Gerry B's Book Reviews

Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, by James Daschuk

A must-read for students, and a should-read for others.

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Click on the cover to purchase.

Click on the cover to purchase.

Story blurb: In arresting, but harrowing, prose, James Daschuk examines the roles that Old World diseases, climate, and, most disturbingly, Canadian politics—the politics of ethnocide—played in the deaths and subjugation of thousands of aboriginal people in the realization of Sir John A. Macdonald’s “National Dream.”

It was a dream that came at great expense: the present disparity in health and economic well-being between First Nations and non-Native populations, and the lingering racism and misunderstanding that permeates the national consciousness to this day.

About the author: My research focus is on the impact of environmental change on the health of indigenous people. My historical work investigates the role of disease, changes to subsistence practices and climate change in the historical development of western Canada. My current research projects include the impact of introduced species, horses and domestic cattle, on the well-being of First Nations.

Recent Publications

James Daschuk, Paul Hackett and Scott D. MacNeil, “Treaties and Tuberculosis: First Nations People in Late 19th Century Western Canada, A Political and Economic Transformation.” Canadian Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 23 (2006): 307-330.

James Daschuk, “An Examination of Common and Contested Ground: A Human and Environmental History of the Northwestern Plains.” In G.P Marchildon, ed., The Early Northwest: History of the Prairie West Series. Volume 1. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 2008. 35-47

James Daschuk, “A Dry Oasis: The Northern Great Plains in Late Prehistory,” Prairie Forum 34(Spring 2009).

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Review by Gerry Burnie

As most everyone knows, my passions are 1) Canada, 2) Canadian history, 3) history, and 4) everything else. When I was going to school, right through my university days, Canadian history was colonial history, i.e., a sub-category of English history, populated by kings and generals and dry as chalk.

Unfortunately, with the exception of people like James Dashuk  and a few others, Pierre Burton comes to mind, very little has changed. However, now the focus is on multicultural history, and once again Canadian heritage history is being brushed aside.

It is not to say Canadian history hasn’t been without its dark side, which James Dashuk so capably points out in Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal life [University of Regina Press, August 1, 2014].

An actual pile of buffalo skulls. Slaughtering the buffalo was part of a plan to starve the Natives off the land.

An actual pile of buffalo skulls. Slaughtering the buffalo was part of a plan to starve the Natives off the land.

In it, Dashuk presents an indictment of meticulously researched evidence to show that the catastrophes visited on many of the Native People were state sanctioned. That is to say that John A. MacDonald, his government, speculators, and lobbyists like the Canadian Pacific Railway, indulged in systematic starvation, as well as the spread of infectious diseases to eradicate ‘the Native problem’ on the western prairies.

I will not take any examples out of context, for they are best read along with the supporting evidence; however, suffice to say that Dashuk presents a very compelling case with scalpel-like precision.

A word must be said for the writing style, as well. This is an academic treatise, to be sure, and yet it is readily readable by the average person with an average vocabulary. Indeed, the author’s prose is as precise as his topics he presents.

However, I will also add a caveat to those who would attempt to apply these ‘atrocities’ to the Canada of today, or to Canadians of the assign blame to future generations – As Stephen Harper did regarding the poll tax of the 1880s (imposed by John A. MacDonald, by the way)

We can justifiably accuse the governments and people who participated, now dead, but the crimes of our ‘forefathers’ do not appropriately apply to the seventh generation.

This is a great book: A must read for students, and a should-read for others. Five bees in the nonfiction category.

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October 6, 2014 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Native history, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel by P.S. Duffy

happy new year

A well-balanced blend of story-telling and historical fact.

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cartographer - coverPublisher’s blurb: From a hardscrabble fishing village in Nova Scotia to the collapsing trenches of France, a richly atmospheric debut novel about a family divided by World War I.

When adventurous Ebbin goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing to join the war and search for his beloved brother-in-law. With his navigation experience, Angus is assured a position as a cartographer in London. But upon arriving overseas he is instead sent directly into the trenches, where he experiences the visceral shock of battle. Meanwhile, at home, his perceptive son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief and a rising suspicion of anyone expressing less than patriotic enthusiasm for the war.

With the intimacy of The Song of Achilles and the epic scope of The Invisible BridgeThe Cartographer of No Man’s Land offers a lyrical and lasting portrayal of World War I and the lives that were forever changed by it, both on the battlefield and at home.

About the author: P.S. Duffy grew up in Baltimore, MD and spent summers sailing in Nova Scotia. She has a degree in History from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec and a Ph.D. in Communication Disorders from the University of Minnesota. Currently, she is a science writer for the Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN where she lives with her husband. The Cartographer of No Man’s Land is her first novel.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

While this is not a GBLT novel, it could be with just a few minor twists. Set in Nova Scotia during WWI, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel, by P.S, Duffy [Liveright, October 28, 2013], is an evocative story of human nature that also includes a stint in the hell-hole-trenches of France.

Angus MacGrath is a man caught in the centre of competing forces. He is a fisherman with artistic aspirations–contrary to his father’s idea of what a man should do–and a husband to a wife who’s affections have grown cold. To make matters worse, his brother-in-law, Ebbin, a headstrong youth, has gone missing somewhere in France.

With nothing compelling him to remain at home, Angus enlists as a cartographer with the idea of searching for Ebbin, but when he gets to England he is quickly transferred to the front lines. Needless to say, life in the trenches is a far cry from Snag Harbour, or cartography, and so Angus is transformed by the experience in many ways.

Meanwhile, back home, Angus’ son Simon is learning about the vagaries of life, as well. He, too, is caught-up in the midst of divergent forces: His grandfather’s pacifist sentiments, held by many of the older generation, versus the virulent form of patriotism that gripped nearly everyone at the beginning of WWI. Many eagerly answered the call, and many reluctantly died.

As I say, with a few simple twists this could have been a GBLT story, but even so it is a engrossing study of human nature, set in a turbulent time, and in a colourful and picturesque setting. Five bees.

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Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

It is a collection of little-known people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  “Stonehenge Ontario”… Another of Canada’s hidden secrets.

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If you would like to learn more about my other books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

                  

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December 30, 2013 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction, Historical period, Nova Scotia Setting | Leave a comment

Billy Bishop: Top Canadian Flying Ace, by Dan McCaffery

Canadian history made interesting…

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billy bishop - coverBilly Bishop was the top Canadian flying ace in the first World War, credited officially with a record breaking 75 victories. He was a highly skilled pilot and an accurate shot. Bishop went from being the most decorated war hero in Canadian history to a crusader for peace, writing the book “Winged Peace,” which supported international control of global air power. While some historians feel that authorities upgraded Bishop’s claims to improve morale, author Dan McCaffery presents the true life and accomplishments of Bishop through information he gathered from interviews and archival sources.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Billy_Bishop_VCAsk any Canadian of a certain age to name an air ace, and they’re likely to name Billy Bishop: Top Canadian Flying Ace, by Dan McCaffery [Lorimer, 2002].

William Avery “Billy” Bishop wasn’t so much destined for glory as he was drawn into it with his idiosyncratic skills; namely a keen eye and adventurous spirit that seemed to be going the same way.

Born in the rural municipality of Owen Sound, Ontario, he retained that rural small town self-sufficiency through most of his life. Not given to team sports, he preferred individual pursuits such as swwimming, horse back riding, and shooting—in which he exceeded rather phenomenally. One story goes that he struck a target so far away that to the others it was just a dot.

billy bishop - planeAnother example of his small town, pragmatic thinking, was his decision to join the air corp in the first place, because “…it’s clean up there! I’ll bet you don’t get any mud or horse shit on you up there.”

His first solo, combat patrol was less than stellar as he had trouble controlling his air plane, was nearly shot down, and got separated from his squadron. Nonetheless, he went on to be the highest scoring Canadian ace in WWI.

About the only way one can rate a biography is on how well it is researched, and how well it is written. To this list I will also add a third: Did I learn something I didn’t know before? To all three I can “Yes.” Although I have never encountered any of McCaffrey’s books previously, I am impressed by the way he has fleshed out a larger-than-life character—both personally and militarily—in a way that is both interesting and readable.

Educators take note. Five bees.

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June 24, 2013 Posted by | Billy Bishop, biography, Canadian author, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, non GBLT, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Jimmy Simpson: Legend of the Rockies, by E. J. Hart

This is the way history should be taught … With joie de vivre! Bravo E. J. Hart!!

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jimmy simpson - coverStory blurb: The Stoney Indians called him Nashan-esen meaning “wolverine-go-quick” because of his speed in travelling on snowshoes over the rugged landscape of the Canadian Rockies. This book is the story of Jimmy Simpson’s 80-year epic as one of the most important guides, outfitters, lodge operators, hunters, naturalists and artists in the Canadian Rockies. The story takes him from blazing the trails in the valley bottoms to ascending some of the highest peaks in the range, from leading scientists, mountaineers, big-game hunters and world-famous artists through some of the most unimaginable scenery on earth to entertaining thousands of visitors at his famous lodge at Bow Lake with his tales-both true and tall-of the pioneer days.

jimmy simpson - E. J. HartAbout the author: E.J. “Ted” Hart is the director of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff and the author of numerous popular and bestselling books on the Canadian Rockies.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

A while ago some government official, I can’t remember who, was ruminating over the best way to teach kids about Canadian history. Simple: Make it interesting.

When I was going to school, and from what I’ve seen since, [see: Canadian History Made Boring], it is as if educators have gone out of their way to make history as unpalatable as possible. The fact is that Canada has a history as colourful and entertaining as any in the world, and it only remains for kids and adults alike to discover this.

We have real Sergeant Prestons who patrolled the Yukon, cattle drives undertaken though 1,500 hundred miles of primeval wilderness, pioneers who transported several stallions and breeding cattle 800 miles by canoe, great train robberies and gunfights that would make O.K. Corral look like an afternoon social, and yet very few people know about it. Fortunately, we also have people like E. J. Hart to write marvelous books like Jimmy Simpson: Legend of the Rockies [Rocky Mountain Books, First Edition, October 2009].

jimmy_simpson - portraitNow if this were being taught in school, we would dutifully learn that Jimmy Simpson (1877 – 1972) emigrated from England, arriving in Winnipeg in 1896. There he farmed for a while until he decided to go West [psst, after drinking up all his money]. He therefore pawned his gold watch and chain, and took a train to Calgary. Hearing of work on the railway he stowed away on a westbound train, but when he was discovered and kicked off he walked the 20-or-so-miles to Laggan (just below Lake Louise).

Being adventurous, Simpson signed on as cook with legendary outfitter, Tom Wilson, and began learning the outfitting business from “Wild” Bill Peyto—another legendary Rocky Mountain adventurer.

jimmy simpson - bow lake glaciersIn 1898, while working for Wilson, Simpson happened upon Bow Lake with the ice field and two magnificent glaciers above. He and his companions camped by the northern end of the lake, and it was there the he made his now famous proclamation: “I’ll build a shack here sometime,” he said.

Eventually Simpson left Wilson to strike out on his own, supplementing his guiding and outfitting business with trapping. To get around he took up snow shoeing, becoming so proficient at it that the local Indians gave him the honorary title of “Nashan-esen” (meaning “wolverine-go-quickly”).

jimmy simpson - num ti jahIn 1922 he returned to Bow Lake to build his log shack—as he had vowed to do—and when the Banff-Jasper Highway was built, bringing automobile traffic to the area in 1937, he built a small lodge to accommodate them. He called this lodge “Num-te-jah,” the Indian word for pine marten.

Business grew, and in the 1940s a major expansion to the lodge was undertaken to bring its capacity to sixteen rooms.

The original lodge became Simpson’s personal residence where he died in 1972, at the age of 95.

Interesting enough, I suppose, but as E. J. Hart has so masterfully demonstrated by way of Simpson`s own anecdotes, it says nothing about the man or his remarkable wit. For example:

[Fred Ballard was a partner in the trapping business for a (short) while.]

Ballard had been teasing me about a new suit of underwear that had been in the cabin all winter and as to how nice it was going to feel inside it when he got to it. When we arrived he got to it all right but the cabin had leaked and it was sopping wet inside so we built a bit fire outside and made camp. Fred squeezed the water out of it and spread it out in front of the fire carefully while I cooked up what flour was there and made a small bannock, and it was small. When cooked I halved it and his half past his tonsils as fast as a cable [trans-Atlantic telegraph] going over to the old country for more money while I sat on a log and ate mine slowly. That was too much for Fred. Pretty soon he snapped, “If there is anything I hate it’s to see is a man chawing on a piece of bread that I could swallow in two bites, especially when he has only one good eye to chaw with.” [Simpson had a temporary snow blindness in one eye]. I understood.

We lay down to sleep before the fire but in the middle of the night I was awakened by bad language in time to see Ballard holding up a piece of underwear with five button holes on it. A piece of charcoal had got to it while he was asleep so I thought condolences were due. “That’s not too bad,” I said, “All it needs is new arms and legs and a piece on the back to fold over the chest, those five button holes still look quite good.” The air was blue.

Another example of Simpson’s wit relates to an exploration trip he and “Wild” Bill Peyto took one winter. They had stopped for a smoke beside a huge dead spruce and Jimmy drove his axe into it. From inside came a sound like falling debris, so he hit it again with the back of the axe. He was about to do it again when, to his astonishment, it opened up and the head of a two-year old grizzly poked through. This is how he described what happened next:

Nine foot five is my record standing jump and I made it backwards. turning in mid air, and then I started showing squirrels how to climb a tree. I measured that jump next day with a copy of“Tid-Bits”that sported a foot rule on the cover. When I made the top I looked back. There was Bill cussing a blue streak and kicking that bear’s head back every time it poked its nose through. It had gone into hibernation and was in a semi comatose condition but it was fast in waking up. Bill called to me, I dropped out of the blue like dose of measles and we lit out for the camp. Next day we gathered it in.

This is how history should be taught. With some life in it. Sadly these people have passed on, but their way of life, their wit and humour, should not be buried with them.

For people, like me, who enjoy a history lesson that reads like a novel; that allows the reader to appreciate the times through the eyes of colourful characters like Simpson; and that is valid history at the same time, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Thank you E. J. Hart. Five bees.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

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May 21, 2013 Posted by | Alberta history, biography, Canadian author, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, non GBLT, Non-fiction, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Northern Lights, by James Matthew Green

This is  history as it should be told (and taught): A history lesson that can be absorbed while enjoying a truly enjoyable story.

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northern lights - coverJames Matthew Green’s historical novel, Northern Lights, takes the reader into the vivid excitement of the French and Indian War. Daniel Allouez, whose father is French and mother is Ojibwe Indian, enters into the war not only to fight the enemy, but to discover who he is at the crossroads of race, religion, and sexual orientation.

The spiritual nature of Daniel’s search draws beautifully upon his Ojibwe tradition, with its emphasis on experiencing the Divine in nature. Daniel’s discovery of love in a same-sex relationship presents difficulties as well as transformation in this resounding story of triumph and emotional healing.

About the Author

  • James Matthew (Jim) Green is a psychotherapist in private practice in Charlotte, NC. Born in 1952, Jim grew up in Minnesota, and has lived in California, Oregon, Montana, and North Carolina. His ethnic roots include Norwegian, French, and Ojibwe/Odawa. Jim is enrolled at White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
  • Jim’s work as a psychotherapist and as a writer explores the Sacred Mystery and Power encountered in nature and in the experiences of life.
  • Jim is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. He studied theology at Saint John’s Roman Catholic Seminary in Camarillo, CA, and earned a Masters of Divinity at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC.
  • In his psychotherapy practice, Jim specializes in spirituality for emotional healing.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Ever on the lookout for Canadian authors and/or Canadian content and history, especially from a gay perspective, I came across Northern Lights, by James Matthew Green [CreateSpace Independent Publishing , June 23, 2012], and although the author is American this novel fills the latter two categories quite admirably. Moreover, it fits my concept of gay historical fiction to a “T” by giving history a face—albeit a fictional one—to represent those GBLT men and women who lived and loved in another time.

Northern lights - French-Indian-WarThe story is set in the 1750s against the somewhat neglected backdrop of the so-called “French and Indian War ” (1754-1763) [more about this point below]. It is also the backdrop for James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. However, in this novel the main character wasn’t merely raised by Indians, he is in fact half-Indian (Métis), and the other half being French. The Métis theme is also one that has been surprising neglected in the past, for few things can evoke the northern frontiers like a band of the bon vivant Métis and Coureurs de bois.

While these elements form the backdrop, and at times provide some exciting drama, the main theme here is spirituality—both Christian and Native. Being part Ojibwe himself, the author has provided some fascinating insights into Ojibwe spiritual beliefs, including Two Spirit culture, as the main characters, Daniel and Rorie, come to terms with divergent beliefs and their sexuality.

I was particularly intrigued, as well, by the scenes involving ‘near death experience,’ for it was a widely held belief among many tribes that the spirit left the body to converse with inhabitants of the “Other Land,” and then returned with messages to “This Land.” In fact, I have used this theme in my forthcoming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail.

I was also struck by the way the author emphasized the reverence and respect Natives held for the environment around them without flogging the point. For indeed, that is how it was. It was a natural as etiquette is today—or was.

My quibbles are minor and technical, and probably wouldn’t even be noticed by anyone who wasn’t a former professor of history, but they stood out for me. The first, as I mentioned above, has to do with the use of the lable “French and Indian War” to describe the conflict. The author does acknowledge that this is an American term, but goes on to describe the Canadian equivalent as “The War of conquest.” Nope—not exactly. English-Canadians refer to it as “The Anglo-French Conflict,” while French-Canadians refer to it as “La guerre de la Conquête” (i.e. “The War of Conquest”.)  In a country with two distinct cultures, and an underlying current of nationalism, that is a big deal.

My second quibble has to do with the term “Winnipeg;” as in “Winnipeg River.” Actually, the much later name Winnipeg is an English bastardization of  the Cree word “Wīnipēk (ᐐᓂᐯᐠ)”, meaning “murky waters,” and contemporary maps of the period also show it as such.

That said, this is history as it should be told (and taught): A history lesson that can be absorbed while enjoying a truly enjoyable story. Four and one-half bees.

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January 14, 2013 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Coming out, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period | Leave a comment

For a Lost Soldier, by Rudi van Dantzig

A powerful story of coming of age –

Story blurb: Forty years after the fact, Dutch choreographer Jeroen Boman recalls a wartime romance. During the Allied liberation of Holland, the eleven-year-old Boman entered into a tender relationship with a Canadian soldier. Back to the present, Boman attempts to incorporate his experiences in his latest ballet work, a celebration of the Liberation.

The printed version of For a Lost Soldier is no longer available, but the film version (written by director, Roeland Kerbosh) is available on DVD.

About the author: The choreographer and director Rudi van Dantzig (August 1933 – January 2012) played a major role in the development of classical ballet in the Netherlands. Many of his ballets contain a strong thread of social criticism; he was not afraid to explore difficult subjects. The vividly theatrical Monument for a Dead Boy (1965) told the story of a boy who discovers his hitherto repressed homosexuality and is ultimately destroyed by his own desires. This ballet brought Van Dantzig international notice and was mounted for several major companies.

He also had a second career, which developed later in his life, as a novelist. In 1986 he wrote an autobiographical novel, Voor een verloren soldaat, about his love affair while a young boy with a Canadian soldier, which became a great success. It was awarded several times and a film was made of it. An English translation, For a Lost Soldier, was published in 1996.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

In preparation for this week’s review, I went in search of a gay Canadian novel in all the usual places (including Amazon.ca), but I may as well have gone searching for a unicorn! All I found were a couple of pages of outdated, academic, and even American offerings (i.e. The Best American Short Stories 2012). To add insult to injury, my own novels weren’t even included.

All was not entirely lost, however, for I came across a book I had read some time ago, For a Lost Soldier, by Rudi van Dantzig, [Gay Men’s Press, 1997], which is now out of print. However, a DVD film version (written and directed by Roeland Kerbosch, and starring Maarten Smit as young Boman, Jeroen Krabbé as the adult Boman, and Andrew Kelley as the Canadian soldier) is still available.
The book and the film differ quite significantly, especially in the way the ending is constructed, but the basic story outline is the same.

Near the end of the war in Holland, eleven-year-old Jeroen Boman is sent to live in the country due to a food shortage in Amsterdam. However, despite a relative abundance to eat he is wracked with loneliness for his parents and friends.

This is subject to change when the village is liberated by a group of Canadian Troops, and Jeroen encounters a 20-something soldier named Walter Cook. Jeroen revels in the attention shown by Cook, and a relationship is formed between them that eventually becomes sexual in nature.

A dark cloud forms, however, when Cook’s regiment moves on, and he leaves without saying goodbye to a devastated Jeroen. Even the photograph of him—the only token Jeroen has left—is damaged by rain.

The remainder of the novel is dedicated to Jeroen’s life when he returns to Amsterdam, and the desperate but fruitless search for his first, lost lover. Eventually Jeroen is forced to realize that all he has left are memories.

Given the controversial nature of man/boy love, even when it is pseudo-autobiographical (as it is in this case), a number of people will be put off by this point alone. However, the sexual aspect in the novel is delicately handled, and in the film it is so subtle that one might actually miss it. What remains is a powerful story of coming of age, and the lifelong impact of first love. Five bees.

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November 26, 2012 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Coming out, fiction/autobiographical, Gay romance, Historical period | Leave a comment

The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles), by Robin Neillands

A must read under the heading: “Lest we forget.”

Story blurb: The Dieppe Raid is one of World War II’s most controversial hours. In 1942, a full two years before D-Day, thousands of men, mostly Canadian troops eager for their first taste of battle, were sent across the English Channel in a raid on the French port town of Dieppe. Air supremacy was not secured; the topography—a town hemmed in by tall cliffs and reached by steep beaches—meant any invasion was improbably difficult. The result was carnage: the beaches were turned into killing grounds even as the men came ashore, and whole battalions were cut to pieces.

In this book, Robin Neillands has traced numerous surviving veterans of the Raid, in the United Kingdom and Canada, to tell the harrowing story of what actually took place, hour by hour, as disaster unfolded. He has also exhaustively explored all the archival evidence to establish as far as possible the paper trail of command, of who knew—or should have known—what was happening, and whether the whole debacle could have been prevented. The result is the definitive account of one of the Allies’ darkest hours.

Available in hardcover and paperback only – 292 pages

About the author: Robin Neillands is “one of our most readable military historians” (Birmingham Post [UK]) and author of several acclaimed books on World War II and military history, including The Bomber War; The Conquest of the Reich; The Desert Rats; Eighth Army; The Old Contemptibles; and Battle of Normandy 1944. He lectures on military history worldwide, and is a member of the British Commission for Military History.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Today, August 19, 2012, marks the 70th anniversary of the storming of Puys beach, a small seaside village two kilometres east of Dieppe. The landing parties, including 4,963 men and officers from the 2nd Canadian Division, 1,005 British commandos, 50 US rangers and 15 Frenchmen, were already late as the sun rose, giving the Germans plenty of advance notice. The shore batteries opened up while the landing craft were still 10 metres from shore, and at 5:07 AM the first of the Canadian soldiers dashed forward in the noise of machine-gun and mortar fire that targeted them. They fell, mowed down by bullets and hit by mortar shells. Some tried to reach the seawall bordering the beach, hoping to find shelter. They were to be made prisoner after a few hours of useless resistance.

A few kilometres away, to the left near Berneval and to the right near Dieppe, Pourville and Varengeville, other battalions landed, more men were killed by machine-gun fire and struck by mortar shells. Several platoons managed to break through enemy defence lines and closed in on their targets. Their determination was no match for the formidable might of the German army. Order was given to pull back at 1100; Navy personnel did the utmost to retrieve as many assault troops as possible. The raid was over. As the tide rose, the wounded who remained on the beach were carried away by the waves with the dead.

The objectives of this ill-fated venture weren’t particularly significant. These included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove it was possible and to gather intelligence from prisoners and captured materials while assessing the German responses. The Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings. “Dieppe raid was also a “pinch” raid for the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) overseen by Ian Fleming. A group of No. 30 Commandos were sent into Dieppe to steal code books, setting sheets and a German-made Enigma code machine for encryption and decryption of secret messages.” Wikipedia

The cost, however, was significant. A total of 3,623 of the 6,086 men (almost 60%) who made it ashore were either killed, wounded, or captured. The Royal Air Force lost 96 aircraft (at least 32 to flak or accidents). The Royal Navy lost 33 landing craft and one destroyer.

So what went wrong? Almost everything says Robin Neillands in his meticulously researched treatise, “The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles)” [Indiana University Press, 2005], from the earliest planning stages, to the lack of combat experience by the British and Allied officers to make a proper assessment of the risks of such an operation.

As one reviewer has summarized it:

“In seven bloody, smoke-filled chapters, the author tells the waterlogged tale of men struggling in the ocean and along the seawall — the assault boats of No. 3 Commando blundering into a German convoy — bullet-ridden landing craft loaded with dead and wounded — virtually every radio set destroyed right from the beginning — heroic soldiers charging gun pits with fixed bayonets — Churchill tanks hopelessly stranded on the promenade — bodies rolling about in the waves — hundreds of men cowering behind knocked out tanks and landing craft along the shingle — eventually, abandoned men on the beach swimming for miles to reach withdrawing ships. Mr. Neillands’ remarkable reconstruction of the battle from east to west makes clear the troops had little chance of success.” Michael L. Shakespeare 

When it is all said and done, Robin Neillands’ book may be the best thing that came out of the aftermath; that and the lessons learned when it came to the amphibious raids that ultimately led to VE Day, May 8, 1945.

A must read under the heading “Lest we forget.” Five bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 31,651

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Notice to all those who have requested a book review

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

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Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

It is a collection of little-known people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  Barbara Ann Scott: “Canada’s Sweetheart”.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

       

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August 19, 2012 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan

 

 This being Canada Day, I have chosen one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors (regrettably deceased). MacEwan’s work emphasises once again the remarkablly colourful history that is Canada’s. Although it has been discontinued by the publisher, it is still available at both Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Story blurb: Western Canada has a long history of cattle drives. In Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, historian Grant MacEwan has brought together an entertaining collection of history and tales from these trips. Originally  published in 1962, this classic book recounts many stories starting with the first cow and steer to arrive in Manitoba to the later, more challenging trips through the Rocky Mountains into British Columbia.

Available is paperback & hardcover – 223

About the Author: John Walter Grant MacEwan, OC AOE best known as Grant MacEwan (August 12, 1902 – June 15, 2000) was a farmer, Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Dean of Agriculture at the University of Manitoba, the 28th Mayor of Calgary and both a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the ninth Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Canada. Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta and the MacEwan Student Centre at the University of Calgary as well as the neighbourhoods of MacEwan in Calgary and MacEwan in Edmonton are named after him.

MacEwan produced the large majority of his historical books after his ‘retirement’. His books, mostly biographical, were based on history, but often left out references, a bibliography or even analysis of historical events. For this, critics continually attacked his unprofessional approach to history. He only gave one response to these comments, saying in 1984, “I don’t know what the scholars will think of it. Nor do I care. I’m not writing for them, I’m writing for Canadians.” He also taught numerous courses at the University of Calgary and Olds College. He became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1974.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Because there are so very few of them available, I get genuinely excited  when I come across a history of Canada that tells the stories of the “average Joe or Sally” pioneer. That is how I felt when I discovered Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan (himself a pioneer) [Fifth House; Revised edition, 2000]. MacEwan certainly hit the nail on the head when he declared, “I’m not writing for them [academics], I’m writing for Canadians,” and thank goodness he did. Otherwise, these delightful anecdotes might have been lost forever.

There are forty anecdotal-vignettes in all, which are told in an easy-to-read, journalistic style. In fact, it is their lack of ‘academic rigidity’ that makes them accessible to a wide range of readers, both young and old.

Adam and Eve of the Cattle Kingdom

Anyone who knows western Canada will immediate think of multi-acre ranches and thousands, if not millions of cattle. The fact is, however, that the first of their numbers started with just two critters, a bull and a cow named “Adam” and “Eve.” In 1811 these two were brought from Oxford House, a remote Hudson Bay Company trading post (about 400 miles north of what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba) in–of all things–a canoe. Proving the pioneer’s motto: Where there is a will, there is a way.

English Stallion for Red River

An even more astounding feat was conducted in 1831, when a Hackney stallion by the name of “Fireaway,” and later an English thoroughbred by the name of “Melbourne,” were both transported from York Factory, on the western shore of Hudson Bay, to Winnipeg; a distance of roughly 700 land and water miles–including 36 portages–by freight canoe. As MacEwan observes:

“Even the most ardent horse lovers will think of adventures more inviting than sharing a canoe or York boat with a frisky stallion, no matter how he might be dignified by a fine pedigree.”

The Hackney Fireaway was to become legendary as a producer of speed and endurance. Indeed, as late as 1877, settlers in Portage la Prairie revived their affection for the memory of that horse which was the first purebred of his race in all Western Canada.

A stranger driving a fast horse blew into town a day or two before the 24th of May and promptly challenged all comers to a matched race. With the honor of the community and the reputation of local horses at stake, townsmen came together for serious discussion. Settlers with swift horses were remembered, and thoughts turned to Farmer Macdonald at High Bluff who had a nimble great-great -granddaughter of Fireaway. A message was dispatched: “Bring your mare to town at once. We need her for a race.” 

“Macdonald was plowing with a two-horse team when the exhausted courier reached him. Reluctantly, he unhitched the good mare and her mate from the walking plow, rehitched them to his democrat and drove to Portage. Farmers and town people couldn’t honestly expect a homesteader’s plowhorse to win a race against a barnstorming flier from St. Paul but they recalled her breeding and nursed a silent hope. It was a great race; every pioneer who saw it agreed, and sure enough, the blood of Fireaway was still virile if not invincible and Macdonald’s mare, drawing a democrat and an exultant Scottish settler, came down the Portage la Prairie street to leave the professional racer from Minnesota a convincing distance behind.”

The Trail from Stowaway to Cattle King

Life for Joseph Blackburn Greaves began in Yorkshire, England, in 1831, and at the tender age of eleven he ran away from home, stepmother and England by stowing away on the sailing ship Patrick Henry, bound for New York.

When he was discovered the angry Captain assigned him to feeding the ship’s pigs (used to eat up food refuse and furnish pork when needed), so when the Patrick Henry docked, young Greaves promoted himself as an “expert” in the art of feeding swine, and was immediately hired by a farmer with a barn full of them.

Three years later he joined a wagon train heading to California, and there he worked as a labourer before embarking on a career as a butcher.

Word of gold on the Fraser river then reached Greaves who decided to pursue it, but with a butcher’s reasoning he took some meat animals with him–sheep! It was 1859 and poor trails and rough water still offered the only means of transportation, but after trailing them for 400 miles, Greaves managed to sell the flock at Fifty Mile House, British Columbia, for prices unheard of in the south.

He then went back to Oregon for more, but this time he brought cattle for sale and profit. However, on his third trip (1863) he found the market failing. Undaunted, he turned the cattle loose and went back to butchering for a while. When at last he rounded up his cattle he found them fat and multiplied, and so he undertook a few drives to Westminster (about 250 miles south east).

By 1880, however, cattle  population in the interior of British Columbia had outgrown demand, and so Greaves rounded up about 4,000 head (some of them seven years old) and started south, crossing the border at Osoyoos through Oregon, and then west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, a year later, he loaded them onto Union Pacific boxcars bound for Chicago.

In 1882 Greaves and five others formed a syndicate known as the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, and in the years to follow twenty thousand head were sometimes on the ranch, and the person who had come to the continent as a stowaway, friendless and penniless, continued to direct the huge operations until his 80th birthday.

[Interestingly, although this is the first time I learned the Greave’s story, it parallels almost exactly the story of my cattle baron in Coming of Age on the Trail.]

These are but three (of forty) fascinating anecdotes contained in this rare collection of Canadian folk lore, so if you’re a Canadiana buff like me I highly recommend it. Five hearty bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 28,581

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Notice to all those who have requested book reviews

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

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July 1, 2012 Posted by | Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 1 Comment

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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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 28,227

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Customized dedications now available, FREE.

If you are considering giving Two Irish Lads or Nor All Thy Tears as a gift, and would like a customized dedication from me, all you need do is ask. Send me an email [gerry@gerryburniebooks.com] with the particulars (name of recipient, occasion, your name as gifter, etc.) and I will design a dedication especially for them. Of course, you are welcome to one for your own copy, too. See the sample.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by! Drop back soon and I’ll have a new book ready for you.

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

Tecumseh: Diplomat and Warrior in the War of 1812, by Irene Gordon

June 2012 marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812 – 1814, an historic event that set the groundwork for Canada’s identity as a nation. Native peoples also played an important part in this process, and none more significantly than Tecumseh, of whom Sir Isaac Brock wrote: “A more sagacious or a more gallant Warrior does not I believe exist.”

Story blurb: This is the biography of Tecumseh, a legendary nineteenth century Shawnee warrior, a hero of the War of 1812 and a man who spent most of his life trying to build a Native confederacy to withstand the pressure on native lands from American settlement.

It also tells the story of his younger brother Lalawethika and of Lalawethika’s transformation from a drunken ne’er-do-well to the charismatic spiritual leader known as The Prophet.

As a diplomat, Tecumseh dealt with the British and American authorities, with settlers and with First Nations peoples on both sides of the border. He fought with the British in the War of 1812, and lost his life at the Battle of Moraviantown.

Available in paperback (128 pages) and in epub formats.

About the author: IRENE GORDON, who lives along the historic Assiniboine River just west of Winnipeg, has had a passion for history, reading and writing since childhood. After a career as a teacher-librarian, she became a freelance writer in 1998.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

In my estimation there are two types of history books: the regretfully ‘dusty’ kind that I was subjected to in my school days, a chalk-dry collection of dates and events that one could only find interesting in passing; and then there are those that have some colour to them–some human interest woven into the fabric. Fortunately, Tecumseh: Diplomat and Warrior in the War of 1812 by Irene Gordon [Lorimer ‘Amazing Stories’ series, 2009] is of the latter variety.

Tecumseh, whose name loosely translates as “Panther passing across (the sky),” was born in Ohio in 1768, to a minor war chief of the Shawnee people (“people of the water”). Shortly after he was born, his father was killed by white frontiersmen who had crossed onto Indian land in violation of a recent treaty, and Tecumseh then resolved to become a warrior like his father and to be “a fire spreading over the hill and valley, consuming the race of dark souls.”

He was one of those people who was born to greatness, whether by design or circumstance, and would probably stand out in any society. In Tecumseh’s case he was visionary who saw a confederacy of Indian peoples as the only salvation in the face of the ever-expanding “white tide.” A confederacy was also the foil against some thoroughly unscrupulous politicians who regarded the Natives as ignorant savages, and a hindrance to their ambitions.

Tecumseh also saw salvation in a peaceful co-existence with the whites, but with the rights of the “Red Man” firmly entrenched in territory they could call their own.

Regretfully, as it often is with great men, those around him, both white and red (with the exception of Isaac Brock), did not—or could not—share his vision, and so Tecumseh was challenged on three sides: The “long knives” (Americans); his own independent-thinking people; and the British, who were as political as the Americans.

Tecumseh and British General Sir Isaac Brock were cut from a similar cloth, and it is said that he and Tecumseh rode into Detroit together after its defeat. However, when Isaac Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights, Upper Canada, in October 1812, the command passed to Major General Harry Proctor; a foppish, indecisive man, whom Tecumseh distrusted, and whose indecision eventually led to Tecumseh’s death.

Irene Gordon has written a concise account of Tecumseh’s life, historically accurate and balanced, but what I like most about it is that she has breathed some life into a story that could otherwise be as dry Mr. Ewart’s high school history classes. I also applaud her (and Lorimer’s Amazing Stories series) for keeping Canadian history from going down the gopher hole of obscurity. Five bees.

For more vignettes of history, search “Amazing Stories” on this blog, or go to http://www.lorimer.ca/en/Series/29/Amazing-Stories.html.

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Visitor Count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 27,871

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“Microcrap” and I

I never cease to be amazed by how “Microcrap” (Microsoft) can find new and annoying ways to be a pain-in-the-butt! Last week I related the tale of my $135 purchase of Office: Home and Student Edition 2010, that wouldn’t download on one of my computers (running Microsoft Vista), but this week it outdid itself. It did download properly on another, but after working on and saving my current manuscript (61,000 words), I discovered that it has deleted the spaces between words—not all, but perhaps half-a-dozen per page (102 pages). Therefore, I have prepared this little one-finger salute to its dishonour. Hope Microcrap looks down from its ivory tower to see it!

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

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June 17, 2012 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

To Wawa With Love, by Tom Douglas

My nomination (if I had one) for the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour –

Story blurb: When Tom Douglas’s father returned home after the Second World War, he was forced to move his family from Sault Ste. Marie north to Wawa, where he was the timekeeper at the Helen Mine. Although his parents were upset by the move, Tom was thrilled. In the forties, Wawa was still a wooden-sidewalked mud wallow of a mining town, and for a city kid, nothing could have been more exciting.

To Wawa with Love is a nostalgic collection of true stories about a time in northern Ontario that still exists only in the author’s imagination. These are light-hearted stories about a town teeming with colourful characters, like Doc MacTavish, Wawa’s veterinarian and part-time dentist; magical places, like the Lions Club Hall, where a quarter could buy a kid an afternoon at the movies; and comical adventures, like the rescue of Rocky Mitchell from the bottom of the school outhouse on a sub-zero January day.

These warm and humorous vignettes about the way life used to be will delight readers of all ages.

Available in paperback only – 156 pages

About the author: Tom Douglas, an award-winning journalist and author, lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Gail, also an author in the Amazing Stories series. Tom’s father, Sgt. H.M. (Mel) Douglas, was part of the Invasion Force that stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Tom is a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, worked as a Communications Advisor for Veterans Affairs Canada, and has written speeches for the Minister of National Defence. He has also worked with The Canadian Press and served as the publisher/owner of a weekly newspaper in Australia.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I have long admired Tom Douglas for his writings on the topic of Canadian military history [see my review of Valour at Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I], but I do believe To Wawa With Love, [Lorimer Press, 2012]—a charming, witty and hilarious collection of intimate tales—has to be my favourite for the following reasons:

Apart from the socio-economic impact of the returning troops, and the sudden demand for post-war housing, etc. (mundane topics devoid of any real colour or humanity) there are very few portraits of the men (and women) themselves, or of their families.[1] In this short memoir, Tom Douglas has done his bit to address the oversight, stating: “I have set down these few memories about that time and place in an effort to prevent it all from slipping away, without a trace down a sinkhole of history.” p.8

And what did the families think? Well, in young Thomas Douglas’ case—pumped on gangster movies etc, and not having seen his father in five years—he was convinced he was a murderer who had somehow beguiled his mother and was about to murder them all—except that young Thomas was ‘on to him,’ and ready to spring into action at any given moment.

Mind you, his younger brother Greg had no problem adjusting, but as the author points out, “My brother Greg sold out for a pair of white boots. He always did come cheap.

There was a slight pause in the pending drama to accommodate the adventure of moving to “Sinterville,” a company dormitory community near Wawa, Ontario. It was little more than a huddle of temporary housing set in close proximity to the mine, where:

The lung-searing sulphur fumes rolled in on the wind. Those who dared venture out of their clapboard shelters tied handkerchiefs over their mouths to prevent a fit of gagging and choking. Tears streaming down their cheeks, the hapless victims of this latest gas attack dashed from one spot to another, hurrying to do whatever had to be done.

“As the sun came up, vaporizing the puddles of overnight rain, the sulphurous air turned steamy and dank, inviting another onslaught of blackflies and mosquitoes that left everyone in their murderous path covered in bleeding sores.

“If the supply train had managed to get through that morning, chances were that the bread was mouldy and the milk sour from sitting in an unrefrigerated boxcar while the crew strained to remove a rock-slide or fallen tree from the railway tracks that provided the lifeline from the civilized south.”

And yet, to young Thomas it was an adventure where he would hone his bargaining skills by talking the local merchant into a 100% increase in his weekly wage (from $1 to $2.00); become a singing sensation at the Christmas concerts; be a white knight for his younger brother (even if he did have to bite the bully’s finger to get the upper “hand,” so to speak); and rescue one of his classmates from the depths of an outhouse hole, e.g.

You’ll never know what being really miserable is until you’ve had to sit in an unheated outhouse in forty-below weather. And I’m talking Fahrenheit, where water freezes at thirty-two degrees about the zero mark.”p.49

I was seated at my desk, staring out my window at the whirling snow and mentally mushing my huskies to the nearest outpost with a bottle of lifesaving medicine in a leather pouch slung over my shoulder. Suddenly, I became aware of Miss Grexton standing there with a slight smile on her face, waiting for my reply.

““I was asking you, my little daydreamer, if you’d mind going to see what’s keeping Rocky,” she repeated. “He’s been gone an awfully long time.”

“After a hazardous five-hour trek, that in reality lasted about thirty seconds, I reached the outpost, having had to shoot and eat all of my sled dogs along the way. Well, okay, I actually polished off the remains of a peanut butter sandwich I’d found in my pocket. I scrabbled the wooden door of the outhouse open with ice-numbed fingers and peered inside the unlit cubical. Where Rocky should have been sitting in frigid misery, there were two empty “thrones.” Too young to realize there was something amiss, I let the spring-loaded door slam back into place and turned to run back to the warmth of the classroom with the news that Rocky wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

“Lucky for him, the perpetually howling wind died down just then, and I heard a faint, eerie call for help from inside the ice palace. Prying  open the door once again, I tentatively called out, “Rocky?” and almost ran for cover when I was answered by a disembodied voice wailing, “Down here!””p.54

“Only in Sinterville,” you say, well there’s even more to read for your amusement and edification in To Wawa With Love.” Do get yourself a copy. You’ll be glad you did. Five bees.

Note: For more colourful Canadian history, go to my reviews at: https://gerrycan.wordpress.com/?s=amazing+stories, or http://www.lorimer.ca/adults/#

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 26,188

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An announcement regarding  Coming of Age on the Trail.

I’ve never thought of myself as being particularly ‘verbose’, but the more I work the new novel, Coming of Age on the Trail, it keeps getting longer. It is now up to 115,248 words, and growing, and so I have decided to publish it as a two-part series.

This is in keeping with the advice that a novel–especially in the western genre–should ideally be in the 90,000-word range. Personally, I don’t know how valid this is [perhaps someone could tell me] but it does make sense in this abbreviated world, where everything is in “tweet” size. Therefore, Part One should be out this summer, and Part Two should follow in the fall (ideally for the Christmas Market.

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Introducing a new author and her new Novel.

Altered-Revelations, by Shawnda Falls-Currie is new on the Kindle market.

Story Blurb: Abandoned by her family, Lacey is sent to a juvenile detention center known as Clear Waters. Her teen years don’t look promising until she is befriended by a mysterious stranger named Taylor, a gorgeous guy whose captivating eyes seem to stare into her soul. Convinced she is in danger at Clear Waters, Lacey joins Taylor in a daring escape. As she meets Taylor’s group of friends, she discovers that they’re more than they seem – they’ve been sent from the future to head off an evil corporate plot that will lead to a world war unless averted. With Lacey as their only hope to prevent a grim future, Taylor shows Lacey how to tap into her psychic abilities known in his time as evolved humans. Travelling with her new friends, she discovers the magic of love while she grows into the powerful warrior chosen to make the difference to the world.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

        

 Thank you for dropping by! Your participation is appreciated.

    

 


[1] I have long complained about this aspect of Canadian recorded history, for it leaves the impression that Canada has no history worth bothering with.

May 20, 2012 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Wild Canadian West, by E.C. (Ted) Meyers

A collection of meticulously researched and entertainingly-written historical vignettes that prove once and for all that Canada has a rich and colourful history equal to any in the word. Superb! –

Story Blurb: The history of the Wild West for too many years, has been considered the exclusive domain of the men and women who inhabited the South-western states of Kansas, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Canada had her share of men and women, good and bad, who opened the west for exploration and exploitation. Many famous gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers and lawmen of the Wild West were Canadian. This book exhibits the differences between Canadian settlers and their American counterparts. It shows how the law was enforced in the west even though lawmen were few in number. It touches on the naivete of some settlers and the lack of judgement shown by some leaders. It also seeks to show the injustice that was done to the native people who neither knew nor understood the white man’s law.

About the author: E.C. “Ted” Meyers, has seven non-fiction books published. Two concern the history of the Royal Canadian Navy. Two others are of the Old West. One, “Wild Canadian West”, concerns lawmen and outlaws who were part of Canada’s Old West. The other takes place in the American Old West. It tells the story of Wyatt Earp’s darkest secret. “Mattie: Wyatt Earp’s Secret Second Wife”, narrates the tragic life of Mattie Blaylock (1850-1888) who, from 1871 was Earp’s second wife and then, from 1882 until Earp’s death in 1928, was his darkest, most closely guarded secret.

E.C. Meyers was born at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1931. He served several years in the Canadian Armed Forces during which time he visited many parts of the world. He saw action in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952 and served in Canada’s peacekeeping effort in the mid-east following the 1956 Israeli-Egytian War. Following his CAF service he worked for the Ontario Government until retiring in 1991. Since then he has spent his retirement years actively researching his greatest interest – the Old West on both sides of the border and writing on a variety of other subjects.

At present he is busy writing an account of the 1877 Nez Perce War in which less than 200 warriors from five Nez Perce bands humiliated the US Army of the Northwest. Led by Chief Joseph, Chief White Bird and Chief Looking Glass the Nez Perce warriors defeated General Oliver Howard’s forces in a series of battles and skirmishes over a period of five months. Then, within 45 miles of the Canadian border and safety, fate turned against them and they were forced to surrender although some did manage to escape into Canada. For a future work Mr. Meyers is considering a book about little known adventures of the Northwest Mounted Police in the late 1800s.

Available from Hancock House Publishing in paperback – 208 pages.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

As many of you may know, my byline is “Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered.” It is meant as both a mission statement and a lament. E.C. “Ted” Meyers also alludes to this in the above blurb for Wild Canadian West [Hancock House Publishing Ltd, 20007], i.e. The history of the Wild West for too many years, has been considered the exclusive domain of the men and women who inhabited the South-western states of Kansas, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.”

Ironically, many of the famed gunfighters, outlaws, gamblers and law men of the American west were not American at all. They were Canadian, as Ted Meyers reveals. For example:

  • Bat, Jim and Ed Masterson all hailed from Quebec.
  • George Currie, better known as “Flat Nose George” from Prince Edward Island. He amalgamated his band of rustlers with Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch.”
  • “Canada” Bill Jones, generally acknowledged as the greatest card sharp of the old west, was from Ontario.
  • Pearl Heart, from Ontario, was a stagecoach robber who later joined Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as a—you guessed it–lady stage robber.

There were also several notable American who came to Canada to make their mark, such as Bill Miner, the “Gentleman Bandit” who is said to have originated the term “hands up,” and who made a living robbing trains.

  • Nellie Cashman, known as “The Angel of the Caribou” for her humanitarian work among the miners who fell upon hard times.
  • Armor de Cosmos from California (otherwise known as Jim Smith) who founded the British Colonist Newspaper [which I refer to several times in my forthcoming novel Coming of Age on the Trail].
  • Charlie “One Ear” Brown who was killed by vigilantes; James Barry (gambler) and Frank Spencer (rustler and gunfighter) who both ended up at the end of a rope. Etc.

However, the Canadian West had plenty of its own home-grown heroes and villains, many of which I had never heard of until Ted Meyers presented them here. For example there was the “Two-Fisted Town Tamer,” John Ingram, a no-nonsense lawman who tamed two frontier cities, Winnipeg and Calgary, before turning his attention to Rossland, British Columbia. To leave it there, however, would be to treat Canadian history the way it has generally been taught—i.e. colourless. Fortunately Meyers goes on to tell how Ingram (while still chief of police) was fined $10 for being a “found-in” at a whore house in Winnipeg, and that he later ran the Calgary police department from the backroom of a pool hall. Moreover, he seldom resorted to a gun, but relied instead on a pair of ‘ham-hock-sized’ fists, knocking his suspects senseless with a well placed punch.

Then there was “British Columbia’s Hanging Judge,” Sir Mathew Bailie Begbie. Begbie was an Englishman who, after being released or rejected by every law firm he had ever had contact, was appointed a judge in “The Colonies,” i.e. Vancouver Island. It should also be mentioned that prior to this his love life had been no more successful, for his fiancé eloped with his brother.

Begbie  arrived in Victoria, BC, in 1858, and was immediately assigned the entire area of what is now the Province of British Columbia (364,800 sq.mi. of sparsely-inhabited wilderness). Ironically, he was given the epithet of “The Hanging Judge,” but he actually disapproved of capital punishment. He therefore recommended to the lieutenant governor that most death sentences be commuted in favour of life in prison. He also had his own opinions on the issue of guilt or innocence, and did not hesitate to instruct the jury as to which verdict he deemed appropriate. Moreover, he would become more than a little irate when the jury went against his wishes, and would lecture them unmercifully as a result.

And for those who like a good ole fashioned shoot-em-up, there’s the tale of “The Shootout at Fortier’s Café,” which Meyers describes this way: “Its (Fisherville, B.C.) second claim to notoriety was the 1864 gun fight on the main street that made the gunfight at Tombstone’s OK Corral appear tame.

Ironically, the dispute began between two factions who each wanted to be the law in Fisherville, and after much threatening talk the two agree to meet to talk things over. The players were a group of Americans under the leadership of William “Yeast Powder Bill” Denniston (a.k.a. Bill Burmeister), Robert “Overland Bob” Evans and Neil Dougherty. The opposing side, mostly Canadians and British, was lead by a hot-tempered, vocal Irishman named Thomas Walker. His lieutenants were William “Dancing Bill” Latham, John “Black Jack” Smyth and “Paddy” Skie.

“The talk started peacefully enough but within a few minutes the two [walker and Dinniston] began shouting. Tom Walker, his temper boiling over, pulled his revolver from its holster, levelled it at Yeast Powder Bill and squeezed the trigger.

“The range was point blank when the heavy pistol roared but, unfortunately for Walker, his hand was unsteady. The .45 slug missed Bill’s expansive chest by ripped away the thumb from his right hand. Walker tried to fire a second shot but his gun jammed. Yeast Powder Bill, howling in shock and pain, drew the pistol from his left holster and shot Walker through the heart. Walker died where he stood. It was his great bad luck that Bill was ambidextrous.

“When Walker’s gun fired, Overland Bob Evans commenced shooting. This brought immediate return fire from Walker’s friends. Within seconds the shooting had become general and Evans lay prone in the dust with at least two bullets in his body. Although Evans was down his companions, thinking him dead, continued shooting.

“Walker was dead, there was no doubt about that, and his friends, intent on avenging him, kept up a steady barrage of fire into the ranks of the Americans. For several minutes the scene was one of sheer chaos. The men who were armed with clubs closed and began to beat on each other. When the shooting finally stopped the air was heavy with the acrid smell of gun smoke. Both sides retreated to count casualties.”

My Review

The above abstracts are only a few of the twenty-one stories that make up this remarkable, and in some respects unique anthology, for many of these tales have never before been published. Nevertheless, I believe these examples are sufficient to show that Canada does have a rich and colourful history that has been hidden from view by the apathy of governments and educators. Therefore we owe a great vote of thanks to writers and historians like E.C. “Ted” Meyers for bringing  it to the fore in a readable and entertaining way. Five bees.

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About Hancock House Publishing Ltd: Hancock House has been a wonderful find for me. Located in Surrey, British Columbia, and Blaine, Washington, its focus is on non-fiction regional titles, emphasizing western and far north history and biographies, Native culture, nature and wildlife, cryptozoology and folklore. In 2008 Hancock House launched its first e-books. Check out their many fascinating titles, i.e. “Stagecoaches,” “Dreaming Wolves,” “Outposts and Bushplanes” and “Crooked River Rats.”

News, etc.

I have entered Gerry B’s Book Reviews in the Independent Book Blogger Awards contestIt is my first contest ever, so I would really appreciate your support. Please take a few minutes to vote. Just click the “vote” link below.

Vote for this blog for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

 Vote

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 24,211

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Meet the characters, settings etc., from my forthcoming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail

The Stampede

“Few occupations are more cheerful, lively and pleasant than that of the cow-boy on a fine day or night; but when the storm comes, then is his manhood and often his skill and bravery put to test. When the night is inky dark and the lurid lightning flashes its zig-zag course athwart the heavens, and the coarse thunder jars the earth, the winds moan fresh and lively over the prairie, the electric balls dance from tip to tip of the cattle’s horns then the position of the cow-boy on duty is trying far more than romantic.

“When the storm breaks over his head, the least occurrence unusual, such as the breaking of a dry weed or stick, or a sudden and near flash of lightning, will start the herd, as if by magic, all at an instant, upon a wild rush. and woe to the horse, or man, or camp that may be in their path.” Joseph G. McCoy

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Introducing SCD Goff from Dublin, Ireland, and her new novel Lady Languish.

 After her uncle attacks Evangeline Languish at her sixteenth birthday party, she is sent away to boarding school where she is ostracised and bullied. She has been abandoned.

When she eventually makes it home, her uncle visits again, terrifying her with crazy stories about her father … Evangeline resolves not to believe them, but when she discovers a strange young man, injured and alone, she is forced to change her mind about everything she thought she knew.

Evangeline, gifted but innocent and almost alone, must face Malachy once more before she can be free. But can she kill him before he kills her and those she loves?

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by. I look forward to your visit every week!



April 15, 2012 Posted by | Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Canadian outlaws, Historical period, Non-fiction, non-GLBT | 2 Comments

River Thieves, by Michael Crummey

A superb weaving of fact and fiction set in the Canadian wilderness –

Story blurb: River Thieves is a beautifully written and compelling novel that breathes life into the pivotal events which shaped relations between the Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland and European settlers. Following a series of expeditions made under the order of the British Crown, the reader witnesses the tragic fallout from these missions as the Beothuk vanish and the web of secrets guarded by the settlers slowly begin to unravel …Told in elegant sensual prose this is an enthralling historical novel of great passion and suspense, driven by the extraordinary cast of characters. And with it Michael Crummey establishes himself as one of Canada’s most exciting new talents.

Available in e-book format – 2058 KB

About the athor: Born in Buchans, Newfoundland, Crummey grew up there and in Wabush, Labrador, where he moved with his family in the late 1970s. He went to university with no idea what to do with his life and, to make matters worse, started writing poems in his first year. Just before graduating with a BA in English he won the Gregory Power Poetry Award. First prize was three hundred dollars (big bucks back in 1987) and it gave him the mistaken impression there was money to be made in poetry.

He published a slender collection of poems called Arguments with Gravity in 1996, followed two years later by Hard Light. 1998 also saw the publication of a collection of short stories, Flesh and Blood, and Crummey’s nomination for the Journey Prize.

Crummey’s debut novel, River Thieves (2001) was a Canadian bestseller, winning the Thomas Head Raddall Award and the Winterset Award for Excellence in Newfoundland Writing. It was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the IMPAC Award. His second novel, The Wreckage (2005), was nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and longlisted for the 2007 IMPAC Award.

Galore was published in Canada in 2009. A national bestseller, it was the winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean), the Canadian Authors’ Association Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Award for fiction.

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Review by Gerry Burnie
My bio reads in part: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered, and River Thieves by Michael Crummey [Anchor Canada, 2009] is a case on point.

The Beothuk (pronounced “beo-thuk”) people of Newfoundland, a.k.a. “The Red Indians” because of the red ochre they smeared on their bodies, are truly one of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of it. They are referred to as a “population isolate” because they developed their unique culture in total isolation, starting around 1 A.D. until—with the death of Shanawdithit (“Nancy April”) in1829—they were declared officially extinct.

Part of the extinction process was as a result of being retreated into areas that could not sustain them; European diseases (particularly tuberculoses) for which they had no immunity; and anecdotes of genocide in which they were hunted like wolves. Indeed, the extinction of such a shy, peaceful and unique people is a black mark in Canadian history.

All of this Michael Crummey has captured with remarkable insight, and a superb sense of time and place. His approach of fictionalizing historical events and persons (while not unique) is certainly affective in making them come to life in the context in which they existed, i.e. the rugged and austere wilderness of Newfoundland in the early nineteenth century.

British naval officer, James Buchan, [a real historical figure] is sent to the British Colony of Newfoundland to establish productive relations with the mysterious aboriginals. In order to accomplish this mission he recruits the help of the Peyton family—a sort of backwoods aristocracy led by the tough-minded John Peyton Sr., a ruthless Beothuk persecutor [yet another real individual and fact]. However, his son, John Jr., although dominated by his father, is also vested with a conscience and becomes Buchan’s ally.

Rounding off this complex household is Cassie Jure, the enigmatic housekeeper, who is surprisingly independent for a female servant of the 19th-century, but she nonetheless adds a feminine perspective to a dominant cast of men.

Crummey’s poetic style is a real boon here, for the setting is very much part of the story—both the harshness and austere beauty of its topography and climate. He has therefore woven it into the tapestry as though it were one of the characters, emphasizing the hardy resilience of its occupants—like Joseph Reilly, a transported (“exiled”) Irish thief turned trapper. Likewise, his research and portrayal of 19th-century mores and terms gives it a solid credibility that invests the reader from beginning to end. For all these reasons, it is highly recommended. Five bees.

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One of the historical events portrayed in this story is “The stealing of Demasduit (“Mary March”).

Demasduit was a Beothuk woman who is thought to have been about 23 years old when she was captured near Red Indian Lake in March 1819.

The governor of Newfoundland, although seeking to encourage trade and end hostilities between the Beothuk and the English, had approved an expedition led by captain David Buchan to recover a boat and other fishing gear which had been stolen by the Beothuk. A group from this expedition was led by John Peyton Jr. whose father John Peyton Sr. was a salmon fisherman known for his hostility towards the small tribe. On a raid, they killed Demasduit’s husband Nonosbawsut, then ran her down in the snow. She pleaded for her life, baring her breasts to show she was a nursing mother. They took Demasduit to Twillingate and Peyton earned a bounty on her. The baby died. Peyton was later appointed Justice of the Peace at Twillingate, Newfoundland.

The British called Demasduit Mary March after the month when she was taken. Later bringing her to St. John’s, Newfoundland, the colonial government wanted to give Desmaduit comfort and friendly treatment while she was with the English, hoping she might one day be a bridge between them and the Beothuk. Demasduit learned some English and taught the settlers about 200 words of Beothuk language. However, in January 1820 while making the trip back to Notre Dame Bay Demasduit died of tuberculosis before reaching her kin. Source: Wikipedia.

News

Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 21,811

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Introducing the characters, etc. from my forthcoming novel: Coming of Age on the Trail

Norman Lee’s Route (click on image to elarge)

The inspiration for this fictional tale comes from Norman Lee’s epic, 1,500-mile cattle dive from Hanceville, British Columbia, to the gold fields around Dawson City, Yukon Territory, in 1898. Fortunately, Lee had the presence of mind to keep a journal along the way, and so we have a first-hand account of his remarkable feat just as it unfolded over a century ago. It is fortunate as well that Eileen Laurie of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation took an interest in this unique piece of Canadian history, and that the Lee family generously allowed it to be published. [See: Klondike Cattle Drive: The journal of Norman Lee, Touch Wood Editions, Surrey, British Columbia, 2005]. Consequently, many of the scenes depicted in this fictional version are taken from Lee’s actual experiences.

Once again this remarkable adventure proves that: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered.

Read an excerpt.

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If you haven’t done so before, do drop by the InnerBouquet website.

The InnerBouquet mission is to spread the word about & celebrate LGBT ARTS, CULTURE & ATHLETICISM from past to the present. The site features bios, reviews, critiques, interviews, photos, news, videos, songs, poems, etc. – all related to the contributions of LGBT icons world-wide. On a personal level, the InnerBouquet founder and creative director, David-Paul, in his “FlashBack Diary” reveals poignant moments from his gay journal.

This week David-Paul has added new and poignant information about Steve Walker, renowned Canadian artist who passed away on January 4 2012.

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I’ve added new pages: If you haven’t noticed already I’ve added an “About” and “Gerry Burnie Books” page.” You’ll find the links at the top of the page. Hope you find them interesting.

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Protest Paypal. Recently, Paypal started to refuse transactions for books which do not meet a set of narrowly-defined criteria, i.e., teenage sex (16 is the “age of consent”), rape, incest, etc. This is de facto censorship, and not the business of money broker. If you would care to send a letter to Paypal execs, etc., here is a list of email addresses you can use.

mbarrett@paypal.com,
executiveoffice@paypal.com,
harbor1@paypal.com,
ppelce@paypal.com,
complaint-response@paypal.com,
abuse@paypal.com,
Europeanservices@paypal.com,
resolutions@paypal.com,
appeals@paypal.com,
compliance@paypal.com,
webform@paypal.com,
Unmonitored <service@paypal.com>,
spoof@paypal.com,
aup@paypal.com,
Let public relations know you are filing complaints <press@paypal.com>,
apires@paypal.com,
pending_reversal@paypal.com,
global2@paypal.com,
intl@paypal.com,
ppe_courtesycredit@paypal.com
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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

       

Thanks for dropping by. The numbers are growing, thanks you!

March 4, 2012 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical period, non-GLBT | Leave a comment

Merlin-444, by Rejean Giguere

An ambitious concept that doesn’t quite fly

Story Blurb: In small town Saskatchewan Bobby Morrison is trying to piece his life back together. Losing a father has stopped him and his mother dead still. The only thing he has going for him is his Hot Rod.

Bobby’s need for speed rips him out of his small town life and thrusts him headlong into the past. He takes on the power and history of the Rolls Royce Merlin. The ensuing insanity hurls him into the Battles of Britain, the Atlantic and the Pacific. When the past presents a mission, can he complete it? Can he find his way?

About the author: Rejean Giguere is an avid outdoorsman, adventurer, photographer and artist. He enjoys fishing, hockey, golf, tennis, skiing and snowmobiling, his V-Max

motorcycle and vintage Corvette. He grew up in Canada and Europe, and enjoyed a business career in Toronto and Ottawa.

Available in e-book format – 266KB

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Review by Gerry Burnie

When I first came across Merlin-444 by Rejean Giguere [Smashwords, 2011], two things attracted me to it; i.e. it is a Canadian story by a Canadian author, and secondly it features the legendary Merlin engine and the Battle of Britain. It is not to suggest there aren’t lots of good Canadian authors to choose from, many I have reviewed (like Cynthia Faryon, and Tom Douglas), but the combination was the clincher.

The concept is a complex one—one might even say, “daunting.” The main protagonist, Bobby Morrison, is a likeable teenager with small town values, which include foregoing his own interest to look after his mother in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan (population 610). Like most small towns life is slow-paced, and so Bobby occupies his time pumping gas and working on his suped up ’77 Camaro.

His boss—and second protagonist—is an “old guy” [sic] known only as “Mr. G,” who seems to operate the service station more as a hobby than a business. Therefore Bobby is pretty well free to tinker with his hot rod.

His nemesis, known as “Digger,” owns a hot rod too, plus an obnoxious ego to go along with it. He is also dating Suzanne, Bobby’s secret love interest. However, this story is not intended as a romance, so Suzanne and Digger are mostly sub-plot overlaid by the preponderating action.

The real story begins when Mr. G suggests they put a Rolls Royce, Merlin engine, in the garage truck—which is quite a feat considering the Merlin V12 engine packed an amazing 1,470 hp (1,096 kW).

Even more incredible is when Bobby first fires it up and experiences some sort of time warp, by which he is transported back in time to the cockpit of a Spitfire. Moreover, he is the midst of a dogfight as part of the Battle of Britain (1940).

More such ‘flights’ were to follow, during which we learn for whom and for what reason he is being mysteriously called back in time, and the answer is quite poignant—not quite a tear-jerker, but satisfying.

My observations

The cross-over nature of this story—i.e. young adult-cum-historical fiction-cum-fantasy—would be enough to give any writer grey hairs just thinking about it, and so I think this author has given himself a fairly tough row to hoe from the start. In fact, I think he may have over extended himself to tackle it in the first place.

It is not to say that there aren’t some very nicely written parts. The dog fights for example are particularly intense, and the author’s straight forward style suits this sort of action, but overall I felt the story was rushed without regard to development. Instead, characters were unexpectedly introduced with chunks of information to cobble it together.

There are also some issues with repetitive phrases that stood out like stumbling blocks in places. For example:

Jumping up he ran to the truck squinting, shielding his eyes. As the light and noise finally settled, the dust floated to the floor of the cab. He yanked open the door and pulled the kid out, dragging him to a chair. God, he took in a quick breath, there was blood on the kid’s shoulder. 

The kid was alive, but sure seemed drained. He watched carefully as Bobby slowly came to. He saw the distant look in his eyes, while he watched the kid get his bearings back. 

Finally the kid looked up, shaking his head, “Incredible Mr. G.. Out of this world.” P.52

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I realize that this isn’t a particularly favourable review at first blush, but hopefully it will make for one in the future. There is enough good about this story to suggest it. Two and one-half bees.

News

Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 19,527

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Congratulations to Jackie Dupuis: Jackie won ‘Runner-up travel story 2011’ with her short story “Captive in Cuba.” To read all about it, click here.

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GLBT Writers Group: You are invited to join our intimate little group of supportive writers on Linkedin. Let us know what you have written, or are currently writing, and get feedback on a variety of questions—including excerpts. Drop by for a look-see: GLBT Writers Group.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      

Thanks for dropping by!

January 22, 2012 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical period, non-GLBT | 4 Comments

Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky, by Gerry Burnie

Note: A busy week of promoting my new novel, Nor All Thy Tears, has put me behind in my reading for this week’s review, and since I want to do the featured novel justice I have decided to display some of the reviews that have been received so far. Thanks for your indulgence.

Story blurb: Love, obsession, treachery, murder, and finally solace under the northern lights of Big Prairie Sky Country, Saskatchewan.

Sheldon Cartwright is a young, exceptionally handsome and gifted politician with a beautiful wife and two charming children. His career is also in ascendance, and given all that the sky seems the only limit to this talented, blue-eyed lad.

However, Cartwright also has a hidden past that one day bursts onto the front page of a tabloid newspaper with the publication of his nude photograph. Moreover, the inside story alleges that he was once a high-end male prostitute with a romantic connection to an ex-con whose body has been found mutilated beyond recognition in a burned-out apartment–the suspected victim of a blackmail attempt gone wrong.

Enter a homophobic cop who is willing to go to any lengths to tie Cartwright into the crime, simply because he is young, handsome and well-educated. With his career in a crisis, and his personal life as well, Cartwright is unexpectedly joined by an ally in Colin Scrubbs, a ruggedly handsome rancher from Saskatchewan. But can they salvage Cartwright’s career from the brink?

*Now available on Amazon.co.uk.

***

Review by Avery Lighthouse [This review first appeared on Amazon.com].

Having read Gerry Burnie’s first novel “Two Irish Lads,” a charming story of love set in the 19th-century wilderness of Upper Canada, his latest, Nor all Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky, was quite a surprise to me, but it certainly attests to the remarkable versatility of this author.

The story involves the rise and near fall of Sheldon Cartwright, a `Monday’s + Tuesday’s child’ for certain–i.e. fair of face and grace. It begins at the zenith of his political career, fresh from besting the prime minister on national television, and being considered for the leadership of his political party at the relatively young age of twenty-eight. However, the discovery of a mutilated body and a provocative photograph are about to cast a shadow over him. This photograph, a nude image of him at age sixteen, then comes into the possession of a homophobic cop with a loathing for “faggots,” as well as younger, successful men with higher educations—both of which apply to Cartwright.

The story then reverts to Cartwright’s early childhood in the remote farming community of Pefferlaw (a real place by the way–as are most places mentioned in the story), and his loving relationship with his mentoring mother. This is a really charming segment of the story, reminiscent of Burnie’s first novel, and for anyone growing up in the 1950s and 60s it is a wonderfully nostalgic time as well. In this part we also learn of his sacred vow to his mother, and of his first encounter with the psychotic and violent Trace Colborn–a real “nasty” if ever I’ve read of one.

The next segment takes him to 1960s Toronto as a university student, struggling to balance academic demands with a late night job at the White Chef Restaurant—a notorious hangout for young male hustlers. It is here that Trace Colborn re-enters Sheldon’s life, and like J. Worthington Foulfellow [“Pinocchio”], Colborn tempts Sheldon with visions of an easy life that Colborn can arrange. Desperately driven to achieve a university education Sheldon naively agrees, and he is then introduced to a “Papa Duck” (the equivalent of a madam in male prostitution circles) who operates a secretive “call boy” service for high-end clients. This leads to Sheldon’s meeting with Edward Deere, a multi-millionaire, who is moved to take him under his wing as a protégé and lover–albeit a paid one.

In the meantime Sheldon meets Susan Koehler, the daughter of a wealth Rosedale matron, and before long Sheldon has fallen in love. However, although they have secretly decided to get married after graduation, he must maintain his other life in order to fulfill his sacred vow to his mother—i.e. to complete his education. He is therefore forced to walk a thin line between his two disparate worlds–e.g. juggling separate relationships with a wealthy patron, a handsome younger lover (Kevin Smyth), the psychotically possessive Colborn, and a full-time girlfriend.

The third stage finds him married to Susan with two charming children, and living the typically suburban life of a young family man in the early 1970s. He has become fairly well-connected too, and this leads to an invitation to stand for election as the Member of “St-Bartholomew-on-the-Hill” (I love that name!), which he wins “on the strength of his boyish good looks and wholesome family-man image as much as anything else.”[2]The story then seamlessly carries on from where it left off in part one, and in this third part we get to meet Colin Scrubbs, the ruggedly handsome Member of Parliament from Saskatchewan, who at first bonds Platonically with Sheldon, but inevitably their bonds deepen into an affair of heart. Nevertheless, Sheldon staunchly chooses to honour his vow to Susan.

It is then that all the elements begin to converge when the damning photograph is released to a tabloid newspaper, and the whirlwind of political and personal scandal touches down to engulf Cartwright with almost devastating effect.

It should be noted that I have purposefully left out several events that would otherwise be spoilers if included; however, this story has it all elements of a good thriller: Humour, pathos, homoerotic sex (both gentle and violent), vengeance, betrayal and murder. Having said that, the author never goes over the top with any of these, and although there is plenty happening at any given time, the storyline never falters at any point from beginning to end. It is, in fact, a masterful balance of control and flow that makes it both exciting and easy to read at the same time.

This is a most worthy piece of literature, equal in some ways to “Catcher in the Rye,” and it is one that riveted my attention from the first line to the last.

****

Review by Scotty Henderson [This review originally appeared on Amazon.com

Quite simply this is a great story that captured my interest from the first line and held it there to the last word. It has everything: great characters, a page-tuner plot, superbly written narrative, and a really romantic ending. I especially liked Lisa and Wally (Sheldon’s children). They added both humor and warmth to a pretty dramatic story, overall. There were also some tear-jerker moments, but it would be a spoiler I mentioned what they were. You’ll have to read it for yourself. Do that, because you won’t be sorry.

****

Review by J. Fraley “Trailboss “Trailboss” [This review originally appeared on Amazon.com].

After having already read Mr. Burnie’s “Two Irish Lads” and finding it an excellent read, I was hoping for at least its equal or better. I was not disappointed. Even better. This story was great.
Nor All Thy tears delivers!! A believeable story from the beginning, it’s filled with drama, intrigue, and suspense, all the while delivering a glimpse into Canadian life and government.
This story moved at a good pace and each scene set way for the next. I was compelled to read without putting it down. And the story continued strong until the end. An excellent novel of love, passion and relationships in a dramatic setting. Two thumbs up!!

News

Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 13,233

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Vist my new Gerry Burnie Author’s Page, on Amazon.com.

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Calling all Canadian authors of gay content novels. I would really love to review your stories, and also add your title to my Goodreads “Best Gay Canadian Novels” list. Contact me, or submit your novel in PDF format to: gerry@gerryburniebooks.com.

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 Both “Nor All Thy Tears” and “Two Irish Lads” are now available in Nook and Kindle formats. The publisher’s price is $4.95; however this price may vary from retailer to retailer.

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 To order any of my books click on the individual covers below.

Thanks for dropping by!!

September 10, 2011 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, gay politician, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Homoerotic, M/F/M bisexua;, Male bisexual, Toronto history | Leave a comment

The Jolly Lobster, by Robin Anderson-Forbes

A most worthy debut novel

Story blurb: The Jolly Lobster is a very gay adventure featuring rum runners, speakeasies, brothels, and love in Halifax during Prohibition. It’s the summer of 1920 and Ed Stevenson, is lost and flat broke in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Fortunately for Ed, his lover Charles Sinclair, who had served with him during the war, has been searching for him in all the local juice joints, speakeasies and blind pigs. Reunited, the two prepare to embark on the new life together they planned during their time in the trenches. Little did Ed know that in order to earn a living, he’d end up working in a speakeasy; but this was not any old speakeasy, this was The Jolly Lobster. The Jolly Lobster was one of the more popular speakeasies in Halifax, catering to all types and run by two lovable women trying to make ends meet; Dorothy and her large lover, Rose. Dock workers, fishermen, university students, and colourful men and women of the homosexual persuasion all mixed and mingled at The Jolly Lobster, in order to sate their thirst for rum, whiskey, suds, to have a bowl of The Jolly Lobster’s famous lobster chowder and to partake in the many pleasures that awaited them in the rooms upstairs. They also came for the music provided by the beautiful and talented Bobbie Smith, a mean fiddle player who loves to dress in the fashion of the flapper, play bawdy songs on her fiddle and also play with the men upstairs in the brothel. All in all, The Jolly Lobster is a close little family type business; and like all family businesses there’s bound to be a few secrets and intrigues; which there are, and in plentiful supply. And given that they’re in the booze business during Prohibition they find their little operation having to stay one step ahead of the law and a few more steps ahead of the competition. The Jolly Lobster’s chief competitor is a banished crime boss from Montreal, by the name of Pierre Dumont, whose instructions are to take over the booze business in Halifax. Dumont executes his instructions ruthlessly and soon takes over most of the joints in Halifax in short order. The Jolly Lobster and its family are made of tougher stuff though and it takes all of Dumont’s cunning, to bring about their downfall. This he attempts to do with the help of a willing traitor or traitors, a Temperance Inspector with a past connection to Dorothy, Rose and Bobbie; and several murders just to make his point. Things begin to look quite grim for the hard working boys and ladies of The Jolly Lobster; it’s going to take an army to get rid of Dumont and his gang. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of volunteers.

*available in eBook format: 608 KB

About the author: Robin Anderson-Forbes was born and raised on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. After visiting Nova Scotia, he and his husband were so entranced with the province, they moved there along with their cat into a big old house. The Jolly Lobster is Robin’s first novel.

***

 Review by Gerry Burnie

Recently I did a search of fellow Canadian, gay fiction writers, and was pleased to see there were a goodly number of published authors out there. Among them is Robin Anderson-Forbes, whose debut novel “The Jolly Lobster” caught my eye straight away.

One of the longest ‘droughts’ in Canadian history lasted from about 1900 to 1930, when prohibition parched the land. It started as primarily a women’s movement in the 1870s—i.e. the Women’s Christian Temperance Union—and achieved nationwide effect by the 1920s. It wasn’t a total ban, however, for booze could be sold through the government for, “industrial, scientific, mechanical, artistic and medical uses,” and needless to say there was a rather high incidence of sickness during this period—particularly around Christmas time.

It also spawned some lucrative business opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs who turned their homes, basements, garages, etc. into “speakeasies” (currently known as “after-hours clubs,” or “booze cans” … so I’m told!) And this brings us around to one such speakeasy, “The Jolly Lobster.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for East Coast stories. They have a warm, folksy feel about them, reflecting a down-to-earth culture that still exists in some of the outports today, and which Anderson-Forbes has captured delightfully well in Rose and Dorothy, as well as the twins, Roger and Rupert. In fact all of the ‘good-guy’ characters are likable (to varying degrees), and therefore it is quite easy to invest in them—a connection that is absolutely crucial in a good-guy v. bad-guy story like this.

Although I’m not an authority on this topic, I think the sub-culture of 1920s’ speakeasies is fairly portrayed as well. Certainly there was a remarkable degree of ingenuity that went into circumventing what amounted to an unrealistic, special-interest-sponsored law, and the hardy, self-reliant “Bluenosers” were every bit equal to the task. So I can well imagine that there were quite a few underground establishments like The Jolly Lobster in Halifax in the 1920s.

As for the prostitution, especially male prostitutes, I think may be a bit over the top. On the other hand, I can recall being on a college outing with about 70 fellow-students to Nova Scotia, and we were inadvertently billeted at an out-of-the-way hotel that doubled as a brothel. So anything is possible.

Critically speaking, when I first began reading I thought I had started in the middle of the story. Suddenly there were all these characters—some with connections that went back before the story began—and so it was a bit overwhelming for a while. This settled down by the second chapter, but the opening could have benefited by a more gradual introduction.

Pace-wise the story moves along quite smoothly, but there are inconsistencies—“leaps of faith,” I call them, because the plot twists either arise abruptly, or too conveniently for a seamless delivery.

However, altogether I found it a charming story with likable characters and a gratifying ending. A very worthy debut. Four stars.

News

Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky is now #3 of 63,979 on the Barnes and Noble “Romantic Fiction” (general) list! I am also happy to state the Amazon-Canada has now listed it as “available”; however, at the same time it has neglected in include a product description. Therefore, here it is:

Love, obsession, treachery, murder, and finally solace under the northern lights of Big Prairie Sky Country, Saskatchewan
Sheldon Cartwright is a young, exceptionally handsome and gifted politician with a beautiful wife and two charming children. His career is also in ascendance, and given all that the sky seems the only limit to this talented, blue-eyed lad. However, Cartwright also has a hidden past that one day bursts onto the front page of a tabloid newspaper with the publication of his nude photograph. Moreover, the inside story alleges that he was once a high-end male prostitute with a romantic connection to an ex-con whose body has been found mutilated beyond recognition in a burned-out apartment—the suspected victim of a blackmail attempt gone wrong. Enter a homophobic cop who is willing to go to any lengths to tie Cartwright into the crime, simply because he is young, handsome and well-educated. With his career in a crisis, and his personal life as well, Cartwright is unexpectedly joined by an ally in Colin Scrubbs, a ruggedly handsome rancher from Saskatchewan. But can they salvage Cartwright’s career from the brink?
***
To order a copy Nor All Thy Tears or an any of my books, click on the individual cover below:
Visitor count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews: 12,715
Thanks for dropping by!

August 21, 2011 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period | Leave a comment

Secrets of Lake Simcoe: Fascinating Stories From Ontario’s Past, by Andrew Hind & Maria Da Silva

This is Canadian history that needs to be preserved as part of our culture and heritage. Three stars.

Blurb: A lively book illustrated with archival photos, Secrets of Lake Simcoe is a valuable addition to local history collections and provides a refreshing way for anyone to view what some consider to be Canada’s sixth Great Lake. At the heart of central Ontario, Lake Simcoe has played an important role in the province’s history for hundreds of years. Today a popular destination for pleasure-seekers and cottagers, it helped open up the region to explorers and fur traders, settlers and entrepreneurs. The lake has secrets aplenty and this book offers a selection of stories of dramatic episodes from the lake’s past. There are shipwrecks, stately resorts, vanished industries, forgotten forts and even murder most foul.

About the authors: MARIA DA SILVA has always had a passion for history and ghost stories. ANDREW HIND is a freelance writer who lives in Bradford, Ontario. They are co-authors of several other titles in the Amazing Stories series, most recently Rebels Against Tories in Upper Canada 1837.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

*This is not a GLBT book.

Having grown up and spent most of my entire seventy-three years around Lake Simcoe, Secrets of Lake Simcoe: Fascinating Stories From Ontario’s Past by Andrew Hind and Maria Da Silva touches a nostalgic part of my heart.

As the authors point out, Lake Simcoe is an ancient lake—being the remnant of a giant inland sea that once covered the area—it has figured into nearly every aspect of eastern Canada’s history; from Pre-European times to the present. It is also known worldwide as a tourist destination for vacationers and anglers—being dubbed the “Ice Fishing Capital of the World.”

In an attempt to make it more palatable for the average reader, Hind a Da Silva have taken an anecdotal approach to the history; an approach I agree with to a certain point [a discussion on this point later]. They have therefore avoided the “great blight of academia” by giving the characters and events some personality and colour. History, after all, isn’t merely the dusty facts, figure and dates that most scholars would have us believe. Moreover, even the all-too-often named players (kings, politicians, generals and such) had some interesting quirks about them.[1] For example, John A. MacDonald had the parliamentary pages all trained to bring him a tumbler full of gin in the House of Commons, because it most resembled water.

**

And now to the book: There are fourteen different topics covered, in more-or-less chronological order, from “Fort Willow and the Nine Mile Portage,” c.1812, to “The Briars Resort and Spa, 1977.[2] Fort Willow was a revelation to me. I am well acquainted with the official version of the 1812 war, of course, but not the part that gravitated north to Georgian Bay. So for day-trippers this fort may make an interesting outing—see Secrets of Lake Simcoe for the location.

The Ghost Canal” might also prove interesting for folks visiting the Newmarket-Holland Landing area, where the evidence of this canal is still quite visible. It would be a great way to get the kids interested in history, and Ontario history in particular.

Not all Victorian characters were paragons of virtue (not even the Old Queen herself), and “A Real Rogue: Joseph Anderton” was a prime example of roguery. Moreover, he was also the (now) City of Barrie’s first mayor, and so you can draw your own conclusions on that. Oh, and like modern politicians, he got away with it.

And then, there is “Murder Most Foul in Morning Glory.” As I mentioned above, anecdotal history is fine provided that the facts are more-or-less correct. However, in reference to the so-called “Morning Glory murders,” I take issue with some of the stated facts.

To state my case, my great grandfather, James Burnie, owned and operated the Morning Glory Inn from c.1863 to c.1870. In fact, my grandfather, Alfred Burnie, was born at the Inn in 1869. William Sager acquired it after this, and only operated it until is burned c.1872-73. From childhood discussions with my grandfather, prior to his death in 1949, I was aware of the “murders” well before the discovery of the bones in 1971.[3] Moreover, his version of the couple’s disappearance was very different from the one related here. However, that is perhaps understandable since both versions are based on hearsay.

Apart from the foregoing, to the best of my knowledge there was never a “hamlet” named Morning Glory in the area. Certainly there is none marked on the attached map dated c. 1878[4] [see map]. The property surrounding the Morning Glory Inn was a formidable swamp; the properties to the west and south were all farmlands, and there were no “businesses” per se—in particular no “general store” or “a sawmill situated on the nearby creek.” There was a brick yard near Virginia, but it was operated by A.E. “Ted” Arnold.

Unfortunately this lowers the book’s rating from a four or five-star classification to a three, but I still want to recommend this collection of historical anecdotes for the rest of it. This is Canadian history that needs to be preserved as part of our culture and heritage. Three stars.


[1] See my discussion “Canada has a colourful and interesting history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered,” http://www.gerryburniebooks.com.

[2] The Briars estate was originally built in 1840, but the resort and spa dates from 1970s.

[3] I was privileged to see the bones before they were sent to Toronto, and what I recall is that the man’s femur bone came well above my knee. Ergo he must have been an exceptionally tall man.

[4] Illustrated Historical Atlas of York County, Toronto: Miles and Co., 1878.

News

The manuscript for Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big Sky goes to the publisher Monday. It has been three years in the making, and so it is a very satisfying time indeed. It has also taken me about ten years to learn how to create a composite photo using Photoshop. The cover design to the left is the result. The publisher was originally scheduled to design the cover, but I was concerned that their image of the main characters might not be the same as mine. These two lads are as close as I could come using stock photos. They were acquired from CanStock, which has the best collection I have found to date. The book should be ready for lat July, 2011.

Two Irish Lads is also scheduled to be released in e-book format in July. Amazon has quoted me a price of $350 – $375 to convert the ms to Kindle format. Why, I don`t know. It`s their exclusive format, and so it means more sales for them. However, Maple Creek Media has a price of $149 which includes a Nook formating as well. It also includes sumitting the finished product to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They also have a very good publishing offer, so you might be interested in checking them out.

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Visitor count to Gerry B`s Book Reviews: 11,459

June 26, 2011 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Two Irish Lads , by Gerry Burnie

Note: A tribute to St. Patrick’s Day. This review by Mark Probst originally appeared in Speak its Name, April 15, 2009.

 

 

two irish lads - final - medStory blurb: Two Irish Lads is a pioneer story with a difference. It is at once a carefully-researched depiction of pioneer life in the early part of the nineteenth century, and also a love story of two men who might have lived during such a challenging time.

Sean and Patrick McConaghy are two young cousins who set sail from Ireland one St. Patrick’s Day in 1820, and after a long and eventful crossing of the Atlantic, they tackle the mighty St. Lawrence River with a band of rugged voyageurs to eventually settle in the wilderness of Upper Canada.

Here they are not only confronted by the daunting task of carving a homestead out of the vast primeval forest, but also the ever-present danger of living as a devoted couple in a world where the possibilities of humiliation and death stalked them at every turn if their secret should ever be discovered.

It is a tale that also encompasses mystery, tragedy, brawling, humour and pathos, and altogether it will have you turning pages to discover what is about to happen next.

About the author: Gerry Burnie is a dedicated Canadian author, best known for his historical fictions, Two Irish Ladsand Nor All Thy Tears: Journey to Big SkyNow retired, he has had a long and varied career. For twenty-five years prior to his retirement, he lectured on the topics of political science and law, and then turned his interest to history for a further five years. In addition, he has been an actor, singer, dancer, artist and a municipal politician at various times in his life.

♣♣♣

Review by Mark Probst – Author of “The Filly

Gerry Burnie’s Two Irish Lads is a quaint tale of second cousins Sean and Patrick McConaghy who migrate to Canada from their homeland of Ireland in the year 1820. With their life’s savings they intended to buy some land in “upper Canada” (the area now known as Ontario) and make a good life as farmers with the hope of prosperity.

Once they arrive they visit the land office and select a choice piece of property. With a few supplies and a tent, they take on the task of clearing the land, hoping to build a shelter before winter. The two lads eventually realize they are in love. One of the settlement’s wealthy leaders, Nealon, takes them under his wing, giving them advice, arranging a cabin-raising for them, and even getting Sean a job as a schoolmaster. It is soon revealed that he has an ulterior motive in that he hopes they might marry his two daughters.

There are a few harsh realities through which they must persevere, before all the dust settles, but I won’t spoil it by revealing any more.

The story is written in the style of Sean’s daily journal. While the first few chapters do indeed read like an authentic journal, thankfully Burnie then shifts to more of a first-person narrative than how a real journal would read, but that is simply to accommodate the storytelling process.

Burnie’s knowledge and research shine through in that the story beautifully describes 19th century Irish customs and decorum. He even uses a few Gaelic phrases, always with translation, and the dialog sounds so right you can practically hear the Irish brogue.

I thought the characters were well-developed and exuded a great deal of charm. Sean was the leader and sensible one, whereas the younger Patrick was more carefree and daring. While he yearned to be able to be open and proclaim his “secret love” to the world, he deferred to Sean’s wisdom and together they balanced each other out. The details of frontier life were also well researched, and the descriptions were vivid enough to give us a good picture of the landscapes and the settlements.

My quibbles are minor – I’d have liked to see more of Sean actually teaching the children, and I felt there were a few times some of the characters were just a little too perky for my taste.

I really enjoyed Two Irish Lads. It suits my personal taste of an upbeat depiction of frontier life, and I especially like stories where people come together to help each other and fight against the evils that threaten them. I look forward to reading more from this gifted author.

♣♣♣

If you would like to learn more about my other books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

                

 

March 12, 2011 Posted by | Canadian author, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Canadian Irish tradition, Coming out, Fiction, gay cousins, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay Literature, gay pioneer christmas, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, Homesteading in Canada, Irish, Irish pioneers in Canada, Irish romance, M/M love and adventure, Sea voyage from Ireland | 1 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

Christmas in Ontario: Heartwarming Legends, Tales, and Traditions, by Cheryl MacDonald

It’s sure to get you into the Christmas spirit

 

 

 

Story blurb: “Every year, he put on the red Santa suit. Every year, there were more sick and needy children to attend to. And every year, as word of his activity spread, Jimmy [Lomax] collected more money and gifts to distribute.” This book will be especially fascinating for all readers interested in history and human interest stories. Christmas is a time for celebrating with friends and family and for sharing stories, memories, and good cheer. This compilation brings to life the very best holiday stories from across Ontario. From the early days of exploration to the modern day, and from heartwarming inspirational tales to dangerous escapades, this is a collection to treasure for many years to come.

About the author: Cheryl MacDonald has been writing on historical topics for nearly 30 years. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines, including The Beaver and Maclean’s, and she has written a number of books, mostly relating various aspects of southern Ontario history.

Cheryl holds history degrees from the University of Waterloo and McMaster University and is currently pursuing graduate studies. A grandmother of two, she lives on a large rural property close to Lake Erie and about 90 minutes west of Niagara Falls.

 

 Review by Gerry Burnie

Christmas is about cherished memories and traditions, and while Canada has no unique Christmas traditions, per se, it does have a long history of events and experiences that are unique in their own way. “Christmas in Ontario by Cheryl MacDonald [Altitude Press: Amazing Stories Series, 2004] is a collection of these heart-warming stories which can be shared by the whole family. For example:

“On Christmas Eve 1668, a 14-year-old girl lay fighting for her life at La Jeune Lorette, near Quebec City. Théresèse was a member of the Huron, a nation that had been pushed out of their traditional homelands near eastern Georgian Bay by the Iroquois. To comfort herself, as well as to mark the approaching holiday, she sang Jesous Ahatonhia, a carol which described the birth of Christ in a setting that closely resembled the Ontario wilderness.

“While there is no definite proof, traditional accounts claim the carol was written by Father Jean de Brébeuf (1593-1649). A French missionary, Brébeuf was a skilled linguist who eventually wrote a Huron grammar and dictionary, so it is highly plausible that he translated the Christmas story into the Huron language.”

Jean de Brébeuf was martyred at Ste.Marie Among the Hurons, a Jesuit mission on the shores of Georgian Bay on March 16, 1649, making Jesous Ahatonhia, or “The Huron Carol” the oldest carol written in North America.

Another early recollection comes from Catharine Parr Trail who, reluctant to part with her sister at the end of Christmas Day, she accompanied her home through the woods around Peterborough, Ontario, (c. 1830s) and recorded the event as follows:

”Just as we were issuing forth for our moonlight drive through the woods, our ears were saluted by a merry peal of sleigh bells, and a loud hurrah greeted our homely turn-out, as a party of lively boys and girls, crammed into a smart painted cutter, rushed past at full speed. They were returning from a Christmas merry-making at a neighbour’s house, where they too had been enjoying a happy Christmas, and long the still woods echoed with the gay tones of their voices, and the clear jingle of their merry bells, as a bend in the river-road, brought back on the breeze to our ears.”

One of my favourites took place at a German prisoner of war camp, in 1917. Shortly before Christmas, the prisoners received an invitation to a Christmas party.

“At the time they were skeptical—after three years surrounded by barbed wire and bayonets, they had little reason to trust their captors. But more fromcuriosity then anything else, they accepted the invitation.

When they awoke on Christmas morning, two surprises greeted them. First, all the guards were unarmed. And secondly, right in front of the guardhouse was a huge Christmas tree, dripping with tinsel and dozens of presents.The prisoners were asked to gather round the tree Then the camp commandant spoke, telling the men how much he regretted that war had taken them so far away from home and family at Christmas, and how he hoped that the gulf between the two warring nations would eventually disappear after peace.”

Then a small gramophone began playing “Silent Night” and the commandant commenced to remove small presents from the tree, passing them out to each man.

If you are looking to get into the Christmas spirit this year, this collection of “heartwarming legends, tales, and traditions” has the right ingredients.

Anyone remember the “Cabbage-Patch Kid” craze?

December 19, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction | 1 Comment

Convoys of World War II: Dangerous Missions on the North Atlantic, by Dorothy Pedersen

Canada’s almost forgotten navy

Non-fiction works of this nature are not star-rated.

Book blurb: Nine men tell their personal stories of life at sea during World War II. In extreme danger, they battled seasickness, injury, and less than comfortable living conditions while avoiding floating mines and torpedoes in their efforts to guide ships safely across the Atlantic Ocean.

About the author: When she was six years old, Dorothy Pedersen obtained a copy of Charlotte’s Web from the Clydebank Public Library, in Clydebank, Scotland. By the time she was finished the book she knew she wanted to be a writer. She came to Canada in 1964 where, alas, school teachers discouraged her from pursuing writing as a career. After an assortment of jobs she trained in equine studies and horsemanship, worked for the horse industry for a period of time, and continues to this day to write about it. Dorothy enjoys designing and creating handknits and crocheted garments, and is an animal rights supporter, and boxing fan.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

Within hours of Canada’s declaration of war on September 10, 1939, the Canadian government passed laws to create the Canadian Merchant Navy to provide a workforce for wartime shipping. The Canadian Merchant Navy played a major role in the Battle of the Atlantic bolstering the allies merchant fleet due to high losses in the British Merchant Navy. Eventually thousands of Canadians served aboard hundreds of Canadian Merchant Navy ships.

That is what most history books have to say about it, but what was it like aboard one of these ships? In her prologue to Convoys of World War II: Dangerous Missions on the North Atlantic[Amazing Stories series, Altitude Press, 2007], Dorothy Pedersen gives us a glimpse us a glimpse as follows:

“’Torpedo ahead,’ the lookout yelled.

With thudding hearts, a pair of Canadian sailors watched the torpedo skim the water in front of their corvette. It was racing straight for the tanker—one of the 35 ships in their convoy and only a hundred metres away. With a deafening impact, the shock of the explosion almost blew the sailors off their ship.

“The tanker’s cargo of fuel, destined for the Allies’ war efforts in Europe, spewed into the ocean and ignited into a hissing, spitting, roaring fireball. As the tanker burned, the horrified witnesses heard only weak cries. After a short time, these too were drowned out by the thunder of the angry fire. The sailors knew there was no point in the convoy’s rescue ship sticking around.

“Escorted by armed navy vessels, the convoy of Canadian and British merchant ships raced onward, trying to put distance between them and the visible and invisible dangers of the North Atlantic. Despite the reputed safety of the pack, another of their ships was stricken quickly. Lifeboats had been lowered but some sailors barely had time to grab a life ring before hitting the frigid water. The rescue ship was ordered to stay for them as the rest of the convoy again sailed on.

“Choppy seas made the rescue agonizingly slow and difficult. Scramble nets were thrown over the side of the rescue ship for the desperate men to haul themselves aboard. Half an hour later, only a few men and boys had been saved. Many more were losing the fight with the frigid water.

“Then the order came that was even more chilling; “Abandon the rescue.” Once again under attack, the convoy had signaled for help. The rescue ship revved up its engines.

“In the ocean, the weakening hearts of the remaining sailors sank alongside their ship.”

Nature itself could also be unforgiving, as one young sailor recorded in his diary:

“What a miserable, rotten hopeless life . . . an Atlantic so rough it seems impossible that we can continue to take this unending pounding and still remain in one piece . . . hanging onto a convoy is a full-time job . . . the crew in almost a stupor from the nightmarishness of it all . . . and still we go on hour after hour.”–Frank Curry, Royal Canadian Navy, 1941 during the Battle of the Atlantic, a battle that would be called the longest in history.

Although Canada’s Merchant Navy is grouped in with the British Commonwealth’s, it is estimated that the Commonwealth merchant navies suffered 30,000 casualties from 1939 – 1945—most of those in the Battle of the Atlantic. Even so, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the merchant navy finally got recognition for their contribution to the war effort. “We really were the forgotten veterans of the unknown navy,” Earl Wagner is quoted as saying (p.68).

*September 3rd is “Merchant Navy Remembranch Day.”

Dorothy Pedersen has done as masterful job of bringing this history to our attention, and I highly recommend “Convoys of World War II” as an interesting and informative read.

This is part of my Remembrance Day tribute. A new memorywill be added each day until November 11th. Lest we forget!

November 10, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | Leave a comment

Valour At Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I, by Tom Douglas

They said that it couldn’t be done…

Non-fiction works of this kind are not star-rated

A defining moment in Canadian military history. A much-needed Allied victory. A show of valour and heroism. The battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 saw Canadian troops storm a strategic 14-kilometre long escarpment that was believed to be impregnable. This was the first time in the nation’s history that a corps-sized formation fought together as a unit under its own meticulous planning. Canadian troops persevered under heavy fire to take the ridge, demonstrating incredible discipline and bravery. The battle became a symbol of sacrifice for the young nation and a turning point in its role in the global theatre of war.

Amazing Stories Series–Altitude Press, 2007

Tom Douglas, an award-winning journalist and author, lives in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Gail, also an author in the Amazing Stories series. Tom’s father, Sgt. H.M. (Mel) Douglas, was part of the Invasion Force that stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Tom is a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, worked as a Communications Advisor for Veterans Affairs Canada, and has written speeches for the Minister of National Defence. Recently, he self-published a book, Some Sunny Day about his family’s experiences in Northern Ontario following his father’s return from World War II.

Review by Gerry Burnie

They said it couldn’t be done, and thousands of French and English had tried it, but four battalions of Canadians succeeded; not without 10,602 Canadian casualties, including 3,598 fatalities, however.

It was known as the “Great War,” and “The war to end all wars,” but history has proven that World War I was not the war that ended all wars. What it was, was a bitter, bloody conflict with over 15 million (combatants and civilians) killed, and 22 million wounded between July 28, 1914 and November 11, 1918.

This conflagration started with the assassination of an obscure prince, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, which led to posturing between two, now forgotten states—Austro-Hungary and Serbia. Serbia’s ally, Russia, then began to assemble troops, which brought in Germany as ally to Austro-Hungary. England and France then came to the aid of Russia, and this automatically brought Canada—as a dominion of England—into the fray.

Nevertheless, a nationalist fervour gripped Canada to aid the “Mother Land,” even though the militia numbered just over 3,000—and volunteers poured into recruiting stations so that by September of 1914, more than 30,000 set sail for England; making it the largest convoy to cross the Atlantic.

However, these patriotic young men who had dreamed of glory in a far off land soon learned that they had been sold a bill of goods, and that there was nothing glorious about existing like an animal in filthy, disease-ridden trenches that scarred the landscape, or seeing your friend—or lover—blown to bits by an enemy mortar shell.

Indeed, the recruiting posters showing clean-cut lads in freshly pressed uniforms sipping wine at outdoor cafés in Paris didn’t contain any scenes of a corpse-strewn no-man’s land—that stretch of barren ground that separated the trenches between the two opposing sides. “Nor were there any close-ups of a diseased rat crawling over your face as you tried to grab a few hours’ sleep before having to go “over the top” to raid the enemy trench just a few metres away from yours.”

“No mention of German snipers waiting for you to emerge from the relative safety of a muddy shell hole so that he could blow your head off. No depiction of life in the trenches, where foot rot, lice, and the stench of death were your constant companions,”

Vimy Ridge was a promontory near the River Aisne where, after a failed attempt to take Paris, the Germans were ordered to dig in to protect themselves. When the allies realized that the German trenches were a formidable obstacle, they dug in as well.

“After a few months the opposing trenches stretched from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier. For the next three years, neither side was able to advance more than a few kilometres along the line that came to be known as the Western Front. But living conditions in what amounted to little more than deep ditches wasn’t anything like the cozy bungalows or college dorms or rural family homesteads the young Canadians had left behind.”

Life in the Trenches

As part of this introduction to the battle, Author Tom Douglas describes the conditions:

“[N]o story about World War I—and in particular the magnificent achievement of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge—would be complete without a basic understanding of these inhuman and seemingly insurmountable obstacles that had to be overcome on the road to victory.

“The excavations along the Western Front were built in threes—the front line, support, and reserve trenches. This trio of long, snake-like ditches covered between 220 and 550 metres of ground from front to back and could wind for several kilometres across the terrain parallel to the enemy fortifications.”

“Running perpendicular to these channels were communication trenches for fresh troops, equipment, and supplies to move up the line and wounded soldiers to be taken to the rear.”

The trench was too deep to allow its occupants to be seen over the top, so a small ledge called a fire-step was added. The soldiers would crouch down on this protrusion, then pop up to take potshots at the enemy before ducking down quickly to avoid having their heads blown off by a camouflaged sniper who’d been lying motionless for hours in no man’s land.”

“The front-line trenches were protected by gigantic bales of barbed wire placed far enough forward to prevent the enemy from getting within grenade-lobbing distance. So impenetrable and tangled were these obstacles that they acted like the steel web of a monstrous spider, impaling any hapless soldier who came close enough to get tangled in the trap. Before a battle troops would be sent out with wire cutters to chop a path through the razor-sharp wire. It was one of the more hazardous duties to perform because of those ever-present snipers.”

 To make matters more difficult the Germans occupied the high ground, forcing the attacking allies to charge uphill while loaded down with weapons and equipment. Moreover, the allies—French, British and Canadians—were only a few feet above sea level, and would frequently find themselves standing ankle deep in water.

“Waterlogged trenches meant wet feet for days and weeks on end—and wet feet led to frostbite or the dreaded trench foot that, if left untreated, could result in amputation.”

“Dysentery was another killer that accounted for thousands of death in the trenches. Needless to say, sanitary conditions in these waterlogged ditches were appalling. Latrines were dug behind the lines, but these soon filled up and spilled into the trenches. In addition, many of those excavations had been dug in areas were corpses from earlier battles had been hastily buried, and the decaying bodies were another source of deadly germs.”

“A steady diet of canned beef, mouldy biscuits, boiled sweets, and coffee made from ground turnips left the men susceptible to boils, scabies, and other skin eruptions.”

As the author points out, a great number of soldiers suffered from mental illness after weeks and months of living under such conditions. The term “shell shock” was coined to describe this condition, but many officers and even doctors refused this as a reason to remove the victims from the battle front.

“The rallying cry “for king and country” soon took on a cynical overtone.”

The Author then goes on to document the charge up Vimy Ridge from the personal perspective of the soldiers and officers who took part; many of them being awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery—some posthumously.

At this time of remembrance, this is Canadian history that should not—cannot be forgotten. If a country’s history forms its heritage, then this is what we are all about.

This is my Remembrance Day tribute. A new memorywill be added every day until November 11th. Lest we forget!

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Military history, Non-fiction | 5 Comments

Voyageurs, by Keira Andrews

Manly love in a manly setting

 

 
Jack Cavendish needs to get to his station at Fort Charlotte, a fur-trading outpost in Grand Portage, Upper Canada. The fort is only accessible by canoe, and there’s just one man willing to take him on the perilous, thousand-mile journey from Montreal this late in the summer. Young Christian Smith, the son of an Ojibwe mother and absent British father, needs the money to strike out on his own, so he agrees to take Jack deep into the wild.

As they travel endless lakes and rivers, at times having to carry the canoe over land, the arduous expedition takes its toll. Yet the attraction between Jack and Christian, two men from vastly different worlds, grows ever stronger. Locked in a battle against the wilderness and elements, how long can they fight their desire for each other?

This book is available in e-book and Kindle formats.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

Voyageurs, by Keira Andrews [Torquere Press, 2010], is one of a series called “Spice It Up” wherein each story features a different spice—in this story it is the clever uses of turmeric. Otherwise it is a period story (somewhat historical) set in the year 1793. I make the distinction because, apart from a few historical references—i.e. Upper Canada, the North West Company and the existence of Voyageurs, also coureur des bois—there is very little actual history that one can point to. I hasten to add, however, that the author does a very fine job of capturing the ruggedness experienced by adventurers of the time. It is also a very credible depiction of romance and love between two manly men in a primeval, wilderness setting.

Journalistically speaking the writing is very strong, and the plot is well thought out and progresses at a nice pace. It also unfolds logically so that the reader is never left to wonder how an element came about, or where a certain character came from. And speaking of characters, although they are understandably few in this story, the twoo protagonist are well-developed and credible. Jack’s evolution from a pampered Englishman to competent outdoorsman is believable, and Christian’s transformation from a resentful half-breed to accepting lover is equally credible.

What I would have liked to see, however, is more historical authenticity. For example, reference is made to “Grand Portage” being hypothetically located in Upper Canada, and the large lake they encounter suggests Lake Superior.  This implies that they were heading north/west from Montreal, but what route did they take? For Canadian readers, especially, this sort of inclusion would have greatly added to the story.

Once again I hasten to add that these are only minor quibbles that do not seriously detract from the romantic element of the story. Four stars.

Visit my new site: Stop the Bull, Gerry’s views

August 22, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction, Gay fiction, Historical period | 1 Comment

The Bishop’s Man, by Linden MacIntyre

An intriguing, sometimes disturbing story of one priest, and a peek behind the cloth.

 

 

Blurb: Father Duncan MacAskill is called The Exorcist. Not in the traditional sense, however: at his bishop’s bidding, he drives out devils of a different sort – priests who molest children. He does not banish the devils to hell, nor to the police, but to discreet clinics or simply to far-off parishes to commence their sins anew. MacAskill’s loathsome bishop has a heart of ice. He refuses to see abused children as victims. They are merely troublesome complainers who need to be silenced. The Exorcist is more sympathetic, but still he obeys the bishop. Despite his own celibacy and sobriety issues, MacAskill is the closest thing to a hero in Linden MacIntyre’s riveting new novel, The Bishop’s Man, a searing indictment of the Catholic church. MacAskill is sent to a rural parish in his native Cape Breton, which is also the author’s native land. There, while wrestling with his own demons, MacAskill encounters a troubled young man who appears to be the victim of a notorious priest. MacAskill is determined to help this man, regardless of the consequences for the church. His subsequent investigation takes him on a sordid and surprising path.

Winner of the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Linden MaIntyre was born and raised in Port Hastings, Nova Scotia. After high school, he moved to Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Francis Xavier University in 1964. He also studied at St. Mary’s University and the University of Kings College in Halifax. From 1964 to 1967 he worked for the Halifax Herald as a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. He continued in the same role with the Financial Times of Canada from 1967 to 1970. He was drawn back to Cape Breton after the death of his father in 1970 and for the next six years he lived there and worked as a correspondent for the Chronicle Herald.

He joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Halifax in 1976 and for three years he hosted a regional public affairs show called The MacIntyre File. It was while with this program that he launched a successful legal challenge before the Sipreme Court of Nova Scotia over access to affidavits and documents relating to search warrants. Later heard before the Supreme Court of Canada, the successful suit was a landmark case which set a precedent in support of public and media access to information in Canada.

In 1980, MacIntyre moved to Toronto, where he still resides, to work as a producer and journalist on CBC’s new flagship news program, The Journal. This appointment took him around the world preparing documentary reports on international affairs, preparing such notable features as “Dirty Sky, Dying Water” (about acid rain). Various jobs at the CBC through the eighties culminated in his appointment in 1990 as co-host of the weekly newsmagazine the fifth estate, with which he is still involved. In addition, he is a frequent guest host of The Current on CBC Radio One.

 

Review by Gerry Burnie

It has been said that priests, judges, etc., are “quite ordinary people charged with an extraordinary responsibility,” and The Bishop’s Man [Random House Canada, 2009] reflects this maxim in a most believable way. Indeed, it is almost an exposé of the ‘ordinariness’ of priests and, therefore, difficult to comprehend that it was written by a layman.

Some of the strong points of this story are the very interesting, complex and colourful cast of characters that populate it, i.e. the wily bishop – the quintessential ‘company man’; young Danny MacKay – the troubled teenager struggling with his sexuality and an uncertain future; Sextus Gilles – the not so happy-go-lucky, likeable rake; and Stella – Duncan MacAskill’s female friend and would-be romantic link. Each of them represents a segment of society confronting MacAskill’s isolated existence, and because of this each has an impact on him in a profound way.

Being an ‘East Coaster’ MacIntyre has also captured the outpost community of Creignish with delightful accuracy—the rustic quaintness of it, as well as the neighbourliness of the inhabitants. This includes, of course, an almost intimate knowledge of one another`s families going back several generations. However, no story about the East coast of Canada would be complete without it.

Having said that, the numerous flashbacks to MacAskill`s stint in Honduras were disruptive and even confusing at times. Moreover, apart from a reflection of the troubles in that part of the world in the 1970`s, I had difficulty understanding why these were even included. Albeit they were interesting enough, and not a major detraction from the overall story.

Altogether, I found The Bishops Man a thought-provoking story that compelled me to keep reading until all the intriguing plot lines had been resolved.

Enthusiastically recommended.

 

Progress on the rewrites to Coming of Age on the Trail – 163/170

July 25, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Fiction | 4 Comments

The Book of War Letters: 100 Years of Private Canadian Correspondence by Audrey and Paul Grescoe

Those who do not heed the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes…

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book of war lettersPublisher’s blurb: Duress – the extreme experience war produces – brings out the most remarkable human qualities, and letters written in wartime contain some of the most intense emotion imaginable. This anthology includes letters that date as far back as the Boer War (which began in 1899) and extend up to 2002, when Canadian peacekeepers served in Afghanistan. Between are letters from the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, and a number of peacekeeping missions. It contains some of the most powerful writing that Canadians – whether reassuring loved ones, recounting the bitter reality of battle, or describing the appalling conditions of combat–have ever committed to the page.
The letters Canadians have written during wartime are proud and self-deprecating, stoic and complaining, brave and fearful, tender and violent, funny and poignant. The Book of War Letters tells us something about what it means to be Canadian, and what it means to be alive.

About the Authors

Paul Grescoe has been chronicling Western Canadian entrepreneurs for decades–from the legendary Vancouver billionaire Jim Pattison (“Jimmy”) to the Winnipeg couple who founded the Harlequin romance empire (“The Merchants of Venus”). With his wife, Audrey, he is also a compiler of three recent volumes of private correspondence that illuminate Canadian history. The Grescoes live on Bowen Island, a world away from the rest of British Columbia.

Audrey Grescoe has been a freelance journalist and a newspaper and magazine editor; more recently she has written books on travel and nature.
Paul Grescoe has contributed to most of the major Canadian magazines and has also written books, including detective novels and “The Merchants of Venus, about the Harlequin publishing empire. They live on Bowen Island, near Vancouver, B.C.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

The Book of War Letters: 100 Years of Private Canadian Correspondence [McClelland & Stewart, 2005] is the second of a three-part series by the husband and wife team of Paul and Audrey Grescoe; the other parts being: The Book of Letters and The Book of Love Letters.

As I have oft stated in the past, it is a real cause for celebration when I come across personal journals, first hand observations, or in this case letters that tell us things about our ancestors and our past that history books can only hint at. Moreover, the several generations covered in this collection may be the last to speak in such a manner, for telephone calls cannot be bundled and e-mails can’t take us back to our ancestors’ ways of behaving and thinking and viewing the world.

This is a monumental work (442 pages of letter) from the Boer War, 1899-1902, The Great War, 1914-1918, The Second World War, 1939-1945, Korea. 1950-1953, The various “Peacekeeping” missions, 1954—, and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, 2003—. However, these should not be viewed as just “war” correspondence, for they cover the gamut of emotions from patriotism to disillusionment; from protestations of love to “dear John letters; from “fear” lurking between the lines to reassurance for the folks back home. They are also happy-go-lucky, sad, resigned, and condoling when written by an officer or chaplain regarding a casualty.

Of course they all contain the admonition that “war is hell,” but the difference here is that this was written by individuals, boys, men, women, who were there, i.e.

About 1:30 the bombardment increased to an indescribable intensity, and shrapnel began bursting overhead. Through the din we could hear bullets whistling over the trench with a sound like the strings of a violin touched sharply and the beating of a gigantic bass drum. Word came down that the Germans were coming over, and we all got up and went back up the trench. The colonel was ahead up on the parapet waving on his men—a hero to the last. The bombardment stopped as suddenly as it begun. Instead the air was cleft and cut and sawed by millions of machine gun bullets. What they saw going on up the trench seemed to madden the fellows. We passed a man with a hole through both ankles, walking toward us. Another with both legs shot off at the hips, fast bleeding to death looking at us in mute appeal as we stepped over his mangled body. An then—but what’s the use—there were hundreds, one as bad as the other … I say we were maddened. It was not bravery nor bravado, nor patriotism, nor fear of being shot that drove us on … I think it was animal instinct and vengeance that prodded us on…

Barlow [Whiteside], July 1916

Having read this message written nearly 100 years ago, the question it has to raise is: Why do so-called ‘civilized’ nations, leaders, men and women continue this barbarous way of settling disagreements? Perhaps it might be of some good to send them all a copy of this outstanding look at the human side of war–with but one word emblazoned on the dust cover, i.e. “Why?”

The Book of War Letters is highly recommended for history buffs, writer and scholars specializing in military history, and for all those who have an interest and fascination in human nature.

♣♣♣

Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

It is a collection of little-known people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest post:  Springhill Nova Scotia Mine Disaster – Oct. 23, 1958“The Springhill Bump”

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If you would like to learn more about my other books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.

      


            

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Get an autographed copy of my e-books, Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears throughAuthorgraph. Click on the link below to learn how.

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Notice to all those who have requested a book review

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

Thanks again!

Thanks for dropping by! I’ll have another novel ready for next week, same URL, so drop back soon.

June 20, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, non GBLT, Non-fiction, War correspondence | Leave a comment

Amazing Stories – WWI, WWII and the Canadian Navy

This year marks some very significant, historical anniversaries that should be remembered by all of us with gratitude. For example, it was 65 years ago on May 8, 1945, that V-E Day (Victory in Europe) was declared. Thus ending the second of two horrendously bloody conflicts in Europe to occur during the 20th century—the first being WWI, which ended on November 11th, 1918.

Similarly, on August 14th, 1945, V-J Day (Victory in Japan) was declared in United States. This conflict saw the first—and mercifully the only use of atomic weapons in warfare.

This year is also the centenary of the Canadian Navy (1910 – 2010).

I have therefore selected three books; one each on the First and Second world wars, and one commemorating the Canadian navy. All three are part of the “Amazing Stories” series published by Altitude Publishing Company.

About Amazing Stories: Amazing Stories™ features a variety of titles to entertain, delight, and fascinate. Dedicated to great storytelling, these true Canadian stories range from funny to daring to purely inspirational. The books are identified by genre – History, Biography, Women, Animal, Human Interest, Mystery, Romance, Business, etc.,– to help you identify the books that you are interested in, either for yourself or as a gift for others.
Each book tells the story of a fascinating Canadian or an event that has happened somewhere in Canada, from the earliest days up to the present. Taken as a whole, the series presents a portrait of the entire country, raising issues – such as regional differences, historical precedent, and cultural uniqueness – that contribute to the wider definition of Canadian identity.
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Mysteries, Legends and Myths of the First World War: Canadian Soldiers in the Trenches and in the Air – by Cynthia J. Faryon

Publisher’s blurb: This book offers a fresh, close-up look at the First World War as it was experienced by ordinary Canadian soldiers. This is the war as it was experienced by the tens of thousands of young Canadians. Reading their accounts offers a no-holds-barred picture of fighting, life in the trenches, the human cost in lives lost, and the physical and emotional aftermath for survivors.
About the Author: Cynthia J. Faryon is an internationally published author and freelance writer. Originally from Victoria, B.C., she now resides in Richer, Manitoba with her husband and their two dogs. Faryon focuses her writing on Canadian content, covering topics such as travel, family issues, biography and history.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I don’t think I could possibly do greater justice to this collection of vignettes than Cynthia Faryon’s superb prologue (quoted below in part). In it she puts herself in the mind of Edgar Simpson fighting in the trenches of WWI just before he is killed by enemy fire:

“I’ve got a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m not going to survive the day. I hope it’s only the usual fear and the strain of the inhuman conditions getting to me: the mud, exploding shells, human body parts flying through the air—and always, always being wet.”

“Oh my God, the shelling has started and look—smoke is covering no-man’s land, and I can see the enemy cutting through the rolls of barbed wire between us and them!

There are more German’s coming at us than I can count. They look like apparitions with bayonets. I’m shooting, and all down the line machine guns are chattering and men are falling. The water in the bottom of the trench is turning red with blood. There are bodies everywhere and wounded men are falling.

I sense the bullet before feeling it.

In stunned disbelief I look at my chest, at the hole and the blood. I look around for help, but my buddies are busy fighting for their own survival.

Darkness. I feel my body hitting the ground.

What next? Death is coming quickly and I’m engulfed in painless warmth. Then with a flickering consciousness, I’m leaving my body. The fear is gone and I’m strangely emotionless.”

In this imagined episode she has captured the fear, the sense of duty, the poignancy and the sacrifice of one ordinary soldier, in this case Edgar Simpson of Winnipeg, for all the others in the so-called “war to end all wars.”

Other stories included are similarly poignant, or heart-touching, such as “A Bear Named Winnipeg” (the true story of “Winnie the Pooh”), “In Flanders Fields,” and “The Hero of the Halifax Battle.”

Highly recommend, and a “Must Read.”

Unbelievable Canadian War Stories: Well Beyond the Call of Duty – Pat MacAdam 

Publisher’s blurb: Often little-known but extraordinary, the quiet heroes of one of the most destructive wars in his-tory left indelible impressions among those whose lives were touched by their actions. Up against firing squads, torpedoes, rogue waves, P.O.W. camps, and all the living hells of warfare, they persevered, they saved lives, and they valiantly served their country. Distinguished and decorated, these men used unconventional methods and quick-thinking tactics to excel on the front lines.

About the Author: Patrick (Pat) MacAdam is a native Cape Bretoner who has made Ottawa his home since 1959. He holds bachelor’s degrees in arts and education from St. Francis Xavier University. He paid his way through university by writing for the Sydney Post-Record, Halifax Chronicle-Herald and Fredericton Daily Gleaner. He spent three summers in the Canadian Officers Training Corps in Camp Borden, Ontario, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps. His entire professional life has been in public relations and politics. He was a researcher, speechwriter, and aide to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker from 1959 to 1963. In 1983, he joined his university friend, Brian Mulroney, as his first employee and most senior aide.

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The design of the new Canadian War Museum used the theme “ordinary Canadians doing extraordinary things. This book contains vignettes of some of them from the heroic to the outrageous, but always getting the job done in the service of their country and the rest of us. Therefore, it is important that these—representative—deeds of courage and valour be remembered on behalf of those who have gone before.

Indeed, many of them have already been forgotten. For example, “Canada’s Most Decorated Hero of WWII,” Johnnie Fauquier, who was buried in Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery with full military honours and then forgotten.

“Had Johnnie Fauquier been an American,” observes Pat MacAdam, “Hollywood might have passed over Audie Murphy, Congressional Medal of Honour winner and United States’ most decorated soldier, for star treatment. The movie “To Hell and Back,” which starred Audie Murphy himself, told the story of his heroism.

“Johnnie Fauquier went to hell and back 100 times on bombing raids over Berlin, other key German targets, and the Peenamunde V2 rocket bases on the Baltic Sea. The normal tour for a bomber piolet was 30 raids. He did three tours and then some. He was the first Canadian to comman a bomber squadron in battle, commanding both the crack RCAF 495 Pathfinder Squadron and later the RAF’s legendary Dambusters, Johnnie Fauquier was awarded the Dstinguished Service Order Medal (second only to the Victoria Cross) three times—more than any other Canadian warrior. He also wore the distinctive ribbon of the Distinguished Flying Cross on his tunic.”

Yet, his plain grey granite grave marker simply records that Air Commodore John Emilius Fauquier is at rest there.

Highly recommended for those of us who want to remember.

 

Unsung Heroes of the Royal Canadian Navy: Incredible Tales of Courage and Daring During World War II – Cynthia J. Faryon

Publisher’s blurb: At the outbreak of World War II, the Royal Canadian Navy consisted of just 13 warships and about 3000 permanent and reserve members. By the war’s end, however, it had grown into the third largest navy in the world, with 365 warships and more than 100,000 personnel. The men and women of the Royal Canadian Navy came from all corners of Canada to fight in the sea war against the enemy. Together, they exceeded even the highest expectations of their allies.

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These are the stories of the men who go down to the sea in ships, and those ships they sail in. Like all war stories these are filled with acts of courage—both individually and collectively—pathos, skill and daring. Even the mascots are remembered as a dog named “Bunker B”—a listed casualty when the Athabaskan  sank under fire—and a cat named “Ginger” on her sister ship, the HMCS Haida.  

In a chapter named “Abandoned Ship, Abandoned Survivors” it tells the heart-breaking and hear-warming story of what happened when duty clashes with the natural instincts of loyalty and compassion. In war, duty wins.

“The Haida trembled and vibrates as the turbines throb. Petty Officer HP Murray and Telegraphist SA Turner are still on one of the scramble nets trying to rescue survivors as the ship starts to move. They look at the hands reaching out to them and grab for one more. The ocean current around their legs gets stronger and, handing off the last of the survivors, they both struggle to unhook themselves from the nets. The waves are now waist high, and the force is making it impossible to climb up. Hands from above reacdch down, gripping … pulling … tugging, but it is no use. The Haida picks up speed and suddenly the rope breaks. The wake surges over the two men and washed them straight into the turning screws.”

On the other hand.

“Far out in the Channel, the Haida’s cutter is slowly making its way home. The men are wet and cold. But with hard tack, water, and malted milk tablets, they are better off than those left at the site of the sinking. Suddenly, on the horizon looms a German mine sweeper thqt changes course and heads directly for the small boat. Darting into a mine field, the men pray the Germans will give up. For a moment it looks as though the vessel is planning to fire on them. It hesitates, then swings around, leaving the survivors to their fate. Every man on that little boat knows their situation is desperate and that the odds are against them.

“The Haida’s cutter is finally spotted by a squadron of RAF planes and the exhausted survivors are picked up by an Air/Sea Rescue launch and taken to Penzance. By midnight they are resting, warm, and comfortable. But a disquieting thought stays with them all. “What about the rest of the gang?””

Like the others, this comes highly recommended for truly inspirational reading that will leave you with goose-bumps and a warm feeling in your heart!

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In memory of my sister Beverley Hill, 1934 – 2010.

See a preview of my up-coming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail, read an excerpt.

See an alphabetic list of titles and authors reviewed.

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May 7, 2010 Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Non-fiction | 2 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

Sam Steele: The Wild Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie by Holly Quan

It should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country

 

 

Once or twice in our lives, some of us are lucky enough to witness or even to participate in an event of historical importance. Sam Steele made a career of it. During the pioneering years of the Canadian West, Sam Steele was not only present but took an active role in virtually every significant historical event. Sam Steele was an adventurer and a heroic figure who commanded awe and respect. He just did the right thing. At the right time. In the right place.

About the Author: Holly Quan lives in the foothills of southwestern Alberta among the poplars and coyotes. She’s the author of two guide books, in addition to writing magazine articles on travel, food, horses, marketing, and whatever else piques her interest. When she’s not working on her novel manuscript – a work now many years in the making – she loves to ski, ride, hike, swim, drink wine with her friends, and howl at the moon.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colourful history, or, indeed, real life adventurers the equal to Pat Garrett and Davy Crockett. Moreover, Holly Quan’s brief biography, Sam Steele: The Wild West Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie (Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2003) makes a good appetizer for larger and more detailed biographies, including Sam Steele’s own autobiography: Forty years in Canada: reminiscences of the great north-west (sadly not listed for sale on Amazon.ca).

Samuel Benfield Steele was born on the family farm in 1851 in Simcoe County, Upper Canada (now Ontario), and spent much of his youth in the nearby Town of Orillia learning to ride and other useful skills that would serve him well in his later life. At age 14-years he enlisted in the militia formed to guard against Fenian cross-border raids, and from there he volunteered for the federal militia called together to restore order with the Métis in what is now Manitoba.

“The journey was an exercise in endurance,” writes Quan: “The troops marched across southern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, where they boarded ships bound across Lake Superior to what is now Thunder Bay. That was the easy part. From the lakehead, 965 kilometres (600 miles) of rock, rivers, muskeg, and heavy forest lay between the troops and their destination, Fort Garry on the Red River (now Winnipeg). There was no railway yet, and the road was nothing more than a trail blazed through the bogs and bush. In fact, for the most part the “road” was a water route of interconnected lakes and streams with numerous difficult portages through mud, swamps, and dense forest.”

Unfortunately, for Sam, the uprising was over by the time they arrived so the troops turned around and marched back to Ontario again. However, Sam stayed with the militia—now promoted to corporal at age nineteen—but when the new provincial government was in place the militia was disbanded as well. Nevertheless, the new Canadian government decided it wanted its own army to replace the British troops, traditional peacekeepers, and Sam quickly joined the recently established Canadian army—being the 23rd person to do so.

Two years later however, in 1873, the federal government established a mounted police force for the West, the North West Mounted Police, and Sam saw his chance to get back to his beloved frontier. Therefore, in 1874 the now Sergeant Major Steele (age 23) began one of the most rugged marches that have ever taken place in Canada, across the vast, uncharted territory of the West.

“The going was tough for the already beleaguered group. Grasshoppers razed the grass, and rain turned the wagon track to deep mud. Quicksand was another hazard many men had never experienced. Sam, among the strongest in the troop, was continually called on to help wrestle horses, oxen, and cattle of boggy deathtraps.”

That was only part of the adventure. Having little grass to eat the horses became so weak that they frequently collapsed in their tracks. Therefore the men had to lift them and encourage them to walk a bit further before collapsing again. This prompted one of them to quip. “I thought I’d have an easy ride to the Rockies with a good horse to carry me. Instead I’m having a tough walk to Edmonton, with me carrying the horse.”

The march to Edmonton, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), ended on October 31, 1874, but not without one last struggle with nature.

“Sam was preparing for sleep when someone shouted that a horse was in trouble in a nearby creek. Grabbing a rope, he waded into the ice-cold stream and deftly passed the rope around the struggling horse, tossing the other end to men on the bank. But before Sam could get out of the water, the horse slipped, dragging Sam and several men down. In the dark, with only moments before men and horse succumbed to the freezing current, the quick-thinking man made it out of the water, then he hauled the next man out, and so on, until troops and horse were all free of the ice and water.”

This, then, was the stuff Sam Steele was made of, and only the beginning of his remarkable career that included chasing criminals, defying native leaders, upholding the law—and having the time of his life. Indeed, he saw the establishment of a nation, the signing of treaties, the resolution of a rebellion, the building of a railway, war in South Africa, and action in WWI.

In my opinion this bit of Canadian history should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country, for therein is the essence of Canadian pioneer culture: Dedication, adherence to standards and perseverance.

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For a complete list of  Lorimer’s “Amazing Stories” series, go to http://www.lorimer.ca/adults/.

March 14, 2010 Posted by | biography, Canadian biography, Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Military history, Non-fiction | 1 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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