Canada's History - - BOOKS -

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

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