CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 12 . . . . February 2, 2007
The Mounties: Tales of Adventure and Danger from the Early Days. (Amazing Stories Junior Edition).
Canmore, AB: Altitude Publishing (Distributed by Saunders Book Company), 2006.
96 pp., pbk., $9.95.
North West Mounted Police (Canada)-History.
Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.
Swift Runner was shackled inside a Red River cart. Twice he tried to escape. Twice he was captured. He insisted that his family had died of starvation. When they arrived in the area of the camp, Swift Runner led the Mounties in circles.
Finally, the Métis interpreter made a drink. It was a drink made of plug tobacco soaked in strong tea. He explained that the "medicine" would make Swift Runner tell them everything. The interpreter was right.
After taking the drink, Swift Runner "threw back his head, howled like a wolf and led the police to a camp in the bush." It was a horrible death camp. Human skulls and bones were scattered around the campfire ashes. A nearby cooking pot was coated with human fat. Horrified, the Mounties realized that Swift Runner had killed and eaten his entire family.
The Mounties tells the story of the founding of, what we know today as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The force was formed in 1873 when it was called the Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP). In 1904, the name was changed to the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP), and finally, in 1920 to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Author Elle Andra-Warner is a veteran journalist who writes a weekly newspaper column. Her special interest is "creative non-fiction" which combines both fact and fantasy. When not enough facts are available to tell a story, creative imagination takes over. The problem with Andra-Warner's approach to writing what might be considered history by the unsuspecting reader is that the reader never knows when the facts give way to fantasy. The result may make for an exciting story, but it isn't necessarily the truth. Sometimes the fiction is obvious as in the tale of Mounties and horses travelling by train across Siberia in 1919. "Two weeks later, the Bolsheviks attacked the train. The train was derailed on a step hill. Boxcars were overturned. Several days later, the train was moving again." How could men, by themselves, put a derailed train at the bottom of a steep hill back on the tracks?
A bit more detail would be welcome. For example, Andra-Warner writes that "whalebone was worth $10,000 in the 1890s." This is too vague. How much whalebone did the purchaser get for his or her money? What is the equivalent of $10,000 in the 1890s in 2006? Another example of the lack of information concerns Sergeant Frank Fitzgerald who "was not allowed to marry "..." an Inuit woman named Lena." Readers are bound to wonder why.
In spite of the book’s weaknesses, it does tell many tales of the Mounties’ heroism and endurance, which are probably closer to the truth than fiction. One deals with what Andra-Warner calls The Lost Patrol, the story of Inspector Fitzgerald and three constables who, on December 21, 1910, left Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories for Dawson City, Yukon. When the patrol failed to arrive, a search party was sent out in February 1911, only to discover that all four men were dead.
The Mounties contains a map of Canada which shows the location of mounted police posts. The map is not complete. While some of the places mentioned in the book are shown, many are not. "By the fall they had successfully built a post in Fullerton" is one example. Fullerton is not shown. This happens so frequently that the map is of little value as a teaching aid. The incompleteness is frustrating.
The book also has two decorative black and white photographs. The first is of Constable Fred Bagley who joined the NWMP at age 15 in 1873, three years younger than the normal recruitment age. He was hired because of his skill with horses and was a member of the force for 25 years. The second is poor quality photo of the Canadian customs house at the top of the Chilkoot Pass.
There is no index or other teaching aid. The lack of an index, bibliography or list of useful web sites reduces the book’s value as a text, but The Mounties could still be used for recreational reading because it is an exciting story. Young readers will find many of the vignettes very interesting. The language and writing style are suitable for the indicated grade levels.
Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.
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