Category Archives: History

Rough Justice: Policing, Crime, and the Origins of the Newfoundland Constabulary, 1729-1871 by Keith Mercer

The early 19th century was a time of great growth for St. John’s.   Under the administrative control of a colonial government and with a growing population and a demand for services, the lack of a municipal government within a community of landlords that were largely absent most of the time created conditions that were unsavoury at best. Though municipal taxation faced great resistance, lawmakers of the day made great strides in attempting to improve building construction, fire services and water and sewer in the growing fishing town. A small number of constables paid from the sale of tavern licences managed to keep some semblance of peace through nightly patrols but the government largely depended on the garrison and the clergy to keep the peace during times of crisis. In 1870, however, with the threat of maritime conflict fading, the Governor of the day, Stephen Hill,  was informed that the garrison would be recalled and that Newfoundland would now have to pay for its own security and defence. And so, born out of desperation, began the Newfoundland Constabulary and what would become the oldest police force in Canada.

Rough Justice, written by Newfoundland historian and Memorial University graduate, Keith Mercer, chronicles “the first detailed study of policing in early Newfoundland.” 

Rough Justice, written by Newfoundland historian and Memorial University graduate, Keith Mercer, chronicles “the first detailed study of policing in early Newfoundland.”  A project of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society and published in 2021 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Constabulary’s establishment, Mercer utilizes a case study approach to “shed light on the social history of law and order in both St. John’s and the outports” focusing on the “lived experiences of the largely anonymous men who filled that position” as constable during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Mercer’s historical analysis is garnered from detailed surveys of court records and documents organized chronologically over the course of two centuries.  Through the use of frequent storytelling and the presentation of various case studies, Mercer presents a scholarly account of a colony-wide endeavour to bring law enforcement to the area known as the Old English Shore.  The eight-chapter narrative is thorough and in-depth, citing archives and publications and also including maps, tables, appendices, a bibliography, and an index.  An 8-page album of black and white photos provides a visual context for the time period that Mercer comprehensively recounts in presenting the colony-wide endeavour to shed light on the social history of law and order in the fledgling colony. 

The Newfoundland experience was one of continuity and incremental reform rather than sudden change brought about by political or legislative milestones – in this, there are striking parallels with policing in other colonies and cities in British North America.

The narrative first begins chronicling some of the earliest visitors to our shores; the fishing admirals.  These mysterious fishing-ship captains selected the best beach space or fishing room but often ignored the legal responsibilities that came with the position, laying the groundwork for the introduction of the first constables in 1729.

Chapter 3 details the birth of police constables in Newfoundland, officers normally from middling occupations such as planters and who played an active role in regulating taverns and enforcing the observance of the Sabbath. The work was dangerous but the constables are seen as important figures in their communities and were elevated to a status of wearing a uniform and receiving a salary while playing active roles in serving the district and superior courts.

Chapter 5 details the tavern-keeper system which remained in place until the first full-time constabulary was created in 1812 and Chapter 6 tells the story of Newfoundland’s most prominent police officer, William Phippard, who led the way in fighting crime on the streets during a postwar depression.  As a lover of all things history and all things related to my culture, I found Rough Justice to be both an interesting and comprehensive analysis of subject matter not often explored yet crucial to the growth and development of modern society.  Though it was a slow-going read with a highlighter in hand, I often found myself revisiting many concepts for the sheer interest and amazement of the historical context in which it was presented.  There were many “Did you know?” moments that I simply could not contain!!

Rough Justice is a solid, well-written and expertly researched record of how Newfoundlanders lived and worked a century and a half before the formal establishment of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. It is the story of those many men who quietly enforced the law and helped to make communities safe through the maintenance of public order.  In the words of Chair Edward Roberts of The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society, it is “a valuable contribution to the public record of Newfoundland’s past”. 


Keith Mercer was born in Gander and holds graduate degrees in history from Memorial and Dalhousie Universities. He works for Parks Canada as the Cultural Resource Manager in Mainland Nova Scotia. He lives in Bedford, Nova Scotia, with his wife, Amy, and children, Abby and Sam.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Flanker Press (March 31 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 518 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774570165
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774570166

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Stephanie Collins
Some Rights Reserved  

A Canadian Nurse in the Great War: The Diaries of Ruth Loggie, 1915-1916 Edited by Ross Hebb

At the beginning of the First World War, Canadian nurses were accorded a rank (officer) and a rate of pay (equal to men) unprecedented amongst the Allies. The “Bluebirds”, called such for their distinctive blue uniforms, were rightly revered as angels of mercy by the men they cared for on hospital ships, in England, and in France where they staffed the hospitals at the coast and ventured close to the front lines in the Casualty Clearing Stations. Fifty-eight of them paid the ultimate price, felled by enemy fire or disease. Fourteen Canadian nurses drowned in one night alone, when the Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle was torpedoed off the coast of England on its return from delivering wounded men to Halifax, NS. Canadian nurses were awarded medals for bravery just as the men received. Their story, however, as Dr. Ross Hebb reveals in his new book, A Canadian Nurse in the Great War, was nearly lost when the war was over. As the opening words of his book say: “The Great War diaries of Ruth Loggie are a rare find…for while 420,000 men served overseas during the Great War, only 2100 Canadian women served as army nurses.”

I was thrilled to be asked to review Dr. Hebb’s book. Having read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, I was deeply curious to read a Canadian’s own words of her experience in the hospitals of France. Once I started, I was completely captivated. This was a quick read; as well as riveting, it is not a big book. Disappointingly – because what she did write is so enlightening and fascinating – Ruth Loggie either ceased keeping a record of her daily life or lost her diaries for the second half of her service. What is in this book covers the period of May 1915 to November 1916.

“I was charmed by her spirit and vigour for life. She was not above making fun of her superiors, had strong opinions, calling the management a “disgrace to Canada”, but her heart was completely for the men.”

I was charmed by her spirit and vigour for life. She was not above making fun of her superiors, had strong opinions, calling the management a “disgrace to Canada”, but her heart was completely for the men. You can feel her heartbreak in her short entries. “Such terrible wounds…and such nice men,” she said early on her arrival in France. “…it is so unnecessary.” Her dedication to the men in her care extended to their families, as she continued writing to many of them, often after the man had died from his injuries. Most poignant was the entry, which she wrote simply and matter-of-factly, that she went, on July 1st, to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of the Canadian dead.

While much of the diary covers delightful trips to the beaches and shopping in the cities and towns, dinners out and tea at the shore so too does it lay out the hardships, the terrible days during big battles when the casualties poured in, the sadness of loss, and the worry over brothers and friends in the trenches. The women suffered not only mentally but physically. With the long hours on duty, primitive living conditions and hard work Loggie and her fellow nurses faced, it is a wonder they had the energy for long walks and longer bicycle trips. It is unsurprising that some succumbed to illness, and Ruth mourned deeply the loss of colleagues, even ones she did not know personally. One must admire these intrepid women, who, having fearlessly crossed both the Atlantic and the English Channel with all their perils, traipsed around France during a war, while trying to make life as comfortable as they could for the men in their care.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

Dr. Hebb does an outstanding job piecing together Loggie’s life, chasing down the threads of her family (she was the last surviving member of her family when she died in 1968), friends, and the sometimes cryptically named people she mentions in her diaries. His introduction is well written and informative, and along with the timeline of Loggie’s Canadian Army Medical Corps tenure and the cast of characters, sets the reader up to understand the context of the diary entries. His narrative is discreetly woven through the diary, moving Loggie’s story along masterfully. As well, copious notes complement the narrative, unobtrusive but easily referenced as needed.

While perhaps of particular interest to New Brunswickers, this book is an important part of Canada’s history – a very personal and intimate history. Dr. Hebb has shined a light on a side of the First World War not often seen and illuminated the contributions of strong, caring, and inspirational Canadian women.


Although originally from Nova Scotia’s South Shore, Ross Hebb is now a long-term resident of his adopted province of New Brunswick. A graduate of King’s College and Dalhousie University, Dr. Hebb received his Ph.D. from the University of Wales, Lampeter in 2002. Along with volumes on Maritime Church history, he has also written about the golden age of shipbuilding at St. Martins on the Bay of Fundy. In 2014 he edited the collection Letters Home: Maritimers and the Great War, 1914-1918, and 2018, In Their Own Words: Three Maritimers Experience the Great War. Dr. Hebb is married and lives in Fredericton, NB.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nimbus Publishing Limited (Sept. 1 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 184 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1774710129
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1774710128

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Heather McBriarty
Some Rights Reserved  

A Journey Back to Nature: A History of Strathcona Provincial Park by Catherine Marie Gilbert

With domestic travel restrictions in place, I was looking for an outdoor getaway that would serve as a place to unplug, stay active, and enjoy the quiet away from urban centres. I came across Strathcona Provincial Park as an option with a rustic lodge and plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventures but didn’t know the history of the land or of any industrial drama that had plagued it for decades. Luckily, an offer to review A Journey Back to Nature: A History of Strathcona Provincial Park arrived with plenty of time for me to appreciate Catherine Marie Gilbert’s thorough research and passion for bringing the battle of the park’s preservation into focus.

We learn about Buttle Lake, a postcard perfect scene for kayakers and campers, and the devastating imposition of “progress” by means of logging, dam development, and mining. The latter is especially jarring when the impacts of water pollution are exposed. Forbidden Plateau’s heyday as a destination skihill and lodge and summer playground is fondly recollected, and while still popular amongst backcountry campers and hikers, the plateau also had its reckoning due to competition and weather conditions.

“…a solid and necessary read.”

Intrinsic to this history are the stories of the people involved in saving Strathcona Park for future generations. Conservationists Roderick Haig-Brown and William Reid participated in a lengthy battle against the BC Power Commission for Buttle, an effort to save it from the dam project. Buttle came out of this only a partial winner, and it had taken its toll on Reid and his family.

In the early 70s, Jim and Myrna Boulding founded a lodge on their property, designating it as an outdoor education centre for primary to secondary students, along with tourists. The Strathcona Park Lodge is still standing today, true to its roots with youth programs in place.

Maps and photographs accompany each major timeline event in Strathcona Park’s upheavals, giving one a sense of its vulnerability, and urgency in need to visit and protect it at the same time. 

Gilbert’s presentation delivers a solid and necessary read for anyone interested in environmental conservation and how battles were won and lost against the industrial machine, backed directly and indirectly by power-hungry consumers.

Catherine Marie Gilbert is an author, historian, and lecturer, whose interest in BC coastal life, past and present, is evident in her work. In 2018, she completed her master’s thesis on the environmental history of Strathcona Provincial Park and obtained her masters degree in Public History from the University of Victoria. She is the author of Yorke Island and the Uncertain War: Defending Canada’s Western Coast, and her articles have appeared in Western MarinerBC Historical Federation JournalBC Studies, and Escape.

  • Publisher : Heritage House (May 18 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1772033588
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1772033588

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Nova Scotia Shaped By the Sea: A Living History by Lesley Choyce

New world opportunity has been rankled with misfortune for centuries. It’s the main gist of any introduction we read as school children on the textbook history of Canada. Seldom do we entertain a deep dive into the making of any province or territory at that age. When we’re older and ready to explore our country in more meaningful ways, we are not reaching out for our old textbooks, but perhaps a quick top ten list of interesting things through an internet search or nicely presented brochure. And that’s if we make the time to do any sort of preliminary research, even if a marginal attempt.

“…most poignantly, it offers a history of the people brought to Nova Scotia by sea.”

Pre-pandemic, we were making plans to visit some friends who had just relocated from the west coast to their new forever home in Halifax. And to be honest, I had a scarce amount of time on my hands and thought I would leave it to them to be tour guides, in their eyes and words as new Haligonians. However, time became my friend in 2020 to the present. Not only do I have true stories of bold criminalities and the seedy history of alcohol stamped as landmarks on my virtual map, but I can now patrol the Eastern shoreline and see tales unfold as if the sea could speak.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

Lesley Choyce spares no detail and presents a unique must-read history for anyone wanting to understand present-day Nova Scotia through previous journeys of the sea in the latest edition of his book, “Nova Scotia Shaped by The Sea”. To know the endurance of Acadian culture is to know the strength of Acadian women, not just through Longfellow’s Evangeline, but how they adapted their french influence to build community. To know the Mi’kmaq is to know their humanity and generosity in the face of barbaric exploration. Mass murder, poverty, riots, exploitation, racism, environmental degradation…are we speaking of history, or what we see today? This book follows a chronological timeline from early exploration, the establishment of governing rule from lands abroad, Confederation to present-day politics, industrial growth plied by early merchant trade, alcohol import and local distilleries, from bounty to threats of extinction through over-fishing.

Perhaps most poignantly, it offers a history of the people brought to Nova Scotia by sea. A cultural shift and sharing of the land amongst the indigenous, European settlers, and non-white immigrants is documented in a way you would never see in a “Top 10 Reasons to Visit the Maritimes” list. But to truly experience Nova Scotia, to know the people is to know their pain and struggle through adversity.

Lesley Choyce is the author of over 100 books, including The Coasts of Canada, The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil, and Broken Man on a Halifax Pier.

  • Publisher : Pottersfield Press; 4th edition (Nov. 17 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 360 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1989725155
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1989725153

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot by Geoff Mynett

“Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot throws new light on the extensive manhunt for an accused murderer in northern British Columbia in the early 1900s. After a double murder in 1906, Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper Simon Gunanoot fled into the wilderness with his family. Frustrated by Gunanoot’s ability to evade capture, the Attorney General of BC asked Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in Seattle to assist in the pursuit.

In 1909, two Pinkerton’s operatives disguised as prospectors were sent to Hazelton, BC, to find and apprehend Gunanoot. From 1909–1910, they delivered reports to Pinkerton’s in Seattle detailing their progress. Many of these reports, written around campfires in the wilderness, provided a vivid picture of life in the frontier, relations of settlers, prospectors, and the conflicting loyalties and tensions in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

One of the most famous fugitives in BC history, Gunanoot’s story has taken on the status of legend. This is a tale of early twentieth-century crime-solving techniques, politics and backwoods survival, based on never-before-published accounts of the two operatives.”

Somewhere in the dim recesses of my memory – second-year college, I believe – I took an elective course on BC history, the content of which was, for the most part, colonial settler history. Despite a decidedly narrow window onto Canada’s west coast past, I enjoyed the course, learning more about my home province than I’d previously known: the Dominion enclave of Victoria, the capital (at the time) of New Westminster, place names alone alluding to perceived provenance, and the vast wilds of BC’s northern interior. We learned what we knew at the time about Simon Gunanoot, perhaps BC’s most famous “outlaw,” quotation marks indicating the fact we don’t know all the facts, and assuredly never will. But now, for the first time, through extensive research by author Geoff Mynett presented in a well-organized, engaging narrative, we have perhaps the very best account of this fascinating story.

“One night in June 1906, a Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper named Simon Gunanoot argued and then fought with a packer named Alex MacIntosh. When MacIntosh’s dead body was found the next morning, Police Constable James Kirby swiftly concluded that Gunanoot and his brother-in-law, Peter Himadam, were the killers and out to bring them to justice.”

As a retired lawyer, Mynett shares meticulous research in readable detail, along with good story-telling, suitable slices of speculation, and a clear passion for the subject matter, before, during, and after the trial of this story’s famous fugitive.

“While waiting for trial, Gunanoot would have understood that, if convicted, he could well be hanged. Necessarily, he had to trust entirely to his counsel’s abilities and to the mercies of a Vancouver jury.”

Like any great tale, particularly one in which the players involved may or may not share a common language (literally), this story struck me more often than not as a childhood game of “whisper.” When something is stated with certainty, then told and retold, partially forgotten, then embellished, too often peppered with preconceptions and prejudice, and so on, until eventually what actually occurred (or what was initially said) no longer resembles what it once was. So too during an investigative search by operatives in frontier wilderness, discrete discussions over too many drinks in saloons and around campfires – the setting alone, uncertainty, and personal biases skew every facet of every piece of dialogue. The result? Too many versions of “facts” to be certain as to where the truth lies. Even reading the text I found myself unwittingly deciding my own version of truths, taking sides and pulling for certain parties over others.

This book sheds light on a richly layered piece of history, challenges preconceived notions of right, wrong, justice and law, and provides an intriguing window onto a time and a place, surprisingly not far removed from where we are now. I applaud author Geoff Mynett for his diligent work and commitment to share an important and riveting story from BC’s past and doing it exceptionally well.

About the Author: Geoff Mynett was born in England where he qualified as a Barrister. After emigrating to British Columbia in 1973, he became a Canadian citizen, requalified as a lawyer and practiced law until his retirement. His first book, Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician (Ronsdale Press, 2019), received a Jeanne Clarke Memorial Award. His second book, Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot, was published by Caitlin Press in 2021. Geoff and his wife Alice live in Vancouver and have two sons.

  • Title: Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot
  • Author: Geoff Mynett
  • Publisher: Caitlin Press Inc, 2021
  • ISBN: 978-1-77386-050-3
  • Pages: 256 pp

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Days That Are No More: Tales of Kent County New Brunswick by Loney Hudson

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.

“Loney does a remarkable job of interviewing residents and bringing their tales to life.”

allan hudson

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 article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front by Heather McBriarty

Heather McBriarty’s novel, Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front, is a remarkable true telling of what is what like in the trenches during the First World War. It is also a poignant love story.

From letters received by her grandmother, McBriarty shares the budding of a romance between Isobel (her grandmother) and a young man from Nova Scotia, James Johnstone. Son of a well-to-do family, when war broke out, Johnstone was compelled to enlist and anxious to do his part in the European conflict. Isobel and James corresponded during his time away, from the training in Valcartier, Quebec to the landing in England and on to the Front, with love growing stronger in each letter.

In the correspondence, we see the horrors of warfare experienced by the young men, the loneliness, the dangers in the trenches, the discomfort they were forced to endure, the mud, the cold and the dying of their comrades. Most importantly, Johnstone continues to express his love for the young lady he left in Canada, the relief and comfort her letters bring. In his writing, we often find comments wondering if he is good enough for her if she will be there when he returns. While we can’t read Isobel’s letters, we can discover her thoughts, perhaps, by reading James’ responses to her. Ever the optimist, Johnstone, remarks often of how happy he will be to reunite with Isobel.

McBriarty does not only share the love letters but provides sidenotes to James’ letters, keeping the reader abreast of what is happening to the young soldier. She has cleverly added chronological details that enhance the story. This is a well-crafted book, offering the reader a sobering reminder of the hardships of war and the loving words that helped James Johnstone to carry on. I enjoyed this book tremendously.

You can read an interview with Heather in which she shares the writing of the book by following this link:

  • Paperback : 346 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1999265009
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1999265007
  • Publisher : Crow Mountain Publishing (Nov. 26, 2019)

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The North-West is Our Mother: The Story of Louis Riel’s People, the Métis Nation by Jean Teillet

Some books are there to offer the kinds of stories that can light on our paths and help us figure out a way forward. The North-West is Our Mother: The Story of Louis Riel’s People, the Métis Nation by historian Jean Teillet has been that kind of book to me.

I’ve been writing about the life of my great-grandfather Léon Robert Goulet, a Métis fiddler who was born in Lorette, Manitoba, in the middle of Métis homeland that Teillet documents. Stories were passed on down to me, but with huge gaps, and so when Teillet’s book was published I ordered a copy right away. 

On the opening pages of the book is a quote by Louis Riel: “The North-West is also my mother…. Of all the things on earth, the motherland is the most important and sacred, because a mother is always a mother.” This quote sets the tone for a book that offers the stories of the Métis Nation and its continued struggle for its homeland and for sovereignty. The book is broad in scope—it tells 300 years of history in almost 500 pages—and it’s grounded in a storytelling tradition that makes it feel so much lighter than the book’s weight would suggest. That’s because Teillet is the great-grand-niece of Riel, so in some ways, she’s just re-telling in her own way the same stories she heard, again and again, growing up. In places it feels like you’re there in her kitchen with the rest of her family, sharing tea and coffee as people swap stories (but with added documentation and bibliographical information for the scholars).

“Teillet paints the origins and the struggles of a nation that has repeatedly made its claims to land and to sovereignty and faced a government that has refused to follow through on its promises.”

Teillet paints the origins and the struggles of a nation that has repeatedly made its claims to land and to sovereignty and faced a government that has refused to follow through on its promises. She tells convincing and vivid stories that lead into the contemporary Métis struggles over rights and governance. That Teillet is an Indigenous rights lawyer shows in the clarity of her argument and the documentation of the evidence she provides. She tells stories about rivers, voyageurs and politics. She writes about family history and Métis approaches to hunting and farming. She lays out our claims to nationhood and the different ways racism impacted different Métis communities and created divisions among the Métis and between the Métis and our First Nations relations. She writes about loss of land and the beautiful and aching mobility of the Métis people. She describes the tradition of moving on as soon as we can, of the desire for the freedom that is found in movement. She shows the reader how the Métis culture and Métis families have always been sustained and are still sustained through movement. Using a beautiful metaphor Teillet writes: “The Métis Nation’s mobility was a murmuration, the shape-shifting movement of a flock of starlings….”

This book is an engaging read for anyone who wants to learn more about the history and the current situation of the Métis Nation in Canada. It provides a broad understanding of the history of Indigenous politics in Canada, with a focus on the Métis. More than that, as a writer navigating the telling of personal stories and family history, this book has been important in a different way. It has helped to shape how I understand and how I tell my own great-grandfather’s stories. It’s not only a link to the past, but it lights the way to the future. 

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Wounded Hearts: Memories of the Halifax Protestant Orphans’ Home by Lois Legge

Spending two weeks in the “isolation room.” Standing inside a closet as punishment. Being tied into bed at night. These are some of the memories shared by former residents of the Halifax Protestant Orphans’ Home in award-winning journalist Lois Legge’s Wounded Hearts: Memories of the Halifax Protestant Orphans’ Home.

In addition to inserting snippets of sociological context, Legge provides the reader with basic facts about the Home and its inception. Founded in 1857, the Orphans’ Home was initially located on North Park Street in Halifax before moving to a new location on Veith Street. Like many other aspects of Halifax life, the Orphan’s Home was affected by the Halifax Explosion of 1917, which destroyed the Veith Street facility and resulted in the death of some of the children and staff. In 1924, the Home moved to a different location, also on Veith Street. That building continued to house the Orphans’ Home until 1970, when the facility was closed for good.

Though the facts are interesting in their own right, the meat of Wounded Hearts lies in the eight chapters dealing with the reminiscences of previous residents. Legge goes beyond each individual’s experiences at the Orphans’ Home, providing a context for their lives as a whole and how their time at the Home impacted them.

The Orphans’ Home had as part of its operating structure a “Ladies’ Committee” but Legge notes that the minutes and notes of that group, for the most part, don’t dwell upon how the children were treated. How well the committee truly understood the situation at the Home is open to question. Former residents recall that the matrons put on a show for visits by the committee and others, dressing the children up for such occasions and allowing them access to a toy room that was otherwise off-limits.

The question of accountability for the treatment endured is raised by both Legge and some of the residents interviewed for the book. Legge notes that despite, in later years, receiving a large portion of its funding from the provincial government, the orphanage “operated without the province’s supervision and had complete day-to-day control over the children,” (p. 12) who were, in effect, “left to the mercy of the matrons.” (p. 12) The children were “often beaten by staff members who scared them and taught them, as one person put it, ‘about the uncertainty of life’.” (p. 2) Despite their harrowing experiences, many of the former residents went on to forge happy relationships and rewarding careers. And so, Wounded Hearts is also about the ability of people to rise above their circumstances—to, in Legge’s words, form “compassionate hearts out of the wreckage of their own.” (p. 2)

Legge’s preface states that she wrote the book hoping “to help heal these wounded hearts of long ago.” (p. 3) An unflinching look at a less-than-flattering chapter in Halifax history, Wounded Hearts does not make for light reading. Nonetheless, it is a story that needs to be told, for the sake of those whose have yearned for so many years to have their voices heard.

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Neither King Nor Country by Alan Kay (From The Picton Gazette)

[The following article appeared in The Picton Gazette on July 15, 2019. I am reproducing the full article as a favour to the author. While I haven’t read the book myself, it does come with some great recommendations, which are posted after the article ends. ~James]

Loyalist connection leads American author to Prince Edward County

A highly decorated high school history teacher from the United States paid a visit to the heart of Loyalist country earlier this month.

And there was certainly something serendipitous about Alan Kay discussing the research into his historical fiction novel Neither King Nor Country in the offices of Canada’s oldest community newspaper on the day reserved for celebrating his home country’s independence.

The visit to Prince Edward County and the surrounding area held in high value by Loyalist descendants such as the landing place in Adolphustown is part of a reckoning this proud patriot and fan of George Washington has been undertaking over the last decade or so.

A man whose efforts were recognized by the Daughters of the American Revolution as the Outstanding American History Teacher of the Year in 2002 has found part of his family took part in the northern migration after the colonial revolt in the mid to late 1700’s and a page turning read that should appeal to readers on both sides of the 49th parallel is the fruits of that deep dive into the pages of his own family history.

“I have always tried to present a balanced approach both as a historian and as a teacher to my students and present both sides of the picture,” Kay said of his teaching efforts.

A natural history buff, Kay became enthralled with George Washington during a fourth grade reading assignment and the native New Englander who now teachers in Tarpon Springs, FL even spent time researching the first US president at Mount Vernon.

Family folklore had Kay as a distant relative of fellow founding father John Adams.

But as he started to look up his family genealogy, a startling discovery was awaiting Kay.

It wasn’t John Adams, the second US President and subject of the popular HBO mini series that Kay was related to but rather John Adams, a Loyalist whose family settled in the British North America portion of the Maritimes and later had an island off the coast of Newfoundland named for him.

The proud American who’s life revolved around history and had always taken great pains to present a creative and balanced approach to the crucible moment of his native land now had a whole new perspective and lens to examine the past through.

And that research has lead to Neither King Nor Country , a novel featuring the fictional Rob Callahan, an average middle aged teacher and rec league hockey player from the northeast who is about to undergo a seemingly predestined transformative journey-whether the main character wants to or not.

“It’s kind of a personal journey, the character sometimes reflects myself and other times doesn’t,” Kay said.

Kay’s research into his own familial path and the crafting of the well-written book has had a side benefit for his students in that the educator has been able to provide more pieces of the Loyalist experience following the fallout of the American Revolution.

“We’ve had the students take sides and rehash the arguments and actions right down to the tarring and feathering,” Kay said. “One of my characters in  Neither King Nor Country, a person that was on the fence as to whether to join the revolution or stay loyal, witnesses a public tarring and feathering in person and he was abhorred by it all- the act and the barbaric behaviour that took on the spectacle of the coliseum and it leads the character to the Loyalist side.”

Having toured the Maritimes previously with visits to Loyalist landing places in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Kay said he was very impressed with this area and how names and dedications seemed to reciprocate his former stomping grounds in the New England area.

“It’s interesting that Prince Edward County reflects our experiences in New England and the colonies. We have the Minutemen Parkway, we have the revolutionary historical sites and museums in Virginia, we have the plaques in all these towns and public spaces and here you have not only the Loyalist traditions and settlement area but you also have Tyendinaga close by and (the indigenous people) obviously played role on both sides as well. You’ve got everything here. Loyalist remembrances are everywhere but, at the same time, they are subtle and natural and it’s all very tasteful,” Kay added.

And the settings are perfect- at least this time of year for a transplanted Yankee who enjoys the school year climes in the sunny south.

“It’s truly breathtaking in terms of natural beauty. We visited Lake-On-The-Mountain and we said “Wow, the King of England truly gave the Loyalists an absolute paradise’. Of course this the summer time and we know what comes next,” Kay said with a laugh.

With the benefits of hind sight, descendants of Loyalists tend to speak proudly of their ancestors making the trek to this sparsely populated, at times cruel and unyielding region and setting down new roots.

But that side of American history that tore families and friends apart isn’t exactly dinner table discussion in the homes of our long lost U.S. cousins.

“Americans don’t really like talking about it or discussing the Loyalists and really haven’t up until about 20 years ago,” Kay said. “My character finds out that his family was divided and he really doesn’t want to talk about it our discuss it with anyone at first but I think the time is coming where we in the United States are are ready to discuss and get deeper into what happened and see how it played it out from the other side and maybe this book could be a starting piece to that larger discussion.”

To read an interview with Mr. Kay, please visit Allan Hudson’s The South Branch Scribbler here.

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More praise for Neither King Nor Country:

Modern day treasure hunt into history

There is excitement, drama, action, politics, and even a little lust in this new release by Alan Kay that takes place in both present day and the 18th & 19th centuries. It will appeal to lovers of mystery, adventure, history…and hockey players! When teacher/hockey player, Rob Callahan, discovers an old family letter written by Ben Franklin’s son, William, his search for more information begins a treasure hunt type quest that takes him, two women, two sons, and a litany of others chasing them across the border into Canada. It is a fun, action filled read with descriptions of beautiful east coast Canada that will entice the reader to put the area on their bucket list of places to see.

Ms.  Penny Cathey
AP American History Teacher (retired)

A loyalist perspective

This was truly a fun and engaging read. Informative as well as entertaining, the author has provided readers with a deeply researched depiction of everything from Canadian manners and mores, to ice hockey, to the American Revolution. He is especially adept at helping readers understand the emotional toll that a war dividing Americans from one another took. Truly a fine book. One very minor quibble. Benjamin Franklin was not illegitimate. His son, William was indeed a “bastard,” as was William’s son.

Dr. Sheila Skemp
Professor emeritus of history at the University of Mississippi

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Acknowledgements: The Picton Gazette
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Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson By Mark Bourrie

Mark Bourrie has written a classic Canadian historical biography. The best-selling author, and award-winning journalist, lays bare the mottled myths of colonial settlement. He weaves a compelling, sometimes lurid, but always enlightening narrative of the legendary adventurer, scoundrel, Pierre-Esprit Radisson. Bush Runner chronicles Radisson’s adventures from exploiting the expanding fur trade to finagling European imperial military ambitions to his own advantage in the 17th century Americas.

Bush Runner is a national best-seller, made the Globe & Mail’s 100 Books that shaped the 2019 list, and last month gleaned $30,000 with the prestigious RBC Taylor Prize for excellence in literary non-fiction. But that’s not the only reason to read the book– read it because Radisson is, as Bourrie says in the introduction, “the Forrest Gump of his time. He’s everywhere. And because he could read and write, he managed to tell us about it.”

“Radisson was no hero. He was, at best, an eager hustler with no known scruples.”

Mark Bourrie
Pierre-Esprit Radisson is a fearless opportunist who strives to breach the bonds of class while exploiting every opening for personal gain and glory. If reincarnated today, I suspect he would insinuate himself into Silicon Valley or Wall Street. At the same time, he would likely sell, barter, and steal his way to fortune, fame, and public approbation.

“Radisson was no hero. He was, at best, an eager hustler with no known scruples,” notes Bourrie. A beguiling anti-hero, imagine a cross between Kevin Costner’s Lt. Dunbar in Dances with Wolves and Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pierre-Esprit arrives in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, in 1651, as a fifteen-year-old, only to be kidnapped and adopted by a powerful Mohawk family in upstate New York. He escapes, is recaptured, and forced to run the gauntlet as punishment. He flees a second time, and with the help of an Algonquin prisoner, murders his hunting companions. He captured again within sight of his home fort in Trois Rivieres. This time he not only endures a brutal gauntlet but is ritually tortured by the slow removal of fingernails, a scorched thumb, and pierced foot. Despite Pierre-Esprit’s repeated betrayal, his adopted Mohawk family protects, ransoms, and even forgives him. He re-assimilates to the community. Bourrie’s empathy and intercultural competence manifest in his depiction of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee). He is empathetic for First Nations cultural mores, ceremonies, and warfare. Especially when compared to European atrocities, like the fate of Braveheart, William Wallace. The author offers an unbiased perspective on Indigenous peoples when compared to popular histories written by terrified soldiers and Jesuits or from colonial settler perspectives.

His third escape, abetted by Dutch colonists and aided by Jesuit networks, succeeds. He returns to France, yet unbowed returns to New France on the first available ship. Radisson endures and thrives in the company of coureur-des-bois at fur-trading outposts, conniving priests in Jesuit missions, and the royal courts of Paris and London. He double-crosses almost everyone he deals with from the French, English, and Dutch to his generous and forgiving adoptive Mohawk clan.

Yet, Radisson, the 17th-century French fur trader, adventurer, and raconteur, had nothing to do with founding the eponymous international hotel chain. After a couple of chapters, it becomes clear that he was never temperamentally suited to the duties of a hotelier. No chocolates on the pillowcase, but cold-blooded murder, gun-running, and cannibalism are on the menu. He would, along with his brother-in-law, Médard Chouart des Groseilliers, press forth against all the odds to found the Hudson’s Bay Company, the oldest corporation in the English-speaking world. Imperial credit, denied in their lifetimes, would come later as written records surfaced, and social-class barriers receded.

He goes on to bear witness to London’s Great Plague and Great Fire, at a time when French Catholics and foreigners were easy scapegoats for angry and long-suffering local mobs. Radisson, marooned by Dutch pirates on the coast of Spain, survives only to shipwreck on the rocky reefs of Venezuela. His treasure chest and life-saving were not as fortunate.

Radisson ends up in England, eking out his final years on a lowly Hudson’s Bay pension. He lived for about seventy-four years. “A ripe old age at the time.”

As Bourrie notes in the introduction: “Lies, murder and plunders aside…Radisson [was] a brave man who must have been a tremendous dinner companion, as long as you weren’t on the menu.”

Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson  By Mark Bourrie
Biblioasis Books

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The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham

From 1896 to 1948, over 100,000 children were shipped from Britain to Canada under the “British Home Child” program. It is a little-known part of Canadian history, and one not to be especially proud of. Bestselling author Genevieve Graham (Tides of Honour, At the Mountain’s Edge) has crafted a fine example of how historical fiction can be both entertaining and informative*. In The Forgotten Home Child, Ms. Graham forthrightly tackles the issues surrounding the implementation of the BHC program in England and its consequences to the children once they arrived in Canada. To accomplish this, she did substantial research as well as talking to British Home Child (BHC) relatives and groups. She details this in A Note to Readers at the back of the book. Her characters, while fictional, undergo many of the trials that actual Home Children experienced, based on her research.

“How could something so significant have happened here without it becoming general knowledge? Why had I never learned about this in school? How could I not write their story?”

Genevieve Graham

The primary characters are a small group of homeless children living on the streets of London as one would see (or read) in Oliver Twist or David Copperfield (but “without the singing and dancing” as one character quips). They are Jack, his younger sister Mary, two brothers, Edward and Cecil, and Winny. They have all either been forced out of home or left on their own. In Winny’s case, she was leaving a gin-loving abusive step-father, whom her mother only kept around to pay the rent. In an effort to rid the streets of this plague, the authorities rounded the children up, sent them to orphanages (which were overcrowded) or to one of Dr. Barnardo’s homes for destitute girls and boys. Eventually, the healthiest and strongest were sent to Canada to be employed as domestics or farmhands until they were eighteen years of age. As there were few checks and balances in the distribution system, abuses occurred, and many of them are dramatically written into each character’s experience in The Forgotten Home Child.

Note: this review may contain what some may consider plot spoilers. You may wish to skip to the conclusion below.

Jack Miller and Winnifred (“Winny”) Ellis

Jack and Winny are the main protagonists, and the story is told in alternating time periods, in the past (beginning in 1936) and the present (2018). The “present” part of the narrative is told by a ninety-seven-year-old Winny as she is now living with her grand-daughter Chrissie and her son Jamie. Winny has kept the secret of her past from them, but in moving, Chrissie accidentally drops a small wooden trunk that spills its contents. This is the original trunk (they were handmade and measured approximately 27″ long x 14″ deep x 13″ high) that held all of Winny’s belongings when she was sent to Canada. The Pandora’s box now having been opened so to speak, Winny knows the time has come to relieve herself of the weighty burden she has been carrying for so long.

Arriving in Canada

Park Lawn Cemetary Monument

Once the children get off the boat in Halifax, they are sent to different distribution centres, to be connected with their Masters (or Mistresses as the case may be). The boys (Jack, Cecil and Edward) are separated from Mary and Winny, then Mary is taken by a different sponsor at the train station in Peterborough. Winny is the last one left until Mistress Adams shows up. Winny is immediately put to work by the gruff Adams, and not allowed to sleep or eat in the main house. Things were much better back in London at the home where she and Mary were living in. Things are not much better for Mary, who is similarly mistreated at the Renfrew’s home not far from the Adams’ farm. The boys are working on a farm as well, for a cruel Master Warren, who beats the lads and even beats another, Quinn, so severely that he eventually dies of his wounds. The boys try to escape the farm, for anything is better than life on Warren’s farm.

If all this sounds very bleak and depressing, it is, and all the more so since abuse actually happened to many (75%, it is estimated) of the BHC. However, the fortunes of the gang soon change and they are off in different directions once again.


The Forgotten Home Child is an excellent example of how historical fiction can entertain and inform. I never knew about the existence of the British Home Child program and now thanks to Ms. Graham’s in-depth research and contact with BHC relatives, we come away from her book not only with a heightened understanding but also with a keen awareness of yet another shameful chapter in Canadian history. The book also includes the aforementioned A Note to Readers which has some archival photographs and the incredible story of how a woman named Lori Oschefski discovered the mass grave of British Home Children in Etobicoke’s Parl Lawn Cemetary and raised funds to identify each one of the seventy-five BHC buried there. There are monuments in other places, too such as at Pier 21 in Halifax, where many of the children (including the ones in this book) landed. The back of the book also has questions for consideration and a section for Book Club discussions. The Forgotten Home Child, is in my estimation, the finest book yet from the pen of Genevieve Graham. True, it is a slight departure from her other much-loved historical-fiction/romance novels, but her longtime readers will not be disappointed. As one of her many Twitter followers said: “I’ve learned more Canadian history from reading @GenGrahamAuthor than I ever did in High School!”

Five stars and I am long-listing The Forgotten Home Child for a 2020 “The Very Best!” Book Award for Best Historical Fiction.

*Note: this review is based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by the author in exchange for a fair review. 

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Rating: 5 out of 5.
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Two Novels of Le Grand Dérangement

The Great Deportation or Le Grand Dérangement, of the Acadian peoples, began in 1755 in the area now called the Bay of Fundy. Homes and farms were burned, and many of the 14,000 inhabitants of Acadia were herded aboard British ships and sent off to the Thirteen Colonies. The following two novels, both suitable for mature young readers on up, focus on this time of upheaval and the separation of families. Of course, it wasn’t only Acadians that were hunted by the British, the Miq’maw peoples, who were friendly to the Acadians also suffered and they figure prominently in these two novels as well.

The Lookout Tree by Diane Carmel Léger

The Lookout Tree is a translation of La butte à Pétard, a Hackmatack Award-winning young reader’s novel, published by Nimbus in English. At a little over one hundred pages, it is full of adventure and excitement enough to hold a middle-grade reader’s interest and is full of Acadian words and expressions (there is a glossary at the back). The story is centred around the separation of Fidèle and Prémélia, brother and sister from their father and mother during the invasion of British troops upon their village. Jacques, their father sends them into the woods with Pétard, their grandfather and Rosalie, a widow. Kitpou, a Mi’kmaw man, guides them to safety, where they keep camps for many years before the war is over. It is a hard existence, but better than being in a prison, or in a crowded, filthy ship’s hold, Rosalie comments.

This novel was different from other accounts I’ve read in that the Acadians concerned never actually leave Acadia, but manage to exist within sight of their former village, undetected by the British. It has a nice balance of humour, hard times and family connectedness to make for an enjoyable and informative read for all ages.

The Banished by Alex MacLean

A self-published book by a Nova Scotian writer, Alex MacLean, The Banished is a historical fiction book that, even if you are familiar with the events of 1755, will entertain you. This one is based on the legend of an Acadian deportation ship mutiny and the attempts by the Acadians to get back home without being recaptured. Once again, a family is separated, husband from wife. Isaac Doiron is put aboard a deportation ship, and his wife Emeline and Simon have escaped to the woods as Isaac instructed them. Lost in the fog, Simon gets separated from his mother and is captured and deported, but on a different ship than Isaac. Emeline meanwhile, is conducted to safety after a Mi’kmaw man, Nakuset comes across her. He takes her to his village where there are other Acadians who have fled into the woods. The story alternates between Isaac on the deportation ship, and Emeline, surviving in the wilderness and worrying about her family, not knowing what has become of them.

The Banished is a very well-written and, for a self-published book, well-produced and edited. A great adventure story that goes from Acadia to Boston and back. At 400+ pages, it’s a longer read, but the content is suitable for a young adult. on up. A Miramichi Reader “Pick”! (“Picks” are awarded to exceptional self-published and internationally written and/or published books)

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The Peddlers: The Fuller Brush Man, the Lords of Liniment and Door to Door Heroes in Nova Scotia and Beyond by Blain Henshaw

While growing up in Ontario in the 1960s and 1970s, I can vaguely recall door-to-door salesmen (and saleswomen) visiting our home. I know we had Fuller Brush products in the house, but I don’t really recall the salesperson. Perhaps he came when I was in school. There was a juice salesman I do recall (but not the company) for he was quite likely the first person of colour I had met in our Loyalist settler town where such things were a rarity. Then, there was Mrs. McMillan, the quintessential Avon Lady who brought her case to the house and left samples in her wake. Eventually, my mother took up selling it herself, as did the author’s Grandmother in Nova Scotia in the 1940s and 1950s.

Minard’s King of Pain Liniment

The Peddlers, while of regional interest to Nova Scotians, will undoubtedly recall to mind travelling salesmen from your past as it did mine (if you are old enough!).  Furthermore, it does go beyond provincial borders to look at products such as Buckley’s, Rawleigh’s and Watkins that while developed elsewhere, were sold door-to-door in the Maritime region.

I learned quite a bit from Mr. Henshaw’s research: that Alfred C. Fuller was born in Nova Scotia, as was the founder of Minard’s Liniment. Earl Sloan, of Sloan’s Liniment, married a Nova Scotian woman, and many of the early peddlers were Syrian and Lebanese, who built up successful routes and even opened large stores as time went on.

A little gem of a book, The Peddlers is full of rural Nova Scotian history, and reminiscences of a simpler time. Boomers on up will appreciate the time covered in The Peddlers and will have them searching their medicine cabinets and basements for old bottles of faithful remedies and durable brushes.

The Peddlers: The Fuller Brush Man, the Lords of Liniment and Door to Door Heroes in Nova Scotia and Beyond by Blaine Henshaw
Pottersfield Press

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Margaret Atwood, Campobello Island and the Passamoquoddy by Rachel Bryant

(The following article, under the title “More cultural storytelling in Peskotomuhkatik” was penned by Rachel Bryant, author of The Homing Place: Indigenous and Settler Literary Legacies of the Atlantic. It was originally published on her website on September 21st, 2019 and is reproduced here with her kind permission.)

This morning brought a new piece by one of my favourite local authors, Julia Wright — one about Margaret Atwood’s new novel, The Testaments, which apparently concludes with a scene on Campobello Island, a Canadian island that is connected by bridge to the state of Maine at the entrance of the Passamaquoddy Bay.

From Wright’s piece:

Kate Johnston, manager of marketing and visitor services at Roosevelt Campobello International Park, which preserves the summer home of late U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family, called the literary salute “pretty cool.”

. . .

“Margaret Atwood has been pretty upfront about the fact that she is inspired by the events that have been happening in the United States.”

“Campobello is such an interesting place — so Canadian, but at the same time it has such a tie to the United States.”

McLean said that in the context of the plot, Campobello Island is the “perfect” setting for the novel’s conclusion.

The Testaments is not on my immediate to-read list, but I find these ideas very interesting, and I can’t help but wonder whether Atwood’s plot, and the mythologies upon which it presumably rests, engages or further obscures the actual place currently called Campobello.

Campobello is home to Friar’s Rock (or Skitap Man Rock), a “rock formation” on the sea coast that has “a Romeo and Juliet style story attached to it.” This story is from Passamaquoddy oral tradition, and you can read a version of it, as told by Donald Soctomah, in Siobhan Senier’s Dawnland Voices anthology. I am currently teaching an Indigenous Literatures course at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, and I carefully walked my students through this story in class just last week.

In Soctomah’s telling, Campobello is not a fragment of New Brunswick or an island on the margin of Canada but rather a Passamaquoddy summer village where Passamaquoddy people have been gathering for thousands of years. Over the course of some of these summers, a young girl named Sipsis and a boy named Posu fall in love, but each winter they retreat to their respective families’ hunting camps. As Sipsis and Posu grow older, their families begin to notice and disapprove of their summer bond, and Sipsis is sent to live on an island across the bay. For every year after, Sipsis and Posu gaze longingly across the water, dreaming of one another.

Soctomah writes:

Years passed and time flew by; they each called to Gloscap to grant them a wish, and both asked that their love would last through eternity. He heard their songs of love and felt their passion, but their families did all they could to prevent this. One day Posu was walking along the shore and suddenly his wish was granted: he had become a large rock in the shape of a man looking across the Bay, and Sipsis on the shore of the other island at the same instant also became a large rock in the shape of a woman; she too was looking across the Bay to her love. Forever they would look across the Bay to each other as symbols of true love. (p. 179)

The Sipsis rock is on what some today call Moose Island, Maine; the rock is called Pilsqehsis Woman Rock. Here is a Google map image of how Campobello and Moose islands are situated in the bay:

One island in Maine, another in New Brunswick. One rock formation in Gilead, one in Canada. But both islands are actually in Peskotomuhkatik, which is Passamaquoddy territory, home of the Passamaquoddy tribal nation. I have written elsewhere about how Canada and the United States (or northern Maine and southwestern New Brunswick) are violent impositions on Peskotomuhkatik. The borderline that non-Indigenous people drew through this territory after the American Revolution effectively clarified the spheres of dominance for two resource-hungry settler colonial societies but it failed to actually rupture this territory, where Passamaquoddy people have lived for centuries, where the rocks tell their own love stories, and where people and place are inseparable despite any and all artificially imposed divisions.

And so we, Settler people, are again telling stories about Peskotomuhkatik.

But what stories are we telling about this land and what it represents, and who are we to tell them? Do our stories actually have anything to do with Peskotomuhkatik, a place where Indigenous people have an average life expectancy of forty-eight years, or are we once again using Passamaquoddy land to tell our own stories about settler colonial political culture or about the supposed differences between Canadians and Americans? Historically, the stories that we have told about this place have been much louder in our shared public discourse than the stories of this place itself. I hope questions of Passamaquoddy cultural and territorial sovereignty do not get lost in conversations about Atwood’s widely anticipated new novel.

Rachel Bryant is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at Dalhousie University in K’jipuktuk. She spends most of her time in Menahkwesk/Saint John with her partner and their children.

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Acknowledgements: Rachel Bryant

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