“This is a helluva way to take people’s minds off last month’s murder, darling.”
That’s right, there’s been another murder at Emma Andrews’ Old Manse in Newcastle. Previous to this freshly dead body, a skeleton was found between the walls of the same building during renovations. Poor Emma. She’s trying to make a go of the Old Manse as an arts and culture venture for the city as well as maintaining an apartment there where she writes freelance articles on wine.
Emma is not one to shy away from solving her own mysteries, especially if the authorities appear to need a little help or appear to be dragging their feet. This sophomore effort from Alexa Bowie more or less picks up where 2020’s Death Between the Walls left off, as we can see from the opening quote by Emma’s Aunt Emm. The dead body between the tables is a long-time employee of the Newcastle Fire Department, and the investigation takes a turn when the Fire Chief gets involved, as he is one nasty piece of work and has it in for Emma, for no apparent reason that she can discern. Naturally, this heightens her curiosity even more.
The Old Manse Mysteries have all the necessary ingredients for a good “cozy”: a likeable protagonist, helpful and supportive friends and family, local yokels, and of course a body or two. I would rank this entry in the series as a notch above its predecessor, which was the typical introductory type of story where we meet the principals and get to know their backgrounds and roles in the town as well as those who use the Old Manse for creating their art. Now, with Death Between the Tables, we get more mystery and fewer character backgrounds. Well done, Ms. Bowie!
About the Author
Alexa Bowie writes cozy mysteries because she wants a well-written tale told that delivers a satisfying ending and because she wants her readers to experience a warm, humorous, story with a happy ending. This is her second novel in the Old Manse Mysteries series, with more to follow. Alexa makes her home in New Brunswick, Canada.
Publisher : Independently published (April 21 2021)
“When I worked in the newspaper business, a great editor and friend taught me how a true story well told becomes a parable. He was a libertarian editor in the old school who saw his newspapers as daily journals of moral conduct. When something is broken, it is the work of the moralist, the storyteller, to place a finger on it and then ask who’d responsible for fixing it.” – Philip Lee, Restigouche
Last August I went on a long canoe ride down the Restigouche River with a guide who knows the river intimately; he knows the pools where you might find a salmon, he knows where you can and can’t camp or pull up a canoe, he knows who to talk to if you want to know more about the river than he does, and he shares what he’s learned about the river along the way. Philip Lee is that guide in Restigouche: The Long Run of the Wild River, and he tells a story not only of the Restigouche itself, but also the impacts of both colonialism and capitalism on the river and the people of the river, and it is a beautiful, sobering, and necessary ride.
Philip Lee the author is the son of my childhood Minister Reverend Philip Lee, and I know his family, though not well. My own father passed his copy of Restigouche on to me saying it had changed his perspective of how natural resources and native people have been treated in New Brunswick, and that I would appreciate Lee’s appreciation of nature (he was right). From the opening pages, Lee’s writing style and a clear sense of intention/moral compass reminded me of his father’s sermons, which enthralled and grounded me growing up. “When I returned, I lay awake long into the winter nights, trying to unweave and unwind all that I had seen and learned. At the end of my exploring I didn’t have all the answers and still wondered what the future might hold. What I did know was, like the man who washed his eyes in the Pool of Siloam, I had come back seeing.”
I read Restigouche chapter by chapter, many of them sitting by the brook at the bottom of our lane near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. It was just the way to read it, bit by bit because there’s so much to learn from this well-informed guide as you travel with him down the northeastern New Brunswick river. You’ll also want to savour the trip. Though it was a literary journey I went on via Lee’s Restigouche as he poled and paddled his canoe down the Restigouche, it felt like I was there on the river as a member of his party, listening to him and his companions tell stories around the campfire.
Restigouche is a natural biography of sorts, and we get to know the river’s story through Lee’s first-hand experience, but also through his careful research and storytelling. The impacts of elitist sport fishing, clearcutting, hydro-damming, herbicide spraying and overfishing are examined here, as is the indefensible tragedy and injustice of how the Mi’kmaq have been excluded from the waters they’ve inhabited for many thousands of years. Lee also retells the story of the 1981 Incident at Restigouche through voices of people who were directly involved, and which was a turning point for the Listiguj Mi’kmaq and reasserting their right to fish.
As Canadians struggle personally and collectively to re-right the wrongs of the past (and present) at this juncture of truth and reconciliation, Lee’s book is an important contribution to better understanding what has happened not only to the Restigouche River–but to the whole country– and what it will take to fix it. It also says something about shame, and what it will take for us as a culture to own it and move forward. Because, as Lee writes “Rivers are remarkably resilient, but they do not wash away our sins.”
Lee takes on the job of moralist and storyteller in Restigouche; subtly asking who is responsible for fixing the Restigouche, though he gathers the information and leaves it to the reader to decide. What he is clear about, though, is that we as a culture have sanctioned travesty and destruction, and it will take much to heal the damage.
“I hope I live long enough to see the day when the dams are removed, so I can watch the river begin to heal itself. Even if I do, I know that much of what has happened is irrevocable, the consequences of a series of decisions made by a few men during a period of about fifteen years during the life of a fifteen-thousand-year-old river.”
Published to acclaim in 2020, Restigouche reads almost like a parable or allegory about the arrival of colonial rules, private property law and resource exploitation, and the exclusion of people from their own native land and resources. Told with a journalist’s objectivity and a poet’s sensibility, Lee’s Restigouche is an extraordinary work of research and finely-crafted writing that should be revisited and widely shared. There is much to (re)learn and rehabilitate. Restigouche is part of that education.
Cadence: voix féminines, Female Voices is a compilation of poetry from twenty-five female New Brunswick authors with diverse styles and distinct cultural backgrounds, including French, Vietnamese, German and Arabic. Editors Kayla Geitzler and Elizabeth Blanchard brilliantly produced a chapbook that evokes feelings of empathy, resilience, empowerment, liberation, and self-awareness from a female perspective.
This collection is a dactylic combination of poetry and prose that is as diverse as its authors. An articulate mixture of writing styles has just enough use of metaphors and pathetic fallacy to describe the trials and tribulations of humankind beginning from birth and ending with death. In this particular case, the issues women encounter i.e., loss of innocence, youth, virginity, child, parent, and self with underlying tones of misogyny, devastation, regret, disappointment, and grief tend to be overpowering which makes it difficult to devour this book in one seating.
A cultural patch-work quilt of verse that is mainly translated to English allows its audience to ride the highest tides in the world, to relive youthful joyrides, be named after a cloud “Cumulus congestus or cumulonimbus/Heaped, fibrous, anvil topped.” (Steel, pp. 37), feel the drumbeats of mother earth and watch a father’s dying soul carried away by “black talons spread/ at dawn/ my father’s last whisper/ hawr hawr hawr/ his raven took flight” (Bowman, pp.100)
Readers can peer through the eyes of those struggling with loyalty to self vs family and religious, sins of the father, belittlement, and the tearing away of innocence and how the subject chooses to succumb or rise above.
Loss seems to be the most prevalent theme between the covers of this extra-large chapbook beautifully illustrated by Nancy King Schofield. “The Night Mares” suits the ghostly cover illustration perfectly, as Vanessa Moeller refers to buried “cannon bone, pastern, coffin bone” that are “lost under pine and coyotes’ throated hunger.” (pp.69). This selection leaves the reader wondering if this is a metaphorical loss of one’s self as a result of a woman broken down by society or the loss of nature and ecology on a grand scheme.
This collection would be perfect on the curriculum of an advanced art literature course but may prove intimidating to the novice reader. It is the type of collection that, read more than once, would find new meaning each time, based on the reader’s self-reflection within the pages and may cause triggers for some. The task of reviewing the works of genius from these phenomenal female authors and editors was daunting, but their cadence beat strong and loud and needs to be revibrated to more voices.
I enjoyed Emily Taylor Smith’s travel memoir, Around The Province In 88 Days, enough to attend the launch event of her sequel, No Thanks, I Want to Walk: Two Months on Foot Around New Brunswick and the Gaspé. Somewhat ironically, no one had to travel to take part. It was a virtual event, like most readings over the past couple of years. Yet even through computer screens, a checkerboard of smiling faces couldn’t contain collective excitement. Along with shared pride and admiration. Pride and admiration in author Emily Taylor Smith and her accomplishments, having now walked thousands of kilometres for the sheer joy of it. Not to mention the friendships she makes. And her latest adventure, walking the perimeter of New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula, is another epic journey for the record books.
The publisher’s blurb encapsulates the author’s undertaking:
“After completing a 3,000-kilometre hike of coastal Nova Scotia and making a number of dramatic changes in her life, Emily Taylor Smith is compelled to undertake another Maritime journey on foot, this time following the coastline of New Brunswick and the Gaspé all the way to Quebec City.
“She plans a solitary trip, searching for life lessons along the way and carrying everything she needs with her on her back. Emily severely underestimates the Fundy Footpath, struggles to communicate in French, nearly throws in the towel at the tip of Kouchibouguac Park, and survives a sleepless night in a collapsed tent on the windy Gaspé shore.
“What she doesn’t count on is the support which appears daily in the form of roadside messages, random gifts of ice cream, generous postmistresses and flag collectors, and help that comes from within. The challenging regimen of 45 kilometres a day for two months is transcended by a growing spiritual bond with the landscape that keeps her moving forward.”
What I enjoyed most about Smith’s latest adventure is that a depth of personal growth emanates from the page. Not only is it effectively articulated and shared, but is evident in the writing itself. I applaud the author for committing to the craft as much as her ambitious travel endeavour and succeeding at both.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emily Taylor Smith grew up in Salisbury, New Brunswick. Her love of coastal hiking led her to walk the coastline of New Brunswick and the Gaspé Peninsula, as well as the perimeters of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Just the Usual Work: The Social Worlds of Ida Martin, Working-Class Diarist offers a historical narrative of Saint John, New Brunswick in the post-war period. Built from short diary entries penned by Ida Martin, grandmother of co-author Bonnie Huskins, the book follows the Martin family and their larger community from 1945 to 1992. Organized into six chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion, Just the Usual Work navigates local labour, gender, and familial histories. The text also raises questions of care and consumerism, and branches out from snippets of Ida’s everyday experiences and into the broader significance of religion, aging, and community relations. Through it all, Ida’s voice rings clear and offers access to a marginalized history of working-class women in the Maritime region.
Though Ida and her family are at the centre of the text, Huskins and co-author Michael Boudreau work to fill in the blanks created by the form of the diaries. Written as account-style ledgers of daily goings-on, Ida’s entries are sparse and use an economy of language that excludes detail while, at the same time, suggesting importance and meaning. Refrains like the title’s “Just the usual work” or notes about men “being bad” emphasize, to differing degrees, moments of both monotony and importance. As the authors note, in many places the diaries form a “textual collage . . . which contribute[s] to a representation of Ida Martin’s social and political self” (100). Likewise, Just the Usual Work brings together limited source material, family memory, and detailed scholarship to form an effective portrait of a place and people.
While some chapters scratch the surface of their intended focus, others offer an attentive investigation of their subjects. One of the most compelling aspects develops from an assertion made in the introduction, which outlines how the diaries were not an act of private reflection but rather familial record keeping. As the “key reference in her family’s efforts to reconstruct their collective pasts” (23), Ida’s diaries comprise recollections that were accessible to other family members. This positioning impacts what makes its way onto the page and what stays there. The authors make clear that what is left unsaid, scratched out, or written over in the diaries is just as important as what remains. In this way, the entries offer space for speculation, consideration, and questioning as a semi-public chronicling of events, a “textual projection of a life” mediated by a variety of factors, pressures, and external readers.
As a literary scholar, I find joy in the slow and careful reading of text within such complex matrixes. This joy is mirrored in Boudreau and Huskins’s methods, as they pay careful attention to language, tone, atmosphere, and materiality while discussing Ida’s writing. They observe, contextualize, and analyze the accounts while maintaining an accessible focus, making Just the Usual Work an enjoyable read for a broad audience. That said, some of the reflections on the difference between literary and historical approaches seem a bit heavy or excessive. There are also areas where I found the authors go to great lengths to underscore why this project matters, almost as if the anticipated reader is someone who will poke holes in, or undercut, the validity of the project. To me, the value of Ida’s life and diaries is overt and exciting, which left me wanting to dive in faster than this impulse to reasoning allowed.
Overall, Just the Usual Work is a wonderful addition to histories of the Maritime region and a loving homage to a woman whose diary practice spanned almost an entire lifetime. As Huskins and Boudreau navigate the accounts of Ida’s life, their analysis offers readers an overview of a community governed by patterns of seasonal labour, the need for frugal spending, and a complicated sense of contentment alongside a desire for stability. Without flourish or the time for embellishment, the ebb and flow of Ida’s narrative are enlightening and unique, so too are the insights Huskins and Boudreau garner from her words and experiences.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Boudreau is professor of criminology and criminal justice, St. Thomas University.
Bonnie Huskins teaches history at St. Thomas University and is adjunct professor at the University of New Brunswick.
Publisher : McGill-Queen’s University Press (Feb. 19 2021)
For anyone who has never visited the Miramichi region, it’s a wild, gorgeous place. I lived in Miramichi—a part of the city then called Chatham—for a year when I was young.
My father was in the military and we lived on the old air force base. It was the year my father was diagnosed with cancer. I was mostly too young to know about cancer, or death, but I remember vividly the shadowy ravine behind my school, the giant flinty boulders and the wide, propulsive river we drove across to get to Newcastle.
I thought a lot about rural New Brunswick reading Wild Green Light, the new poetry collaboration between David Adams Richards and Margo Wheaton. Anyone who has read Richards knows he has built an admirable, award-winning career exploring and transcribing the reality of New Brunswickers who have often gotten the short end of the stick in the dog-eat-dog world of global capitalism, but who still manage to find dignity, mercy and meaning in their lives.
The dark heart of nostalgia beats through this new collection—featuring twenty lyric poems by Richards and a series of ghazals by Wheaton: decaying country homes, raucous kitchen tables, rambling rivers, dark woods like the kind I knew as a boy. These are poems that look back over the shoulder, a mourning for what’s been lost: childhood, dreams, forests, mentors and beloved matriarchs like Wheaton’s grandmother.
We live in an age where we believe ourselves to be untethered to time and space. We’re citizens of a virtual commons, where the oligarchies of Big Tech control the minutiae of our lives, much as the lumber barons and coal company overlords did in decades past. Amidst this shrinking psychic space, what does regional literature—the rooted, complex worlds spun in poems like those in Wild Green Light—offer us today?
First, these seemingly insular poems, with their testaments to local seasons, their homage to the “wild and forgotten river,” their references to Escuminac and Neguac, remind us that despite our nomadic qualities and virtual longings, our lives are inherently local. While our day jobs in Sydney or Summerside might connect us with customers and consumers the world over, at night we wander streets and trade gossip with folks close to home. When we find ourselves leaving—as any Maritimer who has headed Out West or to Toronto or Beijing for work will tell you, “travelling all my life,” as Richards says in one poem—we dream of oceans and bays, islands and tidelines.
Our imaginations are fed by mysteries laid down in our blood from these dark places that made us. And while demographers tell us that many parts of our region are emptying, dreams are still dreamt and tears still wept right here on the edge of the world.
We forget the magical quality of our local lives and literatures at our own peril. In an interview with Image Journal a few years ago, speaking of his obsession with writing about his corner of New Brunswick, Richards said:
I think because it is the world as much as any other place—just as much as Saint Petersburg or Mississippi or London or Paris. In fact, all people are regional, no matter how cosmopolitan they believe they are—and all people are in some sense cosmopolitan.
And if there’s a truth to this golden age of Netflix, it’s that there’s a hunger now more than ever for authentic local stories. For literature that holds up a mirror to who we are and shares this vision confidently with the world.
The poems in Wild Green Light, in all their luscious darkness, their longing and mourning, speak to us not because they’re from anywhere, but because they’re from right here. There’s no reason for the stories we tell about this place we live and love not to be celebrated around the globe.
By so deeply inhabiting and translating a world that’s full of its particular strangeness, its taut textures and plainspoken beauty, Richards and Wheaton prove this for us, poem after intricate poem.
This article originally appeared in Atlantic Books Today’s Spring 2021 issue #93 as “This Dark Place That Made Us” and is reproduced here with their kind permission.
Publisher : Pottersfield Press (April 21 2021)
Language : English
Paperback : 60 pages
ISBN-10 : 1989725430
ISBN-13 : 978-1989725436
*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3w9lMFw Thanks!
Billed as “A New Brunswick Non-Fiction Novel” Twice to the Gallows by Fredericton author Dominique Perrin is the perfect type of story that leans more toward the “creative’ side due to the paucity of facts surrounding the unusual case of Bennie Swim, a double-killer (he was only convicted of murder for one of his killings) in the Carleton County area of New Brunswick back in the early 1920s.
Bennie’s story is the timeless one of an angry jilted lover with the mentality “If I can’t have her nobody can” and sets off to visit Olive, the girl who wanted nothing to do with him and her new husband, Harvey. He has a revolver that he traded his worldly belongings to acquire.
What facts are known is that acting in a blind rage Bennie killed both Olive and Harvey Trenholm in their home, and then attempted suicide by shooting himself, at which he failed. He then fled the scene and managed to escape capture for a few hours (it was wintertime, so he wasn’t hard to track on foot). As Mr. Perrin notes in the Afterword:
“Bennie’s behaviour may look pretty stupid to us, but it was driven by his unbearable loss and passionate jealousy.”
More facts are known once Bennie is in jail awaiting trial, his quick conviction (despite the best efforts of his beleaguered lawyer in a losing cause) and his incarceration awaiting his execution by hanging. Bennie attempts to claim insanity, and while he cleverly fools two New Brunswick doctors, an Ontario psychiatrist is brought in and isn’t fooled one bit. Bennie must hang. However, a professional hangman cannot be sourced locally, so two apprentice hangmen are brought in, much to the Sherriff’s chagrin, as one is a total drunk and the other inexperienced in the science of a proper hanging (hence the book’s title). This section is particularly entertaining as Sherriff Foster appears to be the only competent person in Bennie’s solitary life.
Mr. Perrin has done a fine job of recreating the times and mores of an early 20th century rural New Brunswick with its small inter-related communities of simple, hardworking folks. Of necessity, he recreates dialogue where needed and reasonable speculation where possible when all the facts are not known. He has certainly performed careful research through archives, tracing out all the connections to the story down to the present day. If you like books that recreate true historical crimes (such as Debra Komar’s, for instance), then I am sure you will enjoy reading Twice to the Gallows.
Dominique Perrin served in the Canadian Armed Forces for twenty-six years. Since retirement he has become a jazz musician, playing alto saxophone. He regularly plays in jazz clubs of several European cities. He also performs and gives lessons in advanced saxophone in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where he lives.
Publisher : Chapel Street Editions (June 11 2019)
Language : English
Paperback : 242 pages
ISBN-10 : 1988299241
ISBN-13 : 978-1988299242
*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/329tulr Thanks!
Emily Taylor Smith grew up in Salisbury, New Brunswick, taking her first wooded hikes in the southeastern part of the province and learning about nature from her father, an avid writer, gardener and trapper. She developed a love of long-distance coastal hiking as a young woman and has now walked the coastal roads of all three Maritime provinces: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, as well as the Gaspé peninsula. She raised money for the Diabetes Association by walking 100 kilometres in 19 hours from Halifax to Truro. Emily moved to Nova Scotia to attend university at Acadia and performed on stage with the Atlantic Theatre Festival for four seasons. She wrote three short plays which were produced in Halifax. Later, she founded Local Tasting Tours, a culinary walking tour in the HRM, and wrote briefly for the Local Connections Halifax magazine. Her book Around the Province in 88 Days was published by Pottersfield Press in 2019. Emily lives in Dartmouth Nova Scotia with her husband Darren and their three pets, Woody, Weslie and Wilson.
MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
I remember being intrigued by Dennis Lee’s rhyming poetry as a child, and I was fascinated with every one of L.M. Montgomery’s characters. My fifth grade teacher, Arthur Crooks, gave us short writing assignments and showered me with encouragement about my poetry especially.
MR: Your first book, Around the Province in 88 Days was, as our reviewer put it, “the kind of adventure I feel we all want and need. Connections and connectivity.” Can you comment on that? What was the reaction to your book?
When I mapped and planned my hike around Nova Scotia I needed places to stay and also wanted to get people involved, so I arranged billets and invited walkers to join me along the route. As I was writing the book I realized the theme was really about the connection I had made with so many supportive Nova Scotians whom I met and learned about on the trip. After I got home, it became very clear that the connection I had made with those people and with nature had truly changed me. The most common reaction I had to the book was people telling me it had inspired them to take trips and explore their province.
MR: Now let’s move on to your newest book, No Thanks, I Want to Walk: Two Months on Foot Around New Brunswick and the Gaspé which is about your travels around New Brunswick and the beautiful Gaspé region of Quebec. Tell us, what do you see as the differences and similarities between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick? (I’m thinking of landscapes, the people, the roads, etc.)
I planned this second journey as a completely different type of excursion because I knew how solitary it would be, camping alone. To avoid trespassing, I asked permission to set up my tent on private land each night and had the same warm and helpful interactions as I had in Nova Scotia. I underestimated how much more challenging it would be to carry more weight and walk farther each day on this trip, and my pace had slowed since my Nova Scotia walk. Rediscovering familiar locations in New Brunswick which I had visited as a child was a moving experience, and walking through the Gaspé was like being on a different continent. I recommend that everyone take the time to explore that extraordinary, mountainous coastal route.
MR: So much of Northern and Central NB is all forests, with no access other than logging roads, which I imagine you avoided. What was the loneliest part of your journeys around those areas?
I walked the length of Kouchibouguac Park in one day, doing a sort of zig-zag out to Kelly Beach; for the last several hours I saw nothing but forest and was exhausted and even frightened by dusk. There were hours at a time on the north shore of the Gaspé when I followed a narrow road with sheer cliffs to my left and the ocean to my right (and nowhere to use the washroom). One of the things I love about following the secondary coastal roads in the Maritimes is coming upon small communities perched along the water. I never walked too far before finding a cheerfully painted house or some folk art.
MR: Do you have a favorite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
Every few years I pick up one of the L.M.Montgomery books which I have read so many times before and thoroughly enjoy it all over again. I am a great fan of Eckhart Tolle and often re-read his books and get something new each time. Otherwise, I feel there is not enough time on this earth to read all the books I want to read, and I’m always finding new ones.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?
I find myself fascinated by people who have had solitary and spiritual experiences in nature like John Muir, Peace Pilgrim, Henry David Thoreau. I recently read Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell and would love to talk to him and learn more about his isolated life with otters in Northern Scotland. I want to know what it felt like and what went through his head as he spent months alone with the wildlife on the desolate coast.
MR: What are you working on now? Walking around PEI? Newfoundland and Labrador?
I have my eye on a series of well-developed coastal hiking trails in Wales. I read an article about them years ago in a travel magazine and had an immediate emotional response to the photographs. I would also love to explore the coastal roadways in a circular route around the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, and I understand there are a number of popular trails there as well. My husband is not keen on my taking another long hike all by myself so I plan to bring my cousin Janet along, who walked a full day with me near Chester when I hiked Nova Scotia.
MR: For all that walking, what type (brand) of shoe do you prefer?
For me, a good, light running sneaker is ideal for long hikes. I have used New Balance and Asics and found them both fine. SmartWool socks are also key for breathability.
MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
You should have asked, “What do you like to do when you are not writing or walking?” I am definitely at my happiest when I find time for those. I enjoy cooking for others, watching really good films and theatre, and I love studying languages and literature and hope to do more of it one day. I’m a people person too, and love discussing life, art, love and spirituality with good friends.
MR: Finally, tell us an interesting fact about yourself!
I studied classical piano for ten years. I also think it’s interesting that the people in my family had children relatively late, and my grandfather was actually born in 1895!
Photo credit of Emily Taylor Smith: Michelle Doucette
JUDY BOWMAN is an award-winning author and former President of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in a number of literary journals including Room, Qwerty, Rattle (US), and have also been anthologized in The Vagrant Revue of New Fiction. A former columnist and feature writer, she was voted favourite journalist for the Miramichi region in 2008. That same year, she was also nominated for the Atlantic Newspapers Freelance Journalism Award for her story about a residential school survivor. Judy Bowman lives in Miramichi.
Miramichi Reader: Judy, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. I’ve been meaning to interview you sooner, but now is an especially optimal time since you have two books you wish to mention.
Thank you, James, for your interest in Life a Gift Passed On: an Anthology of Elders’ Stories, a Words on Water Legacy Project. Words on Water is a literary organization that encourages emerging and established writers through workshops and readings. In 2005, Michelle Cadogan and I joined ranks and organized monthly readings and music at Edgewater Gallery and which is the longest-running series in the region.
I’ll begin with your interest in Life a Gift Passed On: An Anthology of Elder Stories.
Holding my copy of Life a Gift Passed On is a surreal experience. After my first grant application to New Horizons for the Words on Water Legacy Project had been declined, you can’t imagine how stunned I was to receive a phone call from Marie-Paule Thériault at MP Pat Finnegan’s office. She said, “Judy, I was reading your grant proposal from last year. It is a really good idea. Would you like me to help you write another proposal for this year?” How did she know? I discovered that all federal grant applications from his district land on our MP Pat Finnegan’s desk. While he can’t endorse any grants, his staff dedicate many hours of assistance to each grant applicant. After numerous hours of revisions, with helpful suggestions from Marie-Paule, I sent the proposal off and thought nothing more about it for the next twelve months. When my application was accepted, that is all I thought about for the following year.
I curated stories from people of every culture in our communities along the Miramichi Bay: Indigenous, Anglophones, Francophones, and newcomers to Canada. Each narrative in Life a Gift Passed On is a signature story and equally important to me. Each narrative has timeless relevance and meaning for others—young and old—with threads that criss-cross in time. Doris Rose Stymiest, Maya Joosten and Cecil Mullin share their direct but different experiences in Europe during World War 2, yet model the same endurance and courage, as does Patricia Curtis, in “Love, Lobbying and Tactile Language” and Jeannette Foley in “Never Give Up”; two mothers displaying invincible courage, determination and dedication in surmounting countless obstacles to create the best lives for their sons.
The most valuable gift to me, and to the others involved, was the knowledge that each contributor knew they had been seen and heard; that their story in this book helped validate their lives; that they can celebrate their own story. The impact of this will span more decades. In years hence, if a descendant wonders about a grandparent, there will be a record. During the Year of the Veteran, I created a memory wall for veterans at the Miramichi Senior Citizens Home. One of the veterans stood studying his framed picture and story. “What are you going to do with it after I’m gone?” he asked me. When I reassured him his picture would be there long after he passed, he cried. Now MSCH is closed. The pictures are safe in an album and in the care of the former administrator. He is remembered. They all are.
During the year-wait for the news of the New Horizons grant, I began to work with Kayla Geitzler on my collection of poetry. As a writing coach and an editor, Kayla is first and foremost honest. I didn’t want an editor who would tell me what I wanted to hear. Anyone who wants to improve their writing skills needs this type of mentor. She is kind and encouraging and explains her reasoning. With Kayla, I have an editor who has challenged me to work hard and expand my poetry. She runs the Attic Owl reading series in Moncton and is now the Anglophone Poet Laureate for that city.
When she came on board to edit Life a Gift Passed On, she brought her impeccable skills to the project. She says, “It was a gift to edit this project. I was so thrilled that Judy trusted me and we had a lot of fun together, sharing our mutual feelings of inspiration that arose with each story. It was a privilege to promote so many wise and humble elder voices, especially during the first year of the pandemic. As my editing career progresses, I will always be proud to say that Life A Gift Passed On was my first official book contract.”
How many people in their late 90s get their story into a book? Have a book launch? For most people, it’s a brand new experience. Despite Covid-19 restrictions, I arranged a small launch at Bridgeview Home. As I read excerpts of their stories, I could see the contributors trying to be modest yet dancing inside. I teared up when they signed books for staff and residents. Family members stop me on the street – at a safe distance of course – to tell me how they and their loved ones are so thrilled and happy with this book. My process of creating Life a Gift Passed On has been like walking a twelve-path labyrinth; years of twists and turns to different roles as I as a writer, a mother, a nurse, a teacher, was walking the far outer edge. Slow, fast, whatever the journey was for me, I am now holding a book that I curated and helped write accompanied by humble, helpful people who shared their stories with me or fulfilled a writing dream of their own. I am happy to say that OUR book has reached Ontario, New York State, New York City and is on the way to Australia and soon, to New Mexico.
Do you have a favourite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
There are too many books to name. My heart’s home base, my great grandparents’ farm in Black River Bridge, New Brunswick, was stacked with books, many about young girls doing what they wanted in life, not the traditional roles of wives and mothers. Most of the authors were women. My Gram, Grace Elspeth Godfrey Williston, also loved books. Like hidden cookies, I could sniff out any of the hiding places where Gram stashed her naughty romances and I stayed up all night to read them. Depending on the book, I still do.
Dad was R.C.A.F and we were always on the move. From the time I was born an air force brat in Chicoutimi, Quebec and hopped back and forth, base to base, from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick and Quebec, I had changed schools twenty-two times. I was very shy so books were my escape to sanctuary. I can live vicariously through the characters. Deciding on a favourite book is difficult because I like most genres. Fantasy: Stephen R. Donaldson’s series, the Thomas Covenant Chronicles; Jack Whyte’s A Dream of Eagles series, his Templar Knight trilogy; Hilary Mantel’s: Bring Up The Bodies and Wolf Hall. These are ones I revisit at times and still get lost in the stories. I love the wit and humour of Marion Keyes.
The book with the most impact on me was the Diary of Anne Frank. When I read it, like Anne, I was in my early teens and kept a diary filled with the exciting events of each day: ‘Got up. Went to school. Ate supper. Went to bed.’ Anne’s situation of hiding out in and confiding in her friend Kitty was all was very romantic to me and reinforced when I saw the movie, that is, until I learned the true circumstances and history of that time. Immediately I found a notebook and began my letters to Anne filled with my early boy crushes, my woes, hopes and dreams.
Anne was a constant friendship that didn’t end with a move. In 2009, I visited the Anne Frank Huis (house) in Amsterdam. While in line beside the Prinsengracht Canal, I marveled at the timelessness and reach of Anne’s story; so many other mothers and daughters from so many countries stood with me to visit the Secret Annex. The bells of the nearby Westerkerk (church) rang as we waited. I wondered: had Anne heard them during the war? Had they been rung on the hour?
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés ranks in importance to me with The Diary of Anne Frank. Dr. E. writes about myths and dreams that are cross-cultural and most relevant to women and their creativity. It sustained me through some difficult situations and the transition from the culture in Ontario to the culture here. In 2015, I traveled to Colorado for a training workshop in archetypal and cross-cultural psychology with Dr. Estés: Seeing in the Dark and The Death and Resurrection of the Phoenix. I am still figuring those lessons out. I’m now interested in researching the myths of my own ancestors and finding my own myth or combination of such and framing it in fiction or poetry.
Education and Employment
As I was thinking about your question on education and back ground, I realized that my interest in writing and my jobs in health care are intertwined. Both experiences have led to this legacy project. After training at Guelph General and St. Joseph’s Hospitals in Guelph, and graduating from Conestoga College of Applied Arts and Technology, in Ontario, I worked at K-W Hospital in Kitchener. Along with working with the most amazing gang of women, now lifetime friends, what I loved best about the job was learning the patients’ stories that were not on the chart. As more newcomers from around the world arrived in the Waterloo Region, their experiences fascinated me and I took every opportunity to hear about their lives. Their stories broadened my view of the world; some broke my heart open.
Apart from nurses’ notes, I hadn’t written since high school, but the yearning had never left. Storylines ran like newsfeeds through my brain. How the matter came up, I can’t recall, but I did admit this long postponed dream to my pastor. Not long after, I received a call from the editor of the Erb Street Mennonite Church Newsletter requesting that I write the story about the journey of our church sponsored Vietnamese family to Canada. Few in our community knew this refugee family closed their shop one evening and walked away from their house and business to a refugee camp in Cambodia, where they spent the next two years. That article was well received and I went to write the story of my friend’s miracle. While recovering from a single lung transplant, my friend revealed that just hours before getting the call from the transplant team at a London hospital, she had surrendered to the knowledge that she had hours perhaps a day or two to live. When she had done so, she was filled with peace regardless of the outcome, and knew she would be alright. That call came just hours after.
My husband Don and I moved to Miramichi in 1992 and my plan was to write. My main interest was fiction. I have two novels completed in first draft only. Several of my short stories were published and I did win several awards in the WFNB Literary Competitions. When the Miramichi Writers’ Group was formed I loved the meetings. They were fun and because we didn’t get caught up in a board and minutes of the meetings and all that rigmarole, the group remained fun and interesting. As much as I enjoyed serving on the board and then as president of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, the business of organizations can drain hours from your day that you can spend on writing.
When NBCC hosted classes for three New Brunswick Universities, I signed up for classes. If the number of credits I’ve accumulated counted, I would have achieved a Bachelor of Arts degree years ago and perhaps been on my way to a Master’s Degree. But so many were interesting: narrative gerontology –yes, it had an influence on my writing of elders−English, Creative Writing, Sociology, Philosophy and so on. I am studying informally. You Tube has fascinating lectures on myth and Jungian Interpretations.
Happenstance or happy chance, I was offered a column for a local magazine, “The Captains’ Log”. I came up with the name Signature Stories and continued on with profiles of community members. This little magazine was very popular, so much so, it was bought out and then unfortunately cancelled a few months later.
Next, the editor of the Miramichi Leader offered me a weekly column and freelance work with that local newspaper. Like my previous work, my column showcased people in the community; not celebrity types, but the folks around us who are doing remarkable service, volunteering for others or modeling loving kindness. They are often overlooked, particularly if they are older. I wanted this group recognized. However, I admit I did tend to focus on veterans, and the seniors I worked with, more than others.
As a freelancer I wrote extensively on fitness, and on women’s issues: pay equity, residential school survivors. I focused a lot on domestic violence education and featured accounts of local women killed by domestic violence and represented in the Silent Witness Project; a red free-standing red silhouette bears a shield engraved with the name of a victim. New Brunswick was the first province in Canada to adopt the initiative started in the United States to increase public awareness of domestic violence
Research on a story on how Forest Protection Ltd. fought forest fires with an air tanker squadron awarded me great adventures. During one hot dry summer, I flew on a practice run with the air tankers. What a thrill to watch from the scout plane as the air tankers, one plane after another dived low, leveled out and dropped the water on target; perfect timing all around. Topping that experience was the day I took off in a WW2 Avenger air craft on a fire reconnaissance flight. What lift-off power; no wonder they could take off from an aircraft carrier! Even with protection, my ears rang for a day after.
A front page story above the fold was big deal for me. When veterans Fred Moar and John Forbes received the status of Knights of the Order of the Legion of Honour from France, I was sent to the ceremony in Fredericton. The medal was presented by France’s Ambassador Daniel Jouanneau whom I found to be very easy to talk with. After Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for residential schools, I chronicled Harry Narvey’s experience at Shubenacadie residential school and that story was nominated for the Atlantic Newspapers Freelance Journalism Award. In 2008, I received the Miramichi Leader Readers’ Choice Award for Favourite Journalist.
If you could write a biography of any living person, living or dead, who would that be?
After looking at my books, I think the only person I would write about is Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun who was born in America. I am interested in why and how she chose Buddhism as her spiritual path. That said, I am interested in many peoples’ stories but considering that a biography would be longer than a signature story, I don’t believe I would attempt it.
Tell us about books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to write.
I can’t decide whether my love of reading or writing came first, but according to a note written by me on the back of a handmade scrap-paper card to my great grandmother, I began to write when I was four years old. I wanted Gauma to know I was writing all my books for her. She taught me to read and print long before I started school. Can you imagine my disappointment when all Dick and Jane did was run?
But Jane had an influence on me. She has evolved. Jane is my go-to name for characters; at present the main character in a novel I am working on. Jane popped up in a series of Miramichi Leader features when I wanted an edgier voice to discuss the pitfalls of exercise or the traumatic experiences of a mother of the bride. To be completely honest, Jane had the freedom to say things I wouldn’t. Some women named Jane decided that they were the role models of my honest, saucy Jane; sure, why not?
Not only did the subjects of primary school books disappoint me, so did Bible stories. What? Moses didn’t reach the Promised Land? Later, I edited that story and rewrote that ending along with others I disagreed with—rewrites which in some circles might be considered heresy. When my reading skills improved, the next solemn, heavy tome was the King James Version of the Bible. Gauma’s sense of humour vanished the second she opened it. Only once did my serious great grandmother, Janet MacDonald Watling Godfrey, she of the church pinches, stray from the path of righteousness. When I pronounced physicians, fizzycans, she laughed for several minutes until she comported herself.
Gauma was my informal language arts teacher, and my grandmother, Grace Elspeth Godfrey Williston, my Gram, was my teacher during our stints in New Brunswick. Gram told me years later she was hard on me in school because she didn’t want to be accused of any favouritism towards me in class. Believe me when I say that no one could ever accuse her of it.
Only three other teachers do I remember clearly; those memories are based on their kindness and encouragement of me. In Lachine, Quebec, Miss Gellar was my Grade 3 teacher and one, I am realizing now, was one of the many guardian angels who helped me and my family during my parents’ illnesses and my foster care. Miss Gellar often walked me home along the Lakeshore and asked me about my life and I had no filters on any information sharing at that time in my life. She was the first teacher I remember reading to the class. Before class ended each day, she read a story. I still laugh when I recall how she read Winnie the Poo with a voice change for each character. I wasn’t the only student rolling on the floor laughing when my favourite character, squeaky little Piglet, saw the Heffalump.
The first person to help me imagine the possibility of being a writer was Helen Jenkins, now Helen Jones, my Grade 9 teacher at St. Thomas High School in Chatham, New Brunswick. Miss Jenkins set the bar for truth and honesty by her behavior in the classroom. I loved that we each read parts when we studied plays. I appreciated her no-nonsense, kind, grounded way of speaking. In short, I trusted her when she encouraged me to write after commenting on my essays. She assigned the class to write a short story. When she told me mine, Red Surprise – about a surprise air attack on New York City − was good enough to send it for consideration for publication in a New Brunswick students’ anthology, I think I floated home. But, by that March, I was long gone from her class and attending Forest Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ontario. But her encouragement took root. I recall the joy of writing my first draft, the sun beaming in the south window, the woodstove warm beside me, and Gauma’s bread baking in the oven.
Mr. Ziegel, my grade 11 history teacher at Elmira District Secondary School, was pickier about our essays than the English teacher. Class was never boring. I starred as King Xerxes in the movie we made to study the Persian Wars. I liked researching and writing essays. Years later, he greeted me in an aisle at Zellers. When I shared my surprise that he remembered me, he said, “I clearly remember two things about you. You were very pale and you were a very good writer.” I’m still thrilled with the writer comment.
What do I like to do when I am not writing?
Spring, summer and fall, I love to spend time outside in my garden. My husband built me a four-path labyrinth in our back yard so I like to spend time walking there. I am fascinated with labyrinths and on my next visit to France, I will visit Chartres Cathedral labyrinth. Cooking vegetables from our garden is satisfying and I love chopping vegetables and food prep in general; I did work as a food prep cook at the Whooper years ago and that was one of the very few things I enjoyed about that job. Daydreaming is my happy place, especially when holding a cup of the blessed elixir of life: coffee and sitting watching the early morning sky and taking a voyage into my imagination.
Ella Curtis, in Life a Gift Passed On, spoke about imagination being her greatest gift. It is mine as well. Rather than decreasing, my imagination has grown over the course of my life. The conversations and adventures I have in my mind sometimes get channeled to the page. And no, when alone, I am not talking to myself, I am conversing with people I want to understand, some of them long dead. Perhaps you can imagine my confrontations with politicians, regardless of party; few if any (though I am hoping to be disproved) have any credible acting skills. When my BS detector goes off, I practice my own brand of sincere and passionate speech.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I have been described by family members as eccentric. Staff I’ve worked with told me I was “weird- oh but Judy! In a good way.” When my grandchildren were pre-school, when they played they called me the Saucywitch – a compliment in my view and bested me in battle. If I want to do an activity and it doesn’t exist in our community, I will make it happen. One of many examples: When I moved there was few opportunities for aerobic classes so I trained as a fitness instructor and ran classes for ten years.
What am I working on now?
Now that Life a Gift Passed On is in the world, I want to concentrate on my poetry collection Nights on the Wing. These poems are veteran and elder related narratives that speak to the cost of war on vulnerable men and women: night terrors, memories loosened by dementia or random late night confessions. I am fascinated by how dementia manifests in people. If you listen long enough, you will hear a scrap of a story. As my editor and coach, Kayla has urged me to explore the subjects in greater depth, unpack the images.
When Kayla invited me to submit poems to Cadence, a collection of New Brunswick women’s voices she edited with Elizabeth Blanchard, I knew my efforts to improve my work had paid off. I was a calibre poet. Published by Frog Hollow Press, it is part of the New Brunswick Chapbook Series. I submitted two poems from Nights on the Wing. Cadence was launched at an online Frye Festival event in 2020. The contributors are from all NB communities, races, and languages with translation. It is an amazing accomplishment for these two women and all of us. Cadence was launched in partnership with the Frye Festival. Imagine me reading at a Frye Festival event!
Loney Hudson has created a historical book of events and people from Kent County, New Brunswick. An excellent compilation of stories from days gone by, many from people I have the pleasure of knowing.
The Miramichi Reader received this book from Crossfield Publishing and knowing I was from the area, James asked me if I would be interested in doing a review. I jumped at the chance.
Loney does a remarkable job of interviewing residents and bringing their tales to life. Many stories are short and each one sparks a memory for those that grew up knowing the individuals. She has also graciously acknowledged the contributing authors.
While the audience may be limited to those with a keen interest of Kent County, it is an enjoyable venture that anyone interested in local history will enjoy. The typestyle is bold and easy on the eyes, truly a pleasure to read, in one or many sittings. As well, as I know numerous people within the book, I learned something new about them.
An interesting story of Ethan Hudson and his wife Nancy – a wartime bride. A young lady of eighteen, married a soldier from Canada and sailed to a foreign land. What courage.
In September, 1946, Nancy boarded the Queen Mary to come to Canada and join her husband. She didn’t know anyone else on the ship but there were over 500 war brides and some children. War brides did not have to pay passage.
This is a tale of my aunt and uncle with a part of their history I never knew. There are so many more and each one is a delight to discover.
Jason Lawson, an accomplished author from Kent County, also contributed to the book, relating the escapades of his father, Alan and his grandfather, Everett.
People in the neighbourhood must’ve thought Dad (Alan) was an “extreme farmer.” And I’m sure Everett Lawson, my grandfather, thought he was extremely something, when it came to running the farm. So, it’s a wonder the barn didn’t fall down the day Dad arrived home with a small herd of Buffalo.
I relished this book and I think you will too. Thank you, James, and a special thank you to Loney Hudson and Crossfield Publishing.
Loney grew up in Targettville, New Brunswick, the daughter of William and Ruth (Thompson) Donaher. She has lived in this community all her life and enjoys the rural way of life where people make much of their own entertainment and know most of their neighbors. Growing up in a family with eight brothers and sisters, she can relate to the people whom she writes about. As a child in school, history was, and continues to be, a favorite subject for Loney. She is the sixth generation of James Donaher who emigrated from Ireland sometime after his birth in 1785. He died in 1855 at the age of 70. Loney is married with three grown children and is a homecare worker. She enjoys painting, music and of course, a good story.
Publisher : Crossfield Publishing (Oct. 1 2020)
Paperback : 332 pages
ISBN-10 : 1775149641
ISBN-13 : 978-1775149644
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This book marks the fifth installment in Mr. Bowie’s popular Donovan: Thief for Hire series and all of them have been reviewed here at The Miramichi Reader. While the series is firmly in the “Crime-Thriller” genre, they cheat toward the cozy side of things, as there is little in the way of profanities or gratuitous sex scenes. Mr. Bowie concentrates on the story with very few diversions, other than describing the food and wine the characters are dining on.
Note: possible spoiler alerts ahead!
Her Irish Boyfriend puts Sean back in the UK assisting his friend DI Gemma Trask, whom we first met in Steal It All (Book #3). Gemma is a tough, yet vulnerable officer of the law and she has some serious doubts about her Irish boyfriend Danny. Sean is only too glad to help and he leaves his wife Beth in charge of their Niagara winery and flies over to England (Beth will soon join him though). The duo soon finds that Danny is up to no good, but what exactly he is up to is a mystery that requires unfolding. Most of the action takes place in York, in and around York Minster Cathedral and The Shambles, a gentrified former meat market.
Mr. Bowie’s novels excel in the action sequences, of which there are not as many in Her Irish Boyfriend as there are in the other books of the series. Originally, Sean worked alone (aside from some shady contacts) relying on the tools in his ever-present messenger bag and his clever mind to outwit his adversaries. Now, he has his wife Beth, Gemma, and a York constable (who was assigned by the York police to assist the trio as well as keep an eye on them). It is the moments when Sean goes up against an antagonist with his mind and whatever weapons are to hand that make for the most enjoyable reading. The following passage finds Sean and Beth paying a visit to one of Danny’s friends:
Without warning, Donovan reached over and whipped the throw blanket off Phelan’s thin frame. “My bomb and pistol trump your knife, man. Drop it on the floor, and let’s get serious. You know you’re this close to meeting your maker as a nine-fingered prick, right? So just give me answers.” Phelan released the knife, letting it fall to the floor.
Beth slid the door open, closed it behind her, and sat on the edge of an easy chair. Without prompting, she withdrew an Acdal Ghost with silencer from her purse, attached the silencer with deliberation and then placed it in her lap. Playing the role just a bit over the top, Beth leaned forward, both elbows on her knees. She stared intently at Phelan. The Irishman locked into her stare, eyes wide with fear.
“Eyes over here, buddy. Stupid people make her nervous, and you do not want to make an assassin nervous.”
Sean Donovan talks tough and smart and always gets what he wants. He shifts into a different mode when ensconced in the criminal world, but is a kind, caring, loyal man with those whom he trusts. It remains to be seen whether the series will move forward or not. Mr. Bowie confided that he thought this was his best book of the series. Personally, I still favour Steal It All, but Her Irish Boyfriend is a strong entry in a very good crime-thriller series. Recommended for fans of the genre. You can view the reviews of Mr. Bowie’s other books here, along with an interview: Chuck Bowie – The Miramichi Reader.
Chuck Bowie graduated from the University of New Brunswick in Canada with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. He lives on the East Coast of Canada. Chuck is married, with two adult musician sons. He and his wife Lois live in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Publisher : MuseItUp Publishing (Nov. 19 2020)
Paperback : 229 pages
ISBN-10 : 1773920677
ISBN-13 : 978-1773920672
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Of Canada’s thirteen provinces and territories, New Brunswick’s population sits near the middle at #8, just behind Nova Scotia and ahead of PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador. Yet, despite its small population (well under 800,000), there is a wealth of good books either being written by authors based in New Brunswick or books about the “picture province” some even are published here. The books in this “Top New Brunswick Books of 2020” list cover all ages and tastes and will give you an idea of the diversity of voices – both young and old – that emanate from here. This list includes fiction for young readers as well as mature ones, and non-fiction titles concerning New Brunswick, and its history, people, and geography.
When the Hill Came Down is a book suitable for mature teen readers on up. It is set in the Kingston Peninsula and goes back and forth in time to tell the story of Keefe Williams, who was orphaned as a young child when his house was destroyed in a mudslide, killing both his parents. He was then raised by an unloving uncle and aunt, which left him emotionally scarred and a target of school bullies. It is in high school, he meets Summer Barkley, a newcomer to the peninsula and a strong relationship is formed. It is Summer who wants to reconcile Keefe’s past to his present, so it is her that tells Keefe’s story. New Brunswick author Susan White writes well-constructed stories, and When the Hill Came Down is no exception. I love her storytelling for it has a natural seriousness about it; very grounded, with characters that could well be drawn from real life. The situations that the protagonists (and even the antagonists) encounter is full of life lessons, making her stories trustworthy and wholesome. I highly recommend her books.
Alex Bowie is actually a nom de plume of Miramichi author Chuck Bowie, and this is the first in a series of “cozy mysteries” that she intends to write. The “Old Manse Mystery Series” is set in a town not unlike Newcastle where Emma Andrews finds herself in possession of the aforementioned “Old Manse” which was her family’s home until recently. After a body is found within it’s walls during a renovation, Emma is drawn into a web of mystery, romance and old secrets. Ideal reading for a winter’s night!
Speaking of winter, the new collection of short stories by Wayne Curtis (yet another Miramichier) is a continuation of his 2017 collection, Homecoming: The Road Less Travelled. The classic storytelling Wayne Curtis is all here: reminiscences of glory days gone by, of a world that has changed, of growing older, though perhaps not all that much wiser. They are written by a man who grew up in rural New Brunswick, left for a time, but always returned to the place his heart was.
While reading Fixing Broken Things I kept glancing over my shoulder, wondering if the author was there, describing precisely what I was experiencing. Tableside books replaced a wintertime puzzle, the change in season curbing my appetite for dark weather pastimes. Rarely have I had such a jarring sense of connection with an author I didn’t think I knew. Now I believe I was mistaken, in fact having had an intimate series of shares with a friend. A friend I simply haven’t yet met. Perfect for fans of the short story genre.
Getting lost in a book is always a joy, but falling into The Hush Sisters was a truly wonderful escape in a year like 2020. The fluctuating tension and love between Sissy and Ava Hush give a real-world grounding to the eerie memories of their childhood and the unnerving presences lingering in their home. With each new ghost, creepy space, and heated argument, I became more invested in the dark drama. What did Ava want Sissy to know? What happened between Sissy and her husband? From where (or is it whom) did the house get its aura? The Hush Sisters snagged me early on and had me gripped until the final pages.
In the near-to-middle future where Journey to the Hopewell Star takes place, interplanetary space travel exists, as well as the realization that there are other inhabitants of the universe, such as the Krygians, who have been monitoring Earth for some time but are becoming increasingly concerned about environmental injustices that continue to eradicate species at an alarming rate. Journey to the Hopewell Star is written by New Brunswick author Hannah D. State and is an excellent middle-grade reader that is full of adventure, time travel and environmental issues that are occurring in Sam Sanderson’s home province of New Brunswick as well as on the planet of Kryg. It is well-written, and even this mature-reader enjoyed it.
New Brunswick author Kathleen Peacock has written one of the most talked-about books of 2020; having made the Globe & Mail’s Top 100 Books of 2020 in the Young Adult category. Don’t let the categorization of this novel fool you though, for this mature adult reader thoroughly enjoyed it. Ms. Peacock herself describes writing You Were Never Here: “I started feeling like I was writing some strange love letter to all those New Brunswick summers I spent reading Stephen King books as a teen.” A five-star read for any age!
In Restigouche, Philip Lee takes us along this mighty river, each bend and turn akin to life. The Restigouche River flows through the remote border region … of Quebec and New Brunswick, its magically transparent waters, soaring forest hillsides, and population of Atlantic salmon creating one of the most storied wild spaces on the continent. Learning this land’s history remains invaluable. This is present-day exploration, research and experience we need now more than ever. And naturally, for the good of our environment. This book is an enlightenment, a flow of storytelling and insight through topography, literally, by way of a river called Restigouche.
This book provides a much-needed history of literary modernism in New Brunswick. Tremblay’s text is well-researched and clearly written, and I enjoyed its tone—at once both academic and conversational. Alongside its geography, New Brunswick’s social, cultural, and political histories are outlined as influential to a unique wave of writing and cultural criticism in Canada. The vision and hard work of key thinkers, like A.G. Bailey, Desmond Pacey, and Fred Cogswell, are celebrated, and the establishment of the Fiddlehead School is underscored as key to securing New Brunswick’s place in national and international cultural spheres. I love learning new things about New Brunswick, and The Fiddlehead Moment offered wonderful insight into the role of local critics and poets in shaping innovative and non-urban modernism in Canada.
I love history, and I enjoy it all the more when an authoritative author such as Mr. MacEachern (who is a professor at the University of Western Ontario) takes a deep dive into a subject regarding which there is a dearth of material. The Miramichi Fire of 1825 is just such a subject. It is one of the largest fires in North American history, yet it has been all but forgotten. Nevertheless, Mr. MacEachern manages to collate all available references from both sides of the Atlantic and, by applying his knowledge of environmental history, manages to create an extremely readable and engaging text on this little-known part of Canadian history.
*This article was originally written for Atlantic Books and was published at their site on December 14, 2020.
Gone are the days of extolling Canada as the northern terminus of the “Underground Railroad” that served to funnel Black slaves to so-called freedom north of the 49th parallel. Now, thankfully, we are seeing books that put Canada’s treatment of such Blacks under a microscope and the findings are anything but something to be proud of. Another way many Blacks arrived in Canada were on ships that carried them to what is present-day New Brunswick. They arrived with the exodus of British Loyalists from New York, the last stronghold of British resistance in the former colony. Many came as “free” persons (as they had escaped their slave owners and came over to the British side), others came as indentured servants to a white loyalist. Whatever the case, and despite what the law said about them having the same privileges and rights as a free white man, it was not to be. Slavery was still legal here.
In his brief but powerful book, historian Stephen Davidson examines the lives of eight African-Americans using what little is known or recorded of their lives to create a picture of a world that was less than kind to them.
As can be seen, slavery was all too prevalent in New Brunswick during the early decades of Loyalist settlement. Enslaved Africans were among the first to arrive in the colony. Known as the Spring Fleet, the first twenty Loyalist evacuation vessels that set sail for the mouth of the St. John River in April of 1783 had nine slaves among their passengers. By the fall, no less than 129 enslaved Blacks were working to help their white masters establish homes in the wilderness of the St. John River valley or at Parrtown. The second New Brunswick destination for enslaved Blacks was Fort Cumberland, the site of modern-day Aulac, near the border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. While they were only ten in total, they represented two out of every three Blacks who were brought to this region. It would be very difficult for the five free Black Loyalists who disembarked from the Trepassey in October of 1783 to be treated as British citizens given that so many of their brethren were considered the property of their white neighbours.
Mr. Davidson’s book highlights the struggles the men and women faced, but there is also a love story and a murder trial which makes for a balanced read. For Atlantic-Canadian historians, Black Loyalists in New Brunswick is an invaluable book to have in their library. It is concise, well-written and educational. Recommended.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
About the author: STEPHEN DAVIDSON is a historian and retired educator who has been researching the story of Black Loyalists since the mid-1970s. Along with contributing to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, he is the author of Birchtown and the Black Loyalist Experience: From 1775 to the Present. Stephen lives in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.
Publisher : Formac (Oct. 13 2020)
Paperback : 144 pages
ISBN-10 : 1459506162
ISBN-13 : 978-1459506169
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New Brunswick author Susan White writes great stories, suitable for young adult readers on up. Past reviews here at TMR include Fear of Drowning, The Memory Chairand Waiting for Still Water. Fine stories all, and I highly recommend them. Now, PEI’s Acorn Press has released her latest, When the Hill Came Down, a story about loss, jealousy, childhood abuse/misuse, love, and redemption. Let’s look at the synopsis. (Note there may be what some consider to be spoilers ahead!)
The Barkley family have just moved back to Long Reach on the Kingston Peninsula in New Brunswick from Fredericton. They have recently lost their son in a freak accidental death and Summer, their teen daughter must now adjust to a new place, a new school and her grieving parents. The other main protagonist is Keefe Williams, the target of bullies, as he often misses school due to his Uncle’s farming him out to the community as a hired hand. Of course, the Uncle pockets the money and gives Keefe the bare minimum to get by. Keefe lost both his parents when he was just a baby, due to the hill behind their house collapsing in torrential rain and destroying the house. Keefe’s mother, in a moment of desperation, throws him out a window to be saved by rescuers before she herself is buried alive in mud.
Thus, the story is dramatically staged from the outset. Summer and Keefe become friends, as they are both outcasts of sorts. However, there is a deep and tragic backstory to be told, and a family history that Keefe doesn’t want to face. Undeterred, Summer eventually gets his permission to delve into the Williams family history, as she sees it as a way to get closure for Keefe and resolve alienation from his living kin.
“It is easy to look at the past and clearly see what you should have done, but at the time it is never straightforward. It is complicated. Of course you have regrets, but what happened is not your fault. The past cannot be changed. It has unfolded as it has and there is no point torturing yourself about it.”
At this point, Ms. White writes another story within a story, that of how Keefe’s mother and her sister became estranged and why his aunt was so hateful to Keefe as she raised him. This takes us back to the year 1929 where we meet Helen and Vera Cronk (Vera will eventually become Keefe’s mother). The story then moves forward in a chronological way until the reader arrives in the early 90s.
As I mentioned at the outset, Ms. White writes good stories, and When the Hill Came Down is no exception. Her storytelling has a natural seriousness about it; very grounded, with characters that could well be drawn from real life. The situations that the protagonists (and even the antagonists like Keefe’s Uncle Tom) encounter are full of life lessons, making her stories trustworthy and wholesome. For instance, Summer tells Keefe’s cousin Margaret (Tom and Helen’s daughter) who is sorry that she never looked out for Keefe over the years:
“It is easy to look at the past and clearly see what you should have done, but at the time it is never straightforward. It is complicated. Of course you have regrets, but what happened is not your fault. The past cannot be changed. It has unfolded as it has and there is no point torturing yourself about it.”
One really cannot go wrong with reading or recommending a Susan White novel to readers of any age, and so it is with When the Hill Came Down.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
About the author: Susan White was born in New Brunswick and moved from one New Brunswick city to another. As a teenager, her family moved to the Kingston Peninsula and she only left long enough to earn her BA and BEd at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. Settling on the peninsula, she and her husband raised four children and ran a small farm while she taught elementary school. Since retiring she is grateful to now have the time to work on her writing. She has been shortlisted twice for the Mrs. Dunster’s Fiction Book prize.
Paperback : 300 pages
ISBN-10 : 1773660519
ISBN-13 : 978-1773660516
Publisher : Acorn Press (July 10 2020)
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A canoe trip that spans decades of historical reflection, offering a unique perspective on the Restigouche, its impact on the people who live beside and along the river, and their impact on this natural phenomenon.
Canoeing was integral to my childhood. And as an adult, for that matter. The last boat I bought was Kevlar—lightweight and strong, and of course, bulletproof. I believe. Never actually had it tested. Just felt safe from snipers. It was red, by the way. And that lovely red boat became an array of things: a place of solitude, conduit to nature, slender floating home, and receptacle for kokanee and trout.
In Restigouche: The Long Run of the Wild River, author Philip Lee takes us, physically and emotionally, along this mighty river, each bend and turn akin to life’s fluctuations, as the text follows Lee in part autobiographically, in part as a researcher, along its banks and the surrounding geography.
The Restigouche River flows through the remote border region between the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, its magically transparent waters, soaring forest hillsides, and population of Atlantic salmon creating one of the most storied wild spaces on the continent. Philip Lee follows ancient portage routes into the headwaters of the river, travelling by canoe to explore the extraordinary history of the river and the people of the valley. They include the Mi’gmaq, who have lived in the Restigouche valley for thousands of years; the descendants of French Acadian, Irish, and Scottish settlers; and some of the wealthiest people in the world who for more than a century have used the river as an exclusive wilderness retreat.
Travelling the river in this manner felt like a nod to my dad, which is what the author does, with a nod to his dad. Like Lee and his father, dad and I paddled together when I was young, which in itself felt like homage to our country, from paddling Mi’gmaq to portaging fur traders and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In fact, a slice of that wood-grained Canadiana (a piece of Pierre’s paddle) made its way into the Voyageur guitar and into my hands for a number on stage. All this from a canoe, a thread of history as long and varied as the Restigouche.
The people of the Restigouche have long been both divided and united by a remarkable river that each day continues to assert itself, despite local and global industrial forces that now threaten its natural systems and the survival of the salmon. In the deep pools and rushing waters of the Restigouche, in this place apart in a rapidly changing natural world, Lee finds a story of hope about how to safeguard wild spaces and why doing so is the most urgent question of our time.
This is a special book, for many reasons. Learning more of this land’s history—snapshots of people, place and time, is invaluable. Armchair research, exploration, and this connecting kind of travel experience is needed, it seems, now more than ever. And of course with an eye to our environment, where water plays its perennial and pivotal role. Author Philip Lee shares and enlightens us—a flow of observations, insights and engaging storytelling through moving topography, quite literally, in the river and book called Restigouche.
“A brilliant work; a living, breathing and truly unforgettable account of the great Restigouche River by a master chronicler of our natural world.”
David Adams Richards
A journalist, lecturer, and bestselling writer, Philip Lee began his career as an investigative reporter on Canada’s east coast. Restigouche emerged from his long-standing interest in rivers and the people who love them. His first book, Home Pool: The Fight to Save the Atlantic Salmon, grew out of his award-winning reporting on the decline of the Atlantic salmon. Lee is also the author of Frank: The Life and Politics of Frank McKenna, a national bestseller, and Bittersweet: Confessions of a Twice-Married Man, which was long-listed for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. A professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, Lee developed the Dalton Camp lecture series, broadcast annually by CBC Radio’s Ideas,and edited The Next Big Thing (a published collection from the lectures). When he is not writing and teaching, Lee spends as much time as he can following the currents of rivers.
Publisher: Goose Lane Editions, 2020
Pages: 272 pp
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