CM . . .
. Volume X Number 16 . . . . April 8, 2004
An obscure piece of Canadian history is brought to life for young children in this pattern story about the Cariboo Gold Rush of 1862-1865, a time when tens of thousands trekked into the interior of British Columbia in search of the mineral that has captivated humankind for millennia. The fictional hero is Cameron, a young boy who has survived the trails to arrive at the goldfields. He prefers reading about camels to panning for gold, but father's dream is to find the gold so they can travel to those faraway places. Cameron is witness to one of the more enterprising events of the Gold Rush. Frank Laumeister, a Bavarian businessman, imported camels to carry supplies to the gold fields, reasoning that they could go for long periods of time without food and water and that their long legs would get them through snowdrifts in wintertime. He misnamed his Bacterian pack The Dromedary Express; his expectations were misinformed as well. Cameron's father, wisely realizing that he might make a better living as a camel driver than a gold prospector, signs up with Laumeister. Soon Cameron and his father are on the trail, but problems arise. Camels' feet are suited to soft, sandy deserts, and their hooves are torn by the rocky surfaces of the canyons and mountain passes. Booties made from rawhide and canvas form only a stopgap measure. Camels also stink, and no amount of rosewater scrubbing in the creek can make them smell like roses. Pack mules on the trail are afraid of them, and the camels' naturally nasty personalities cause chaos in camp. Our young camel expert does the right thing and frees the camels, keeping his favourite, Barnum, as a pet who doubles as an ox to pull the plow when Cameron and his father settle down to make a living as farmers in the Cariboo. Their exotic pet fulfills their yearning for faraway places. The narrative is rhythmic and upbeat, with Cameron answering, "Camels always do" whenever the adults make yet another discovery about the animals' unsuitability to their task. The illustrations by Kasia Charko show the mass of humanity that crowded into tent camps in search of their fortunes and the seemingly impossible conditions of the Rush. She does a credible job of depicting history accurately, but interestingly, for young children. Camels Always Do will be a welcome addition to school as well as classroom libraries. It can serve as a catalyst for research into a unique period in the history of Western Canada that propelled the rate of European settlement forward by decades and created conditions for Canada to lay claim to the territory.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.