________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 8. . . .October 21, 2011


Full Steam to Canada. (A Barr Colony Adventure).

Anne Patton.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2011.
175 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55050-457-6.

Subject Headings
Barr Colony (Alta. And Sask.)-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Kay Weisman.

*** /4



Wednesday, April 8, 1903

Dear best friend,

It is a long way to Canada. Everybody in my family got seasick except me. I went to steerige to see if Frank was all right. He wasn’t. Steerige is a big room with 300 men in it. Some of them have rough language.

I met Patrick down there. Patrick doesn’t have rough language. He has puppies. Patrick is wonderful, except he is sweet on my sister Lydia.

Lydia played the piano at a concert. She made some mistakes. Nobody noticed because Patrick sang like a angel.

Sometimes I have to mind a spoiled child name Rose, who is four years old. Her mother has a fat belly, like a big tumer. Lydia said she has the family way, but she wouldn’t tell me what that means. I hope she doesn’t die . . . because then I’ll have to mind Rose all the time.

After her older brother loses his job to a returning Boer War veteran, Dorothy Bolton and her family, dissatisfied with their lives in Yorkshire, England, and lured by the promise of free land on the Canadian prairies, decide to follow the Reverend Isaac Barr to Saskatoon. The ocean voyage to St. John is crowded and difficult, the cross-country train ride is not nearly as luxurious as advertised, and their accommodations in Saskatoon consist of one canvas tent. Based on interviews with real-life Barr Colony settler Dorothy Holtby Boan, and including excerpts from her brother Robert Holtby’s diary, Patton excels in her depiction of early twentieth century life for Canadian immigrants from Britain as well as her portrayal of the political and social realities (Barr, who promised much more than he delivered, was eventually deposed) of this particular group. Less successful is her development of the novel’s main characters who often feel stiff and stereotypical: Dad is earnest and hardworking; Mam is rigidly dogmatic about “ladylike” behaviour; and Dorothy exhibits tomboy tendencies (ala Laura Ingalls Wilder) and is mature enough to tend to a spoiled four-year-old yet so naïve that she has apparently never seen a pregnant woman.

      Despite these flaws, Full Steam to Canada should be popular with fans of historical fiction and useful for middle grade classrooms studying Canadian history. The inclusion of several interesting side characters (Victor, viewed as a bad influence by Mam but regarded as “perfect” by Dorothy; and Patrick, who is sweet on older sister Lydia) and some unfinished plot strands suggests that a sequel may follow.


Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

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

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