Gerry B's Book Reviews

Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin, by Cynthia J. Faryon

A must read for the lessons contained – 

Story blurb: At twenty-four, Guy Paul Morin was a bit of a nerd. He still lived at home, drove his parent’s car, kept bees, and grew flowers to encourage the hives behind his house. He played the saxophone and clarinet in three bands and he loved the swing music of the 1940s.

In the small Ontario town where he lived, his nerdiness stood out. So when the nine-year-old girl next door went missing, the police convinced themselves that Morin was responsible for the little girl’s murder. Over the course of eight years, police manipulated witnesses and tampered with evidence to target and convict an innocent man. It took ten years and the just-developed science of DNA testing to finally clear his name. Without that scientific proof, he would still be in prison today.

This book tells his story, showing how the justice system not only failed to help an innocent young man, but conspired to convict him. It also shows how a determined group of people dug up the evidence and forced the judicial system to give him the justice he deserved.

Available in hardback, paperback (128 pages) and e-pub.

About the author: CYNTHIA J. FARYON has worked as a legal assistant and teen counsellor. She began her writing career in 1999 and is now the author of nine books. She lives in Richer, Manitoba.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin by Cynthia J. Faryon [Lorimer: Real Justice series – August 2012 (pre-orders are being accepted)]  is one of four such works under the Real Justice label, all of them dealing with tragic, Canadian cases that went terribly awry. The others include: Robert Baltovich; Steven Truscott; and David Milgard.

From a GLBT perspective we could also add John Damien, summarily fired for being homosexual and a “security risk,” and Everett George Klippert, the last person imprisoned in Canada for private, consensual sex with men. After being assessed “incurably homosexual”, he was sentenced to an indefinite “preventive detention” as a dangerous sexual offender.

The story of Guy Paul Morin reads like a ‘how not to’ textbook on bungling, sloppiness, incompetence, prejudice, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and misrepresentation of forensic evidence by so-called “experts.” And yet, Ms Faryon has managed to remain objective throughout, and to put a human face on both the accusers and accused.

When eight-year-old Christine Jessop was first reported missing (October 3, 1984) the police told her mother, Janet Jessop, to call her friends and neighbours to see if anyone had seen or spoken to her. As a result of these calls, people began to gather at the Jessop residence, and,

Soon the place was filled with people. They made coffee, tea, and helped themselves to drinks from the refrigerator. They touched glasses, mugs, counter tops, door handles and used the bathroom. Someone picked up the bike from off the shed floor and leaned it against the wall. Perhaps the same person also took Christine’s pink sweater off the nail and brought it into the house, most likely thinking they were helping. The police didn’t

Police made no attempt to monitor who was coming into the house or what they were doing. They hadn’t taped off Christine’s bedroom or the shed, or treated the house like a crime scene. They treated the situation as if Christine was staying too long at a friend’s house, or maybe she was lost in the woods. The police didn’t even speak to most of them. Why go to all that trouble when it wasn’t necessary?” p.32

Moreover when Christine’s body was finally discovered in a farmer’s field in Sunderland, Ontario, (about 60 miles north-east of Toronto),

“None of the officers were issued gloves, scarves, or protective clothing to prevent hair and fibres from falling on the remains and contaminating the evidence. Michalowsky [Chief Identification Technician with the Durham Regional Police] was in a hurry, racing against the weather. It was going to be tough to get the search done before the storm.” P.50

 “Some of the officers took smoke breaks and no one watched to make sure the cigarette butts were put in the trash bag hanging on the van mirror. A cigarette package, a sales receipt, and a milk carton were found close to the body. Those in charge decided these items didn’t have anything to do with the murder, and they were thrown away. Other items were photographed, tagged, bagged, and sent to the lab for analysis and accepted as evidence, even though they were dropped by the searchers.” P.52

 Guy Paul did not attend the funeral, believing it was not open to the public, and this became a topic of discussion:

“His absence was noted by the police. It seemed Guy Paul couldn’t do anything right. The police and reporters believed the murderer would go to the funeral. If Guy Paul had gone, they would have noticed him, and perhaps thought he was guilty. But he didn’t go, and they thought it was suspicious he stayed away.” p.61

 “Detectives Fitzpatrick and Shephard met with Janet and Kenny Jessop on February 14, 1985. When asked about Guy Paul, they both said he was a musician and a “weird-type guy.” They complained that he had never helped with the search for Christine and didn’t attend the funeral or even give them his sympathies. Inspector John Shephard made an entry in his notebook identifying Guy Paul as “Suspect Morin.””p.61

 Guy Paul’s name kept coming up, along with the epithet “weird,” and so the police decided it was time to talk to this “weird-type guy.” But first they did some digging, starting with Christine’s best friend Leslie, whom they interviewed just beforehand:

“So Leslie,” the detective asked, “tell me about Christine’s neighbour, Guy Paul Morin. You said you were friends with Christine.”

“Yeah, she was my best friend.”

“So, when you were playing over there at Christine’s and you saw Guy Paul, what was he doing?”

“I don’t know,” said Leslie.

“Well,” said the detective, “was he cutting his lawn?”

“No.”

“Was he standing next to his fence?”

“Yes.”

“Could he have been cutting his hedges?”

“Yeah, I think so. He must have been cutting his hedges.”

“Well,” asked the detective, “was he holding the clippers tight?”

“Well,” Leslie said. “I don’t know.”

“Well,” pushed the detective, “were his knuckles white, did they look like this?” and he held out his fist so his knuckles looked white.

“Yeah, sure. Okay. Yes, it did look like that.” p.63

Morin was subsequently arrested, and at his first trial in 1986 he was acquitted. However, the Crown appealed this decision on the grounds that the trial judge made a fundamental error prejudicing the Crown’s right to a fair trial, and in 1987 the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.

Morin was convicted at his second trial (1992), substantially on the testimony of convicted felons who wanted shortened jail time, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1995, improvements in DNA testing led to a test which excluded Morin as the murderer. Morin’s appeal of his conviction was allowed (i.e., the conviction was reversed), and a directed verdict of acquittal entered in the appeal.

Subsequently, a commission of inquiry was convened under Mr. Justice Fred Kaufman (The Commission on Proceedings Involving Guy Paul Morin), who uncovered evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct, and of misrepresentation of forensic evidence by forensic experts.

However, I think the main lesson to be learned here is to not to jump to conclusions, as was done in this case. Morin was considered “weird,” and this assumption blossomed to the point where it implicated an entire chain of “experts.” The chain was then held fast through the fact that one link blindly followed another through professional courtesy, or whatever.

In fact the police, forensic experts and Crown prosecutors were so confident — so smug — that they built their case backwards, manipulating and creating evidence to prove the guilt of a suspect who could not possibly be innocent. But he was.… Highly recommended. Five bees.

See also: Mysteries, Legends and Myths of the First World War: Canadian Soldiers in the Trenches and in the Air – by Cynthia J. Faryon

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June 24, 2012 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock, Mark Tewksbury

An inspiration for gay, aspiring athletes, and a challenge for similarly-oriented, marquee athletes to do the same

 

 

 

 Synopsis: In public, Mark Tewksbury has always credited the 1976 Olympics as a major inspiration for his becoming an Olympic champion swimmer, but in fact, it was wearing a towel-turban in imitation of his grandmother and swimming in her condo pool that first sparked his love of swimming. Intimate and endearing details such as these are what provide Tewksbury’s story with relevance beyond the famous-athlete-fights-and-overcomes-his-personal-demons story. Granted, Tewksbury covers all the usual challenges faced by performance athletes-the sacrifices, the post-Olympic depression, the intense glare of the media spotlight-but it is his private sojourn as a gay man, from coming out of the closet to visiting his first gay bar (“it was like being in another world with fashionably dressed people drinking cocktails from martini glasses”) to entering his first sexual relationship (an ongoing, three-way relationship with a male couple) that will resonate with the reader. Despite the “Gay Jock” subtitle, the book is accessible; Tewksbury comes with all the tics and quirks of your everyday gay man wrestling with his sexuality, and later, with the complexities of finding a partner and dating. A thoughtful, moving narrative that inspires as much as it entertains.

*Available in e-book format

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

I doubt there is a gay person out there who can not relate to Mark Tewksbury’s autobiography, “Inside out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock [Wiley, 1 edition, 2007]. That is, until he was propelled into international prominence with his 1992, Olympic gold medal performance in Barcelona, Spain; one of only seven gold medals awarded to a Canadian that year.

Until then his story is almost pro forma. Included are his family and his generally unhappy childhood, his early same-sex infatuations, the prevailing fear of exposure—yet being centred-out as gay, anyway; proving, I suppose, that the ‘closet’ has see-through walls at  times—and the mindless abuse he suffered on account of it. Through it all, however, his will to achieve never faltered, and it is this that makes his story truly inspirational.

Another inspirational aspect is his steadfast ability to remain true to himself, i.e.

“I gazed around the room slowly. The best swimmers from Russia, Cuba, the United States, Spain, Germany and France were in front of me. And I was different. I was the fag. And in that moment I owned my truth completely. I thought, `If these guys knew how hard it was for me to get here, they wouldn’t believe it. They have no bloody clue what I have been through. Or how strong I am.'”

Having said that, however, the second half of the story is both informative and redundant respecting the International Olympic Committee and its politics; given what was known even at the time when the story was first published in 2007. Likewise, the discord with the Gay Olympics, GayGames & OutGames came as no surprise. Sexual orientation does not preclude ideological differences, personal agendas, pecuniary influence, and rabid infighting. In this respect it conforms quite congruently with the wider community.

Albeit, that is the reality of Mark Tewksbury’s experience, and for his part he can only be faulted for trying to crowd all of this into one story. Nonetheless, I can enthusiastically recommend this story as an inspiration for aspiring, gay athletes, and a challenge to similarly oriented, marquee athletes to do the same. Four and one half stars.

See the story behind the story of my in-progress novel, The Brit, Kid Cupid, and Petunias

 

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | 3 Comments

English Bloods: In the Backwoods of Muskoka, 1878 by Frederick de la Fosse: Edited by Scott D. Shipman

“I often wonder why, when governments and communities erect monuments to heroes, they forget to erect one to the honour of the Pioneer.”Frederick de la Fosse (1860 – 1950)

 

 

 

Story Blurb: Farming in the Canadian backwoods in the late 1800s was a prospect that enticed many young Englishmen to cross the Atlantic. One such fellow was Frederick de la Fosse, whose well-meaning uncle paid £100 per annum for his young nephew to serve as a farm pupil in the northern reaches of Muskoka. Some years later, de la Fosse wrote an illuminating and humorous biographical account of the trials and tribulations of the “English Bloods,” the local epithet attached to these young lads attempting to hone farming skills in a land never intended to be agricultural. And, in so doing, de la Fosse chronicles the realities of pioneer life in the area.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

From the outset of Frederick de la Fosse’s English Bloods, (Heritage Books, 2004) one is struck by the level of naïveté that existed regarding this new land of Canada. Firstly, by nineteenth-century English society, generally, and by Frederick’s uncle in particular. For example, as a going-away gift Frederick received a saddle and was told to be certain to let them know when he “captured his first wild horse.”

De la Fosse is also quite candid in enunciating his own level of naiveté, and if there ever was a ‘pigeon’ ready for a plucking it was young Frederick. Indeed, within hours of his arrival he had been conned out of $10—quite a hefty amount in 1878—by some wily Canadian con artists.

He was also quite a source of amusement to some seasoned Canadians when he mentioned that he had actually paid money to learn how to “farm”, i.e. chop trees and clear land. It didn’t help his image, either, that he was attired in a shirt a tie for the tasks.

Some of the characters de la Fosse encounters along the way are also quite colourful. One such was a Mr. Yearley, whom de la Fosse describes as weighing nearly three hundred pounds. He therefore describes the experience of having to share a bed with him and his son, John Yearley.

“Good-night, boys,” said Mr. Yearley as he blew out the light, and darkness fell on the scene. Then with a mighty tug he pulled the blanket off us both and coiled it around himself. “Say, Pop,” protested Master John from the outskirts, “what are yer givin’ us?” But there was not answer from his parent. He was already in a comatose condition and snoring in a highly stertorous and alarming manner. Before many seconds had passed, the three hundred pounds of flesh was heaving in a terrific fashion. In the course of a somewhat checkered career, I have come across many snorers but never one who could come within miles of the power possessed by that venerable being. After enduring an hour of the most rending torture I gave a heave which sent Johnny flying to the floor, and followed after him myself. The commotion caused by this sudden action had no effect on the old man. He snored serenely on. Johnny muttered a few imprecations and crawled in bed again, and I thankfully curled up where I had fallen. The mosquitoes had a lovely time with me for the night, but even they were preferable to the agony that I had been enduring.”

As it transpired, his mentor in the art of farming, a Captain Harston, knew very little more about husbandry than young Frederick and the three other, similar apprenticed lads, but he was very good at expounding on the topic while the boys did the actual work. Nevertheless they kept a ‘stiff upper lip’ and muddled on regardless; becoming hardened to the rigours of the job in a relatively short time. It is remarkable, therefore, how the human spirit can adjust to even the most challenging set of circumstances.

As one might imagine the experiences encountered by such an uninitiated novice were many and varied; some harrowing and some hilarious.  One of these might have fit into both categories.

“The Hayes family consisted of himself and four or five children. The eldest of them, a girl, was perhaps seventeen years of age. I had paid several visits to the cottage and got to know the family well. It was rather a surprise to me, however, to see Sandy enter our room one Sunday morning for the purpose of paying a visit for we were not intimate friends. The others had taken advantage of the beautiful morning and had gone to the lake for a bath, but I had preferred to remain in bed, so Hayes and I had the whole place to ourselves.

The first I knew of his appearance was when the door slowly opened and I caught a glimpse of his frowsy, unkempt head as he leaned forward to see if anyone was in. “Come in, Sandy,” I said, “what’s brought you here this morning so early?” But Sandy was a taciturn individual and vouchsafed never a word in reply. He slouched into the room and without more ado sat down on the edge of the bed and began to chew viciously at a straw. He was quite a picturesque specimen of humanity, owing to his general getup and commanding figure. He stood fully six feet high and with his red shirt, his trousers tucked into his boots, and a flaming tuft of carroty hair sticking upright through a hole in his greasy straw hat, he might have posed as a model for one of Garibaldi’s warriors. He was evidently in a very serious mood; so I concluded to let him take his time. The minutes flew by, and still Sandy chewed and said nothing. I was just about on the point of again asking what had brought him to our abode at that unconscionable hour when he brought his heavy first down on my leg with a resounding smack and broke the silence by ejaculating “Say!” “Yes,” I gasped out; but the poor man was again floored and could get no further. Then he began to whistle and after he had got through two or three bars of “Protestant Boys” started to perambulate round the room. This behaviour was beginning to get on my nerves and I jumped out of bed and started to put on a few things. “You’ll excuse me,” I said, “but if you will have what you want to say figured out by the time I come back from my bath, I’ll see what I can do to help you.” This showed him that time was precious and that he had better unbosom himself. He stopped in his stride and burst out with another “Say!” “Yes,” I again answered.

“Oh, hell,” he cried in desperation. “What do you say to getting’ hitched up to our Maggie, boy?”

This is a charming and heart-warming tribute to the unsung pioneer, written in a dry-martini-like-humour that is sure to please regardless of where in the world the reader might live.

Special mention should be made of Scott D Shipman who not only did an excellent job of editing the writing, but who also spent eight years researching other, related parties mentioned in the story.

Highly recommended for everyone in the family!

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See a complete lit of titles and authors reviewed

See a preview of Coming of Age on the Trail.

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April 24, 2010 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content | Leave a comment

The Cabin: A search for personal sanctuary by “Hap” Wilson

This growing-up account is one of the most inspirational stories I have read, perhaps in all time 

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Click on the above cover to purchase.

Click on the above cover to purchase.

Story outline: One hundred years ago, a young doctor from Cleveland by the name of Robert Newcomb, travelled north to a place called Temagami. It was as far north as one could travel by any modern means. Beautiful beyond any simple expletive, the Temagami wilderness was a land rich in timber, clear-water lakes, fast flowing rivers, mystery and adventure. Newcomb befriended the local Aboriginals – the Deep Water People – and quickly discovered the best way to explore was by canoe.Bewitched by the spirit of an interior river named after the elusive brook trout, Majamagosibi, Newcomb had a remote cabin built overlooking one of her precipitous cataracts. The cabin remained unused for decades, save for a few passing canoeists; it changed ownership twice and slowly began to show its age. The author discovered the cabin while on a canoe trip in 1970. Like Newcomb, Hap Wilson was lured to Temagami in pursuit of adventure and personal sanctuary. That search for sanctuary took the author incredible distances by canoe and snowshoe, through near death experiences and Herculean challenges. Secretly building cabins, homesteading and working as a park ranger, Wilson finally became owner of The Cabin in 2000.

About the author: Hap Wilson has been a wilderness adventurer and guide for over 30 years. A self-taught writer, artist and photographer, he is also one of Canada’s best-known canoeists and the author of several books, including “Canoeing, Kayaking and Hiking Tamagami, Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley,” etc. His hand-drawn maps and illustrations were featured in “Voyageur: Canada’s Heritage Rivers,” which won the Natural Resources of America Award for Best Environmental Book. Wilson has also worked as actor Pierce Brosnan’s personal skills trainer in the Attenborough movie, “Grey Owl.” He lives with his wife and two children in the Muskoka and Tamagami lakes district of Ontario.

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 Review by Gerry Burnie

In 1931 two buildings of significance were constructed, so David “Hap” Wilson tells us [The Cabin: A search for personal sanctuary,Natural Heritage Press, 2005]: One was the Empire State Building in New York City; the other, located one thousand miles away in Northern Ontario, was a small log cabin deep in the Temagami wilderness; two disparately different buildings.

“The Empire State Building, pretentious in its almost obscene dimension, the Mammon built on the back of a nation in economic and social ruin, was a crude attempt by politicians to rekindle the faith in a capitalist democracy. The Cabin, on the other hand, was constructed primarily for its owner to escape the nations and tedium represented by such overt and politically motivated initiatives.” 

Thus, from the very beginning of its existence The Cabin was a ‘sanctuary’ of sorts.

In many respects this is a love story. I don’t believe the author intended it as a love story, per se, nor is it written in that style, but nonetheless it is. The ‘lover’ in this case is not a woman, although Lady Evelyn Lake is beautiful, and can be precocious and unpredictable; nor is it a man, although the towering white and red pines and granite-faced cliffs are certainly rugged enough. Rather, it is a whole district called ‘Temagami;’ a primal wilderness-sanctuary approximately 1,906 km2 (733 sq.mi.). In fact, Hap Wilson readily admits that he was “… lured to and seduced by the landscape.”

Inextricably linked with the landscape is the poignant and whimsical Aboriginal account of the creation of ‘The Temagami.’ An account that goes back to a time before time when Nenebuc, the trickster, shot and killed the great snake that turned into ish-pud-in-ong—or Ishpatina Ridge, the highest point in Ontario. Or when he shot and killed the queen of Mishipeshu, the giant underwater lynx, causing a flood similar to that experienced by Noah in the Book of Genesis.

“Metaphorically, I suppose,” says Wilson in his introduction, “this provocative tale of rebirth attempts to substantiate and reconceptualize my own wanderings as a purely abstract approach to life experiences and expectations.” Chaos leads to order—sometimes, if desired.

A more intimate ‘love’ in his life is ‘The Cabin,’ and although its history is more recent, it nonetheless has a heritage that is poignant in its own right.

He first encountered both The Temagami and The Cabin on a canoe trip in 1971, for which he by-passed a permanent illustrating job in Toronto to do so. To those who considered such impulsive behaviour irrational, his parents in particular, he simply chalked it up to the Zen of free-living, and a state of consciousness that allowed whatever to happen, happen. Somewhat turned-off by his father’s workaholic drive to succeed at all cost, which included the family’s spiritual needs, young Hap Wilson rebelled by developing a passion for the wilderness trail and a lack of respect for the material things in life. However, noteworthy is the fact that once he embarked on this unconventional path he stood true to his course against all entreaties to return to the ‘beaten path.’

At the same time he was pursuing his passion to explore the natural world, even if it was out his backdoor, sneaking out his bedroom window to sleep in a woodlot tepee. Mischievous child’s play, you may think, but in retrospect there was a pattern to young Hap’s precociousness. Moreover, there was an unseen purpose that had everything to do with eventually wooing his wilderness ‘love.’

At age twelve he and a childhood friend undertook to build a fort, but not just any fort. His had to be “impregnable,” which meant keeping everyone out, and “… certainly adults.” Therefore, it required a vertical-log palisade with a perimeter of about 200 feet (sixty metres), which, in turn, required dragging upwards of a thousand logs (about 10-feet, 3-metres long) over a distance of a kilometre away. Altogether, it took them over a year to complete it and the accompanying wigwam—complete with fire-pit, bunks and adjustable smoke vent—but complete it they did!

The other challenge that confronted him was ‘the pine tree’—a towering megalithic specimen over one hundred feet tall, and with the remnants of a ladder leading up to the bottom branches, fifty-feet above the ground.

“[T]he behemoth stood there in stark relief, taunting, demanding to be climbed—the view from the top would be nothing short of spectacular. I would put my hand on the first rung of the decrepit ladder trying to build up enough courage to go up, but there was always something holding me back. Always. 

The year they completed the fort he climbed twenty feet up that pine tree.

In the meantime world events were unfolding on TV when the United States government invaded North Korea, and to keep pace with Soviet Russia it had stepped up its A-bomb testing in the Nevada desert. Nuclear snow was falling along the shores of Lake Ontario, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Haight-Ashbury exploded in racial conflict and the Beatles conquered the world with music. It was a world gone mad, and for a now teenage Hap the faith that things would change anytime soon was tenuous at best. His reality therefore was in his drawing and in long walks with his boyhood friend, and in looking wistfully up at the yet-unconquered pine tree.

Now, clearly, a pattern of life was emerging. It included a quest for freedom—away from a dysfunctional family and a political agenda gone awry—as well as a determination strong enough to achieve it. It also included the building of a hide-a-way retreat that was both inclusive and exclusive. However, there remained one last, preliminary hurdle before he could move on. This he achieved when he was fifteen.

“I was strong and determined, but most of all afraid that if I didn’t climb the tree soon I would not have the courage to stand true to my beliefs and aspirations. As to what these were, was not clearly defined for me except that I knew what I didn’t want out of life. And so, one day after much deliberation, while my parents fought, I marched out of the house and climbed the steep hillside to the back of the property, to a place I knew well by this time. Without thinking at all about anything but the tope of the tree and how beautiful life must look from there, I climbed. And I climbed without looking down, without hesitation, tears streaming from my cheeks and with a will of purpose so strong that I must have frightened the demons that sat on every rung of that aged ladder until finally, with uninhibited joy, I reached the first branch of that mother pine and pulled myself into her embrace. 

Thereby, he had an epiphany that saw him rising above his self-doubts and inhibitions to see the path that lay ahead.

Meanwhile, The Cabin was going through a life cycle as well. The original builder, R. B. Newcomb, a doctor from Cleveland, Ohio, had one day quietly murdered his wife and committed suicide, himself. The ownership then passed to his brother, Adrian Newcomb, but by the time Hap Wilson was born in 1951, this Newcomb was then too old to endure the trip to The Temagami, and The Cabin had passed hands several times with each succeeding owner aging like the cabin itself. Therefore, two very different entities were on a collision course; one animate and the other inanimate; one growing in strength while the other aged in need of restoration. Ergo, Hap Wilson’s search for personal sanctuary was coming home.

Very simply stated this growing-up account is one of the most inspirational stories I have read, perhaps in all time. What makes it so is the apparent dedication to principle described therein, even at a very tender age, and the commitment to a set of values in spite of an almost coercive pressure to change. Nevertheless, this might readily be dismissed as shear stubbornness had the author not undertaken to live by these principles as well; tenaciously, sometimes at risk of life and limb, but always moving forward without recrimination or regret.

It made me wonder, as well, how many present-day youngsters would have the same a) ingenuity; b) stamina; c) commitment, or d) tenacity to reach the same level of achievement. Regretfully, I doubt there would be too many, if any at all. Moreover, without hydro or a television set The Cabin would probably be just a pile of decaying rubble overlooking the Trout Pool.

Another aspect of this story that inspires is the fact that it is a first-hand account of a life and times that will never come this way again. As such it is a slice of Canadian history that would otherwise pass into oblivion like virtually countless others have done already. Therefore, there is widely held misimpression that Canada doesn’t have a history beyond John A. Macdonald and Confederation.

For all these reasons, therefore, I urge that “The Cabin: A search for personal sanctuary,” be made part of your reading list, and that of your children.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Klondike Cattle Drive – Norman Lee

An absolute-must addition to your bookshelf. It would make a great gift for the kids as well!

 

 

Story outline: The latest addition to TouchWood Editions’ “Classics West Collection”, this is the colourful tale of a formidable trek undertaken by legendary Cariboo rancher Norman Lee. In 1898, Lee set out to drive 200 head of cattle from his home in the Chilcotin area of BC to the Klondike goldfields – a distance of 1,500 miles. He was gambling both his cattle and his life. This is his story, derived from the journal he kept, his letters and the loyal men who accompanied him. Throughout the daunting weeks of coping with mud, cold and sheer bad luck, Lee kept his sense of humour. When he returned from his Yukon trek, he rewrote the notes from his journal, illustrating his story with his own cartoons and sketches. He completed his manuscript around the turn of the century, but it sat untouched until 1960, when it was published by Howard Mitchell of Mitchell Press, Vancouver.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

In terms of “Canadiana,” it just doesn’t get any more so than “Klondike Cattle Drive,” Norman Lee (Touchwood Editions. 2005). In fact, this sixty-four- page, absolute nugget of a story virtually epitomizes the Canadian pioneering spirit as it once was. That is why it should be made required reading for every history course taught in this country.

In 1898 Norman Lee, a dapper five-foot-eight rancher from the Cariboo District, British Columbia, undertook a 1500-mile cattle drive ‘north’ to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. This in itself was unusual, for most cattle drives at the time were headed south. Moreover, the route north passed through some of the most formidable wilderness imaginable; from pastureless forests to muskeg and belly-scraping swamps.

Just about every type of weather condition was encountered, as well; riding night watches in discomforting drizzle, getting lost in disorienting fog, and braving minus-forty-degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures on the way home.

Remembering that there was no how-to book on how this should be done, and that Norman Lee’s background was as an architect in England, he had to constantly improvise as the trail presented challenge after challenge. Mud, charlatans, lack of supplies, spent animals, all had to be overcome to achieve his goal. Nevertheless, he took it all in stride with humour and stoicism. That is another quintessential characteristic of the pioneer spirit that built this country and nation, and is now in real danger of being forgotten.

As a writer of Canadian, historical fiction I can say with authority that there are precious few published journals to be found. Therefore, it was with considerable rejoicing that I came across Norman Lee’s journal in connection with a Canadian western I was considering. I can also add that when I did find it, it became the inspiration for my forthcoming novel, “Coming of Age on the Trail,” scheduled for release in March 2010. A M/M romance built around a closely similar cattle drive.

In closing I will add that “Klondike Cattle Drive” is an intrinsically enjoyable read for any reason. However, for those who appreciate the rarity of a find like this, and the unquestionable authenticity it adds to the 19th-century pioneer experience, it is an absolute-must addition to your bookshelf. It would make a great gift for the kids as well!

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Canadian author, Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Homesteading in Canada, Non-fiction | 1 Comment

   

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