.

I hauled from my pocket the page of my beloved poem, torn from a library copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. He found it incomprehensible. He was a lout, really. He completely failed to understand . I found the man so dispiriting I bailed out the TroisRivières station and caught a Greyhound back to Montreal where Sophie sent to the Mission, having rented my spot to a Cirque du Soleil trapeze artist who’d injured a meniscus.

There is something unique in the story line that Winter has created here. Our concept of history is muddled and confusing and that is what she has shown us here with this narrative. Would our forbearers -many of whom died for their ideals  – be truly impressed with the world around us today? Winter has given us something to ponder over as we read this book.

Page 174-175

A rack near the door has yesterday’s paper languishing on its bottom shelf. I sift through it as I eat, looking to see if anything of importance has happened in the world, but someone has torn half the pages out. Still, what remains is hardly inspiring.

If I had to name my greatest disappointment regarding New French Britain, I might have to say it’s the inconsequential drivel I read in papers purportedly published by the country`s learned set.

***

It’s the same with what I overhear in the streets. I eavesdrop on Montreal hoping I might hear its civilians discuss the latest findings in astronomy, or new perspectives on ancient philosophy, but they bleat the same small-talk I could neither abide nor understand in London of 1752: sports, weather, insipid flotsam sent on the wind by the latest political scandal – details petty and trivial and numerous as Sophie’s froth-flecks on her painted walrus’s sea, ephemeral. You’d think it all the most weighted precious stones, the way people bleat on. this fills me with chagrin and always has done.

Kathleen Winter has certainly made readers ponder over history just a bit with her book Lost in September. It is certainly a unique read and thoughtful book, but definitely a good piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin-Random House Canada’s website for Lost in September

Link to Kathleen Winter’s LiveJournal site

Refreshing Our Understanding of History | Review of Peter C. Newman’s Hostages to Fortune: The United Empire Loyalists and The Making of Canada (2016) Simon and Schuster Canada

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Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to review history;  to refresh facts and figures in our minds. Sometimes refreshing those elements  may even gives us new perspective and understanding of our own ideals and the way we currently live. Peter C. Newman has given us the opportunity to expand our thoughts on  Canadian history with his new book Hostages To Fortune: The United Empire Loyalists and the Making of Canada.

Page 224

Most Canadians remember the Loyalists, if at all, as shadowy figures, left behind after a brief mention in a high school classroom on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. And yet, even if not claiming or getting much attention, these unassuming pioneers, sparse of speech and haunted by their history, deserved most of the credit as the founding mothers and fathers of our country. The Loyalists saw the world differently from their British rulers, and it was this margin of free choice that became a key factor in Canada’s birth.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to contend that the birth of an independent Canada grew out the Loyalists’ dreams and visions. Initially little more than placeholders for the British Empire, they moved to occupy and own Upper Canada’s available shores, untamed rivers, overflowing lakes, and – at least in theory – the whole damn country. Their ability to persevere against all odds came together in that rare moment of historical triumph that gave to the land, best captured by poet Al Purdy, as being “North of Summer.” Those tight-lipped American refugees, who had chosen to reject the American Revolution and move to Canada, were ideally suited to realizing our pioneering ethic, with their meld of self-sufficiency and willingness to challenge authority. But if this book proves anything, it is that with out them, without these ghosts of a world we scarcely knew, whose lives we would not have wanted to share – without these angels in their faded and torn coveralls, Canada would not exist.

But Newman has done a bit more than just regurgitate the facts surrounding the story of the United Empire Loyalists. He has researched details of families who endured hatred and persecution during the American Revolution and documented their hardships during their sometimes multiple relocations. There are elements of this book that have a clear literary feel to it making the facts of history come alive.

Page 41-42

When (the Revolutionary War) was finally over, all that remained for Polly Jarvis Dibblee were the bitter memories of her terrible ordeal. The revolution had driven her and her children from their home in Stamford, Connecticut; forced her into exile in, as she recalled, the “frozen climate and barren wilderness” of New Brunswick; and caused the tragic suicide  of her husband, Fyler.

“O gracious God, that I should live to see such times under the Protection of a British Government for whose sake we have Done and suffered everything but that of Dying,” she wrote from New Brunswick to her brother William in mid-November 1787.  “May you never Experience such heart piercing troubles as I have and still labour under . . .  You may Depend on it that the Sufferings of the poor Loyalists are beyond all possible Description. The old Egyptians who required Brick without giving straw were more Merciful than to turn the Israelites into a thick Wood to gain Subsistence from and uncultivated Wilderness.”

Until the 1770s, life had bee good for Polly, the daughter of Samuel and Martha Jarvis of Stamford, and a sister to Munson and William, two of her nine siblings. She was born in 1747 and grew up as her siblings did, heeding their parents’ credo to “fear God and honour the King.” By the time she was sixteen, Polly had married her sweetheart, Fyler Dibblee, a twenty-two-year-old lawyer and the son of Reverend Ebenezer Dibblee, the past of St John’s Anglican Church in Stamford, and his wife, Joanna. A graduate of Yale University, Fyler must had studied or “read law’ with a local lawyer or judge for two years before he was admitted to the bar. He was ambitious and a community leader. He headed Stamford’s militia company with the rank of captain and served as the town’s representative to the Connecticut General Assembly. When the revolution began, Polly and Fyler had five children – Walter, William, Margaret (Peggy), Ralph, and Sally – and owned a fine house with its own library, a sure sign that they valued reading, an interest hey would have imparted to their children. Benjamin Franklin, who conceived the public library, wrote in his Autobiography, published a decade after the Revolutionary War ended, that his lifelong passion for learning and literature started for him as young man with his father’s small collection of books.

Newman has collected here not just a story of a group of people, but manages at times to capture their thoughts and influences. Yes, he has done his research, but he also uses some imagination to reflect on the ideals that the United Empire Loyalist had and brought forth in to the land they settled in. It may be small, unique details he brings forward, but adding those details adds new colour to the concepts of the Loyalists.

Page 170-171

A Loyalist pioneer diet was what you might expect: lots of pork and occasionally fish – bass, pike, pickerel, salmon – which was plentiful in Upper Canada’s rivers and streams. Boiled cornmeal sprinkled with brown sugar was a favourite for breakfast, as were cornmeal pancakes. For a long time, Loyalists refrained from cooking American-style johnnycakes, a cornmeal flatbread, because as (W. S.) Herrington writes, “it was regarded as a Yankee dish.” The women picked wild strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries and prepared jams,, and they taught their daughters to sew and weave clothes on a spinning wheel. Nearly everything the Loyalist wore was homemade including their leather boots, which involved moths of tanning, kneading, and rubbing using solutions of lye and oak bark. Making decent boots was a skill that was much admired and in demand. In the winter, fur from bears, foxes, and raccoons were used for thick hats, and in the summer, rye straw was utilized for straw hats. Neighbours watched out for each other and large tasks were accomplished with cooperative “bees” -everything from logging and stumping to quilting and paring bees.

Peter C. Newman has certainly refreshed the understanding of the  Loyalists for many people with his book Hostages to Fortune: The United Empire Loyalists and The Making of Canada. A unique and interesting read for sure.

*****

Link to Simon and Schuster Canada’s webpage for The United Empire Loyalist and The Making of Canada

 

 

The Injustices Endured by Settlers | Review of “Kalyna” by Pam Clark (2016) Stonehouse Publishing

Kalyna

Every story that deals with settlers are unique stories that deal with hardship and pain. They are important lessons for us to understand how people worked to develop the land into the nation we have today. But one book has recently come across documenting a people’s quiet resolve while not only dealing with the hardships of climate and isolation but also dealing with a grave injustice. And that book is Pam Clark’s Kalyna.

Page 51

Katja’s eyes darted back and forth at the buildings and the dusty road. There was no spirited market alive with people and vegetables. No children were playing. In fact, the street was quite deserted. One shopkeeper was leaning on the wooden railing outside his Hudson’s Bay tuck shop and nodded to Wasyl. Wasyl tipped his hat to the man. Robert Benton had seen many of these new folks come through here and knew that the farmers would be back to town for some staple goods when the time came. Best to be welcoming now.

“There is no one here.” Katja murmered, “Where is everyone?”

“Wasyl knew Katja was expecting a life similar to Drobomil and he too had expectations, for what else did they have but their previous life to compare this to?

There would be greater isolation at first, he anticipated, but this would subside as more land was settled and the bloc settlement continued to grow. The Dominion Land clerk had confirmed this with his land grant.

“Katja, there are many of us, just like in Drobomil. We just live farther apart. That is the government’s declaration. They was dispersed settlement. We will meet people. We will come to the church on Sunday and meet others just like us.”He nodded to the cupola. “It’s a reminder of home, no?”

The story is set in the early part of the 20th Century. Katja and Wasyl have made the difficult journey across the Atlantic to the Canadian prairies. They work hard to build their new lives and find new friendships in the town of Edna-Star. But just things seem to settle down, the ghosts of World War I rise and the internment of Ukrainian-Canadians threaten the family’s stability and future. Yet the family endures.

Page 125

In such a small close knit community as Edna-Star, new travelled quickly. At church on Sunday the priest spoke about the internment, the about hope. Official word had been given that seven men from the bloc community had been imprisoned over the past several weeks and were housed in a forced labor camp in Banff National Park, called Castle Mountain. Mr Benton had given Katja and Mary a copy of The Edmonton Gazette where an article from The Crag and Canyon newspaper, out of Canmore, had been reprinted. It announced the opening of the camp and advised Canmore residents, particularly lady folk, to be on guard, for there were criminals in their midst. And what is their crime? Katja thought, as she read the article. That they came to Canada and wanted a better life for their families?

The priest spoke of forgiveness and peace at this time of war. While the congregation prayed for the men, fathers, sons, and brothers, Katja also prayed for Mary and her baby. She peeked out during the prayer at Mary’s face, serene and calm. Mary’s parents had urged her to move home to the village and live with them until Ivan returned, but Mary would have nothing of that. She would link Katja’s arm in hers, insisting they would weather this together. Katja was grateful for Mary’s company and conversation. Their division of labor for the mundane household chores happened naturally and Katja marvelled at their unspoken understanding of their need for time alone as well.

Clark stated in numerous interviews that this was a story ‘inside her’ for many years. It was enjoyable to finally see the story and her hard work coming out in print. The story is detailed and complex at times but it also emotional and enlightening. And yes, it is a story about settlers but it also a story about an injustice and how a group of hard-working people endured that injustice at enormous cost at times. A truly Canadian story and an honest one.

Page 171-172

Wasyl stopped writing suddenly. He had let himself just write and not think and now he knew he couldn’t send this letter to Katja. He was out of line and the guard would never allow it out of the camp. He crinkled it up and boosted hinself off his lower bunk. He walked to the fire stove and threw the crumpled ball in before on of the guards could stop him; his words becoming glowing orange embers. It wold be one more week until he would be granted tokens for the canteen to get another sheet of paper, but he needed time to think about what he could and couldn’t say to dear Katja. He needed time.

Wasyl looked up at Ivan in the top bunk, his hands bandaged and wrapped like a mummy, clutching his head, and peeking out beneath the woollen blanket. Wasyl had to find a way to convince Ivan to be strong now. He could see his friend spiralling downward and knew if he couldn’t intervene, the would all end badly for Ivan and maybe him too. There was little opportunity to talk to each other privately in the barracks as the guards wandered between the rows of bunks and clapped their batons into the palms of their opposite hands menacingly. Wasyl had seen one of the guards hit a fellow prisoner when walking to the quarry at Castle, accusing him of walking too slowly. He couldn’t chance having anything happen to Ivan had to find a time to talk deeply to him. Wasyl stared at the blackened flakes and chastised himself for wasting the paper, but only for a minute. The letter wouldn’t have gotten out of the camp.

 

Kalyna by Pam Clark is a enlightening and interesting read about hard-working settlers and the injustices they endured. Truly a great read.

*****

Link to Pam Clark’s website

Link to Stonehouse Publishing’s website for Kalyna

Link to my Q&A with Pam Clark – “ ‘We are all settlers’ was a prevalent thought as I was writing Kalyna.”