________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 4. . . .September 23, 2011

cover

Ghosts of Government House.

Judith Silverthorne.
Regina, SK: Your Nickels Worth Publishing, 2011.
114 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-894431-63-7.

Subject Headings:
Government House (Regina, Sask.)-Juvenile fiction.
Haunted houses-Saskatchewan-Regina-Juvenile fiction.
Ghost stories.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4

   

excerpt:


Sam stopped short at the sight of a petite, grey-haired figure in the living room, having tea with their parents.

"Grandma Louise!" Sam hurried to give her gran a hug.

Gabe followed, giving Grandma Louise a quick hug too. "We didn't know you were coming."

"I didn't know either until this afternoon," their gran said, picking up her teacup. "I had an unexpected urge to visit you, so here I am. So -- tell me what mischief you two have been up to tonight." Grandma Louise gave them a shrewd smile. Patches, their calico cat, leapt onto her lap and nestled in.

"Why do you say that?" asked Gabe.

Sam grinned. Their gran always seemed to know when they were being secretive.

"What have you been up to?" their dad asked, as their mom set down the teapot after refilling Grandma Louise's cup.

"Nothing!" Gabe said.

"Taking the night tour at Government House with the community club," Sam reminded him.

"Sam and J.J. said they saw a ghost," Gabe blurted.

Dad smirked and went back to watching football on TV, though Mom looked startled.

Sam glared at her brother. "No, we didn't."

Mom looked relieved and headed off to the kitchen to make more tea. Grandma Louise's eyes glistened with interest.

"We heard one," Sam corrected him quietly.

 

It is unusual for a purpose-built, imposing edifice, such as Government House in Regina, SK, to have been put to as many varied uses as it has, no doubt filling some better and some less well. It cannot have been ideal, for example, as a veteran's hospital after the First World War. Surely the number of bathrooms adequate for a vice-regal family in the late-nineteenth century would not be sufficient for a nursing home! However, it did begin as a residence for the first Lieutenant-Governor of the province -- if Silverthorne's historical research is to be trusted, and I see no reason why it should not be, two of his, or perhaps those of a subsequent lieutenant-governor's, young children and their nurse seem to have died there -- and is now a museum restored to those days at the beginning of the twentieth century when Saskatchewan was made a province. Having filled so many different roles in its history, it is not surprising that a wide variety of people have been associated with it, and a selection of these is the foundation on which Silverthorne has based her story.

     Ghosts of Government House begins with an after-hours tour organized by J.J.'s and Samantha's community club. When they hang back from their group and its guide in order to explore a bit on their own, the lights suddenly go out, and they hear strange footsteps in the dark that go past them and then seem to disappear through a closed door. But the power had not failed in any other part of the building, and more time seemed to have elapsed than they could account for. Both girls are prepared to think it was a ghost that they had heard, but Sam's brother, Gabe, is a complete sceptic. So the girls return again and again to the Government House museum, where, aided and abetted by Sam's grandmother, they meet other people who do not seem part of the museum set-up, in spite of their being in period costume. Despite the evidence the girls present to him, Gabe continues to disbelieve in their ghost sightings, but, in the end, he becomes unwillingly convinced after attempting to shake hands with the ghost of a Chinese cook. In the meantime, the girls, being outside the history of the building, have managed to introduce the various ghosts to each other, something they could not manage themselves because of having lived there at different times. This act cheers the spectres up no end by relieving their loneliness and has the side-effect of also cheering up Grandma and J.J., both of whom have had a loved one die in the recent past. If ghosts were really possible, then just because J.J.'s mother was not visible to her was no reason why she couldn't be hovering nearby and continuing to take an interest in her daughter's life. Ditto Grandma's husband. So the feelings of closeness which both had occasionally experienced were perhaps not an illusion and certainly could be allowed to be a comfort.

      Ghosts of Government House is definitely a ghost story, but a very gentle one. The ghosts are not scary in any way, except in so far as they are unreal. They are, however, interesting, and the light they shine on life as it was lived at various times in Government House's past is fascinating. As the Forward to the book by the present Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan says, history ceases to be boring and "comes to life when we think ... in terms of story." And that is what we have a chance to do here, identifying the separate story lines that then come most satisfactorily together in their attachment to the particular venue which they all inhabited at one time or another when alive and in the same time now that they are dead. It's not the first time that ghosts have been thought to attach themselves to a place that had particular significance to them in their lifetimes, but it's less common to have a succession of ghosts associated with the one place get together to play mahjong in the afterlife. It makes a good story.
     

Recommended.

Mary Thomas, at the time of writing this review, was soon to be visiting Regina, SK, and was looking forward to her tour of Government House!

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

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.
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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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