________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 7 . . . . November 30, 2001

cover Beginnings: Stories of Canada's Past.

Ann Walsh, ed.
Vancouver, BC: Ronsdale Press, 2001.
227 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 0-921870-87-6.

Subject Heading:
Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


The October morning was sunny with a cool breeze that hinted of winter. I dressed carefully, choosing my new button boots and green ankle length suit, a large gold broach pinned to the jacket. Then, squaring my shoulders, I hurried downstairs, the soles of my button boots tapping out the rhythm of my heartbeat. Today I would vote. (from "The Ballot Box" by Catherine Goodwin)

We huddled close together, the wide expanse of Saskatchewan prairie stretching before us.

"But where," Mother asked calmly, "are the bubbling streams the pamphlet promised. And there is no orchard."

Elsie and I exchanged a glance. When Mother spoke calmly, she was anything but calm.

"No orchards out here, Ma'am," Mr. Millward told her.

"Well the pamphlet distinctly said 'orchards'." Her voice was rising now. "It said 'bubbling streams'!"

She meant the pamphlet that had brought our family all the way from our comfortable home in England to the Saskatchewan prairie. (from "Promises and Possibilities" by Barbara Haworth-Attard)

Every day is a new beginning, but most of us would agree that not all days are equally significant in a lifetime of them. What is true of a person is also true of a nation, and these short stories are set at or around moments which can be viewed as turning points. Beginnings, in fact. They are fictional historical vignettes: a "fille du roi," given a trousseau, dowery, and transport to New France; a Home Child, not much older than those intended brides, but because of different circumstances, sent out to the colonies to be a domestic servant; a family of United Empire Loyalists setting off for Canada after their third son is killed fighting for the king; the beginning of the transcontinental railway.

     As stories, these range from humourous to touching to exciting, with several that are frankly horrifying. As Canadians, did we really whip eight-year-old boys imprisoned for stealing merely because they cried when put into a cell all alone? Did we really marry twelve-year-old girls to thirty-five-year-old men against their wills for the sake of their bride price? And advertise prairie farms as having peach orchards? Apparently "we" did, at least according to these stories and the detailed historical notes on each that are found at the back of the book. I am pleased to be able to say that not all the stories are horrific---there's the one about the early days of aviation, for example, which is plain adventurous fun---but they certainly make one think about how things were!

     Any story here would be an interesting addition to the study of the relevant period of Canadian history. They are not all great literature, but they all present an interesting window on their period that is not found in any textbook I have read.


Mary Thomas works in two elementary schools in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364