CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 17 . . . .April 13, 2007
Island of Hope and Sorrow: The Story of Grosse Île. (Canadian Immigration).
Anne Renaud. Illustrated by Aries Cheung.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2007.
24 pp., cloth, $18.95.
Grosse Île, La (Montmagny, Québec)-Juvenile literature.
Quarantine-Québec (Province)-Grosse Île, La (Montmagny)-History-Juvenile literature.
Canada-Emigration and immigration-History-Juvenile literature.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Marilynne V. Black.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
IMAGINE an island rising like a hump out of the Saint Lawrence River. Perched atop a hill on its western-most point, stands a Celtic cross like a lone soldier on watch. Below, the landscape is dotted with clusters of trees and shrubs, rocky flats, and weather-worn buildings imprinted with the passage of time.
Welcome to Grosse Ile. Its history tells of hope and hardship for thousands of people in search of a new homeland, of caring island workers who welcomed them to their shores, and of timber ships and deadly diseases. Sadly, for some, Grosse Ile marked the end of the journey. But for most newcomers, this tiny island was the stepping stone to a new beginning.
This is one of many stories of the building of Canada.
Canada has its own Ellis Island. Grosse Ile was a quarantine station for many immigrants who sailed to the port of Quebec between 1832 and 1937. Evocative text and historical documents, maps, and artifacts are adroitly balanced with text that is factual yet poignantly portrays the human side of immigration: the arduous journey, the sometimes-deadly illnesses, and the extreme hardships and privations endured in the hope of a better life. This book is a "must have" for every school library in Canada.
The first in the new series, "Canadian Immigration," by Lobster Press, this nonfiction book addresses the need for interesting and informative titles on Canadian history. Like many information books produced over the last few years, the format is varied so that the reader is not overwhelmed with expanses of text. Each page is broken up with pictures, maps and sidebars, as well as the primary information. Throughout the text, there are symbols, such as anchors and ships' steering wheels, that indicate additional information is contained in sidebars called "HISTORY NOTES." For instance, in the segment Cholera, a steering wheel symbol leads to the definition of quarantine: "Quarantine meant keeping passengers on the island for a period of time in case they might be carrying diseases." In addition, the page features a detailed map of the area of the Saint Lawrence River where Grosse Ile is situated downriver from Quebec City. There is also a reproduction of a public health bulletin about ways to avoid the spread of the disease. Older children may notice the irony of the bulletin in that it recommends that people "wrap themselves with as much warm clothing as they can, and especially with flannel, to be worn next to the Skin; that they should keep both their clothes and their persons quite clean, and should be careful to keep them so during the entire voyage, - and that they should consume as much solid and wholesome food as they can, in addition to the Ship's allowance on the voyage (p. 6). Considering that the voyages lasted six to ten weeks, water was scarce, sanitation was abysmal, the immigrants were often poor and in poor health to begin with, and not all captains provided the passengers with the ration, the concept that they were no more than "human cargo" is underlined.
Information is contained under such subtitles as The Timber Trade, Cholera, The First Season, 1833-1848, Opening of the West, and In Their Memory. These segments document not only the reasons for immigration from many parts of Europe, the squalid conditions on board the ships, and the growth of Grosse Ile as more and more people crossed the Atlantic, but they help document the expansion of Canada from colony to nation. Included in the thousands of immigrants are such groups as the Irish fleeing the potato famines of the mid 1800s, Russian Jews in the 1870s and 1880s escaping pogroms, and eastern European peasants seeking their own farmlands, all of whom packed their often meager possessions and sailed to Canada. When established in 1832, the quarantine station was prepared for 1000 immigrants - 800 healthy and 200 sick. In 1847 15,000 immigrants arrived. "By the end of the season, Grosse Ile had recorded 8,691 sick passengers of which 3,238 had died on the island, while thousands more perished before reaching its shores (p. 4)." The numbers continued to grow over the 105 years the Grosse Ile was in operation. The inclusions of these references to world events and their impact on subsequent immigration to Canada will pique interest for further research.
The cover is a collage of images: an aerial view of the island, a copy of the Passengers Act of 1848, and photographs of immigrant children, and the replica of the sailing ship The Jeanie Johnston. The endpapers add information in the form of a photograph of immigrants waiting to board a sailing ship and a detailed map of Grosse Ile from about 1918. Watercolour illustrations are combined with archival material to complement and expand the text.
Although the lack of a Table of Contents or Index may seem to be slightly detrimental to some, the size of the book, its subheadings and illustrations will be an enticement to many, especially browsers. Teachers will definitely welcome this book as a valuable resource about immigration to Canada. Combined with picture books such as Pettranella (Manson,1980) and The Jade Necklace (Yee, 2002), as well as such nonfiction titles as The Kids Book of Canadian Immigration (Hodge, 2006), a full picture of Canada's many immigrants emerges.
The two other books planned in the series are about the Japanese internment in World War II and about Pier 21 in Halifax, another point of entry for immigrants.
Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005.
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