Brooks: Coming Home.
Walter Hildebrandt. Images by Peter Tittenberger.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
novelty and repetitionWalter Hildebrandt's lucid and evocative epic poem, Brooks: Coming Home, describes his quest to understand and to offer readers some level of understanding of history's faceted and fractured domain.
always a new
into the fantasy
from it all
Brooks: Coming Home is the story of the grand failure of the Brooks Aqueduct, a great above ground concrete river that was built in 1914 as part of an ill-considered water reclamation project to irrigate the desert-like Pallisar Triangle of southeast Alberta. The poem tells the story of the aqueduct's effect on the people in southeast Alberta. Many were immigrants who had little or no experience in this type of farming, bought land at inflated prices, paid high water rates, and believed in the overblown schemes offered by CPR land boosters. They eventually discovered that the promised utopia was nowhere to be found.
The conventional interpretation of Canada's past is accepting, sweet, passive, contained and controlled. Hildebrandt's is not. As he writes of current day Brooks itself:
there is a fine new
where you might enjoy
your picnic lunch
and a five foot fence around the entire
thanks to Nova, an Alberta corporation
Brooks' history is the one not told in nationalistic histories that have in the past empowered and continue to empower societies' controlling structures and their corporate goals. In these histories, individuals and groups outside the structure, those who did not make it, are criticized, marginalized and soon forgotten.
Hildebrandt moves back and forth between the intimacy of his own family's history - in Stalinist Russia during the Second World War, their migration to Canada, and then to Brooks, Alberta - to an examination of the great dynamic forces that have created the tragic world of western civilization. His bitter discovery that "those who held power / made sure there was one story / the story of progress / that was for the good of all" is as true for Canadian politicians and capitalist "boosters" as for Stalin's and Hitler's henchmen and historians.
Peter Tittenberger's colour-enhanced archival montages and solitary images of the once impressive aqueduct:
a giantevoke the grand dream and failure of the ambitious irrigation enterprise. In these images of a mouldering collapsing skeleton, the morbidity of the capitalists' promises and the confident engineers' science fall tumbling into the rotted infrastructure. The solid farmers' hopes, withered in the face of the overpowering forces of nature, time, and circumstance, now blow and twist like dust-devils in the hot winds of the great Canadian plains.
Walter Hildebrandt's Brooks: Coming Home deserves a wide readership. Even though students will find some aspects of the poem difficult, I hope that English and history teachers promote the great virtues of this winding, intimate view of history.
lan Stewart works at Lord Nelson School in Winnipeg. His maternal grandparents homestead was at Cereal, in southeastern Alberta, not far from Brooks, where they farmed for 50 years.
You can read exerpts from Brooks:Coming Home at http://www.mbnet.mb.ca/~camera/brooks/brooks.html.
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Copyright © 1996 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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