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The Beaver Hall Group and Its Legacy by Eve­lyn Wal­ters Dun­durn Press, 180 pages, $60

The Beaver Hall Group’s first art show in early 1921 was or­ga­nized “to give the artist the as­sur­ance that he can paint what he feels, with ut­ter dis­re­gard for what has hith­erto been con­sid­ered req­ui­site to the ac­cep­tance of the work at the rec­og­nized art ex­hi­bi­tions in Cana­dian cen­tres.”

Ac­tive be­tween 1920 and 1922, the Mon­treal group con­sisted of men and women in al­most equal num­bers — a gen­der-neu­tral stance un­com­mon for the era. Its sec­ond show, in 1922, was greeted with high praise from news­pa­per La Presse: “The club con­sists of … the most in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic, the most en­thu­si­as­tic and the most gifted of the young gen­er­a­tion.”

Its mem­bers stud­ied with Wil­liam Brym­ner at the Art As­so­ci­a­tion of Mon­treal, fore­run­ner of the Mon­treal Mu­seum of Fine Arts. Best-known among them are A.Y. Jackson, Ed­win Hol­gate, Anne Sav­age, Sarah Robert­son, and Pru­dence He­ward. Most went on to in­di­vid­ual ca­reers, and five of the women were later joined by five more, form­ing the clus­ter known as the women of Beaver Hall.

Dozens of the group’s bold, en­er­getic paint­ings — pri­mar­ily por­trai­ture and land­scapes — are re­pro­duced in Eve­lyn Wal­ters’ The Beaver Hall Group and Its Legacy. (The book is her sec­ond foray into the topic, af­ter The Women of Beaver Hall: Cana­dian Modernist Painters, pub­lished in 2005.)

Con­cise but thought­fully or­ga­nized and beau­ti­fully writ­ten, the book in­cludes an in­tro­duc­tion to the group’s place within modernist art, a list of group and in­di­vid­ual ex­hi­bi­tions (both dur­ing and af­ter the group’s ex­is­tence), an ap­pen­dix of news­pa­per re­views of its two ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tions, an in­dex of works, and a gen­eral in­dex.

The high­lights are the colour­ful, brief chap­ters, with paint­ings and end­notes, for each of the twenty-five artists as­so­ci­ated with the group. For ev­ery artist Wal­ters pro­vides a bal­ance of ca­reer path and con­text, demon­strat­ing the painters’ roles in shap­ing a unique and dis­tinct Cana­dian art. — Mari­ianne Mays Wiebe

To­wards a Prairie Atone­ment

by Trevor Her­riot

Univer­sity of Regina Press, 154 pages, $22.95 In this com­pact, po­lit­i­cally charged book, writer, nat­u­ral­ist, and ac­tivist Trevor Her­riot ex­am­ines two cen­turies of Métis pres­ence on the prairies. Of­ten bor­der­ing on the po­etic, Her­riot’s lan­guage pulls the reader into the book’s prairie set­ting, where “the wind all around us was strung with the bells of ch­est­nut-col­lared longspur song.”

It is on th­ese very prairies that Métis com­mu­ni­ties de­vel­oped their own sus­tain­able com­mu­nity farm­ing mod­els. How­ever, such ways of liv­ing were smoth­ered when Métis fam­i­lies were dis­pos­s­esed of their lands dur­ing set­tle­ment of the West.

Her­riot traces the im­pact of Métis dis­pos­ses­sion as well as sub­se­quent colo­nial vi­o­lence and de­vel­op­ment on the prairie ecosys­tem — where, as of 2014, more than forty wildlife species were at risk of ex­tinc­tion.

This im­pas­sioned book does more than sim­ply re­lay his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion; it also of­fers a call to ac­tion: a call to rec­og­nize the value of In­dige­nous land-based knowl­edge, to de­velop and im­ple­ment con­ser­va­tion meth­ods on the prairies, and, in re­build­ing th­ese lands, to strive for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with con­tem­po­rary Métis peo­ples. — Joanne DeCosse

Grain Dust Dreams

by David W. Tar­bet Ex­cel­sior Edi­tions, 121 pages, $22.50 David W. Tar­bet has writ­ten a fas­ci­nat­ing book about the rise of the great grain el­e­va­tors, first in Buf­falo, New York, and then at Thun­der Bay, On­tario. At a young age, Tar­bet fol­lowed his fa­ther by work­ing inside the Thun­der Bay el­e­va­tors. But only later, af­ter work­ing as a univer­sity pro­fes­sor in Buf­falo, did he come to study their his­tory.

Trade routes and the ge­og­ra­phy of ship­ping grain re­sulted in the far-apart Great Lakes cities be­ing home to nu­mer­ous mas­sive ter­mi­nals. Scot­tish- born Cana­dian en­gi­neer Robert Dun­bar helped Buf­falo mer­chant Joseph Dart erect a large grain el­e­va­tor in the 1840s, be­fore over­see­ing the build­ing of many oth­ers in Canada and Europe. Then, be­gin­ning in the 1880s, rail­ways built sev­eral tow­er­ing el­e­va­tors in the Thun­der Bay area. By the on­set of the Sec­ond World War it had the world’s largest grain stor­age ca­pac­ity.

“El­e­va­tors make you feel small,” Tar­bet writes. “The bins may be only ten or twelve sto­ries high, but they stretch up­ward with­out in­ter­rup­tion in domi- nat­ing con­crete col­umns that make them ap­pear much taller than other build­ings of the same height.”

Re­in­forced con­crete be­came their pre­ferred ma­te­rial in part be­cause of its re­sis­tance to fire. Con­tin­u­ous-pour, slip-form con­struc­tion al­lowed the build­ing of the tall, sturdy bins whose shapes in­flu­enced twen­ti­eth-cen­tury Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture. Ac­cord­ing to Tar­bet, “When modernist ar­chi­tects looked at a grain el­e­va­tor, they saw a build­ing whose form was per­fectly suited to what they thought of as its func­tion.”

Along with the chal­lenges of work­ing amidst the dust and noise of a large ter­mi­nal el­e­va­tor, fire and ex­plo­sions have al­ways been a se­ri­ous threat in grain han­dling. The Thun­der Bay area has seen its share of calami­ties, in­clud­ing a huge 1945 ex­plo­sion that killed or in­jured dozens of work­ers.

Tar­bet also tells of the his­tory of labour un­rest — in­clud­ing a tu­mul­tuous 1909 grievance that re­sulted in a bloody clash be­tween strik­ing work­ers and CPR po­lice, be­fore the mil­i­tary was called in — as well as ef­forts to­day to re­vi­tal­ize dis­used el­e­va­tors and to see them gain his­toric des­ig­na­tion. — Phil Koch

My Decade at Old Sun, My Life­time of Hell by Arthur Bear Chief AU Press, 194 pages, $19.95

Arthur Bear Chief ’s My Decade at Old Sun, My Life­time of Hell is a deeply per­sonal mem­oir about the au­thor’s years at Old Sun Res­i­den­tial School in Gle­ichen, Al­berta. In a se­ries of vi­gnettes he de­tails the hor­rific sex­ual and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse he suf­fered at the hands of school ad­min­is­tra­tors. He also in­cludes a num­ber of im­por­tant in­sights about the power of iden­tity and cul­ture in the process of heal­ing.

An af­ter­word by Fritz Pan­nekoek pro­vides an im­por­tant lens through which read­ers may crit­i­cally as­sess the process of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion so far, ten years af­ter the orig­i­nal In­dian Res­i­den­tial Schools Set­tle­ment Agree­ment was an­nounced.

While some Cana­di­ans may view rec­on­cil­i­a­tion as some­thing that has al­ready been ad­dressed, the story of Arthur Bear Chief —

which stands with those of thou­sands of other sur­vivors — re­minds us that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is not only about apol­ogy but also about per­sonal and col­lec­tive heal­ing. — Karine Duhamel

Fill­ing the Ranks: Man­power in the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force, 1914–1918

by Richard Holt McGill-Queen’s Univer­sity Press, 377 pages, $39.95 Fill­ing the Ranks is an im­por­tant study de­vel­oped from the Ph.D. dis­ser­ta­tion of his­to­rian Richard Holt. It traces the de­vel­op­ment of the Cana­dian Army dur­ing the First World War, from its mili­tia roots and en­list­ment cri­te­ria through to the train­ing of re­in­force­ments.

“God may be on the side with the big bat­tal­ions, as Napoleon is said to have re­marked,” ex­plains Holt, “but keep­ing them up to strength de­pended very much on how the na­tion man­aged its man­power.”

The is­sue of man­power was cen­tral to the abil­ity to field an ef­fec­tive army dur­ing the First World War, and Holt’s study adds a great deal of knowl­edge to our un­der­stand­ing of the con­flict.

A ca­reer sol­dier in the Cana­dian Army, Holt died in April 2017 shortly af­ter the pub­li­ca­tion of his book. Fill­ing the Ranks is a tes­ta­ment to his ded­i­ca­tion to his­tory and to the Cana­dian Forces. — Joel Ralph

Drawn to Change: Graphic His­to­ries of Work­ing-Class Strug­gle

edited by the Graphic His­tory Col­lec­tive with Paul Buhle

Be­tween the Lines, 208 pages, $29.95 Drawn to Change is a fas­ci­nat­ing an­thol­ogy de­pict­ing the ef­forts of hard-work­ing men and women as they fought for a bet­ter stan­dard of liv­ing across Canada.

The book is pro­duced by the Graphic His­tory Col­lec­tive, a group that in­cludes ac­tivists, artists, writ­ers, and re­searchers who are pas­sion­ate about comics, his­tory, and so­cial change. The col­lec­tive uses black-and-white se­quen­tial art to il­lu­mi­nate the sto­ries of work­ers from across our na­tion who or­ga­nized to cre­ate bet­ter work­ing en­vi­ron­ments.

Th­ese peo­ple of­ten found them­selves at odds with the gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions of their times. Whether it is a story of Coast Sal­ish peo­ples fac­ing the pres­sures of set­tle­ment and new in­dus­try on Bri­tish Columbia’s Bur­rard In­let, ac­tivist and On-to-Ottawa Trekker Bill Wil­liamson, or the women who formed the Ser­vice, Of­fice, and Re­tail Work­ers’ Union of Canada, each is told clearly with a dis­tinc­tive vis­ual style.

For those with a love for comics and an in­ter­est in the Cana­dian labour move­ment and its his­tory, Drawn to Change of­fers an en­gag­ing jour­ney of dis­cov­ery. — James Gille­spie

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