Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Till the Boys Come Home by Curtis Mainville

It was back in 2010 that Canada’s last known First World War veteran, John Babcock died at age 109. He regretted that the war ended before he got to see action: “I think if I had a chance, I would have gone to France, taken my chances like the rest of them did,” he said in 2007. “A lot of good men got killed.”

Till the Boys Come Home (2015 Goose Lane Editions) by Curtis Mainville, a 22-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, focuses on the good men (and women) of Queens County, New Brunswick who either volunteered, were conscripted or stayed home to support the war effort by working on the family farm or in the mines. This 170-page book is also volume 22 of the New Brunswick Military Heritage Series and is produced by Goose Lane Editions along with The New Brunswick Military Heritage Project. The book is subtitled “Life on the Home front, Queens County, NB, 1914-1918” and as such, focuses on what was going on in the county during the war rather than what was going on in Europe, although there are quotes from soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) from various places they were stationed, either at the front or in England.

“We would be glad for the sake of the world to see the thing finished, but there is not a man I know who is not glad to stay to the finish, be it long or short.” -Sergeant W.W. Allingham

A very readable account, it is also interesting to see how much support the folks in Queens County gave to the war, especially women. As Mr. Mainville observes: “To say that the war empowered women is an understatement. Women made sure their voices were heard- both at home and in the back roads of New Brunswick’s rural communities. Women carried the burden of implementing austerity measures when the call was made to conserve even more.” Sock knitting (which every soldier deeply appreciated as warm, dry socks were more valuable than money or tobacco) was a way of supporting ‘the Boys’ and bringing women in the communities closer together as knitting was more of a social function than it is now. In its first year, the Red Cross of the village of Gagetown produced 227 pairs!

Also examined in the book is the controversy over the fact that serving at home by farming or working otherwise was not as important as volunteering and fighting the Germans. Many young men, particularly Canadian-born ones, were content to stay and provide the boys overseas with food and raw materials to fight with, since picking up a shovel was viewed by them as just as important as picking up a rifle. It was not due to a lack of patriotism that they did not enlist; they were convinced that their duty began at home. According to records, it was young immigrant men who willingly volunteered, particularly those who came from England to settle in Queens County who saw it as their immediate duty to drop what they were doing and go overseas to assist their countrymen.

One chapter I found very enjoyable to read was chapter five, “A Community Abroad” in which the importance of letter writing during the war is highlighted. It worked both ways: it made the soldier feel connected to happenings at home and it made the folks at home feel they were encouraging their loved ones fighting in a world so far away. This chapter reminded me of a book I had reviewed previously called Letters Home (2014 Nimbus). The one thing that stands out from all the letters is the determination to see the war through. For example, these words come from a letter home from Sergeant W.W. Allingham: “We would be glad for the sake of the world to see the thing finished, but there is not a man I know who is not glad to stay to the finish, be it long or short.”

Also included in the book are two appendices, one is a roll of honour of the Queens County residents who died in the war, the other a list of decorated men and women from the county. There is also a selected bibliography and an index, all of which make this book an indispensable reference work for the New Brunswick/WWI historian or researcher.

Till the Boys Come Home: Life on the Home Front, Queens County, NB, 1914-1918 is volume 22 of the New Brunswick Military Heritage Series.

Capt. (Ret.) Curtis Mainville, a twenty-two-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a Master of Arts (History) degree in 2012. He is the author of several scholarly articles on the subject of New Brunswick’s social and military history and is presently engaged in the compilation of newspaper articles relating to the Great War and the twenty-six thousand men and women of the province who served in uniform.

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The Lost Wilderness by Nicholas Guitard

This book by New Brunswick author and photographer Nicholas Guitard is subtitled “Rediscovering W.F. Ganong’s New Brunswick” and it is an attractive book. From the moment I took it out of the shipping wrapper and saw the cover picture of Ganong standing on a rock in the middle of a body of water doing surveys, I could sense it was something special. Goose Lane Editions has nicely packaged this 200+ page volume complete with colour pictures, appendices, index and a selected bibliography. It would have made a perfect coffee-table book if printed on glossy stock paper, but Mr. Guitard’s beautiful photos of the New Brunswick wilderness (especially the waterfalls) appear just fine on the quality stock paper Goose Lane Editions has chosen to use.

Who Was Ganong?

When New Brunswickers hear the name Ganong they think of chocolate and candy, and they are correct. For it was William Francis Ganong’s (1864-1941), father and uncle who started the now-famous candy business. William chose to follow his interests in science and nature, eventually becoming a professor of botany at Smith College in Massachusetts. On his summers off, he explored, surveyed, mapped and undertook geological explorations of the NB wilderness from 1882 until 1929. Posthumously in 1945, he was named a Person of National Historic Significance, yet many today have not heard of the man or realize the pioneering significance and extent of field journeys. Nicholas Guitard (author of several books on New Brunswick’s Waterfalls) has set out to bring Ganong back into the public’s awareness.

Following Ganong

Nicholas Guitard desired to follow Ganong’s field trip routes to take photos of the places he visited and to discover if they have changed much in the intervening years.

“I had to satisfy my curiosity about William F. Ganong and see for myself the natural places that had so impressed and intrigued him.”

He includes 17 of Ganong’s field trips that cover the major NB rivers, their sources and watersheds. There are clear reproductions of samples of Ganong’s field notes (he writes like a doctor), his hand drawn maps (very detailed and accurate for the time) and photographs taken on the trips. Mr. Guitard has endeavoured to take photographs to match the originals and has reproduced them side by side for comparison. There is even a picture on page 100 of the author standing at the top of Bald Mountain, with the same view of W.F. Ganong standing in the same spot below it on the page.

Ganong’s seemingly limitless energy and enthusiasm (often to the consternation of his travelling companions) are highlighted throughout the book. His sister Susan comments: “The inconveniences of his nomadic life meant nothing to him as long as information was forthcoming. He always returned well and full of enthusiasm, holding his family breathless with his tales of thrilling experiences in the deep woods.” As the author attempts to ‘follow’ Ganong, he gains an appreciation for the dogged determination of the man. Mr. Guitard’s GPS fails him at times, leaving him to wonder at a man who travelled by compass, dead reckoning, hearsay and poor maps available at the time, if any.


As I mentioned earlier, this is an attractive book, and it will definitely appeal to naturalists (amateur and professional), historians and armchair adventurers like myself. The excellent photos alone add value to the text, which Mr. Guitard has painstakingly compiled, primarily based on Ganong’s own submissions to the Natural History Society from 1882 to 1912. Particularly interesting are Mr. Guitard’s own notes he adds at the end of several of the field trips. I imagine that he could have written a book about his own adventures alone. While he doesn’t delve too much into Ganong’s personal history (it would be worthy of its own book too), he does manage to keep the focus on Ganong’s field trips and other sundry items that captured Ganong’s interest, such as “The Phantom ship of the Bay of Chaleur” and the Great Fire of Miramichi in 1825. I have chosen The Lost Wilderness as October’s non-fiction ‘recommended read’.

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Travels with Farley by Claire Mowat

Memoirs can be great fun to read, or they can be boringly self-indulgent. It all depends on the memoirist. In Claire Mowat’s Travels with Farley (2015 Pottersfield Press), we have a surprisingly candid, friendly and concise memoirist as the late Canadian author Farley Mowat’s wife takes us through a whirlwind tour of their years together from 1969 to about 1976, shortly after they left Newfoundland and to the time they settled in Cape Breton.

I found this book to be part memoir, part travelogue (since the Mowats moved and travelled extensively in those seven years alone) and part time capsule, since so much was happening in Canada (Trudeaumania, for example) and in the world: Vietnam, the Cold War, the Hippie era just to name a few. Ms. Mowat manages to create a seamless, flowing work that is actually difficult to put down even if you are not that familiar with Farley Mowat the author or the man. Their lives are filled with so much travelling, moving back and forth and entertaining friends all while trying to write books (Ms. Mowat is an author herself) that it all appears very exciting, especially to those of us who lead a relatively sedentary lifestyle.

As I mentioned earlier, the book is part time capsule in my opinion since it was written at a time when I was entering my teen years. As such, the places mentioned (like Port Hope, Picton and Toronto), events (FLQ crisis, Kent State) and people that pop up throughout the book are quite familiar to me.

In High School English class, we had to read and discuss Never Cry Wolf (1963)  and I had already read The Dog that Wouldn’t Be (1957) a few years earlier. Sadly, that is the full extent of my Farley Mowat experience until I read this book. Claire concisely laments the reason why: “Prior to the 1960s Canadians who bought hardcover books at all generally chose the works of American or British writers. One reason English-speaking Canadians had difficulty defining ourselves as a nationality was that we rarely read books about ourselves by our own authors.”

This was my personal experience; Canadian writers and their books just didn’t seem interesting or exciting to a pre-teen/teen in those years. Canadian books were thought of as boring compared to what was coming out of the US at that time. My bookshelves were filled with Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Stephen King, Joseph Heller, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut. I was also heavily influenced by Rolling Stone magazine and Esquire, so the emphasis was on American authors, not Canadian. (I am currently trying to rectify that situation with this website.)

Back to the book. It begins with a move from the Newfoundland outport of Burgeo to the Magdalen Islands (French: Îles de la Madeleine) which are situated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and are part of the province of Quebec. The prospect excites Claire:

“For four years, I had spent every working day in a windowless office at a job I didn’t like. Would I have wished to return to that when I could be sharing an adventure in a remote place called Old Harry? Not bloody likely.”

However remote and idyllic the islands appear, there are undercurrents that disquiet Claire. There is the English/French divisions and the distrust of outsiders on their islands. Indeed, Claire gets to the point that she doesn’t even like to go grocery shopping because of the constant stares and unfriendliness of the townsfolk. However, many good times are had, even a brief visit (by helicopter) of Pierre and Margaret Trudeau adds to the excitement of living there. However, as the years pass, Clare realizes that she cannot picture her and Farley growing old in the Magdalens: “Seven years earlier we had gone there full of high expectations but now I felt utterly disillusioned.” It is at this time that they find a home on Cape Breton, where the neighbours are friendly and helpful, much to Claire’s delight. In between, there are trips out west, a very fascinating and insightful trip to Greenland with Ed Schreyer (then Premier of Manitoba) and various places in between across Canada, usually in a small travel trailer.

Throughout the book Claire also introduces us to Farley’s family, his father Angus (who is quite a character himself) and his girlfriend Barbara (with whom Claire has a difficult time befriending) as well as Farley’s mother and his sons David and Sandy from a previous marriage. This is all very interesting too, for we see how Farley and Claire interact with family and how the family interacts with one another over the years. Winters were not spent on the Magdalen Islands, but primarily in Port Hope Ontario, so family becomes more of an issue during their returns to Ontario.


Even if you are not that familiar with Farley or Claire Mowat’s previous titles, you will find this an extremely well-written and interesting read, particularly for those Canadians who grew up in the seventies. It is also a sort of time capsule in that the Magdalens were not a tourist destination at the time of the Mowats living there. There was only one paved road, no ferry service (although there was one by the time they left) and no real hotels or restaurants. Likewise in southeastern Ontario. Port Hope was not a very happening place like it is now with its revitalized historic downtown and preserved buildings. There was no 401 highway, and one had to drive or take a train to go anywhere. There was little TV (none on the islands) and radio and newspapers were the main sources of information. So the Mowats read, wrote, did gardening, associated with friends and family and travelled.

I have a feeling that there will be yet another follow-up memoir since this one ends so soon in their 56-year marriage. She has written two previous books about her and Farley, The Outport People and Pomp and Circumstance. Farley Mowat died in 2014 and Claire is still lives in Cape Breton (“but that is another story” she hints in the epilogue). Thankfully, the epilogue brings us up to date on the people mentioned in the book, which gives the reader closure on this portion of the Mowat’s lives together.

This 2015 edition has an introduction by Silver Donald Cameron and an afterword by Elizabeth May. Definitely recommended for Farley Mowat and CanLit fans.

Claire Mowat grew up in Toronto and has lived in Newfoundland, The Magdalen Islands and Nova Scotia. She published her first book, The Outport People, in 1983, the story of her married life in a small Newfoundland community. She is also the author of Pomp and Circumstance and three young adult novels: The Girl From Away, The French Isles, and Last Summer at Louisbourg.

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Bay of Fundy’s Hopewell Rocks by Kevin Snair

Each year thousands of visitors head to southern New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy area to visit the Hopewell Rocks, and I doubt any one comes away unimpressed by this natural rock formation enhanced by the extreme variation of the tides. When the tide is out, you can descend the stairs to the ‘ocean floor’ and explore the rocks, inter-tidal areas and more. Then a perhaps an hour or so later, you can get in a kayak and paddle over the same place where you walked. It’s something to be experienced, no doubt about it.

To enhance that experience (or to prepare for it) Chocolate River Publishing has released The Bay of Fundy’s Hopewell Rocks by Kevin Snair. Simply put, this is a beautiful book that does this natural wonder full justice in pictures as well as words. Mr. Snair is a passionate photographer and works as an Interpretive Guide for the Hopewell Rocks Park, thus he is well placed to take images of the Rocks in any season (even winter when the park is closed) and at night. I was particularly impressed by the night pictures. One graces the cover and there are more inside.

This is a very comprehensive book, written for those that not only want to remember the Hopewell Rocks in pictures, but for those curious about how they were formed, the arrival of the tourists and present development of the park. There are explanations of the tides, with lots of visual aids, such as the author and two fellow guides standing on the ocean floor at low tide, then pictures taken at intervals as the tide quickly comes up to chin level in about 27 minutes!

Flowerpot Rock is the iconic image of the Rocks, but there are so many more places to investigate and unless you have a lot of time to spend at the Rocks, it is almost impossible to see it all in one visit. To help you, there is a Self-guided Tour section, starting at the Interpretive Centre and mapping out about 6 or 7 more tours with highlights and insights on each area. This would be a good book to have before revisiting the Rocks. I highly recommend you pick up a copy, whether you plan to visit soon or at some future time. Then, you’ll want to bring this book along as a handy reference. And if you have seen the Rocks, you have never seen them like this!

This book is available at local bookstores and gift shops as well as in the Fundy Guild book store in the Park. You can also get it online from and

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Two History Titles of Note from Nimbus

I recently had the pleasure of reading two titles from Nimbus Publishing:

  • Failures and Fiascos by Dan Soucoup
  • New Brunswick’s Early Roads by Ronald Rees

Each of these books will appeal to the Atlantic Canada armchair historian and are handy as a reference work in themselves.

The first book, Failures and Fiascos, is subtitled “Atlantic Canada’s Biggest Boondoggles” and is full of good ideas poorly executed, crazy ideas impossible to execute, bad deals, deals that should not have been made and so on. It starts with the attempts build railways (both in New Brunswick and PEI), the grandiose idea of floating a huge raft of millions of logs down the east coast to the Bricklin automobile to Atcon to Point LePreau to submarines that wouldn’t float. Some are humorous, others cost taxpayers millions of dollars. As Frank Sobey (a successful Atlantic Canada businessman) is quoted in the book as saying: “Once you start making business decisions based on what politicians want, you’re headed for trouble.” Each chapter covers one ‘fiasco’ and is about two to three pages in length giving a brief synopsis of the idea, how it was executed and what the outcome was and why it went wrong. Some of the failures are very political in nature, get bogged down in courts and other expenses and makes for a less than interesting read, but on the whole I liked reading about these less than glorious moments in history and found it an informative book.

The second book, New Brunswick’s Early Roads is subtitled “The Routes That Shaped the Province” and is a book that someone with an engineering background might well appreciate. As the author mentions in the preface, the building of railways is of more interest and has a more romantic image than the building of roads to the majority of people. However when you read about what was involved in the cutting out and mapping of a ‘road’ back in the days before mechanization, one builds appreciation for the toil involved in making a passable road for a horse and cart and keeping it passable year round if possible. From there, bridges were needed to cross New Brunswick’s innumerable streams and rivers, connect settlements and open access to new areas to settle. Then, once the motorcar became affordable to the average person, travel by road increased and therefore larger and safer roads were required. A very factual and well-researched book by the same author as An Illustrated History of New Brunswick.

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Saint John Facts and Folklore by David Goss

This book is the fifth (and newest) in the Facts and Folklore series published by Nimbus Publishing. Its pages are chock full of, well, facts and folklore about the New Brunswick port city of Saint John. It also has 20 black and white photos of the city, past and present.

It is organized into six different sections:

  1. The Place
  2. The People
  3. Interesting Areas and Incidents
  4. Suburban Stories
  5. Sayings In and Around Saint John
  6. Firsts, Facts and Foibles

The author, David Goss is a native Saint Johner and has written several books not only on Saint John, but New Brunswick as well. In fact, each summer he hosts a neighbourhood “Walk ‘n’ Talks program. See:

This book is ideal for Saint John residents who may want to know more about their city (and impress visitors with their knowledge) as well as tourists who may be visiting the city. The city gets a fair amount of cruise ship visitors, and armed with this book and a city map, they might discover things they may not otherwise get to see or hear about.

While I have only been to Saint John a few times (only once as a tourist and even then we were just passing through), I found this book to be a pleasurable read, and with the way it is laid out, you can jump in anywhere and start reading. Mr. Goss’ style is light and informative and the books size (approx. 5 X 7 inches) is small enough to fit in a glove box, purse or travel bag. The cover price of $14.95 ( sells for less) presents good value for the money.

Paperback / softback | 200 pages
5.50 x 7.50 inches
ISBN: 9781771082976
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing


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War at Sea by Ken Smith

Seventy years. Yes, it has been 70 years – practically an entire generation – since the end of WWII and, as well, the end of the Battle of the Atlantic. A battle that started just a few hours after the declaration of war in 1939 and ran until the cessation of hostilities in 1945, thus making it the longest-running battle of WWII. At the end of it all, Canada’s Navy which started with just a few small, aging ships, was the third largest navy in the world, surpassed only by Britain and the U.S.

Many books (fiction and non-fiction) have been published on the subject, movies have been made (“The Cruel Sea” comes to mind) and now Nimbus Publishing has just released War at Sea: Canada and the Battle of the Atlantic by New Brunswick author Ken Smith. In the author’s own words:

“War at Sea, at a personal level, is my way of honouring those who took part in the Battle of the Atlantic. Although there are, of course, other books out on this topic, there is room for more, much more.  D-Day, Juno Beach, The Battle of Britain, and the heroic antics of our Spitfire fighter planes will continue to fill bookshelves while the story of our tremendous struggle for control of our vital sea lanes remains a distant second.. Hopefully, War at Sea will generate new interest, especially among our younger readers. We it owe it to our veterans.”

War at Sea is Ken Smith’s eighth book. Some of his other books include such titles as: Miramichi Facts and Folklore,  A History of Disaster, Homegrown Heroes: The Bathurst Sports Hall of Fame and Mainstreet Memories: Life in Bathurst in The Fifties.

The Book

The Nimbus release notes regarding War at Sea states that: “War at Sea describes the history of the engagement through a detailed catalogue of the technology, weapons, and ships, including frigates, corvettes, and fairmiles that the Canadian Navy depended on.” That is certainly true: Mr. Smith has done his research (as the bibliography lists many vital references) and this book, if nothing else, is an excellent introduction for those unfamiliar with this aspect of the Canadian Navy’s involvement in WWII. As well, the book is generously peppered with personal experiences from Historica Canada’s Memory Project which adds a certain value to this book. My only quibble was that sometimes the ship of the sailor being quoted was not always stated which would have been helpful to know.

Whilst on the subject of quibbles, it would have been nice to have some more photographs of the ships described as well as footnotes, which are totally absent in this book (apparently, the author was limited to page counts). Also conspicuous by its absence are any mention of the existence of the HMCS Haida and the HMCS Sackville, both beautifully restored veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic located in Hamilton, Ontario and Halifax, Nova Scotia respectively.

Let’s now move on to some highlights of War at Sea.


As mentioned previously, the quoted personal experiences of the sailors involved adds exceptional value to the book. Another valued aspect of the book is the list of those ships lost in the Battle of the Atlantic, which at almost 90 pages make up the bulk of this book’s 175+ pages. Also mentioned are the ships of the underrated Canadian Merchant Navy lost in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, bringing the war very close to Canadian waters. Giving the book a lighter, enjoyable feel (if one can use those terms in a book about war) is chapter four: Civilian Encounters with U-Boats which highlights just how close the war came to Canadian waters and our soil and the farcical exploits of two landed German spies here in Canada. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book and makes it a worthy addition to the Canadian Naval historian enthusiast’s bookshelf.


“War at Sea” will certainly appeal to two groups of people: armchair enthusiasts of the Canadian Navy and younger ones who would like an overall view of the Battle of the Atlantic and just how close it came to Canadian shores. My only wish is that it could have been longer and included more details, but that is no fault of the author, who apparently wanted to pack as much information as he could in the space allowed. Don’t pass by the opportunity to read this book for I feel it deserves a place in your naval library.

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The Interrupted Forest by Neil Rolde

Living in New  Brunswick as I do, it is only inevitable that any access to the U.S. from here must come through the state of Maine. Over the years, my wife & I have enjoyed many vacations in Maine whether it was “Down East” (Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island) or in the western mountain and lakes region (Rangeley, Moosehead). On a recent trip to Rangeley, I was quick to stop into Books, Lines and Thinkers, an independent bookseller with whom I have visited on a previous trip. I asked Wess (the owner) about a book on Maine history that he might recommend. He immediately presented me with this book, which is sub-titled “A History of Maine’s Wildlands”. While it is not just a history of the Maine Woods, it does touch on the settlement of Maine by the Puritans and Pilgrims, the push into the forests (pushing the Native Americans out) and the inevitable logging that would soon follow upon which the economy of Maine was based – and controlled by-  for so many years.

The author, Neil Rolde is a Maine historian and former state legislator, putting him in a perfect position to relate history and the legalities of who exactly owned and controlled what when it came down to sorting out all the issues regarding the Maine North Woods, issues which are still ongoing today.

The book is laid out in a present/past/future arrangement which makes sense as you progress through the chapters. Written in 2001, it starts with issues regarding the Maine Woods currently in the news then (“Nowadays”), then proceeds on to geologic and prehistoric times, through discovery of North America, settlement, the French-Indian Wars, the American revolution, industrialization, clear-cutting and so on, until we come full circle and Mr. Rolde, from his unique perspective, assesses the future of the Maine Woods.

I found the book very fascinating to read, not only because the history of Maine overlaps to some extent the history of New Brunswick (see the Madawaska territory) but due to Mr. Rolde’s writing style, which rarely gets bogged down in the legalities (which it sometimes does, but then again, I barely understand the American governmental system) and is always easy to understand and retains perspective.

There are good use of footnotes at the end of each chapter as well as an excellent bibliography and index. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the state of Maine and wanting to understand present issues regarding “The Interrupted Forest”.

My Goodreads rating: 4/5 stars.

Book details:

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: TILBURY HOUSE PUBLISHERS (Jan. 30 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0884482340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0884482345
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The Little Book of New Brunswick by Brian Atkinson

I thought it would be easy to review a book made up of photographs, but I soon found it is not so easy! Well, it is not all photographs since we have a two-page preface written by the author/photographer Brian Atkinson whose other works include New Brunswick’s Covered Bridges, Fantastic New Brunswick, and Fredericton.

The book itself has 75 beautifully reproduced colour photographs spread over its 80 pages, and while not the size of a ‘coffee-table’ book (it is more of an end-table book size), it is the perfect size to give (or get) as a souvenir of this picturesque province (famously referred to as the “picture province”).

Brian Atkinson starts off his preface by saying how he arrived in New Brunswick from Victoria B.C. in the middle of that year’s first real blizzard, which was very similar to my own experience some years back as I came here (to Miramichi) from Toronto for a job interview. Travelling from Moncton to Miramichi on a road you could not see to a place you had never been: talk about white-knuckle driving! Thankfully we made it and the next day after the storm had past, it was a beautiful snow-covered place we found ourselves in. Everything was fresh and bright. We have been here ever since.

While there are not a lot of winter scenes in this book, but there are many beautiful images of the other three seasons, all very peaceful and contemplative in composition, like fly fishing on the Miramichi or kayaking on the St. John river. Even the Shippigan fishing boats, all freshly painted and patiently awaiting a new season are a sight to behold. Lighthouses are well represented too.

I can picture this book being very popular in tourist areas; as I mentioned it is the perfect size to carry home and make one want to come back to visit New Brunswick again. Each area of NB has it’s own special charms, and while I have not visited them all since I have moved here, books like The Little Book of New Brunswick  make me want to explore my adopted province all the more.

Little Book of New Brunswick
By author:
Brian Atkinson
Hardback 80 pages
6.00 x 8.00 inches
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing

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Canadian Stories of the Sea Edited by Victor Suthren

A great place to pick up used books (other than a used bookstore) are thrift shops. I found this book in a Value Village in Fredericton and purchased it for $2. The editor, Victor Suthren (a sailor himself) has done an excellent job of collecting various Canadian sea stories and organising them chronologically. In addition, he writes a brief introduction to each chapter as well a paragraph acting as a sort of segue into the next story. In this way, he is able to take us down through time and history as the book progresses. It is especially helpful in filling in gaps and making some quantum leaps in nautical history.

The eight chapters take us from aboriginal stories of the sea down to modern times, going through early explorers, the war on the Great Lakes, whaling, special ships like the Bluenose, as well as WWII and the Merchant Marine. Conspicuous by its absence is anything to do with the Coast Guard. Also absent are any sketches, maps or other illustrations that might have been helpful. I should also mention that all the stories are actual accounts by those that experienced them, or are by authors recounting an event. This is not a collection of fictional accounts.

The authors represented here are notable: Joseph Schull, Captain James Cook, Joshua Slocum, Hal Lawrence, James Lamb and Farley Mowat, to highlight just a few. This is the type of book you can pick up and start reading anywhere, it doesn’t have to be read from cover to cover. However, reading it in this way gives a fuller sense of Canadian maritime history down through the ages.

I gave it 3 stars out of 5 on Goodreads because of its lack of illustrations, and omissions such as the Canadian Coast Guard as mentioned previously. Of course, no volume could cover everything about Canada and the sea, but I thought a few more accounts of Canada’s Navy around WWII might have been warranted since Canada emerged from that war with the third largest navy.

At any rate, this book makes a great introduction for the novice interested in Canadian maritime history.

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Letters Home: Maritimers and the Great War, 1914-1918 edited by Ross Hebb

This is a real gem of a book and one that any Canadian interested in WWI would enjoy to read; Maritimers especially since all the letters are from soldiers (and a nurse) from Atlantic Canada. Ross Hebb has done a masterful job of editing, collecting and categorizing quite a number of private letters donated by family members to create this insightful, at times entertaining and thoughtful book.

The year 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI, and it is very insightful to look back to an age when paper and pen was the ‘social media’ of the day and was the only way to keep in touch over long distances.

Each of these letters (and some are quite lengthy) cover emotions such as excitement (finally getting overseas!), fear of the unknown, loneliness (from being separated from loved ones), sadness (over losing a ‘chum’ in battle) and finally exhaustion and disbelief when the guns ceased firing on November 11, 1918.

All organised chronologically and with each chapter introduced by a brief text, we travel with the letter writers as they travel from Canada to England, then on to France, Belgium and ultimately, Germany. There are also 20 photographs of some of the writers, their families, postcards, and present day memorials.

I really enjoyed reading this book. After reading several letters written by the same soldier, you feel as if you get to know them, and are seeing the war through their eyes. Often, there is a sense of frustration on the part of the letter writer to convey just what the war looks like to them and how to describe it to the folks back home. Many do not even try for fear of causing their loved ones undue worry, which is understandable. As the editor mentions in the introduction:

“The men speak to us in their own words with a vitality, a humility, and a touching sense of innocence which seems to dispel the intervening years which separate us from them.”

Mr. Hebb ends the book with a poignant afterword and includes a selected bibliography for further reading. This book makes a perfect complement to “Those Splendid Girls” which is about PEI nurses in WWI. It is reviewed here.

Letters Home : Maritimers and the Great War, 1914-1918
Edited by: Ross Hebb

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From Old Hollywood to New Brunswick by Charles Foster

After reading this book (it only took a few hours; it is that fascinating and breezily written), I couldn’t help think of a quote from the Joseph Conrad novel The Rescue in which Edith Travers says to herself after Captain Tom Lingard has related all the imminent dangers of the island near where her yacht has grounded. She thinks: “Can all these things be possible? No – but they are true.”

The entire time I was reading this book I was in disbelief at all the things that figuratively fell into Mr. Foster’s lap over the years. Some I still find difficult to believe, like how he was responsible for the first meeting between JFK and Marilyn Monroe (and the crazy circumstances surrounding it).

Charles Foster who was born in England in 1923 and now lives in Moncton, New Brunswick attributes all of his adventures to “being in the right place at the right time” but I think there is more to it than that. Being in an RAF uniform amongst the civilian population of L.A. and New York during the WWII years certainly helped too. In addition, I get the impression that Mr. Foster has one of those “auras” (for lack of a better word) around him that make people instantly perceive him as someone trustworthy, honest and generally enjoyable to be around.

An RAF pilot in training in Canada, Mr. Foster encounters some health issues and after hospitalization, he is granted leave. Being under the watchful care of his flight instructor (a story in itself), he arranges to get to Hollywood, a place he always wanted to visit. There, he encounters many Canadians (Mary Pickford and Louis B. Mayer amongst them) who welcome their fellow countryman with open arms. Mr. Foster gets to not only tour the movie studios, but shares meals and parties with all of the major stars of the day: Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo and too many others to list. Then he gets invited to the Hearst mansion courtesy of Charlie Chaplin, which was no easy feat at the time. The gust list there includes W.C Fields, Greta Garbo, Henry Mankiewicz (who wrote the script for Citizen Kane) and others.

Another leave to New York has him encountering all the major big bands of the era (except for Duke Ellington’s; perhaps they were out of town at the time?). He even gets a private concert with the Jimmy Dorsey band because he showed up at the venue thinking it was open that night, only to find it closed. The entire band, exiting the theater after rehearsal, find Mr. Foster (in his RAF uniform) standing outside and inquire what he is doing there. After explaining his plight, Jimmy Dorsey orders the band back inside where they change into their performance attire and seat Mr. Foster front and center and play an entire hour for him.

See what I mean by incredible?

After the war, the decides to use all his many celebrity contacts to become a publicist in England, and this leads to many more sensational memories with persons such as Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Agatha Christie and others.

As I mentioned previously, I am still skeptical about some of the things
he relates, but I see no reason why they couldn’t be true.

So, are all things possible? Are they true? There’s no proof other than the author’s word.

This would be a great book for any fan of old Hollywood; there are several delectable anecdotes, including one about Marilyn Monroe that I found particularly amusing.

I would definitely like to read some of the other works by Mr. Foster such as Stardust and Shadows and Once Upon a Time in Paradise both about Canadians in early Hollywood.

From Old Hollywood to New Brunswick: Memories of a Wonderful Life

By author: Charles Foster
ISBN: 9781771080729
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Pages: 216
Product Format: PaperbackPrice: 
CAD $17.95

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Joshua Slocum: The Captain Who Sailed Around the World by Quentin Casey

This book is part of the “Stories of Our Past” series published by Nimbus. The look and feel of this book is very polished. It is only a little over 120 pages, but Mr. Casey manages to condense a full lifetime of Captain Slocum’s adventures and trials into these few pages. There are plenty of colour and B&W illustrations throughout the book, printed on good high quality paper.

The target audience for this book would be the general reader, perhaps even young adults. In fact, it kind of reminds me of the “How and Why Wonder Book” series of illustrated books that were popular with young people back in the 60’s and 70’s (see:…) I still have my How and Why Wonder Book of WWII, in fact.

Many years ago, I read Captain Slocum’s Sailing Alone around the World and found it fascinating reading. Fascinating not only for the feat itself (he was the first person to sail around the world alone) but also for it’s engaging sense of adventure and the Captain’s writing style, which was very good considering he left home at a very young age to go to sea.

However, I always had this vision of him retiring to a quiet shore life after attaining fame and (some) fortune from his globe-encircling trek. This was not the case, as this volume by author Quentin Casey well describes.

Mr. Casey includes a bibliography at the end of various books he used in his research and freely quotes from throughout each chapter. With a cover price of $15.95, this would make a nice gift for anyone with an interest in Maritime/Nautical history. I would definitely enjoy examining the “Stories of Our Past” series of books further.

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Remembrance by Alistair MacLeod

Remembrance by Alistair MacLeod

My Goodreads rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my first experience reading an Alistair MacLeod story, but it won’t be my last. It is somehow very satisfying to experience a well-written short story (hence the 5 stars). Somerset Maugham was a master at the genre, and so is Mr. McLeod if this, his last published work, is any indication.

Giving a synopsis of the story would give too much away, but it takes place on Remembrance Day, and the tone of the story is appropriately sombre.

Recommended read.

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New Brunswick: An Illustrated History by Ronald Rees

Being fairly new to New Brunswick (I moved here in 2008), I really didn’t know much about its history despite growing up only one province away in Ontario. I had visited here once before in the 80’s on a camping trip to the east coast, but other than that, NB was virtually unknown to me. Hence, I was on the lookout for a book on its past.

New Brunswick: an Illustrated History is just over 220 pages and contains many B & W photographs and illustrations. Mr Rees is a former professor of historical geography at the University of Saskatchewan as well as being an adjunct professor at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.

The book itself is very handsome in appearance and the cover design is very eye-catching with a scene of Saint John and harbour from the days of sail superimposed over an old map of the St. Croix River area. Inside, as mentioned, are many B&W photos, but because they are integrated with the text, they lose image quality. Indeed, some of the paintings would have been better off reproduced in colour, but as a trade-off, it is nice to have the illustrations throughout rather than collected on a few glossy pages in the middle of the book. Something else I would have liked to see would be a map with the major rivers and place names marked on it. It would be especially helpful for those not familiar with the province.

The author manages to hit all the major highs and lows of New Brunswick history, from the discovery and settlement of the first explorers down to the present day. Of particular interest was the last chapter “The Oligarchs” in which the author devotes a little over 15 pages to the histories of K.C. Irving, the McCain’s and Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook). All of these are worthy of a book on their own, and this chapter, like others in the book, merely whet the appetite for more information. Fortunately, Mr Rees has provided a bibliography for further reading. As well, he does mention other texts throughout the book for those interesting in getting a comprehensive story on personalities and events he covers.

Likes & Dislikes

There are a few things I really liked about this book as well as a few things I would have liked to see.

Primarily, I liked the fact that this was a quick, yet informative read. Mr Rees must have had a difficult time in keeping the text so brief. This book could have been twice the size and yet not every aspect of NB history would have been adequately covered. The First Nations and the Acadians are also worthy of separate works (and many do exist), but Mr Rees must give them a brief yet worthy mention in order to keep the book moving.

Aside from the low-quality reproductions of the many illustrations and lack of a provincial map (as mentioned above), something I would have liked to see in this book would have been a few sidebars to give further information on various topics where space did not permit the author to go in depth about. One example on page 91, where, in reference to Joseph Cunard (brother of Samuel Cunard, founder of the Cunard Line of ships) he states that as an “enterprising agriculturist, Joseph Cunard’s enterprises failed spectacularly in 1848.” It would have been nice to have a little sidebar explaining how that happened, and why it was ‘spectacular’.


As I mentioned, this book will merely whet the appetite for those looking for more scholarly works on various subjects regarding New Brunswick history. For the general reader, the information covered here is sufficient to get an overview of this important maritime province. Personally, I think this book should be available for purchase at every New Brunswick Visitor Information Centre in the province. It will appeal to those tourists who would like to read more about New Brunswick (and Canadian history) either while they are visiting, or after they return home. In short, a very good, well-written introduction to New Brunswick history.

New Brunswick: An Illustrated History
Nimbus Publishing

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