________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009

cover True Stories of Rescue and Survival: Canada's Unknown Heroes.

Carolyn Matthews.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2008.
171 pp., pbk., $19.99.
ISBN 978-1-5502-851-5.

Subject Headings:
Heroes-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Val Ken Lem.

*** /4


Below, the three rescuers have now climbed up to the ice platform.

Dismay alters their expressions as they look around at the precarious ice mushroom where Mick lies and James crouches silently. They watch Val and Peder working frantically to shore it up, trying to build better anchors: three snow pickets on the snow slope, two ice screws, and an axe in the wall above that will support a rope strung across as a Tyrolean. As soon as they finish, they connect themselves to the rope in case more pieces of ice break off and their platform starts to disappear in bits and pieces from under them.

People take calculated risks every day. Normally, a pedestrian crossing a street mid-block or the act of biking or driving on the busy streets of a large city are uneventful, but other times, simple situations such as a child's playing with a kitten, a mountaineer out for a weekend of fun with a climbing buddy, or a fishing expedition off the Atlantic coast can quickly change into a life threatening emergency. The kitten can run into the woods with the child in pursuit, a tired climber can make a misstep and fall off a mountainside, and the fishers may be forced to abandon their vessel when it is shipwrecked during a fierce storm associated with the tail of a hurricane. These are three of the real situations described in True Stories of Rescue and Survival. In these and other cases profiled, Search and Rescue operations involving highly trained professionals, sometimes skilled and unskilled volunteers and even a search dog, engage in rescue attempts that don't always end happily. The rescuers are truly heroes who put their own lives at risk in efforts to save others. The rescuers don't blame the endangered people for their situations. One Search and Rescue (SAR) technician is quoted thus: "The more rescues I get involved in, the more I realize that people who get lost or injured are not careless [or] foolish. They've been caught up in a series of small errors that end up in one big event."

     This is Matthews' third book on heroic rescues and the second published with Dundurn, a firm with a growing backlist of titles about Search and Rescue operations in Canada. A visit to the author's website reveals that at least one rescue account appears in different formats in both this book and in To the Rescue! True Stories of Tragedy and Survival (Dundurn, 2005). In this volume, she strives to present fast paced narratives that are filled with relevant details and often technical language as demonstrated in the excerpt above. She often uses direct quotations that appear to be transcribed from interviews with the people who found themselves in life-threatening situations, and from their rescuers. Her goal is to faithfully describe the development of a potentially fatal situation and then recount the rescue operation in considerable detail. Occasionally she takes liberties with grammar rules as demonstrated in the following paragraph:

The little plane with four volunteer rescuers took off into the early wintry darkness. No moon in the night sky, just a sprinkling of stars above the jagged mountain peaks where whey were headed.

     Readers will learn a great deal about the tools and methods of rescue operations, whether by SAR technicians working for the Canadian military, the Canadian Coast Guard, police forces or a local volunteer SAR organization. Sidebars are used extensively to provide "fascinating facts" that elaborate on terms and topics that arise in the text. Matthews also tends to include brief biographical facts about the rescuers in the stories, with an emphasis on their training and career trajectories, and special attention to awards they have received for their life-saving efforts. The book is, however, much more than biographies of heroes, as implied by the CIP copy for this title.

     The stories recounted in the 11 chapters are uneven in their thrill quotient and educational value. One chapter includes an account of the rescue of a prize-winning goat from the Welland Canal. This is not the most exciting nor informative tale, but it does illustrate that rescuers can be called upon to save animals as well as people. One chapter featuring a cold case about a missing Vancouver couple and the RCMP officer who is trying to keep the investigation alive concludes with a brief history of the RCMP and one of its earliest members, Sam Steele. The chapter seems out of place despite Matthews' efforts to justify it based on her assertion that the officer investigating the cold case is heroic, even if his labour is outside of the public view. A chapter about a Canadian Navy diver and bomb expert who is working with the United States Army's Combined Explosive Cell in Kandahar, Afghanistan, also presents a different approach to the topic as it is the only one describing a military context for the rescuer's endeavors and the only story set outside of Canada.

     Black and white photographs of the rescuers and rescue vessels augment the text in an appropriate manner. There is no index. A list of resources identified four selected books that is basically an advertisement for Matthews and Dundurn Press. More useful is the list of 15 selected websites dealing with national as well as regional SAR associations and operations, including the Canadian Coast Guard, Canada's Air Force-Search and Rescue, and the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada. Unfortunately, a couple of the Air Force urls have changed, one webpage is no longer available, and two entries have typographical errors in the urls. The websites, themselves, will provide interesting visuals and supplementary information to curious students. Measurements are mainly in imperial units or nautical measures.


Val Ken Lem is the collections evaluation librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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