- John Coldwell Adams (Author)
Old Square-Toes and His Lady: The Life of James and Amelia Douglas. Horsdal & Schubart (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Michael Shaw Bond (Author)
Way Out West: On the Trail of an Errant Ancestor. McClelland & Stewart Ltd. (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Bryan N. S. Gooch
To relate the emergence of Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia from wilderness to colony and on to provincial status is to tell a myriad of stories, many of which still remain to be shaped, detailed, and set into the historic fabric. One of the most important narratives is that of Sir James Douglas, and thus Adams’s thorough and carefully documented Old Square-Toes and His Lady is a welcome addition to the corpus of studies about the province’s past. Tracing Douglas’s family background and early life in Scotland, through his departure for Montreal, his indenture to the North West Company, his marriage to Amelia Connelly, and his subsequent rise to the rank of Chief Factor in the Columbia Department of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Adams spells out a story of determination, courage, and devotion to duty. At the same time he paints a clear picture of the country through which Douglas moved, the travails of the fur brigade, the daily routine of company posts (especially Fort Vancouver), and the fragility of human life in Oregon Country. In documenting Douglas’ appointment and tenure first as Governor of Vancouver Island and, subsequently, British Columbia, Adams clearly shows a man who was forced to make a sometimes difficult transition from the authoritarian Company approach to a new world of colonists, coal miners, gold-seekers, and criticism. Douglas had to balance matters in the colonies, worry about potential American invasions, and satisfy his administrative masters in London. The narrative moves easily, and the style is lucid as portraits of James and Amelia and their family are carefully drawn, with moments of great sorrow (particularly early deaths of many of their children) sadly tinting the picture. In one way, this book offers the life of James and Amelia Douglas; in another, it tells the story not only of the outposts of the fur trade but of the development of Victoria and, to a much lesser degree, New Westminster. In providing a social context and details about other significant personalities (for example, Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, the Rev. [aftewards Bishop] Edward Gidge, etal), it invites the exploration of other lives and the examination of numerous events of singular importance and interest.
By no means less compelling is Way Out West,a charming, illuminating, and sometimes humorous account of the author’s retracing of the famous westward journey made in 1862-63 by his great-great-grandfather, Viscount Milton, who, in company with Dr. Walter Cheadle, travelled to Winnipeg and thence over the Carleton trail to Edmonton, through the Yellowhead Pass, down the North Thompson River to Fort Kamloops, and then westward to the Fraser River and on to Victoria (where, as Bond notes, Milton was given petitions critical of Douglas’ autocratic ways to take back to Earl Fitzwilliam, Milton’s father, in London, who was to pass them to the appropriate political hands). Paths cross! Milton described his often perilous exploits—an attempt to find a practical land route to the gold-rich Cariboo region—in The North-West Passage by Land (1865), and testimony (sometimes contradictory and always illuminating) also emerges in Cheadle’s Journal of a Trip across Canada, 1862-1863 (1931). Bond neatly splices into the story of his own adventure—often on foot or on horseback—extracts from Milton’s and Cheadle’s accounts of guides, terrain, frequently appalling weather, and hair-raising dangers. The result is a masterly blend of old and new as Bond explores and discovers the fascination that western Canada held for his distinguished ancestor and which still captures the living heart with ease. The modern trek and Bond’s book are, in the best sense, labours of love, and the details Bond so generously provides offer sharp reminders of the debt which Canada owes to its intrepid early wanderers.
Both Adams and Bond open numerous windows to scenes and personalities long past, and in doing so they both sharpen one’s understanding of modern western Canada. Though differing in style and approach (Adams’s Old Square-Toes is a formal, step-by-step biography while Bond’s Way Out Wesiis a lighter-toned amalgam of a single trip and its near replication), both narratives, each offering useful bibliographic detail, are compelling in their individual ways and successfully draw the reader into the thick of events. Indeed, neither book, once begun, can easily be set aside.
- The Pioneering Wife by Gwyneth Hoyle
Books reviewed: Writing the Pioneer Woman by Janet Floyd and The Judge's Wife: Memoirs of a British Columbia Pioneer by Eunice M. L. Harrisoin
- Cultural Transmutations by Albert Braz
Books reviewed: For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son by Richard Wagamese, The Setting Lake Sun by J. R. Lévillé and S.E. Stewart, and The Great Gift of Tears by Heather Hodgson
- Lost and Last Prayers by Susie DeCoste
Books reviewed: Seven Ravens: Two Summers in a Life by the Sea by Lesley Choyce, The Wanton Troopers: Reader's Guide Edition by Alden A. Nowlan, and In Another Life by Raymond Fraser
- Blaze of Glory by Tanis Macdonald
Books reviewed: Blazing Figures: A Life of Richard Markle by J. A. Wainwright
- Legacy of the Bear's Lip by Heather Hodgson
Books reviewed: Stolen Life: The Journey of a Cree Woman by Yvonne Johnson and Ruby Wiebe
MLA: Gooch, Bryan N. S. Wilderness Colony. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #178 (Autumn 2003), Archives and History. (pg. 91 - 92)
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