The Diary of Mercy Anne Coles by Anne McDonald Dundurn Press, 192 pages, $22.99 Author Anne McDonald was intrigued when she heard of the September 1864 Charlottetown Conference. After learning that twenty- six- year- old Mercy Anne Coles of Charlottetown had accompanied her mother and father to the Confederation Conference in Quebec City the following month –– and kept a diary to boot –– she saw a story that begged to be told.
Coles was one of nine unmarried daughters of Maritime delegates to go to Quebec. While her father, George Coles, and his colleagues were wooed by the Canadians (from present-day Quebec and Ontario), the women helped to keep the tone congenial.
McDonald notes their “unofficial role in the negotiations” and says Coles’ diary “is the only full account of these events from a woman’s perspective.” A transcription of the full diary, including the family’s return trip through the northern United States during the U.S. Civil War, is published here for the first time in its entirety.
The journal is a who’s who of the future Fathers of Confederation and explains the conditions surrounding their negotiations. Although Coles became bedridden with diphtheria, she managed to write about both the inclement weather and the various goings-on that were relayed to her by numerous visitors –– all of them blithely unaware of how the disease is transmitted.
Miss Confederation is not just a record of historic people and events told from a young woman’s perspective. In this book, McDonald and Coles take readers along on the “Confederation ride” — a fascinat-
ing and revealing tour of eastern Canada in 1864. — Beverley Tallon Salish Blankets: Robes of Protection and Transformation, Symbols of Wealth by Leslie H. Tepper, Janice George, and Willard Joseph University of Nebraska Press, 217 pages, $82 By the early twentieth century, Salish weaving as a creative art form and a key element of Salish First Nations culture was almost lost. Two of this book’s authors — Janice George (a hereditary chief) and Willard Joseph of the Squamish First Nation — have been active in reviving traditional weaving through their own practice and by teaching others. In
Salish Blankets they are joined by Leslie Tepper, curator of Western ethnology at the Canadian Museum of History, who brings historical and international information as well as an academic slant.
The book describes the blankets of the Salish First Nations, including their designs, their history, how they are woven, and their enormous cultural importance. It is detailed and well-researched, based on information obtained from weavers, oral histories by elders, and archives and blankets from the Canadian Museum of History as well as international museums. Additional information is presented via photographs, illustrations, tables, and two appendices. Historical black-and-white photographs are particularly evocative.
Salish Blankets describes the extraordinary complexity of ceremonial blankets and robes and their connection with both the natural and supernatural worlds. The blankets are considered objects of power and play an important role in feasts and ceremonies. They offer emotional strength and spiritual defence to their wearers and are also symbols of wealth.
By providing detailed insight into Salish weaving, Salish Blankets not only helps to revive this traditional craft but also sheds light on west coast Indigenous culture. — Hans Tammemagi Defending the Inland Shores: Newfoundland in the War of 1812 by Gordon K. Jones BookLand Press, 163 pages, $19.95
A key conflict in Canadian history, the War of 1812 was fought largely on the border between Canada and the United States and was far removed from the island of Newfoundland. However, in his book Defending the Inland Shores: Newfound
land in the War of 1812, Gordon K. Jones examines the unique role the Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry played in this conflict.
Although many Newfoundland soldiers volunteered to fight against the Americans when the war began, they did
not fight as a united regiment and were instead split up amongst the British units. As such, their experience has largely been overlooked and gone untold.
Despite their role in many key victories of the war, it wasn’t until two hundred years later that the Newfoundlanders earned any battle honours. Their regiment was disbanded following the conclusion of hostilities in 1816 and before most honours were granted. This was remedied in 2012, when the regiment’s successor, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, received three battle honours dating back to the War of 1812: “Detroit,” “Maumee,” and “For the Defence of Canada 1812–1815.”
Written in engaging and accessible prose, Defending the Inland Shores provides a long-overdue focus on the Newfoundland soldiers who were present at some of the war’s most famous battles and who played an important role in defending the British colonies from American attacks. — Joanna Dawson Viola Desmond’s Canada: A History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land by Graham Reynolds Fernwood Publishing, 213 pages, $30
Author Graham Reynolds is a professor emeritus and the Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice at Cape Breton University. In Viola
Desmond’s Canada, he writes of the “collective amnesia” regarding Desmond’s wrongful arrest for sitting in the whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946.
Reynolds also considers the origins of slavery in Canada, U.S. Jim Crow laws and Canada’s assimilation of seg- regation, West Indian immigration, and the Ku Klux Klan and other evidence of the culture of racism. Two other interesting sections are an examination of the possessions of a forty-year-old freed slave, Marie Marguerite Rose, upon her death in 1757 and the closing chapter on little-known Nova Scotian black activist Pearleen Oliver.
The book includes a chapter written by Desmond’s youngest sister, Wanda Robson, and concludes with a discussion at the 2011 Promised Land Symposium that includes Robson’s poignant comment, “Racism is certainly not fair; it’s ugly, it’s demeaning, and it is very hurtful.”
Photographs, letters, posters, and newspaper clippings are used to portray many past injustices and help Reynolds reveal a scar upon Canada’s past that has not completely healed.