More than Nostalgia
- Dave Preston (Author)
Rails and Rooms: A Timeless Canadian Journey. Whitecap (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Dick Hammond (Author)
Tales from Hidden Basin. Harbour Publishing (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Ferdi Wenger (Author)
Wild Liard Waters: Canoeing Canada's Historic Liard River. Caitlin Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Bryan N. S. Gooch
Tales from Hidden Basin, charmingly illustrated by Alistair Anderson, comprises twenty-five short vignettes based on recollections by the author’s father about his youth and adolescence in the early 1900s spent largely at Hidden Basin at the west side of Nelson Island, which lies just north of Pender Harbour and immediately south of Jervis Inlet, facing Texada Island in British Columbia’s inland passage between the mainland and Vancouver Island. A picture emerges of basic homesteading with family of parents, boys and girls coming to terms with land and sea, ekeing out a modest life. The young learn to read and master practical crafts and skills without the aid of a school, they welcome occasional visitors and derive valuable lessons from some of them. They co-exist for a time with a nearby logging operation, and, in the end, leave the Basin, with the father off to New Zealand and the author’s father working first in a granite quarry and later as a shipwright in Vancouver. These are stories of a land still relatively unspoiled by the mechanical tentacles of industrial society, though the forestry operations, already gathering strength, would grow to mark many of the hillsides for years to come. Characters are neatly drawn, dialogue is handled superbly, the descriptive details border often on the magical, and touches of humour and seriousness emerge naturally through the range of youthful exploits. Without a declared specific intention, this book offers some powerful lessons about effort, integrity, friendship, and the value of natural resources.
Wild Liard Waters takes one to that magnificent and sometimes lethal river which rises in the Yukon, flows through northern British Columbia, and eventually empties into the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. The narrative focuses on canoeing that portion between Lower Post, near Watson Lake, to the confluence with the Mackenzie at Fort Simpson. On the first trip, there is a short glimpse of the northern end of the Fort Nelson River, and a return to complete the Liard saga, near the end of the book, with the running of the Grand Canyon, impassable on the initial journey. The account, supported by black and white illustrations, is about skill, hardship and endurance, and the reader is rightly in admiration of the group ofpaddlers who fight their way through dangerous waters and over gruelling portages. It is about waves and rocks and chutes, chilling rain, and campfires, bannock, hornets’ nests and bears. But it is also about the river, the rock formations, the vegetation, the animal life, and the efforts of early explorers, Hudson’s Bay men who daringly used the river as a trade and supply route, and the Klondikers who also, with massive losses, struggled west against its power. Spliced neatly into the story of the narrator’s own forays with his indomitable companions are extracts from journals of earlier venturers, including the remarkable Robert Campbell, Archibald McDonald, R.G. McConnell and Charles Camsell. Old stories of danger and death offer a grim and stirring counter- point to the modern expedition. The result is a gripping blend of voices and views. Yet Wenger offers a conspicuous concern: is it possible that a river with such hydro-electric potential will be left in peace? As Wenger pointedly suggests, the potential costs of the flooding of canyons and valleys by two massive lakes are unimaginable.
Rails and Rooms, also illustrated by black and white photographs, takes the reader not on a dangerous journey but on a leisurely passage by rail from Halifax to Vancouver, with side trips to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, to Quebec City, and to Banff and Lake Louise. The comfort and delights of Via Rail’s modern transcontinental service offer a marked contrast to the accommodations of earlier, steamhauled equipment, let alone the rough conditions faced by voyageurs, fur traders and surveyors. However, rail travel does provide a sense of the vastness of this nation as it unfolds past the windows. Preston describes the journey in detail (lakes, muskeg, grasslands, and mountains all come sharply into view), as well as stops along the way in some of our fabled hotels. The history, decor, and ambience of these buildings is well developed, just as is some of the history of railway construction and practice. As in Wenger’s book, the past is nicely blended into present moments.
- Ordinary Lives Examined by Lee Baxter
Books reviewed: One Day It Happens by Mary Lou Dickinson, Making Olives and Other Family Stories by Darlene Madott, Almond Wine and Fertility by Licia Canton, and Carnival Glass by Bonnie Dunlop
- Sit, Stay, and Play by Owen Percy
Books reviewed: The Exile Book of Canadian Dog Stories by Richard Teleky and The Exile Book of Canadian Sports Stories by Priscilla Uppal
- Reconfiguring Power in BC by Joel Martineau
Books reviewed: The Resettlement of British Columbia by Cole Harris
- Introducing Oeuvres by Robert Thacker
Books reviewed: Alice Munro by Coral Ann Howell and Mavis Gallant by Danielle Schaub
- Seriously Taken by Kathryn Carter
Books reviewed: Down the Road to Eternity by M.A.C. Farrant, Loose Pearls by D.C. Troicuk, The English Stories by Cynthia Flood, and Welcome to Canada by David Carpenter
MLA: Gooch, Bryan N. S. More than Nostalgia. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #178 (Autumn 2003), Archives and History. (pg. 133 - 134)
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