One for the Boys: John Wayne Blake’s Extraordinary Story by Cathy Saint John Sinjin Publishing, 480 pages, $29.95
Tens of thousands of young Americans fled north to Canada to escape the draft during the Vietnam War. Much has been written about these war resisters, many of whom stayed in Canada following the end of the war.
Less is known about the nearly thirty thousand young Canadians who headed in the opposite direction to enlist in the U.S. military to stop the spread of communism in southeast Asia. Among them was John Blake, a patriotic teenager from the Newfoundland community of Topsail, who in 1968 announced to his family that he was heading off to fight.
Blake did two tours in Vietnam, earning the U.S. Bronze Star Medal along the way. Like so many other Vietnam veterans, he returned home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and didn’t receive the treatment or support he deserved.
That story alone is worth reading. But it’s what happened next that truly elevates Blake’s tale. After advocating tirelessly for his fellow veterans, in 1982 Blake decided to march across America to raise awareness of their plight. Dressed in full combat gear and carrying an American flag, the proud Newfoundlander walked alone from Washington State to Virginia, a journey of roughly 5,100 kilometres.
Along the way, he helped to dispel the stigma that unfairly surrounded Vietnam veterans. As American news media picked up on his story, it fostered greater compassion and empathy for all the veterans of that war. The book’s final section deals with the fallout of Blake’s PTSD, his decision to take his own life, and the heartwrenching tale of what happened next.
One for the Boys is truly a labour of love for author Cathy Saint John. Blake was her older brother, and his decision to enlist changed their family forever. The book is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices we demand of our veterans and, sadly, of how quickly society can forget about their service.
— Mark Collin Reid
Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer edited by Jane Farrow, John Lorinc, et al. Coach House Press, 368 pages, $25.95
This large, varied collection of essays is connected by a desire to uncover Toronto’s queer history in all its diversity. To this end,
Any Other Way begins with a story about Jackie Shane, a queer, black, working-class, trans musician who performed in Toronto’s thriving rhythm and blues scene in the 1960s.
There is no single editorial voice. Many essays are personal recollections, some are more standard histories, and still others cannot easily be categorized. One particularly interesting portion of the book reproduces an LGBT magazine’s 1979 “Guide to Arrest and Trial.”
The book’s organization is loosely thematic and non-chronological, frequently jumping from 2017 to 1917 and back again. Given the personal nature of many of these essays, the emphasis is largely on more recent queer histories. Many essays are less than two pages long, making this a fairly approachable book in spite of its often-heavy subject matter.
Because the essays in Any Other Way uncover hidden histories in Toronto’s streets, parks, bars, and hotels, readers familiar with the city are likely to find this book particularly interesting. — Alex Judge
Blood, Sweat, and Fear by Eve Lazarus Arsenal Pulp Press, 219 pages, $21.95
Author Eve Lazarus follows up her previous book, Cold Case Vancouver, with a book that is just as fascinating. One of Vancouver’s top early twentieth-century crime crusaders, Inspector John F.C.B. Vance ( J.F.C.B. to his family) was an international legend and earned the nickname “Sherlock Holmes.”
Vance invented many of the tools and equipment he needed at a time when forensics was in its infancy, and his approach to forensic investigation is reflected in techniques used today. Lazarus is quick to point out that her book isn’t a biography of the man: “It’s the story of Vance’s extraordinary work in forensic science … a history of the early work in forensics.”
Nonetheless, aspects of Vance’s character are brought to the fore. According to Lazarus, he was a “white hat” working in an ocean of “black hats.” His career began shortly before the Anti-Asiatic riots and continued through prohibition, the Depression, and two world wars. And if the bad guys weren’t enough, Vance was employed by two of the most corrupt police chiefs Vancouver ever had.
The evidence he obtained led to the successful prosecution of many criminals, but it came with a cost — Vance and his family became targets. In 1934 alone, there were seven assassination attempts; car bombs and mail bombs were the preferred methods of the day.
A rare treat, Blood, Sweat, and Fear also presents many images that were provided to the author by Vance’s grandchildren. Vance’s wife made a scrapbook of all his newspaper clippings, and the case files he kept after retirement were found in a box in their attic. For those who enjoy true crime or murder mysteries, this book is a must-read. — Tanja Hütter
Lake Agassiz: The Rise and Demise of the World’s Greatest Lake by Bill Redekop Heartland, 280 pages, $29.95
Despite being one of the Prairie provinces, Manitoba is undoubtedly also a province of lakes; thousands of them dot its landscape. More than eight thousand years ago,
most of the land comprising the present- day province — and regions beyond — was covered by just one body of water: Lake Agassiz.
In his book Lake Agassiz: The Rise and Demise of the World’s Greatest Lake, former Winnipeg Free Press journalist Bill Redekop provides a comprehensive look at a lake that is unknown to many Canadians. With a size larger than all of the Great Lakes combined, it was, perhaps, the largest lake the world has ever known.
Redekop traces Lake Agassiz’s history from its formation during a period of glacial melting to its drainage into Hudson Bay. But what truly captures a reader’s attention is the way he relates the human history of the region to its environmental history. Redekop interweaves geological and scientific data with the narrative of those who discovered the historical lake and stories of his own exploration of the province.
While doing this, he shows that, while Lake Agassiz no longer exists, it continues to affect people’s lives today. Filled with beautiful photographs and packed with information, Lake Agassiz is a fantastic read that brings new meaning to the phrase “I’m heading to the lake.” –– Brooke Campbell