________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 12 . . . . February 2, 2007

cover Far West: The Story of British Columbia. 

Daniel Francis.
Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 2006.
175 pp., cloth, $36.95.
ISBN 978-1-55017-410-6.
Subject Heading:
British Columbia-History-Juvenile literature.
Grades 4 and up / Ages 9 and up.
Review by Catherine Howett.
**½ /4 

Daniel Francis is an 'engaging and prolific' Canadian author who appears to be single-handedly attempting to find 'innovative ways of teaching history.' He has a number of highly regarded works to his credit (The Encyclopedia of British Columbia, The Imaginary Indian, Copying People, and National Dreams); he has written a number of social studies textbooks (e.g. Connections Canada), produced information books (e.g. Discovering Canada's Government), written articles for Canadian Geographic and Beaver, and collaborated on teaching materials with Native bands. Daniel Francis is a historian of range and depth, well-versed in Canadian Native issues, who has a flair for debunking conventional Canadian history. 

     His 2006 publication, Far West: The Story of British Columbia, ostensibly for the juvenile market, is not his strongest work. It appears to have been produced as a coffee-table book directed at a very broad audience and designed to showcase Gordon Miller's paintings. The content has been seriously diluted, and the book portrays a stereotypical and rosy picture of BC race relationships and environmental issues. Francis's characterization of Native land claims issues, and the perpetuation of the 'discovery paradigm' are particularly problematic.
internal art

     The book, itself, is cleanly formatted, highly cohesive and well written and edited. It is highly graphical and appealing with coloured text-boxes showcasing 'fast facts,' 'historical quotes,' 'BC places, and 'BC animals.' Comparative statistics and date information are tabled throughout, and the discussion culminates in a timeline. Francis uses maps, an interesting collection of archival photos, and paintings by BC artist Gordon Miller of real and hypothetical historical scenes. To his credit, Francis has worked to incorporate images of First Nations people, women, Chinese, Sikhs and workers. The 'In their own words' text-boxes contain quotes from a range of voices. Native names are used throughout, with a phonemic pronunciation given in brackets for most. The book is well indexed but lacks a Reference section or any suggestions for further reading.  

     This is a highly sanitized, very general history of the province in which the Olympic bid is given equal billing with major historical incidents. There is a strong bias towards coastal history throughout; for example, in terms of environmental issues, the Clayoquot and fish farms are mentioned but not the spruce budworm and pine beetle infestations that have impacted the interior. Francis also tends to generalize coastal native culture and arts to the rest of the province. The discussion of BC artists is limited to short pieces on Bill Reid and Emily Carr. There is some discussion of Chinese, Japanese, and Aboriginal (including Kanaka) history, and a minor reference to Doukhobors. However, there is no real discussion of the South Asian immigrant experience and no comparative synthesis of the minority experience.  

     Far West would be of some use as part of the elementary curriculum devoted to the history of BC communities and the immigrant experience (Grades 2-5). If used in the intermediate curriculum or with ESL learners, I would highly recommend that it only be used in conjunction with authoritative materials that would extend the discussion of immigrant issues, (e.g. Paul Yee's Tales from Gold Mountain) and flesh out the realities of lived experience, (e.g. Anne Walsh and Julie Lawson's historical fiction; Emily Carr's published works) during this period. Particularly, it would be important to utilize materials (e.g. the video Potlatch: A Strict Law Bids Us Dance, A Sto’lo-Coast Salish historical atlas, Shi-shi-etko) that present the 'aboriginal reality' of historical events, land claims and residential school experiences.  

     A public library considering this work might find that their young adult audience was better served by Francis's other works.  

Recommended with reservations.
Catherine Howett holds a Masters of Arts: Linguistics with a focus on Interior Salishan languages, culture and resource use. She is currently working at the UBC Education Library and as a Resource Centre consultant while completing her Masters of Library Science degree at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. 

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

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