________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 13 . . . . March 4, 2005


Disasters of Western Canada: Courage Amidst the Chaos.

Tony Hollihan.
Edmonton, AB: Folklore Publishing, 2004.
240 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-894864-13-1.

Subject Heading:
Disasters-Canada, Western-History.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Ronald J. Hore.

*** /4



Perhaps the strangest sight was a man who sat on his roof, his house in the direct line of the advancing fire. He ordered his Japanese houseboy and a friend to pass him wet blankets, while he repeatedly fired his revolver into the sky because he was certain that the gunfire would create air flows that would direct the fire away from his house. Astonished survivors discovered his dwelling still standing the next day.

The winds died down about 20 minutes after the fire reached Vancouver, reducing its ferocity but not its stubborness. The billowing clouds of smoke were visible 80 kilometers away, and drew help from nearby Moodyville and New Westminster. But even their assistance could not turn back the devastating blaze, which eventually died because it had nothing left to burn. Later, bewildered residents looked on the five or six houses and the few substantial buildings that remained of their once booming community.

Disasters of Western Canada is a book that should interest a wide range of readers. The book is divided into two sections: Natural Disasters and Accidental Disasters that occurred in Western Canada, covering the four western provinces and the Yukon.

     The first section, Natural Disasters, covers the period from 1826 to 2003. There are 12 stories taking up 116 pages. These stories are not arranged in any noticeable order, other than they are jumbled so that one flood, for example, does not follow another. This section covers four floods, three avalanches, three tornados, one fire and one epidemic. The author makes good use of quotations from the period and adds some obscure facts. There are 23 black and white photographs included in this section. They are scattered throughout, appearing in the respective chapters. The pictures take the format of snapshots out of an old photo album. While in general they add to the stories, some are not as clear as they ideally should be. This is not surprising, given the age of the older ones; however, even the newer ones suffer, whether it is the small size, or the black and white process.

     The second section, Accidental Disasters, covers incidents that took place between 1868 and 1958. There are 16 stories set up over 108 pages. Again, these do not appear to be in a particular order and cover disasters: five fires, four train wrecks, two airplane crashes, two bridge collapses, two mine disasters, and one shipwreck. There are 15 black and white pictures in this section.

     The book includes a "Notes on Sources" section broken out by province. This provides 12 British Columbia sources, three for the Alberta stories, five for the Saskatchewan tales and 13 for the Manitoba disasters. There are two sources given for the Yukon and five listed as General Sources. While the book does not give us the author's credentials, his name appears as author of two other books under the sources listed so he is not a novice to research.

     The language of the book is straightforward, and if I had any complaint, I would have liked to see some maps referring to the disasters covered. The stories include incidents that most of us may be familiar with, such as the Frank Slide and the Red River Flood of 1997, or the Second Narrows Bridge Collapse. Even with these tales, the author takes the time to insert minor details or quotations from the event that serve to bring it to life. The most current natural disaster is the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire of 2003. This section also brings us stories that readers may not find quite as familiar; The Rogers Pass Avalanche or the Regina Cyclone. The section on Accidental Disasters, from a period further back, takes the reader the less familiar tales such as The Hinton Train Disaster or The Crash of TCA Flight 810. Statistics, such as the cost of the disaster as well as the number of lives lost, are included.

     This book should appeal to someone interested in easy to read stories of disasters, or simply interested in short stories of human interest and how people react in emergencies. Alternatively, this book could serve as a starting point for someone interested in researching a particular disaster.


Ronald Hore, involved with the Canadian Authors Association and writers workshops for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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