Canada's History - - BOOKS -

The Ghost Or­chard: The Hid­den His­tory of the Ap­ple in North Amer­ica by He­len Humphreys HarperCollins, 268 pages, $29.99 “The past is all around us if we look care­fully and can fig­ure out a way to read it,” writes award­win­ning novelist and non-fic­tion writer He­len Humphreys. In The Ghost Or­chard: The Hid­den His­tory of the Ap­ple in North

Amer­ica she is in­spired by the taste of wild ap­ples found out­side a log cabin near her home in Kingston, On­tario, to seek their largely un­known ori­gins in terms of Indige­nous peo­ples, women, and artists. This takes her be­yond the recorded his­tory of the ap­ple, which, she says, “is the his­tory of white set­tle­ment dur­ing the nine­teenth cen­tury.”

In ad­di­tion to gor­geous his­tor­i­cal coloured plates cre­ated by seed­cat­a­logue il­lus­tra­tors and botan­i­cal artists, the book brims with in­ter­est and cap­ti­vat­ing prose. An en­tire chap­ter is ded­i­cated to poet Robert Frost, who planted an or­chard at the age of eighty- three, per­haps in mem­ory of his “glo­ri­ous friend­ship” and “talk­swalk­ing” with the Bri­tish poet Ed­ward Thomas. An­other chap­ter opens with a de­scrip­tion of ev­ery ap­ple va­ri­ety in the recre­ated or­chard at John A. Mac­don­ald’s Belle­vue House in Kingston. A “Glos­sary of Lost Ap­ples” at the end of the book high­lights va­ri­eties of First Na­tions or Cana­dian ori­gin.

A chap­ter en­ti­tled “The In­dian Or­chard” ex­plores Indige­nous and set­tler in­volve­ments in the spread of the fruit, in­clud­ing dis­tinct va­ri­eties pro­duced by Indige­nous peo­ples. Mean­while, “Ann Jes­sop” tells of the Quaker preacher known as “Ap­ple An­nie” for her

dis­tri­bu­tion of di­verse scions she’d car­ried back from Bri­tain in the late 1700s, in­clud­ing the crisp, juicy White Win­ter Pear­main that starts Humphreys’ quest.

The beauty, fra­grance, and fruit of ap­ple trees lend poignancy to our re­la­tion­ship with them, as does the sim­i­lar­ity of their life­span to that of a per­son — around one hun­dred years at best, notes Humphreys. Her book was writ­ten as a close friend, a poet, neared death, and Humphreys’ fa­ther died soon after.

It’s a so­ci­o­log­i­cal and an agri­cul­tural ac­count, de­tail­ing the re­duc­tion of over seven­teen thou­sand va­ri­eties at their nine­teenth-cen­tury peak to fewer than one hun­dred com­mer­cial va­ri­eties to­day; it’s also a mov­ing med­i­ta­tion on mem­ory and loss, friend­ship and fam­ily, the be­quest of art and writ­ing, and what re­mains in ab­sence — some­times with only a sin­gle tree to point us back. — Mari­ianne Mays Wiebe No Man’s Land: The Life and Art of Mary Riter Hamilto by Kathryn A. Young and

Sarah M. McK­in­non Univer­sity of Man­i­toba Press, 304 pages, $27.95

Even be­fore the armistice that ended the First World War was signed, thou­sands of vis­i­tors made their way to the bat­tle­fields of Europe. Many made the jour­ney in trib­ute to lives lost in the con­flict — a pil­grim­age to the places where their loved ones spent their fi­nal days. Oth­ers felt a sense of ur­gency to tour the front lines and to doc­u­ment the im­pact and de­struc­tion of war

In No Man’s Land: The Life and Art of

Mary Riter Hamil­ton, Kathryn A. Young and Sarah M. McK­in­non pro­vide a rich bi­og­ra­phy of one woman who was com­pelled to paint the bat­tle­fields in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the First World War.

Born in 1868 in Bruce County, On­tario, Hamil­ton was a Cana­dian artist who by the age of twenty-two had suf­fered her own per­sonal tragedies with the death of her hus­band and a still­born child. With­out the do­mes­tic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that most women of this time faced, Hamil­ton was able to nur­ture her artis­tic tal­ent, study­ing in Euro­pean art schools, teach­ing, and host­ing ex­hi­bi­tions both abroad and at home.

By 1918, Hamil­ton was an ex­pe­ri­enced artist and longed to re­turn to Europe, where she had spent many years study­ing. She ap­plied to the Cana­dian War Memo­rial Fund, only to have her re­quest de­nied, as women were not al­lowed ac­cess to the front.

Un­de­terred, Hamil­ton even­tu­ally found sup­port through the Am­pu­ta­tion Club of Bri­tish Columbia and re­ceived a com­mis­sion to paint the bat­tle­fields of France and Bel­gium. For close to six years, she was one of few Cana­dian women to ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand the de­struc­tion of the front lines — set­ting up her easel be­tween shell holes and stay­ing in aban­doned huts on the bat­tle­fields.

As time passed, Hamil­ton strug­gled with her fi­nances, keep­ing her friends back in Canada on standby to sell off her art­work as needed. Lack­ing proper food and hous­ing, she went through pe­ri­ods of poor health.

De­spite these chal­lenges, she was de­ter­mined to keep go­ing. She wrote, “To have been able to pre­serve some mem­ory of what this con­se­crated cor­ner of the world looked like after the storm is a great priv­i­lege, and all the re­ward that an artist could hope for.” From 1919 to 1922, Hamil­ton pro­duced over three hun­dred pieces doc­u­ment­ing First World War bat­tle­fields; she gave most of them to Canada’s na­tional ar­chives in 1926.

Build­ing on the work of their late col­league An­gela Davis, Young and McK­in­non have writ­ten a rich bi­og­ra­phy that is de­serv­ing trib­ute to Mary Riter Hamil­ton. Their re­search is thor­ough and uses a va­ri­ety of sources — in­clud­ing Hamil­ton’s art­work, of­fi­cial and per­sonal cor­re­spon­dence, news­pa­per ar­ti­cles, and ex­hibit re­views and cri­tiques — to piece to­gether her life. The book in­cludes colour prints of some of Hamil­ton’s best-known work.

No Man’s Land is a fas­ci­nat­ing read and an im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to our un­der­stand­ing of war and com­mem­o­ra­tion, the pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of fe­male artists, and, more broadly, the ex­pe­ri­ences of women in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury. — Joanna Daw­son

This Colos­sal Project: Build­ing the Wel­land Ship Canal, 1913–1932

by Roberta M. Styran and Robert R. Tay­lor McGill-Queen’s Univer­sity Press,

368 pages, $44.95

This Colos­sal Project cap­tures the fas­ci­nat­ing story be­hind con­struc­tion of the Wel­land Ship Canal. Known as the “great ditch,” this wa­ter­way con­nects Lake On­tario with Lake Erie, en­abling ships to by­pass Ni­a­gara Falls. Con­structed over two decades, the canal is one of “the great engi­neer­ing tri­umphs of mod­ern times,” write au­thors Roberta M. Styran and Robert R. Tay­lor.

My great- un­cle Paul Moroz and grand­fa­ther Wil­liam Moroz were labour­ers on the project. With Paul’s en­cour­age­ment, my grand­fa­ther, also known as “Gido,” moved from Man­i­toba to Thorold, On­tario, with his wife and four chil­dren. Given the un­cer­tainty of wartime and the Great De­pres­sion, he was re­lieved to find any job.

The work was dan­ger­ous and harsh, with small­pox out­breaks, ac­ci­dents, in­ad­e­quate wages and long hours. Nearly 140 souls per­ished dur­ing con­struc­tion, of­ten from frac­tured skulls or drown­ing. Grea­tun­cle Paul nearly died when a wagon filled with rocks tipped over. It was a time when steel-toed boots and safety hel­mets were non-ex­is­tent and lan­guage bar­ri­ers hin­dered com­mu­ni­ca­tion. When labour­ers — many of whom were im­mi­grants and

il­lit­er­ate — tried to im­prove con­di­tions, they en­coun­tered hos­til­ity and prej­u­dice.

In a book that is well-re­searched, with nu­mer­ous maps and pho­tos, the au­thors suc­ceeded in trans­port­ing me back a cen­tury. Ded­i­cated to “those thou­sands of un­sung he­roes who worked on the ground,” This Colos­sal Project pro­vided in­sight into my own fam­ily’s his­tory — which in turn res­onates with some of the chal­lenges im­mi­grants still face in seek­ing a bet­ter to­mor­row. — Bev­er­ley Sawchuk

Mon­treal, City of Wa­ter

by Michèle Da­ge­nais trans­lated by Peter Feld­stein UBC Press, 254 pages, $29.95 Mod­ern Mon­treal­ers know that they live on an is­land, but they may fail to per­ceive how ubiq­ui­tous wa­ter is in their daily lives. “The wa­ter is very much there, un­der the con­crete and as­phalt,” writes Michèle Da­ge­nais, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory at the Univer­sité de Mon­tréal.

In Mon­treal, City of Wa­ter, Da­ge­nais un­veils a grand nar­ra­tive where wa­ter it­self be­comes a his­tor­i­cal ac­tor. It’s a strug­gle be­tween na­ture and the hu­mans that try to tame, profit, en­joy, and un­der­stand it.

A pat­tern quickly emerges: As soon as a new tech­nol­ogy or sci­en­tific idea takes hold, ei­ther the en­vi­ron­ment cir­cum­vents it or un­der­stand­ings change. This was most poignantly seen in the mid-1800s, with the in­stal­la­tion of run­ning wa­ter and a sewage sys­tem, amid fears of a san­i­ta­tion cri­sis, plus changes to the Port of Mon­treal, in an at­tempt to turn the St. Lawrence River into both a “dump­ing ground” and an “en­gine of pros­per­ity.”

In­stead, ris­ing har­bour sludge and dan­ger­ous sea­sonal flood­ing served as a re­minder that the nat­u­ral world can be re­bel­liously un­co­op­er­a­tive with hu­man ob­jec­tives. In Da­ge­nais’s book, we wit­ness waves of en­gi­neers, doc­tors, in­dus­tri­al­ists, politi­cians, and, fi­nally, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists ne­go­ti­ate the re­la­tion­ship with na­ture as Mon­treal grows and mod­ern­izes.

Smartly il­lus­trated with maps and pho­to­graphs, Mon­treal, City of

Wa­ter is more tech­ni­cal than nar­ra­tive- driven. Yet Da­ge­nais none­the­less presents a com­pelling ar­gu­ment, demon­strat­ing that, ul­ti­mately, there is no sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the is­land city and the wa­ter that gives it life. –– Sharon Hanna

Strange New Coun­try:

The Fraser River Salmon Strikes of 1900–1901 and the Birth of Mod­ern Bri­tish Columbia

by Ge­off Meggs

Har­bour Pub­lish­ing, 236 pages, $22.95 Or­ga­niz­ing a strike in Bri­tish Columbia’s salmon in­dus­try might have seemed like an al­most im­pos­si­ble goal, in par­tic­u­lar given tight time­lines and the need to cre­ate an ef­fec­tive coali­tion across eth­nic lines. Yet two strikes

were launched more than a cen­tury ago, and the fish­er­men fought to­gether, more or less, to bring about bet­ter com­pen­sa­tion for their work.

In Strange New Coun­try, Ge­off Meggs ar­gues that the strikes in 1900 and 1901 marked a turn­ing point in the prov­ince’s his­tory. While he doesn’t pro­vide strong ev­i­dence to back up his state­ment, there is no doubt that the strikes were sig­nif­i­cant events both for the fish­er­men based in Steve­ston, south of Van­cou­ver, and for the in­dus­trial elite in their man­sions in the city.

Work on the fish­ing boats was not easy, given the need for speed dur­ing the salmon run ev­ery sum­mer, as the fish re­turned to fresh­wa­ter spawn­ing grounds. Fish­er­men had to deal with nets up to four hun­dred me­tres long and had lit­tle pro­tec­tion from the el­e­ments in their twelve-me­tre boats.

Ten­sions rise when peo­ple are work­ing hard, and there were many ex­tra rea­sons for stress dur­ing the salmon runs. Indige­nous fish­er­men were strug­gling to re­tain their right to the fish, while Ja­pa­nese fish­er­men were look­ing for equal­ity with whites, and ev­ery­body was look­ing for bet­ter pay for their work.

Meggs in­tro­duces us to the lead­ers of each group, some­thing that helps to put a hu­man touch on this fas­ci­nat­ing, well- re­searched ac­count of two chal­leng­ing sum­mers on the Pa­cific coast. –– Dave Obee

Fol­low­ing the River: Traces of Red River Women

by Lorri Neilsen Glenn Wol­sak & Wynn, 335 pages, $22 After dis­cov­er­ing that her great- grand­mother died in a tragic fire on Man­i­toba’s Lake Win­nipeg, Lorri Neilsen Glenn sets out to learn her story. Dig­ging into lo­cal and fam­ily his­tory, she traces sev­eral gen­er­a­tions back to York Fac­tory and the Red River Set­tle­ment. Along the way, she dis­cov­ers how dif­fi­cult it is to find de­tails of the lives of her fe­male an­ces­tors and their con­tem­po­raries.

Glenn is a poet, an es­say­ist, a pro­fes­sor emerita at Mount Saint Vin­cent Univer­sity, and a for­mer Hal­i­fax poet lau­re­ate, and Fol­low­ing the River: Traces

of Red River Women is writ­ten in a mix of prose and po­etry that is pre­sented along­side frag­ments of ma­te­rial found in news­pa­per re­ports and mu­se­ums. Read­ers fol­low her jour­ney of dis­cov­ery as we see these women’s sto­ries slowly come to life.

Glenn’s search takes her through the cur­rent-day Red River re­gion and il­lus­trates how much the area has changed since her great- grand­mother’s time. Her book of­fers an amaz­ing glimpse into the re­search process as well as into the lives of Indige­nous women in the Red River re­gion. –– Danielle Chartier Snacks: A Cana­dian Food His­tory by Jan­ice Thiessen Univer­sity of Man­i­toba Press, 352 pages, $27.95

Jan­ice Thiessen’s book Snacks: A Cana­dian Food

His­tory is an ex­cel­lent oral his­tory that delves into the nos­tal­gic and won­der­ful world of favourite Cana­dian brands. The book cov­ers the his­tory of in­de­pen­dent man­u­fac­tures of snack foods that in­clude “potato chip mak­ers Old Dutch, Hard­bite, and Cov­ered Bridge; Cheezie man­u­fac­turer W.T. Hawkins; choco­late mak­ers Paulins, Moirs, and Ganong; and candy mak­ers Robert­son’s Cav­a­lier, Pu­rity, Brown­ing Har­vey, and Scott-Bath­gate (Nutty Club).”

Thiessen tells their sto­ries via her re­search into the snack­ing in­dus­try and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, through sixty- one in­ter­views con­ducted with “busi­ness own­ers, man­agers, work­ers, union lead­ers, and snack food con­sumers.” The oral his­to­ries that form the core of the book bring out all as­pects of the snack food in­dus­try in Canada, from the labour and tech­niques re­quired to pre­pare these foods to the tastes and smells that made them so mem­o­rable to many Cana­di­ans.

Many food writ­ers and jour­nal­ists have pointed to snacks and junk food as the roots of obe­sity and of a host of so­cial prob­lems. How­ever, Thiessen hopes to spark a more thought­ful his­tory of food and how it is pre­pared. She re­minds read­ers that, de­spite the pack­ag­ing and cheap prices, there are al­ways peo­ple be­hind the food we eat. So find a bowl of your favourite snack food, and dig into this book for some en­ter­tain­ing his­tory. –– Joel Ralph

AM­BI­TIOUS NEW­COM­ERS Set­tlers camp with a team of oxen and an over­turned wagon in 1906 just out­side of Saska­toon. They would have found it ben­e­fi­cial to be liv­ing close to the city and it­sameni­ties, which by then in­cluded a ho­tel, a mounted po­lice bar­racks, a dozen homes, and a rail line pass­ing through. In The Homestead­ers (Univer­sity of Regina Press, 192 pages, $39.95) San­dra Rollings-Mag­nus­son tells of the voy­ages made by im­mi­grants to Saskatchewan, the hard­ships and labour they faced upon ar­rival, and the ways they built their homes and com­mu­ni­ties.

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