CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 20 . . . . June 10, 2005
Gold-bug fever hit hard following the first discoveries of the precious metal in the Cariboo. Men from all across North America streamed to the goldfields, thinking they'd get rich just picking up nuggets from the stream beds like blueberries off a bush. Some did find gold, though usually with more effort than that, and some made their fortunes by serving the prospectors, but many came away poorer than they went, or died in the process.
Harriet Palmer's father was one who was badly bitten. He sold his mill near London in Canada West, and he and his wife and three children headed west to Winnipeg, or Fort Garry as it then was. Here the family stayed while he went on. Harriet's diary begins the day her mother dies of fever following the birth---and death---of her fourth child. Harriet decides that the only way to keep her brother and sister from being adopted by the storekeeper in Fort Garry and taken back east with them when they go is to go west herself and find her father.
Disguised as a boy---Harry---she joins a group of Overlanders and treks with them across the prairies and up into the mountains. She describes the dangers and difficulties, the lack of food, the quarrels, the deaths from sickness and accident, the fear of attacks by wolves and natives, all in vivid detail from a young person's perspective. Of course, the journey takes much longer than anyone thought it would, and Harry's disguise breaks down long before they get there. She's allowed to continue with the party on the very reasonable grounds that she is much safer going with them than being sent back, and, once in Cariboo, she begins the daunting task of locating her father among all the thousands of miners in the district.
Harriet is a determined and quick-witted girl, stubborn to a fault (as she, herself, recognizes), hard-working, and loyal. She does what needs to be done, whether it is getting a job as breakfast cook and mule-dung shoveler at a tavern, or cutting free a pole from the railing of the raft in order to rescue a pair of men fallen overboard, as in the excerpt quoted above. She deserves the success she achieves and the farm in the Okanagan where her reunited family finally settles. Haworth-Attard has written an exciting story about a believable heroine in a very interesting historical setting. This is a book well worth reading and enjoying. Do the former, and I guarantee the latter.
Mary Thomas works in two elementary school libraries 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.