Finding Mr. Wong by Susan Crean Talonbooks, 272 pages, $19.95
On the surface, this enjoyable book recounts one woman’s warm childhood memories of Wong Dong Wong, her IrishCanadian grandparents’ Chinese cook and housekeeper. But Susan Crean goes beyond her own recollections of a loving and beloved man to piece together his life outside the walls of Number 13, her grandparents’ home in Toronto’s tony Forest Hill neighbourhood.
Drawing on research she conducted in Toronto and Vancouver, including within both cities’ Chinatowns, and in Wong’s home village of Shui Doi, China, Crean imaginatively recreates the parts of his story that she can never fully know. Fortunately, she is well aware that the uncomplicated relationship she enjoyed with Wong was based on an imbalance of power — however congenial — between a Chinese head-tax payer and his Canadian employer.
Crean explores the discrimination Wong and other Chinese bachelors endured, placing it on a continuum of attitudes that deemed English Canadians superior to her Irish immigrant forebears and that directed casual anti-Semitism at her family’s Jewish neighbours. Part homage, part mys
tery, part memoir, Finding Mr. Wong is a loving look at a life that is no less important a part of our Canadian story for its previously having been rendered invisible. — Nancy Payne
Four Who Dared:
Inspiring Stories of Canadian Airmen in the Second World War by Kenneth B. Cothliff
Heritage House Publishing,
268 pages, $22.95
Joey Jacobson’s War:
A Jewish Canadian Airman in the Second World War by Peter J. Usher
Wilfred Laurier University Press, 414 pages, $23.99 The four men profiled in Kenneth B. Cothliff ’s book Four Who Dared are far from household names. Their stories, however, are reminders of the shared experiences of the more than one million Canadians who fought during the Second World War.
Cothliff, an author and aviation enthusiast, delves into the lives of Reg Lane, Jim Moffat, Steve Puskas, and Bill Gracie. The Canadian airmen didn’t know each other, but their lives are connected through their wartime experiences — each of them flew with the RCAF in Bomber Command.
The book is split into four parts, with each section exploring the life of one combatant — including his background and the path that led him to war. Cothliff also looks at the training programs that prepared these men for conflict.
Detailed descriptions, in many cases drawn from the airmen’s own diaries or writings, paint a picture of the dangers and the fear that came with combat. Of the four profiled airmen, only three returned home after the war. Bill Gracie was killed in battle.
In Joey Jacobson’s War, Peter J. Usher uses diary and notebook entries, as well as letters sent to friends and family members, to tell the story of young Jewish-Canadian airman Joey Jacobson. He was sent to serve in Britain’s Royal Air Force as it began a bombing campaign against Germany during the same war.
Usher’s book often reads like a first- person account, and it shows how family relationships endured during challenging times. However, like Gracie’s story, Jacobson’s ends with his death in combat. — Dave Baxter
Atlantic Canada’s Greatest Storms by Dan Soucoup
Nimbus Publishing, 231 pages, $21.95
A major January 2020 snowstorm produced high winds, power outages, and up to ninetythree centimetres of snow in parts of eastern Newfoundland. It was a reminder of the potential for volatile weather along the country’s east coast.
In Atlantic Canada’s Greatest
Storms, Dartmouth, Nova Scotiabased author Dan Soucoup chronicles the impacts of previous natural disasters, which, in addition to blizzards, included hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and tsunamis. For instance, he takes readers back to the year 1745 and the Grand Armada Tragedy. When an expedition sent from France to recapture Nova Scotia from the British faced intense squalls while crossing the Atlantic, the resulting hardship and illness were so severe that it was France’s final attempt to retake the area.
Soucoup also recounts the 1929 earthquake on the Grand Banks, a series of submerged plateaus southeast of Newfoundland. The quake produced an underwater landslide and a rare Atlantic tsunami that struck the south coast of Newfoundland, killing twenty- eight people and leaving many homeless on the Burin Peninsula.
During the Great Depression, the financial struggles were compounded in Atlantic Canada by a series of tropical storms that ravaged the region in the 1930s. Wind speeds up to 185 kilometres per hour, torrential rains, and flooding produced death and destruction in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland.
Photographs, notes, and a timeline help Soucoup’s readers understand both the history of the region and the fury of its storms. — Beverley Tallon
Professional Heckler: The Life and Art of Duncan Macpherson by Terry Mosher McGill-Queen’s University Press, 480 pages, $49.95 I’ll let you in on a secret, one that I learned by virtue of working as a journalist in numerous newsrooms across the country: Reporters — all of them, including me — are secretly jealous of editorial cartoonists. Why? Because cartoonists, via their pencils and pens, are free to express what the rest of us are really thinking. We reporters were taught to strive for “objectivity.” But editorial cartoonists? Their mandate is to skewer the most powerful people in society, from pompous politicians to grasping tycoons and tinpot tyrants. That’s why Terry Mosher’s new book is so aptly titled.
Professional Heckler recalls the story of one of Canada’s top editorial cartoonists of the twentieth century. Duncan Macpherson, who died in 1993, began his career as an illustrator for the
Montreal Standard and Weekend magazine before moving on to Maclean’s and, finally, the Toronto Star.
The author, himself a giant of Canadian editorial cartooning, first met Macpherson in 1971 when both
were doing courtroom sketches during the Front de Libération du Québec trials. That chance encounter led to after-court drinks — and a promise to chat again in the future.
At the time, Macpherson, known as “Dunc,” was well-established, while Mosher, a.k.a. Aislin, was the young up- and- comer. Eventually, Mosher writes, Macpherson became his mentor, inspiring and encouraging Aislin to loftier heights.
Professional Heckler is a fascinating book, written in a conversational style that is quite familiar to me (and likely to many other journalists as well). It reminds me of the banter heard after a deadline has been met and the presses are rolling, when “deskers,” “journos,” and “photogs” finally leave their desks and wander down to the local watering hole to chat about life, and deadlines, and the next day’s front-page news.
Richly illustrated with photos of Macpherson plus many of his editorial cartoons, Professional Heckler doesn’t shy away from darker elements of his story. Like many members of the oldschool-journalist generation, the bottle was both a temptation and an inspiration for Dunc. “I can’t pretend that it was always a pleasure to be with Duncan,” Mosher writes. “When he was drinking he could be heavy handed, arrogant and a troublemaker. He freely acknowledged these faults, but insisted I was worse. I’m in no position to judge.”
Thanks to Mosher’s book, we are now well-positioned to reacquaint ourselves with Macpherson’s art, as well as with the joy, wit, and skill with which he lampooned many of Canada’s most prominent people. — M.C. Reid