CM . . . .
Volume V Number 6 . . . . November 13, 1998
After supper Ma told me to empty Dad's bag in the summer kitchen so she could wash his things next morning. I pulled khaki shirts and pants from his duffel bag and put his shaving kit aside, then heard a clanking in the bottom. Metal hitting metal. I up-ended the bag and out fell a medal and then another. By the end I counted eight, three more than James McKinley's father. Hanging on coloured ribbons, they dangled from my fingers, one with an oak leaf and two with silver bars over star shaped medals. Pretty much what every other soldier did. I stood there a long time holding them, then went into the kitchen.In a thoughtful introduction, Walsh keys on W. O. Mitchell's comments about "ancestral echoes," voices from Canada's history blowing across the nation, "echoes in the wind." Historical events echo among the 15 selections included - the discovery of coal on Vancouver Island, the Omineca Gold Rush, World Wars I and II, the scarlet fever epidemic of 1874, the Red River Settlement, Nellie McClung's crusade for women's rights, the Japanese Canadian's internment, Marilyn Bell's swimming across Lake Ontario.
"A Hero's Welcome," the story of a family readjusting to the father's return after World War II, filled with emotional resonance and beautifully written, exemplifies the best of the narratives. The settings stretch coast to coast from the 19th century to the present. Many of the selections echo with themes of work - mining in Nanaimo, prospecting in the gold fields, orcharding in the desert of British Columbia, lighthousing in the Juan de Fuca Straits, farming in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Southern Ontario, bush piloting in the north, insurance investigating in Southern Ontario, labouring in Japanese Canadian internment camps, cleaning in Vancouver mansions - all reflect a country developing.
The fragility of life emerges as another recurring theme with mining accidents, war, natural disasters, weather and animal hazards, diseases, and infant mortality taking their toll. Social and economic differences among groups and cultures appear in several pieces with the inevitable misunderstandings and suspicions. Chinese immigrants often face racism and abuse as reflected in "The Crosscut" and "Grampus." "One Candle, Many Lights" demonstrates the cultural gaps that religion can create for young people. Reformers, like Alice's Mama in "Scarlatina," pay a heavy price for their fanaticism. The maid in "Polly's Frippery" faces "lighting fires at five in the morning, scrubbing steps in the freezing cold, peeling hundreds of spuds or carrots, cleaning up everyone else's muck, and being yelled at by the whole flipping lot." In "The Harmonica," the home child, Ben, whistling a "tune of freedom" flees abusive "old man Wayland once and for all." Métis girls, as young as 12, become pawns in adult games in "A Horse for Lisette."
One advantage of an anthology lies in the variety of selections which leaves readers free to choose those of interest and ignore the others. Some of the accounts suffer from didacticism, some from an overzealous attempt to fit a chunk of history into the narrative; but many of the selections resonate with real people struggling for meaning and purpose against daunting odds. Walsh adds several pages of historical notes and author biographies for interested and inquisitive readers.
Darleen Golke is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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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.