My bio reads in part: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waitingGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
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 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.
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....more
I have long maintained that the most interesting history of any society lies not with its kingsGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
I have long maintained that the most interesting history of any society lies not with its kings and politicians, but with ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Okay, maybe Arthur Owens wasn’t your average person, but his exploits certainly prove the point. Fortunately for us, Nigel West and Madoc Roberts have brought this fascinating story to light in a recently released, non-fiction tale of espionage in WWII; Snow: the double life of a world war II spy [Biteback, October 2011].
To start, Arthur Owens was a Welsh battery salesman who was out to sell his invention that no one in the British seemed to be interested in. That is when he decided to go farther a-field to offer it to the Germans in 1935. He therefore walked into the German embassy a salesman and walked out a spy.
Inevitably in the world of espionage and counter-espionage Mi5 eventually learned of his activity, and Owens subsequently became the first double agent on record.
One of the key areas Owens able to serve British intelligence was to identify German agents, who were then given the offer of working with Mi5 or facing a firing squad. Needless to say very few refused this ‘charming’ offer, and so Britain was kept quite well informed about Hitler’s activities leading up to the war in 1942.
The end of his spying activity—but not his ballsy luck and attitude—came in 1941 when the Nazis accused him of being a double agent, but mysteriously let him return to England. Thereby he was interned in Dartmoor prison for the remainder of the war.
Following the war, fearing retribution from both sides, he exiled himself to Canada and then to Ireland. In the meantime, however, he threatened the British government he would go public with his story and was paid-off an undisclosed amount of money. That’s what I like about this character; traitor or patriot, Owens had balls!
A couple of interesting side notes to this story, as well. Apparently, Owens’ son had no idea of his father’s activities until his mother told him, nor was he aware of his half-sister by Owens’ first wife. Indeed, Patricia Owens was a Hollywood movie star appearing opposite Marlon Brando and James Mason.
A fascinating story for history buffs and fans of true-life spy adventures. Five bees.
You may have noticed I have a passion for WWII-vintage stories, and have reviewed several in theGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
You may have noticed I have a passion for WWII-vintage stories, and have reviewed several in the past. I like the era in general. It was a time when the free-world was drawn together by a war in two theatres, and men bonded together as warrior brothers—and sometimes more. Wingmen by Ensan Case (a pseudonym) [Cheyenne Publishing, 2012] captures the latter phenomenon with remarkable clarity and credibility. It is, in fact, one of the best war stories I have read.
Ensign Frederick “Trusty” Trusteau, one of two wingmen assigned to “skipper,” Lieutenant Commander J.J. “Jack” Hardigan. Trusteau is a handsome, capable aviator, who has honed his reputation as a “whoremaster” because that was (and is) the gold standard among predominantly male societies. It was very often a sham, or cover-up, but it was better than being considered the “odd-man-out.”
Jack Hardigan is a hard-drinking, hard driving skipper, who is dating a wealthy widow in Honolulu, but apart from a certain level of affection, there is no evidence of sexual activity between them. Therefore, there is no grand regrets when she breaks off their relationship for someone else.
The relationship between the two men starts, as it usually does, with earned respect on both sides; in this case as pilots of the famed Grumman Hellcats flown off the deck of a carrier. The bond grows stronger with each mission—warrior brothers—until it inevitably ends in a hotel room in Honolulu, where the line between brothers-in-arms and lovers is finally crosssed. However , if you are looking for a torrid, sexually erotic scene between two horny flyboys, you (gratefully) will not find it here. This scene is definitely sexy because of the circumstances—and the fact that we’ve been waiting for it for nearly two-thirds of the story—but in 1979 you didn’t write that sort of thing if you wanted to find a publisher—even an avant-garde one. Nevertheless, I think it is made a more realistic story because of it. This a story about men in love in war, and not about sex per se.
Of course the story wouldn’t be complete without an appropriate setting, and Case has provided it on board a fictional aircraft carrier, the Constitution. You can almost smell the sweat and testosterone in these scenes as they jostle aboard her. His apparent knowledge of naval aircraft is an asset as well, with just enough detail to help the reader understand without bogging the pace down in the process.
For those into WWII nostalgia there are also well-known battles, i.e. Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon, where most of the Japanese Imperial fleet was wiped out—60 ships and 275 airplanes. Case has also provided an insight into the gruesomeness of war in some tense scenes where men are shot down, blown apart, and drowned mercilessly in the fray, and in the end Jack risks his life to save his lover.
Nevertheless, I agree with several other reviewers that the story should have ended on a high in 1945. The last part is interesting, mind you, and wraps up some loose ends, but it is anticlimactical. Given the excellence of the preceding, however, I’m not letting it dampen my overall impression. Five bees....more
Until I came across "Eromenos" by Melanie McDonald [Seriously Good Books, 2011] I had never befoGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Until I came across "Eromenos" by Melanie McDonald [Seriously Good Books, 2011] I had never before heard of Antinous of Bithynia, or his legendary affair with the Emperor Hadrian. Just how I could have missed such a charming page in history (referred to as the “real life version of Zeus and Ganymede”) I don’t know, but I am certainly grateful to Ms McDonald for introducing me to it in such an entertaining way.
Antinous was born in the town of Bithynion-Claudiopolis, in the Greek province of Bithynia, and the story is told in his voice as a recollection. At about 12 years Antinous is sent to Nikomedia for his education, and it is there that he catches the eye of Hadrian on one of his many tours. With a ready eye for beautiful young boys, Hadrian invites him to join his imperial retinue as a page.
This is fairly heady stuff for a farm lad from one of the Greek provinces, but even more honours were to follow when Hadrian asked him to be his personal attendant on a hunting trip, and eventually into his bed.
As one might expect, however, being the catamite of a living god had its ups and downs, as Antinous would soon discover, for Hadrian was by profession a general as well as emperor, and thereby firmly in command of everyone around him. Nonetheless, Antinous somehow learned to cope with the vagaries of both the emperor and the imperial court for some seven years.
Nevertheless, as he approached manhood (around 19) he began to realize the he could no longer be Hadrian’s lover because of public opinion and because Hadrian preferred younger boys; therefore, Antinous decided to sacrifice himself to the gods and the man he loved. At least that is how the story goes, for no one really knows for certain.
One researcher has put it this way:
“One may well wonder why a young and vibrant man would sacrifice himself for his Emperor and for Rome. There is the obvious answer that people often do strange and illogical things for love. Antinous may well have believed that he would win immortality in the waters of the Nile and hence may not have seen his death as an end to his life. And, although there is no direct evidence that Antinous was suffering from a depression, he had to have realized that he was passing the age of eromenos. Within a year or two at most Antinous would either have to give up his position as royal favorite or accustom himself to the condemnation, “pathetic.” Whatever would become of Antinous after his decline from favorite could only be a lessening of position and if he truly loved Hadrian he would undoubtedly be alarmed at the prospect of ending their relationship not only for reasons of status, but for reasons of the heart. Or, perhaps, Antinous had simply grown to feel shame at his position and was driven into the waters with a sense of helplessness and lack of self worth that could scarcely be considered rare in teenagers of any time period.” http://ladyhedgehog.hedgie.com/antino....
The days following Antinous’s death brought great emotional upheaval and strain to the emperor. Trudging through a despair and sense of guilt, Hadrian’s first impulse was to follow his beloved into the otherworld. However, Hadrian was emperor and his life was not really his to give, and so in compensation he declared Antinous a god.
For whatever reason Antinous entered the waters of the Nile, therefore, he did obtain a form of immortality. Had he passed quietly from his role as favourite he may well have disappeared from history, but with his death and Hadrian’s response to it, he was assured a place in future remembrance—such as this book.
This novel is a textbook example of how historical fact and fiction should meet in a seamless, agreeable balance, so that one does not outweigh the other. Moreover the characters are well developed, and as far as I could determine, historically accurate. I rate is fairly-well faultless. Five bees.
Note: I note the Seriously Good Books is a new publisher with a worthy mission. i.e. “SERIOUSLY GOOD BOOKS hopes to survive and thrive as a small, independent press publishing historical fiction of lasting quality. Here you will find solid historical fiction that enlightens as well as entertains. From time to time, SG Books may select a work of literary fiction, a notable thriller, or some other surprise, so be sure to bookmark and visit these pages frequently.” See: http://www.seriouslygoodbooks.net/#!_......more
In my estimation there are two types of history books: the regretfully ‘dusty’ kind that I was sGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
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” solidly entrenched in territory they could call their own.
Regretfully, as it is with most 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....more
Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin by Cynthia J. Faryon [Lorimer:Gerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
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?”
“Was he standing next to his fence?”
“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....more
Because there are so very few of them available, I get genuinely excited when I come across a hGerry B's Books Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
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....more
Today, August 19, 2012, marks the 70th anniversary of the storming of Puys beach, a small seasidGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
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....more
As far as I can determine, Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory [Etopia Press, 2012] is the debut nGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
As far as I can determine, Alike as Two Bees by Elin Gregory [Etopia Press, 2012] is the debut novella for this author, and as such it is a worthy effort.
Set in ancient Greece the story focuses on Philon, a sculptor’s apprentice, who is characterized as a somewhat shy but talented boy. His character is rounded out be his fellow apprentice, Anatolios, a precocious thirteen-year-old.
Playing opposite them are Aristion, the bratish son of a wealthy patron, and his older cousin Hilarion. Due to Aristion’s bullying of Anatolios, Hilarion and Philon meet and are immediately attracted to one another. However, Aristion remains resentful and even vengeful, and when he threatens Philon, Hilarion comes to his lover’s defence and all is agreeably resolved.
This is a sweet, uncomplicated story that focuses on romance in a romantic setting. It is well written, and the characters are appealing rather than complex. In fact they are rather standard fare. Philon is the struggling good boy, Aristion is the spoiled rich kid, Anatolios is the impish-catalyst, and Hilarion is the mature kid who is attracted to the good boy.
There is nothing wrong with this type of character development, and it makes for a good solid read, but it doesn’t break any new ground, either.
Altogether, Alike as Two Bees is a happy-ever-after story that will pleasantly fill an afternoon at the beach, or an evening curled up in your easy chair. Three and one-half bees. ...more
If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for gay/historical/miGerry B's Book Reviews - www.gerrycan.wordpress.com
If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that I have an affinity for gay/historical/military/genres. It is a natural outcome of my passion for history, and my self-identification with those who have faced the harsh brutalities of war. Courage like this should not be forgotten lest we make the same mistake again.
In Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov [Riptide Publishing, 2012] we find yet another reason to care. Two individuals caught up in the confict, Germans, seeing the evil regime of which they are part crumbling around them, and yet fighting on through a stalwart—but misplaced—sense of duty.
Well … One of them is, anyway. Baldur Vogt, a Luftwaffe ace, bold, handsome and dashing, flies his missions because it is what he does. On the other hand, Felix, a ground-crew mechanic does what he does to keep the man he loves (Baldur) as safe as he can make him, and with that simple revelation the whole perspective of war changes.
But that is only one thread in this complex tapestry, for Felix despairs that Baldur will ever respond in the way he (Felix) has dreamed. For one thing, Baldur comes from money, compared to Felix’s humble background, and even if this could be brushed aside, man-to-man love was an anathema in Hitler’s Arian scheme of things—a veritable death sentence.
Nonetheless, fate will have its way, and when Baldur somewhat miraculously escapes a bullet that otherwise had his name on it, he celebrates by taking Felix away for a few days of relaxation.
Once away from the harrowing events of the day, love blooms—a quiet, tender affection that emerges as naturally as a breeze on a warm summer’s day. Indeed, when it happens one cannot imagine it being any other way.
However, once the point is made, and given that the only world they know is crumbling around them, how does one go about getting a ‘happy ever after ending’ out of that?
That remains for readers to discover, but it is almost a textbook example of the short story art; i.e. get in, make the point, and get out, which Voinov does very well. In addition the various ‘flavours’ are as concentrated as a brandy that lingers, agreeably, on the palate. Five bees....more
Ever on the lookout for Canadian authors and/or Canadian content and history, especially from a gay perspective, I cameGerry B's Book Reviews
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.
The 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 contrasting 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....more
It’s unanimous: Barry Brennessel’s novel The Celestial [MLR Press,LLC, September 6, 2012] is a great story! Most revieGerry B's Book Reviews
It’s unanimous: Barry Brennessel’s novel The Celestial [MLR Press,LLC, September 6, 2012] is a great story! Most reviews I have read have dipped into the superlative bag for apt descriptors, and I must agree.
My approach comes from my passion and accompanying research into American frontier history, including the California mining communities of the mid-1800s, and I must say that the author has captured the tone of these rough-and-tumble, gritty and grotty settlements remarkably well.
Set against this rugged backdrop is the wide-eyed naïveté of farmboy, Todd Morgan, and his companion Lâo Jian; both innocent romantics who just want to live and love in the midst of this harsh environment.
Part of Brennessel’s strength as a writer is his ability to create vivid characters who are both interesting and unique. Each character has a distinctive voice that sets him (or her) apart while contributing to the over all story. So, whether it’s Ned Calvert, Todd’s irascible uncle, or the young Irish miner, Breandon (on whom Todd has an early crush), they all contribute in their own way.
One of the regrettable aspects of frontier society was the degree of prejudice against certain ethnic societies, i.e. Native Americans and certain foreigners, especially–to the miners–the Chinese, who were called “Chinamen,” “Johnny Pig Tails,” or “Celestials” (because they came from the so-called “Celestial Empire.”)
The miners resented them because they saw them as competition, and distrusted them because they tended to stick to their own communities, which is not surprising since they were generally shunned elsewhere. As a result the Chinese were subjected to all manner of abuse, even murder, and Brennessel has done quite a credible job of portraying this.
Nonetheless, Todd and Lâo Jian persevere primarily because of the strength and love they derive from one another, and this is the inspirational theme that underlies the whole story. Highly recommended. Five bees!...more
A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history equal to any in the world for colour, dramaGerry B's Book Reviews
A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history equal to any in the world for colour, drama and interest.
Considering that my next novel is partially set in the same district of British Columbia as Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. [McClelland & Stewart, 1978], I can hardly believe I hadn’t found it until now.
In my own story (based on an actual cattle drive from Hanceville, B.C. to Teslin, Yukon, in 1898), one of the things I worried about was that people wouldn’t believe 10-foot snowfalls—on the flat—and surviving minus-forty degree temperatures, but those are really rather tame compared to what Hobson and his partner endured in real life.
The first thing to emphasize about this story is that it is true pioneer history--with allowances for the cowboy's tendency to exaggerate--made at a time when there was still room for a man to shape his destiny with courage, hard work and determination. That is to say, it probably wouldn’t be possible today, given all the emasculating government rules and regulations. For one thing, you’d probably need a building permit to build a simple shelter.
In addition, adventurers like Hobson, Stanley Blum, and ‘Panhandle’ Phillips, are harder to find these days, as is their ability to withstand hardship—the rougher the better. As they say, “They just don’t make them like they used to.”
The basic tale is about Hobson and Panhandle setting out from Wyoming to the wilds of British Columbia to find a goldmine in “Free grass reachin’ north into unknown country. Land— lots of it— untouched— just waitin’ for hungry cows, and some buckaroos that can ride and have guts enough to put her over.”
So with little more than that, they head for Canada in an obsolete panel delivery Ford, distinguished by large printed letters across its body, “BOLOGNA— BLOATERS— BLOOD SAUSAGES.”
Across the border they followed the “Old Cariboo Trail' (the ' Trail of '98'), which:
Wound its way for more than a hundred miles along the face of a cliff, with the Fraser River twisting like a tiny thread through the rocky gorge a thousand feet below. In places small slides blocked the highway, and we shovelled enough rock out of the way to carry on. Once a driver, whom we nearly pushed over the bank, found it necessary to back up a hundred yards to a place in the road where we could squeeze by him. We thanked him.
“That’s all right,” he said, “but watch it ahead— the road narrows up.”
That was merely the beginning!
Following that they endured frost bitten feet; warded off giant, killer black wolves circling the camp; survived when the waters under the frozen ice sucked them and their cattle and horses down into the freezing deep hole; stared a Grizzly down; and gambled the horses and cattle could make it across ice encrusted snow 20-feet deep below.
It should also be added that there are no offensive bits to navigate, and so it is appropriate for children—in fact I encourage you to share the history with them. Let them know that Canada has a history equal to any in the world in colour and drama. Five (solid) bees.
Superb writing, a break-through plot, and bang-on history...
A Life Apar,t, by Roger Kean [CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, January 11, 2013] can be categorized by several genres: historical fiction, historical, gay romance, and even young adult. It is also a refreshingly different story set in an exotic and somewhat uncommon setting.
The story opens on Edward and Richard Rainbow, purportedly twin brothers, and also students at the prestigious Benthenham College in England. Their relationship can be described as ‘loving,’ both in the ethereal and physical sense, but such “dirties” as transpired between them are always couched in euphemistic language—i.e. “hardness,” “bitties,” or “stiffness,” etc.
Indeed, Richard and Edward are utterly charming adolescents, and Kean has done quite a good job of portraying them as normal, mischievous and inquisitive schoolboys, who indulge in the “dirties” as naturally as they play soccer or go swimming.
However, an unexpected and devastating revelation emerges from the past, and because of it Edward is ripped from Richard’s arms and his family.
Skipping forward, Richard has received his commission to the army, and England has become caught up in Egyptian affairs to protect its financial interests and the Suez Canal. Consequently, it is also drawn into a vicious guerilla war instigated by the Islamic cleric, Muhammad Ahmad, who has declared himself ‘Mahdi’ (a messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith).
After considerable bloodshed, the English decide to withdraw from the southern regions, including the Sudan, and Major-General Sir Charles Gordon is sent to oversee the evacuation of Khartoum. In the process, however, he becomes isolated and trapped by the Arab and Mahdist forces. A relief expedition led by Sir Garnet Wolseley is sent to rescue him, but due to several delays they arrive too late to save Gordon. At the same time, however, it is the perfect opportunity for fate to reunite Richard and Edward, and Kean takes full advantage of it.
The writing is superb, the plot is refreshing, the description is vivid, and the history is bang-on. Five bees. ________________________ Your are invited to visit my other sites as well.
As a history buff I’m always on the lookout for new and heretofore unknown discoveries, and William Benemann has servGerry B's Book Reviews
As a history buff I’m always on the lookout for new and heretofore unknown discoveries, and William Benemann has served up a dilly with his intriguing biography, Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade [Bison Books, October 1, 2012].
William Stewart was a Scottish nobleman—19th Laird of Grantully and 7th Baronet of Murthly—with an adventurous spirit, and a larger than life personality. Being gay, and at odds with his older brother John (the 18th Laird), he hied himself off to North America where men were men; women were scarce; and not just a few of the men were open to a bit of manly sex.
Sir William fit into this testosterone-dominated milieu rather well, being an expert rider and a better-than-average marksman, and as proof of this he was both liked and respected by such people as William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame), and frontiersmen Kit Carson and Jim Bridger. He was also constantly surrounded by a retinue of young men, including a rakishly-handsome French Canadian Métis named Antoine Clement—undoubtedly Stewart’s lover—but if anyone noticed they either didn’t connect the possibility, or simply overlooked it.
Altogether, Stewart spent approximately seven years in America, returning to Scotland only briefly between 1839 – 1841 (with Antoine Clement in tow) when his brother John died—making William the 19th Laird of Grantully. When he returned (with a trunk full of costumes), he arranged for an elaborate, invitation only, huntin g party. It was a modest affair with only thirty-or-so guests, as well as cooks, servants, doctors, lawyers and such, but whether this was a bit beyond what frontier America was willing to accept, or whether times were changing, a fast-running scandal preceded him back to civilization, and from there he hastily returned to Scotland.
Obviously, this is merely a thumbnail-precis of the 384 pages of easily-read, meticulously researched, and fascinating story of the not-so-straight-West. My humble thanks to William Benemann for keeping this story alive, and for sharing it with us. Five Bees....more
A while ago some government official, I can’t remember who, was ruminating over the best way to teach kids about CanadiaGerry B's Book Reviews
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].
Now 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.
In 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”).
In 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....more
There isn’t a great deal of critical comment one can make about a book like A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home (195Gerry B's Book Reviews
There isn’t a great deal of critical comment one can make about a book like A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home (1954-1956) by Dorien Grey [Untreed Reads Publishing, April 8, 2013]. It is a charming look into one man’s life at an interesting age and time I would say; although, the older Roger Margason, a.k.a. Dorien Grey has the depth of character I prefer. Therefore, I will limit my remarks to some personal observations.
I am a great advocate of journal keeping for very selfish reasons. They are absolutely invaluable when it comes to recreating someone’s life and times. Therefore, I am utterly amazed that he had the foresight to save these epistles intact. Otherwise the memories they contain might have been lost forever. Moreover, for informal writings, they are remarkably literate and easy to read.
At the time the letters where written, 1954 – 1956, Dorien was between ‘grass and straw’—as the old cowpokes would say, i.e. past puberty but not quite matured. Interestingly the letters show this, for there is a perceptible maturing as they progress in time.
One is also struck by the candid nature as well. They may have been edited for journalistic reasons, but one does not get the impression they have been altered in the process.
His powers of observation regarding the exotic places he visits, i.e. Paris, Cannes, Athens, Beirut, Valencia, Istanbul, etc. is like reading a travelogue of the time, and as an amateur historian I found this intriguing.
Altogether, therefore, this is a fascinating insight into a personality and the times, and not once did I feel it lost my interest on account of self-ndulgence. A truly interesting read. Five bees. ...more