Susanna Moodie: Roughing It in the Bush by Patrick Crowe and Carol Shields, Illustrated by Selena Goulding Second Story Press, 152 pages, $22.95
The graphic novel Susanna Moodie: Roughing it in the Bush offers a vivid view of a remarkable woman and of the lives of early nineteenth-century pioneers. The project began as a screenplay and involved a collaboration between coauthors Patrick Crowe and Carol Shields. The latter had a lifelong interest in Moodie, who had been the subject of her master’s thesis. After Shields’ death in 2003, Crowe wasn’t motivated to continue the project — but he eventually found new inspiration in the area of interactive graphic novels. Willow Dawson adapted the screenplay, and Selena Goulding spent eighteen months working on the illustrations.
The book’s glossy pages are rich in colour, and the artwork is quite expressive. Goulding intuitively captures Moodie’s evolution from an attractive, relatively sheltered wife through the events that challenged her physically and mentally. The lines in her face grow with each test of character.
Crowe tells readers that Shields intended to deliver a dramatic arc to Moodie’s story, and psychological truths therefore triumph over historical truths. For those who are excited by illustrated histories, Susanna Moodie will not disappoint. — Tanja Hütter
Nobody Here Will Harm You: Mass Medical Evacuation from the Eastern Arctic, 1950–1965 by Shawn Selway
Wolsak & Wynn, 280 pages, $25
Nobody Here Will Harm You investigates the mass medical evacuation of thousands of people from Indigenous communities in the Arctic to southern hospitals and sanatoriums in cities such as Hamilton in the mid-twentieth century.
In the book, millwright and historical machinery consultant Shawn Selway examines the views and actions of doctors, nurses, politicians, and members of Inuit communities in response to the spread of tuberculosis. Notably, he considers their decisions and perspectives within broader socio-political frameworks and within the context of the Canadian colonial project, a long-standing, country-wide undertaking marked by government interventions that included the establishment of residential schools.
While examining this dark chapter of history, Selway grapples with how to address the ongoing legacy of these evacuations. He notes in his introduction that “the anxiety and loneliness occasioned by sudden and prolonged separation reverberated for decades,” prompting readers to consider the impact the past continues to have on the Canadian health care system and on Canada’s relationship with northern Indigenous communities.
His thoughtful yet accessible study, peppered with visual and textual references to archival research and records, will capture the attention of readers who are interested by this lesser-known but significant episode in Canadian history. — Joanne DeCosse
Time Travel: Tourism and the Rise of the Living History Museum in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada by Alan Gordon
UBC Press, 372 pages, $34.95 Family Ties: Living History in Canadian House Museums by Andrea Terry McGill-Queen’s University Press, 264 pages, $44.95
Museums are in a state of constant change. They have moved from the Victorian cabinets of curiosities to more sophisticated sites that offer storylines, reconstructions,
and films. In recent years, Canadians have been able to access virtual museums and museums of ideas — those with few artifacts and based around organizational concepts. Nonetheless, there is a desire in almost all history museums to retain a sense of authenticity. This is not Disneyland. The truth matters in museums. And yet the truth, of course, is always contested.
Alan Gordon’s fine book Time Travel explores the rise of living history museums in Canada from the mid-twentieth century. Through animators and reconstructed historical sites, these new museums hoped to bring life to dead history.
Gordon’s deeply researched book will become a classic in the field of cultural policy and museum studies. His exploration of Louisbourg, Upper Canada Village, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, and many other living history sites tells us much about how Canadians desired to recreate the past in a changing and modernizing world. Gordon also unpacks the intersection of tourism, regional development, and the challenges of historical reconstruction (such as picking a time period in which to place historical animators for sites that span decades or centuries).
Andrea Terry’s Family Ties is a more limited book. She examines three historic houses that are now museum sites: Dundurn Castle in Hamilton, William Lyon Mackenzie House in Toronto, and Sir George- Étienne Cartier National Historic Site in Montreal. Terry skilfully analyses how artifacts, programming, and animators infuse the stories told in these spaces, as well as how the past is actively reshaped in the present.
While Gordon’s Time Travel is an easy read underpinned by research into several archives, Terry’s work is steeped in theoretical discussions where the reader is subjected to page after page of quotes from other scholars. Some of these discussions burden the story, and the reviewer wished for a broader study that included well-known and contested history sites like Riel House in Winnipeg, Bellevue House in Kingston, Ontario (where Sir John A. Macdonald lived), or Laurier House in Ottawa.
These living history sites and historical houses are places where the past is performed. Yet with tourism dollars driving many of these museums — hence Gordon’s clever title — the history is often sanitized, even sanctified. Visitors do not encounter eighteenth- or nineteenthcentury living history actors dying from a runaway infection that cannot be treated in an age before antibiotics.
In this new century of social mediadriven news and events, where everyone is connected and at the same time disconnected, these sites, houses, and museums allow us to return to a quieter time, to marvel at how the past was (or how we think it was), and to visit, if temporarily, a different way of life — some of which is familiar, while other parts are foreign. — Tim Cook
Gold Rush Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Nellie Cashman by Thora Kerr Illing TouchWood Editions, 223 pages, $18.95
To say that Nellie Cashman led an extraordinary life is putting it mildly. Working in a time and in occupations dominated by men, Nellie was a successful businesswoman and prospector. From Canada’s Far North to the southern United States, she had an eye for opportunity and followed where it led her.
Gold Rush Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Nellie Cashman is an entertaining and informative read. Emigrating from Ireland to escape the famine, Cashman and her mother and sister initially settled in Boston. They eventually headed west to San Francisco, where Nellie was first bitten by the prospecting bug. From there, she was always moving on to where she thought the next boom would happen; she bought and sold businesses ranging from restaurants, to boarding houses, to mining ventures.
One winter in the Arctic, Cashman led a team of men on a dangerous journey to bring supplies to miners trapped by the weather and suffering from scurvy. The team arrived in time to save many of the men, and she became known as the “Angel of the Cassiar.” In her later travels, she became friends with some well-known personalities, including the Earp brothers and “Doc” Holliday.
Gold Rush Queen author Thora Kerr Illing is a former journalist and librarian who herself emigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom The book offers a well-researched glimpse into the life of a remarkable woman who wasn’t afraid of taking chances. — Danielle Chartier
Abenaki Daring: The Life and Writings of Noel Annance, 1792–1869 by Jean Barman McGill-Queen’s University Press, 400 pages, $39.95
Jean Barman’s book Abenaki Daring: The Life and Writings of Noel Annance, 1792–1869 provides a fascinating glimpse into the experiences of a man whose career and whose life as an Indigenous person and as a proclaimed “gentleman” dared to challenge the exclusion he faced within the context of the developing Dominion. As Annance reflected towards the end of his life, all of his education and training could never make up for what he called “the crime of being an ‘Indian.’”
Abenaki Daring challenges those who would see the history of Indigenous exclusion as beginning with legislation passed after Confederation. It places Annance’s life within the context of society’s rejection of Indigenous people, as well as within his own personal reflections.
Carefully researched and featuring many of Annance’s original writings, Abenaki Daring is an important and timely study about being Indigenous and about identity and colonialism. — Karine Duhamel