True crime aficionados can rejoice, for here is a very insightful look into the so-called “Mr. Big” sting operations that have been carried out by the RCMP and other police forces over the years. There are a lot of surprising elements in Mark Stobbe’s book. For instance, it was the RCMP that devised and perfected Mr. Big over the years. I simply took it for granted that it would have been an American tactic to get criminals to confess, but no, it was created here in Canada. In fact, as I came to learn, it is little used in the USA.
What is the “Mr. Big” sting? There is no one person who portrays Mr. Big, rather, police create an imaginary criminal gang to trick homicide suspects into a confession. “Mr. Big” is the top boss who requires the prospective gang member to come clean of his offences so that he can make them ‘go away’. Mr. Big is typically used as a last resort when evidence fails to fully incriminate a suspect. It is elaborate and expensive to stage a Mr. Big sting, but it is effective. It is not without its pitfalls too, and it has its detractors. Nevertheless, it has put men and women behind bars who would otherwise have never been convicted of murder. They are the next best thing to a smoking gun at a murder scene.
The “Mr. Big” Sting follows several cases of unsolved murders into which police decided to bring Mr. Big into the picture. The murders and facts of the case are examined, legal aspects are discussed and after all avenues of conviction are exhausted, Mr. Big is brought in.
Mark Stobbe has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Saskatchewan and has taught at Keyano College and Okanagan College. He began studying the criminal justice system after being accused and acquitted of the murder of a loved one. Dr. Stobbe now lives and works in Regina, Saskatchewan.
It felt like sitting down to a proper English tea served by an erudite and entertaining host, reading Grant Hayter-Menzies’ new book Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian Canine War Hero. Victoria, BC in the 1910s was a bastion of British ex-pats, so it is no surprise they were caught up in the fervour of the war happening nearly half a world away. One of those at the forefront of war support in Victoria was a charming little white dog wearing cocoa tins on a harness, collecting coins for relief efforts. Transitioning from the pampered spoiled pet of a millionaire philanthropist, Muggins became a hard-working war hero in 1916. Over the course of two years, he raised the equivalent of a quarter-million dollars, visited and comforted wounded soldiers recovering in hospital, mingled with the highest echelons of military society and with royalty, and became known all over the world. As with many aspects of the Canadian experience of the Great War, Muggins’ story was nearly lost to history until Hayter-Menzies dived into his life and resurrected Muggins—for the second time, it turns out.
But this book is so much more than merely one dog’s life story. Hayter-Menzies explores the lives of those left at home during the 1914-1918 conflict. It is an essay on Canadian life on the home front, and of women’s very active roles supporting the war effort. Muggins would not have become the celebrity he was without the drive of women, who used all means possible to raise funds for everything from small comfort packages for prisoners and the wounded, to purchasing ambulances and hospital ships.
The book also explores the roles of dogs at home and in the trenches and the human/canine bond that drives their need to please us. It feels deeply personal; Hayter-Menzies’ own dear Spitz dog, Freddie makes more than a cameo appearance. Hayter-Menzies treats the story of Muggins with the respect and love he obviously feels for “man’s best friend”.
This book is a warm, chatty kind of conversation between the reader and author. It is entertaining, funny, poignant, and deeply touching. Muggins, with his “speaking gaze” and plumed tail wagging happily, lives again through Hayter-Menzies’ masterful prose. While moving, the book is never mawkish or sappy, but a clear-eyed reminder of how much we owe them for the unconditional love dogs hold for humans. This is definitely a recommended read for dog lovers, those interested in the 1914-1918 conflict and those who just want to time travel back 100 years to a unique period of Canada’s history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Grant Hayter-Menzies is a biographer and historian specializing in the lives of extraordinary and unsung heroes of the past, notably the role of animals in times of war. He is also the literary executor of playwright William Luce. He lives in Sidney, British Columbia, with his dog, Freddie, and partner, Rudi. For more information, visit grantmenzies.wixsite.com/author.
Oct. 29, 2012, was a sad day in nautical history as the replica tall ship Bounty sank due to damage from being caught in Hurricane Sandy off the coast of the eastern U.S. A little over eight years later, on December 5th, 2020, Roy Boutilier, one of the original crew members of that ship, quietly passed away in Nova Scotia from Alzheimer’s disease. Roy, who had no previous sailing knowledge, was a last-minute substitute crewman for the hand-built replica built in Lunenburg in 1960. The ship was commissioned by MGM studios for the making of the movie “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando and Leslie Howard. The crew’s mission was to sail it to Tahiti and move it around various locations there as filming required. Some, like Roy, were even employed as extras on the set and can be seen in the movie if you know who to look for. He was even befriended by Marlon Brando himself!
Someone who knew Roy well was Janet Coulter Sanford. She and her husband had been friends with Roy and his wife Bev for years before Roy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2017. Janet was quite used to hearing Roy talk about his time on the Bounty and never thought much about it until she realized that these stories would be slowly shut away in Roy’s brain, never to be heard of again. “What a waste,” she thought. Determined to create a small book of remembrances for Roy’s family and friends, she soon realized that Roy had all kinds of stories and a host of memorabilia to go with it.
I was there a long time that first day—astounded and at the material Roy had amassed. Right away I could see that the twenty-five page account I had originally envisioned would never suffice for this rich, little-known story. Encouraged by my enthusiastic reaction, Rov asked, "What do you think, Jan? There's a lot of terrific stuff here, isn't there?"
"Yes," I agreed. "You have a wonderful story here. I really had no idea there was so much to tell."
Neither of us said anything for a few moments. And then, almost shyly, Roy continued. "I bet you could write a great book about all this. What do you say, Jan?"
So, despite all my misgivings, I heard myself say, "Yes, Roy, we're going to write a book! " We would tell the story of Bounty—its Nova Scotian beginnings, the voyage to Tahiti, and its starring movie role. We would tell the stories of the men who sailed with him. We would sort through Roy's photographs and slides and preserve some of those moments in time. Alzheimer's might someday rob my old friend of those memories, but his story would not be lost.
I was not aware of it at the time, but I was actually embarking on something more important than just retelling Roy's Bounty stories. But that would only become clear to me as the months passed.
The result is a beautifully wrought memoir of both Roy and the Bounty and the time spent aboard her, and the years after as Roy returned to Nova Scotia and the business of making a living, like so many other of the crew, did. Ms. Coulter Sanford manages to track down two other shipmates of Roy, and their subsequent meeting after all these years is quite poignant, as they pick up where they left off, and tell more stories, new ones that Jan hasn’t heard yet. Another touching moment is when, in 2012, the Bounty visits Lunenburg once again and Roy meets a descendant of Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutineers. Weeks later, the Bounty is no more after Hurricane Sandy is done with her. With many of Roy’s photos (colour and black & white), newspaper clippings and other ephemera, Memories on the Bounty is a perfect softcover keepsake book for anyone fascinated with nautical history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janet Coulter Sanford is a book lover. Throughout her thirty-year career as an English teacher, she championed Canadian literature and fostered a love of reading in many students. A graduate of Mount Allison and Dalhousie Universities, she lives in Moncton, NB, with her husband, John, and her incorrigible golden retriever, Kristy. Memories on the Bounty is her debut book.
In the essay, “The Invisible Museum”, Laury Leite reminds us that “the world is a strange and unknown place, and that knowledge is nothing more than the search for the marvellous hidden in nature.” (117) Beyond the Gallery invites readers to think about the hidden marvels all around us—the artwork within and outside of the art gallery.
Beyond the Gallery’s subtitle is “An Anthology of Visual Encounters” and it delivers on its promise to provide a vast array of perspectives on art beyond the walls of the art gallery, even in a relatively brief collection of eight essays. The essays in this book will appeal to lovers of art and especially lovers of many different time periods of art history. In Beyond the Gallery, editors Liuba Gonzàles de Armas and Ana Ruiz Aguirre curate an interesting and eclectic group of essays written in Spanish and English by Canadian authors from the Spanish-speaking diaspora. The theme that binds the pieces together is not simply art, but the ways in which we might think about art outside of the typical gallery space, which usually seeks to dictate the way a viewer takes in the piece. They ask, what happens when art breaks free from the traditional gallery space? What kinds of unconventional art forms do we experience in the world? The eight essays in this collection offer a variety of perspectives on topics like classical art, political posters of revolution-era Cuba, and even the boom of artistic expression in tattooing in recent years.
Each piece is written in its author’s signature style (credit here goes to the translators of each essay), and many essays embrace not only an academic approach but play with perspective as well. One notable essay that does this is “El Telón de Picasso/Picasso’s Curtain: A Visual Encounter”, by Marcelo Donato. Donato begins by describing his first, impactful visual encounter of the curtain Picasso painted for a ballet in 1917. The essay then shifts into a creative-nonfictional retelling of the players and circumstances that influenced the creation of Picasso’s curtain. It ends with a section in which the curtain itself speaks. The switching of perspectives is a recurring theme in the entire collection of essays, which demands an open mind as the perspectives and styles shift from piece to piece, perhaps the way that a multi-artist exhibit might ask the viewer to approach different and unconventional pieces with an open mind.
As I was contemplating the essays in this book, I thought of my own experiences of art outside the gallery. This collection calls to mind the “Nuit Blanche” art festivals I have attended when artists take over the streets and other non-traditional spaces of a major city as new and exciting venues for their creations. There is something very energizing about seeing art deliberately taking over a space outside of the gallery. It becomes more accessible and interactive, and the authors of these essays seem to agree that great art can reside in many spaces. The spirit of Nuit Blanche is alive in this collection and it encourages readers to look to the classics, but also to the unexpected for inspiration.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ana Ruiz Aguirre is a Cuban-Canadian writer and researcher who writes about art through an interdisciplinary and contextual lens. Ana contributed to and co-edited Beyond the Gallery with the support of the Edmonton Heritage Council and the Alberta Public Interest Research Group, and she is currently working on her first monograph with the support of the Edmonton Arts Council. Ana’s doctoral research examining the strategy and impact of cultural diplomacy in North America was awarded a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and she was a Mitacs Globalink Research Scholar at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Ana was part of the Public Diplomacy and the Economy of Culture Research Group at Queen’s University, and has worked at Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales, and the Art Gallery of Alberta. She currently serves as Chair of the Fundraising and Advocacy Committee at Latitude 53, one of Canada’s oldest artist-run centres.
Liuba González de Armas is a diasporic Cuban cultural worker. She is both contributor and co-editor to Beyond the Gallery. Liuba holds a Bachelor of Arts in History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture from the University of Alberta and a Master’s degree in Art History from McGill University. Her MA research examined representations of women in Cuban revolutionary posters and was supported by a Canada Graduate Scholarship. Her areas of interest include activist printmaking, public art and propaganda, and cultural policy and diplomacy. Liuba has interned and worked at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Museum of American History, the Art Gallery of Alberta, and various artist-run centres across Canada. Most recently, she served as Halifax’s Young Curator at the art galleries of Mount Saint Vincent, Dalhousie, and Saint Mary’s universities before joining the civil service in Nova Scotia. Liuba approaches visual art of the Americas hemispherically, seeking to foreground spaces of transnational dialogue and solidarity.
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.” 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”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
Folks, it’s right there in plain sight, in his last name. Laff. I mean, laugh. If you want to build your expertise on all things beer, from the making of to cultural artifacts and references along the way, AND you want to be entertained while doing so, this is one to add to your collection. Laffoly weaves technical process from the mash tun to filter types in between anecdotes, folklore and fun facts about local Nova Scotian history of beer with all the poise of an expert tittering tour guide worthy of high praise and monetary tips at the end.
Unfiltered’s timeline is also delivered in chronological order for ease of association with process order. In the beginning, mead-chugging Vikings who invaded farmland near the Evangeline Trail may have introduced their wares to the Mi’Kmaq. Perhaps some harm, some foul, but they eventually left in search of other places and grapes worth conquering. A few centuries passed and the French settlers arrived with supper clubs and more imbibing opportunities. If you can make sense of the Shakespeare – Harvard University – Nova Scotia connection, I’m sure you’ll win a prize at a pub trivia night, so yet another reason to read this book.
As any book about alcohol consumption in Nova Scotia should, a brief history of distilleries and the popularity of rum is touched upon. And as this is a tribute to Nova Scotian heritage, you’ll learn more about the rise of Alexander Keith, and the comedically tragic fall of one of his lesser great-nephews.
What makes Unfiltered unique is the collection of facts and stories recounted while the author drinks his ale, served by some technologically distracted servers at local taverns. The entire book is a literal thirst trap, so I’d recommend investing in one of your local favourite craft beers while you enjoy a fun and funny course that includes forays into temperance, the reasons why different types of beer are served in different shaped glasses, and the cast of notorious and not-so-infamous characters who collectively seeded Halifax as the pub capital of Canada. It’s definitely worth an idea to have this one produced as a multi-episode podcast to reduce incidents of drunk retelling of tales, although apparently, as cited in this book, beer makes you smart and there are studies to prove such. Don’t believe me? It’s in here, it’s true, and the cenosillicaphobia is also real.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steven Laffoley is a writer, educator, and traveller. For almost two decades now, his numerous fiction and nonfiction books – including the award-winning Shadowboxing: the rise and fall of George Dixon, The Blue Tattoo, and Halifax Nocturne – explore the compelling people, unique character and uncommon stories of Nova Scotia. He lives in Halifax.
Part memoir, part history, part policy examination, and part roadmap for the future, On Opium: Pain, Pleasure, and Other Matters of Substanceby Carlyn Zwarenstein is captivating, rage-inducing, and most important of all, helpful. Zwarenstein is a regular user of opioids, a fact she explains at the beginning of the book, explaining her chronic illness and pain, her sometimes difficult relationship with opioids and getting her life back, and the use of opioids by writers in the past. This first part was originally published in a slightly different form as Opium Eater: The New Confessions. What struck me most in this first section was Zwarenstein’s careful examination of her own substance use, a use which would be considered more “legitimate” by many, and how she aligns it with those “less legitimate” uses. This compassion and immediate breakdown of the line that exists between those dubbed addicts of illicit drugs, and those who begin by using prescribed opioids to treat a condition. Zwarenstein, while examining her own use, a use she admits helps her function, but also – she likes the feeling. How does that, then, make her “different” than those who use illicit drugs? In the subsequent parts of the book, she explores the history of substance use, the creation of stronger and stronger opioids, the opioid crisis, and the very personal stories of those caught in the midst of this maelstrom: substance users from all walks, prescribers, researchers, and the programs which actually work.
Zwarenstein demands that we stop looking at substance use through narrow windows. If someone is using a substance, whether it’s prescribed or not, they are trying to treat themselves so they can function. Detailing the relationships she built through her research, Zwarenstein offers a blend of anecdote and evidence to pave the way for the real meat of her book, a radical solution to substance use: decriminalization and managed use programs, perhaps assisted with medication that can alleviate symptoms of opiate withdrawal and the like. She refers to the mountain of evidence that indicates demonizing substance users is ineffective and punitive, as well as the pervasive idea that the only way to manage addiction is to quit the substance entirely, a practice which is not realistic for many. Some people can become clean, some require maintenance therapy with methadone, buprenorphine, or other drugs, and others would do better in managed use programs or access to safe supply. Continuing to criminalize substance use is criminalizing poverty, trauma, and marginalized populations. Zwarenstein is matter-of-fact in her examination of the social determinants of health, as her work and some of her interviewees in this book were unhoused people, who rightfully point out the many issues with many of the supports provided to them requiring them to abstain from substance use. How do you ask someone to give up the drug which is keeping them alive, in order to receive services? Zwarenstein is adamant that because her substance use is prescribed, she is white and middle-class, that hers is considered acceptable while others’ is not.
In my professional life, I engage with a lot of research on substance use and the efficacy of harm reduction, which has sealed my support for harm reduction strategies. Even so, I found this revelatory, with its comprehensive blend of story, history, and investigation. This takes the work being done across North America and packages it up for everyone from the layperson to the lawmaker to read and digest. In On Opium, Zwarenstein challenges us to imagine a world in which we toss out our antiquated, actively harmful ideas about substance use, stop thinking of addicts versus “legitimate” users, and embrace harm reduction in a meaningful way, with decriminalization and safe supply. CBC Books listed this as one of the fall’s must-read nonfiction books, and I agree. I absolutely recommend this book: its compassion, accessibility, readability, radical proposal, and examination of privilege will leave you the tools to demand better.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carlyn Zwarenstein is a writer based in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Toronto Star, and Vice. She is also the author of Opium Eater: The New Confessions.
Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (Sept. 14 2021)
Living on the West Coast as I do means it’s impossible to put thoughts of earthquakes completely out of mind. I suppose, ever since long ago reading Edgar Cayce’s prediction of the Western shelf falling into the sea, I’ve been a little nervous. But according to information in the new book from Gregor Craigie, a certain amount of edginess seems justified.
Craigie is a journalist and broadcaster who’s worked for outlets as varied as the BBC, CBS Radio, and Public Radio International. Currently the host of CBC’s On the Island, Victoria’s early morning radio program, he’s had years of experience interviewing people and asking hard questions – experience that’s evidenced throughout this information-packed book.
He reports on earthquakes and tsunamis that have occurred around the world, placing an emphasis on seismic action in North America, including places I’d never dreamed had experienced quakes – the Mississippi Valley, South Carolina, Utah, New York – and then offers cautions for our own Quebec City, Ottawa, and of course, Vancouver and Victoria.
His research is extensive, and he puts it to good use but does so without befuddling the reader. Never talking down to us, he offers clear definitions of technical terminology, making us comfortable with his references to temblors, subduction zones, turbidites, asthenosphere. The study of earthquakes has a language of its own, but Craigie serves as a fluent interpreter.
And the book offers much more than technical information; personal accounts, journals, old news articles, even diaries illustrate all too clearly the threats posed by shifts in the earth beneath us. Some of these stories are heartbreaking. He cites as an example survivors of the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch who were able, for a time, to communicate with family, but then during rescue efforts, died. Other of these accounts are even more hopeless, the worst of these, of the young woman in Colombia, buried to her neck in solid debris who lived, mostly entombed, for sixty hours before succumbing. These are the most haunting, the “…cases [where] rescuers could only offer some food and medicine or pray with the victims before they died.”
But Craigie’s purpose in writing this book is not to paralyze us, but to bring us – and our governments – to action, as there are ways we can protect ourselves. Many older buildings, especially those built of bricks, are vulnerable and can not only collapse inward but will often shed chunks of their outer walls onto anyone below. A number of after-the-fact fixes now exist, though of course, they don’t come without costs, many of them high. Yet how does one justify cutting corners in building costs or repairs when comparing those to the cost of losing human lives.
It is in these explanations of the many techniques and technologies that have been developed that hope shines. And it is for this reason, I believe, that the Writers’ Trust of Canada has selected Craigie’s book as a finalist for this year’s inaugural Balsillie Prize for Public Policy. On Borrowed Timeillustrates clearly that indeed, it is only a matter of time until the earth shakes again. For now, we can only hope that making preparations will make a difference to survival rates, and also to the inevitable rebuilding and restoration of services that will be required.
While I’ve experienced a few tremors over the years (the strongest of which made me feel like I was surfing a small wave, even though the flooring I stood on had concrete immediately beneath it), I do manage to sleep at night. Maybe that’s partly because I’ve made a number of preparations – I have an emergency kit, know how to shut off the gas line, and keep an extra pair of shoes under the bed. Small steps, but a start – at least I hope so. Reading this book is bound to convince readers to at least take similar precautions because as Craigie reminds us, more such events are inevitable. In the words of one of the experts, he cites: “You can’t stop the earthquake from happening. You can stop the earthquake from killing you.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gregor Craigie has been a news producer, reporter, and on-air host. He is presently the host of CBC’s On the Island in Victoria, BC. He is a former reporter for CBS Radio and a former BBC journalist, who read the news to millions of American listeners of The World on Public Radio International.
Publisher : Goose Lane Editions (Sept. 28 2021)
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. 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.
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
The preface of Genevieve A. Chornenki’s short memoir, Don’t Lose Sight: Vanity, incompetence, and my ill-fated left eye is a glowing ode to the visual surprises of the every day. Chornenki delights in the colours and textures of a cabbage, exclaiming in wonder about this simple thing, while her husband isn’t nearly as riveted. However, after a retinal detachment that went untreated for longer than it should have, Chornenki is far more appreciative of the things she can see after this brush with sightlessness. Exploring illness while parenting, advocating for more than herself, and walking the up-and-down journey that is managing health. Brief but frank, this is a great look at the value of sight and the challenges of taking care of it in our current healthcare system. As Chornenki points out so deftly in this memoir, we take vision for granted until we suffer the loss of it.
Which brings me to the reason why I’m reviewing this book. James reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in reading it specifically, because he knows that I have a visual impairment, resulting from my own brush with an eye disease. So my review comes from the lens of someone who already knows what it’s like to live in a world with some vision loss, and what that means – which, for the purposes of this review, means that I definitely got a lot out of it, but also had to reconcile my own biases resulting from my experience while reading this.
Chornenki, in the space of 125 pages, explores the context of her retinal detachment: how the treatment and recuperation bled into her work, affected her ability to parent, and resulted in pressures and judgement from others who were unaware of her vision issues, pain, and active healing. This is a well-rounded look at how medical issues can spiral, or even what we consider to be “minimal” vision problems, can wreak havoc on your life, require years of treatment, and are always a risk. Eyesight is incredibly fragile, and Chornenki captures that lesson beautifully in this memoir.
The other major part of this memoir is advocacy: advocacy for yourself as a patient, and advocacy for others. Part of Chornenki’s story is her then-optometrist misdiagnosing her retinal detachment as migraine, leaving it to get worse and then become more difficult to repair. Chornenki ultimately decides to make a complaint, and she details the arduous and occasionally demeaning process of filing a formal complaint. Attacking this part of her story with the same pluck as she attacked her treatment and healing, was interesting, enraging, and very informative.
Chornenki describes this memoir as a “small story.” I agree with that, and I also agree that small stories are important. This was valuable to me, as a person who has vision loss, and I think would be wonderfully helpful for anyone going through something similar.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Genevieve Chornenki is a dispute resolution consultant and emerging writer based in Toronto, Canada. When she was in grade 4, the teacher noted on her report card, Has excellent story-writing ability which should be encouraged as much as possible. No one in the family noticed. Nor did first prize for poetry in high school relieve her of household chores like washing dishes and sweeping the kitchen floor. Eventually, she figured out that writing is about persistence, not permission. It also helps to have something to say. Genevieve holds a Master of Laws in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto, and a Certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University. Her works include Bypass Court: A Dispute Resolution Handbook and When Families Start Talking, a CBC Ideas radio documentary. Visit her at www.genevievechornenki.com or email her at email@example.com.
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)
Subtitled “First Canadian Army Civil Affairs in Northwest Europe”, Civilians at the Sharp End follows the story of the Civil Affairs branch through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany in 1944-45. David Borys highlights how Civil Affairs helped civilians caught in the jaws of war by delivering food and medicine, providing shelter for refugees and displaced persons, establishing law and order, dealing with resistance groups, and aiding in the reconstruction of infrastructure in damaged urban areas.
A very detailed read of this little-known effort of the Canadian Army, and a must for WWII historians.
McGill-Queens University Press (February 2021)
7 photos, 2 maps
Montreal and the Bomb by Gilles Sabourin
A thoroughly enjoyable read, Montreal and the Bomb take the reader back to the end of WWII when the race for nuclear power was on. Not as high profile as the contemporary Manhattan Project, yet the research was just as urgent and vital. But did the Canadian project have anything to do with the bombs dropped on Japan? The answer to that and other questions are in the book! Written for a general-interest audience, the author wisely restricts detailed descriptions of the nuclear principles and focuses more on the men and women involved.
An excellent true crime book from Dean Jobb, The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream had me turning the pages at a good clip due to the way the story is told by Mr. Jobb. A serial killer before Jack the Ripper (but in the Victorian era too) the Canadian doctor Thomas Neill Cream was a bounder and a murderer, particularly of young marginalized women who had little recourse but to turn to prostitution as a means to paying the rent. Poison was the weapon of choice and Dr. Cream was skillful in his acquiring it and administering it. This book is meticulously researched, contains courtroom scenes and it follows Cream from Canada to England and back again as he attempts to reinvent himself to avoid capture. With B & W photos and maps, this is a true-crime lover’s dream of a book. Highly recommended.
(Editor’s Note: Alison Manley is one of The Miramichi Reader’s most treasured reviewers. Her reviews are sharp, insightful and honest. Besides her formal reviews for us, she also posts many ‘flash’ reviews – of books and lipsticks – on her Instagram account, @alisonburnis. I suggest you follow her! With her kind permission, I have collected several of her recent Indigenous reads here, and posted them verbatim.)
Indian in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power – Jody Wilson-Raybould
Today and every day is a good time to read works by Indigenous authors and support Indigenous artists. It’s a happy accident that my review backlog led to this title being posted today, but it’s a good one because JWR makes a lot of very salient points about the political structures and people in Canada and how they are not ready for truth and reconciliation, how they are not honest about nation to nation relationships, and how white supremacy is so baked in that change from the inside is not possible. JWR points out the work that she was able to do, but it was done *in spite* of the status quo, not because of it.
I think this was the hottest political book out there, released six days before our recent federal election? With good reason. JWR focuses on the events which led her to run for the Liberals federally, her time as Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, and the SNC-Lavalin affair, which led to her being shuffled in the Cabinet, her ultimate expulsion from the Liberal caucus, and her later run as an Independent MP for Vancouver-Granville. This offers a lot of insight into her thoughts and feelings during the 3.5 years she served as a Liberal, and the constant attempts to control her, control her staff, and the racism she faced on Parliament Hill. JWR is a proud Indigenous woman, and after reading her memoir, as well as Mumilaaq Qaqqaq’s comments on her time as an NDP MP for Nunavut: we have so much work to do to tear down these systems.
JWR is extremely readable – if you struggled with her book of speeches, this is not at all like that, and she doesn’t hold back. I recommend it if for no other reason, to examine how our government treats Indigenous peoples in the halls of power.
From Where I Stand: Rebuilding Indigenous Nations for a Stronger Canada – Jody Wilson- Raybould
Before the Canadian federal election on Monday, I decided to assign myself both of JWR’s books. (For the non-Canadians in the house, Google the SNC-Lavalin affair.) I’m much further left than JWR politically, but I do think she’s an interesting figure: an Indigenous leader, the first Indigenous attorney general, and when shit went scandalous, she stood firm in her convictions and professional expertise. This is her first book, which is a collection of speeches she gave over a ten-year period, predating her foray into federal politics, stretching to the fallout of the SNC-Lavalin affair. It is a little repetitive, as speeches by the same person can be, but JWR is clear and consistent in her arguments throughout time and provides some thoughtful solutions to Indigenous-Canada relations. Her stances have been criticized by other Indigenous leaders, but she presents them with passion and lived experience, and it is not for me to say whether she is correct. I will say she has clearly immersed herself in the issues with the Indian Act and impresses the urgency of dismantling it in each speech.
Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality – Bob Joseph with Cynthia F. Joseph
I actually read this the afternoon before I went on vacation – this is the first time I’ve ever abused my power at work to read a book we added to the collection before processing it. I’m so glad I did. What a fantastic, practical text. The Josephs take the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and provides practical, meaningful direction on how to implement the recommendations both professionally and personally. Yes, it’s hard. But this text gives guideposts, checklists, and very simple dos and don’ts. Excellent read, incredibly valuable, and I look forward to sharing it widely at work.
Publisher : Page Two Books, Inc. (May 9 2019)
Language : English
Paperback : 208 pages
ISBN-10 : 1989025641
ISBN-13 : 978-1989025642
Indians on Vacation – Thomas King
Bird and Mimi, a retired couple, are on vacation in Prague, following the last of the postcards Mimi’s Uncle Leroy sent from Europe after he ran away from home. Mimi is cheerful and excited, while Bird, the narrator, is a grumpy old man, afflicted with various mysterious ailments. Through their vacation in Prague, Bird relays their past: meeting, falling in love, breaking up, returning to one another, and the retirement of following Uncle Leroy’s trips. Uncle Leroy stole a medicine bundle when he left, and Mimi wants to track it down – while also creating a new one.
Funny and wry, not much happens but it’s hilarious no matter what. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Also very pumped I found this at the thrift store – love an unexpected new release on the shelf!
As we remember the “Before Times” and long for the “After Times,” what better companion could we have on our journey than Royal Geographical Society Fellow Bill Arnott, whose wit, charm, and prolific talent entertain, educate, and enlighten us as we accompany him on his rollicking adventures through space and time.
Arnott is an explorer-adventurer-humorist and all-around bon vivant. Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries is more than a travelogue. The writing is personal, good-humoured, and completely guileless. Whether he is flipping his kayak in shark-infested waters or introducing himself on an elevator to a woman who turns out to be Nova Scotia’s Lieutenant Governor, Arnott never loses his sangfroid, sense of wonder, and whimsy. As he describes himself in one of his poems, “Man on the outside, child within / Snowy whiskers surrounding a childish grin.”
His sense of playfulness and love of life shine through on every page. His prodigious powers of description and observation, combined with an encyclopedic knowledge of flora and fauna, including the human animal, keep his readers informed and entertained as he careens from one adventure to the next. There is also a mystical through-line; surviving death-defying and near-death experiences, he has conversations with strangers about the meaning of life and catches The Celestine Prophecy just as it mysteriously falls from a shelf while he walks through a bookstore in Portland.
Gone Viking II is rewarding on a number of different levels for the many pleasures, fascinating people, and pulsating poetry Arnott kindly shares with his readers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Arnott is the award-winning, bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga and Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries. For his expeditions, Bill’s been granted a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society. When not trekking the globe with a small pack, journal, and laughably outdated camera phone, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, making music and friends.
The horse is probably the largest land animal we will likely encounter in North America, domesticated or otherwise. While I have been horseback riding a few times over the years, I was always leery of sitting astride one. Not only did I feel bad for the horse for having me as a rider, but I was also unsure of what the horse might get it into his head to do. Would it take off, dragging me behind? Or balk and not move at all? Unless you really know horses, I can’t imagine ever feeling comfortable around one.
Nova Scotia’s Brent MacGrath is not like that; he has been around horses and harness racing all his life. A car salesman day (and a very good one at that, apparently), he knows a good horse when he sees one. One day he saw a really good horse that just happened to turn out to be a really great one: Somebeachsomewhere, who would eventually become a horse of a lifetime, setting new harness racing records and breaking old ones all over North America. And winning hearts, for “Beach” as he was affectionately known, was a favourite of everyone who came into contact with him. “He was a very nice horse to be around,” Reg Petipas, one of the co-owners of Schooner Stables said.
I will admit that I was totally unfamiliar with horse racing in Canada and with harness racing in particular. Frankly, I wasn’t really that interested in reading the book, but as I like to watch movies about thoroughbred horses like Sea Biscuit and Secretariat, I thought: “why not a winning Canadian horse?”
In a recent interview, Marjorie Simmins had with The Miramichi Reader, she was asked if harness racing was something she was familiar with before writing Somebeachsomewhere. She replied: “I was aware of harness racing before I wrote the Beach book, but I hadn’t been involved in the industry or been to a racetrack in some years. Once I realized that Somebeachsomewhere was the Secretariat of harness racing and that he was owned by six Maritimers, I couldn’t wait to get started on the story.”
As I was familiar with Marjorie Simmins’ previous books, I knew that a book about a horse, written by her (a lover of horses and an accomplished rider) would be a good read. I wasn’t disappointed. Somebeachsomewhere held my interest all the way through. Although he had a brief professional career, and a retirement to stand stud cut short by a fatal illness, Ms. Simmins not only covers Beach’s history and all his races, but his travels to Australia for stud purposes, and his retirement back to Hanover Shoe Farms in Pennsylvania.
Also included are interviews with all the members of Truro’s Schooner Stables (who owned Beach) as well as Paul MacDonnell who was the only jockey to sit behind Beach in all of his races. There are black and white as well as full-colour images of Beach in action and a helpful glossary of racing terms (even betting terminology) that Ms. Simmins thoughtfully includes for the uninitiated such as myself.
All of this: great writing, an exciting story, interesting people and places all go into making Somebeachsomewhere an exceptional book to read, even if you are not into horse racing. Kudos go to Nimbus Publishing for wrapping Ms. Simmins’ text in a beautiful package, too.
Marjorie Simmins began her thirty-year career as a freelance journalist in Vancouver, with regular work published in the Vancouver Sun and in trade magazines. She has since published numerous essays and articles in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, and won gold medals at both the National Magazine Awards and the Atlantic Journalism Awards. Simmins is the author of Coastal Lives, Year of the Horse, and Memoir: Conversations and Craft. She is also a lifelong equestrian, starting with a focus on English riding, and latterly, focusing on Western disciplines.