Dam Builders: The Natural History of Beavers and Their Ponds by Michael Runtz Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 330 pages, $45
Michael Runtz is an award-winning university professor, naturalist, nature photographer, and the author of several books on the subject of natural history.
His book Dam Builders is wonderfully illustrated with hundreds of photographs, most of which were taken by the author over almost three decades of studying and enjoying wildlife in their natural settings. While a good number of the photos are of beavers and their structures, many are of other creatures impacted by beavers’ dam building, including mammals, birds, and insects.
I must confess, I have been interested in these animals since I started working at The Beaver magazine (now Canada’s History) over fifteen years ago, and this book provides a fascinating insight into these amazing creatures. Runtz covers everything from their evolution and the variety of species, to their impact on our country (both economically and ecologically), to their distinctive
physiological characteristics and behaviours.
Incredibly, the longest beaver dam in the world is visible from space! Located in Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park, it spans an astonishing 850 metres.
This book will make a great addition to the library of anyone interested in Canada’s national animal, and it’s an excellent coffee table book for anybody’s collection. — Danielle Chartier
Emily Carr As I Knew Her by Carol Pearson Touchwood Editions, 165 pages, $19.95
Carol Pearson was seven years old when she began to take painting and clay modelling classes at “Miss Carr’s” Victoria studio. The bond with her teacher was one of mutual passions: a love of animals, art, the oral and written word, and the land. Emily Carr called her young protegé Baboo, and Pearson referred to Carr as Mom.
In Emily Carr As I Knew Her, Pearson vividly depicts the art studio and classroom. Pails of clay and paint and hundreds of Carr’s paintings surrounded a long, solid work table with chairs and stools for the students. A sensible wood stove sat in front of the unused fireplace. Three easy chairs could be brought down by rope and pulley for visitors or prospective buyers. These were whipped back up as the guests rose to their feet — if Carr felt the person was “a bore” or a “time-waster.”
Carr’s beloved monkey, Woo, sat in the middle of the table, “helping.” Her Persian cat lay in one corner under the parrot’s cage, and three of the Belgian Griffon dogs she bred were her constant companions. The pet menagerie went with them on their frequent outings, where Carr produced many of her finest paintings.
Pearson depicts a Carr few people got to know –– a practical lady with a sharp sense of humour, a kind-hearted person, and an ardent naturalist. Her book is a beautiful read that you will not want to put down. — Beverley Tallon
My Brother’s Keeper: African Canadians and the American Civil War by Brian Prince Dundurn Press, 352 pages, $26.99
My Brother’s Keeper is an interesting collection of little-known stories about the ways African Canadians and Americans sought to build better lives for themselves prior to, during, and after the American Civil War. You might be forgiven for assuming that the focus is on black soldiers and the Underground Railroad, but this book also highlights the experiences of doctors, nurses, chaplains, recruiters, immigrants, and refugees.
I found the chapter “The War at Home” particularly compelling. Author Bryan Prince describes how, prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, West Africa and Haiti were considered places to recolonize, where African Americans and African Canadians could govern themselves, free from prejudice and free to rebuild their lives.
Plans for West Africa were quickly dropped when the war broke out, as it was reasoned that putting efforts into winning the American war would make life better for African Americans. However, several groups continued their plans for the “Haytian emigration scheme,” enticed with free passage, the offer of free fertile land, and rumours of the Caribbean island being a haven for black people.
However, questions arose about the high rates of illness and death among travellers, and those who were able to escape back to Canada reported horrific news of brutality and government negligence. Abolitionists in favour of assimilation had always been against the plan, while those who were originally supportive eventually condemned it. Within a few years, the scheme ended.
Abundantly illustrated with photographs, this hefty book is well-supported with endnotes, bibliography, and index. — Tanja Hütter
Soviet Princeton: Slim Evans and the 1932–33 Miners’ Strike by Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat New Star Books, 134 pages, $19
In Soviet Princeton, traditional-song performers Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat tackle the history of a small town located in southern British Columbia. When the Great Depression hit Princeton in the 1930s, miners suffered greatly. Hundreds in the region were laid off, and workers at the Tulameen mine lost ten per cent of their pay.
Many miners saw no choice but to seek help from the Workers’ Unity League — which they received in the form of charismatic labour activist Arthur Herbert “Slim” Evans, a major character in Soviet Princeton.
Tulameen miners unionized and went on strike, and soon the town was divided. The ensuing tensions sparked a series of extreme events, including eleven policemen on horseback charging into a picket line; the beating of a union supporter; the kidnapping of Slim Evans; and the burning of crosses on a hill
overlooking the town by the Ku Klux Klan.
Soviet Princeton focuses on public documents rather than oral history — a decision made by the authors to avoid dislodging harmful memories in the community — and offers a fascinating glimpse into the town’s public life. Newspaper articles from the Princeton Star and The Unemployed Worker, along with excerpts from pamphlets, posters, and songs, reflect the perspectives of various social groups and individuals. For instance, readers won’t soon forget the virulent fear of communism that was perhaps best embodied by Star editor Dave Taylor: “Your fellow citizens are asking you … whether you want prosperity or ruin; whether you want Canada or Russia?”
The rhetoric, attitudes, and motivations at play in the small town are set within the broader context of Canadian politics and labour movements, and the authors employ a compelling combination of conventional and scholarly storytelling methods. It will surely appeal to a broad range of readers. — Joanne DeCosse