CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 9 . . . .December 21, 2007
Real Canadian Pirates: Buccaneers & Rogues of the North.
Edmonton, AB: Folklore Publishing, 2007.
263 pp., pbk., $18.95.
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.
When the authorities killed a wanted pirate, they subjected the corpse to all kinds of indignities. Usually the body was encased in a closely fitted iron cage and hung aloft in some public place for all to see. As the body decomposed, birds and insects would pick the flesh from the skeleton, finally leaving a withered bag of bones that served as a grisly reminder to would-be-pirates that this too could be their fate.
Knowing this full well, Roberts had issued standing orders to his crew that should he be killed, they must immediately throw his body overboard so that he could not be made an example of. And this is exactly what they did, some even weeping as they heaved the lifeless body that had once been their captain over the rail and into the sheltering waves.
Real Canadian Pirates is an interesting account of a segment of history not given much, or any, attention in the usual survey histories. It has 15 chapters, most dealing with pirates who lived before Confederation in 1867. The pirates author Telfer chose are likely unknown to most readers, adults as well as children. They include Henry Mainwarring, a 17th century English privateer who, for a time, made his base at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. They also include the fictional Gunpowder Gertie, a creation of British Columbia schoolteacher, Carolyn McTaggart who made up the story in order to interest her students in pirates. Gertie, therefore, becomes a superhero pirate, doing more than a real mortal could achieve. There is a chapter on Oak Island off the coast of Nova Scotia, reputed to be the location of considerable treasure, including the Holy Grail, and one chapter on more recent acts of piracy.
Chapter Four, "Pirate Fact vs. Pirate Fiction," as the title suggests, tries to separate fact from fiction. It includes information on the kinds of ships used by pirates, the flags they flew and how they talked. Pirate-Speak, according to Telfer, owes much to the English actor, Robert Newton, who played the part of Long John Silver in the 1954 film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's, Treasure Island. The chapter, which also covers topics such as the weapons used by pirates and buried treasure, adds considerably to the book's appeal.
A number of chapters have extra tidbits at the end that make the book more interesting. These include "An Arm and a Leg: What loss of limb was worth" and "War of 1812-Privateer Vessels with Amazing Names." With the former, it would have been interesting to learn what 100 pieces of eight converts to today in Canadian dollars.
Real Canadian Pirates has extensive Notes on Sources and an excellent Glossary: Pirate Lingo and Nautical Terms. It has no index, map or illustrations. A map would have added significantly to the book's value as a teaching resource. There is one small error. Dover Castle is not "on England's northern seashore," but on the English Channel, her southern shore.
Author Geordie Telfer has had a varied career, including writer, actor, and freelance set carpenter. At one time he was the assistant director for the Toronto Studio Theatre School and wrote the play Comedy of Eros. In Real Canadian Pirates, he shows that he has a real talent for writing. He is able to capture dramatic scenes in such a way that the reader easily imagines the action he describes. While there are no illustrations, his words alone suffice to produce pictures in the reader's imagination. The result can only be described as a great deal of fun. Real Canadian Pirates is ideal for recreational reading.
Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.
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