Editor’s Picks: History

History books worth repeating

Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World’s Youngest Explorer
by Christian Fink-Jensen & Randolph Eustace-Walden
Goose Lane Editions

Step right up and see the “world’s most widely travelled girl,” Aloha Wanderwell aka Idris Hall of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Hers is a riveting life that took off for the great open road–where she could find one–in 1922, when she was still a teenager.

Despite not having a driver’s license, she aswered an ad for a travelling secretary on an expedition–a race and a giant advert for the Ford Model-T really–to traverse the nations of the world by automobile, as many countries as possible. It sure beat life in the convent school.

Fink-Jensen and Eustace-Walden expertly parse Aloha’s journals, films and photos as well as press coverage and some previously classified government documents to bring readers along on the adventures of an audacious and fierce young woman of the early 20th century.


The Times of African Nova Scotians Volume Two: A Celebration of Our History, Heritage and Culture
Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute

Literary powerhouses Charles Saunders, George Elliott Clarke and Sylvia Hamilton are senior contributors to this collection, a testament to its significance not only to the African Nova Scotian community, but to all Nova Scotians wanting a truer, more complete sense of the history and heritage of the province and its diverse peoples.

The collection details histories of more than 50 Black communities throughout Nova Scotia, with upfront prominence given to Africville. The work also casts a spotlight on activists and community leaders who have given of themselves to make life better for African Nova Scotians in any community, at any time.

The slim volume contributes much to a too-often overlooked (by the mainstream anyway) part of Nova Scotian history and society.


New Brunswick Was His Country: The Life of William Francis Ganong
by Ronald Rees
Nimbus Publishing

This is history through the scientific eyes of a prominent New Brunswick botanist and cartographer with a penchant for detail and a gift for narrative. Ronald Rees, who has made his name as a gifted researcher and author of books examining histories of settlement as well as science and industry, has wisely chosen to make his writing as accessible as his subject’s was. That subject, William Francis Ganong, wrote prolifically of botany, zoology, physiography, cartography and Indigenous languages, creating a fascinating and immense body of work.

Rees writes with reverence for the vast quantity and high quality of Ganong’s work in 19th and 20th-century New Brunswick, and appreciation of the humanity of the man behind it. The work is brought to greater life with historical photographs and some of Ganong’s own maps and drawings. New Brunswick Was His Country is an essential addition to Atlantic Canada’s historical canon, and a must-read for nature lovers as well.


The Vigilant Eye: Policing in Canada From 1867 to 9/11
by Greg Marquis
Fernwood Publishing

Social and crime historian Greg Marquis is on a roll, with two new books that are bound to capture the public imagination. While Truth and Honour, his critical examination of the trial of Dennis Oland for the murder of his beer-baron father, will grab the most headlines (including in this publication), The Vigilant Eye offers a longer history of law and order (to reluctantly reference the great Dick Wolf), and one that both enlightens and provokes.

The famous blue wall is infamously insurmountable, but as a social historian Marquis offers a critical account of varied models of law enforcement and how they’ve been applied at different times in Canadian history. His keen eye and thorough research give readers a sense that law enforcement ain’t quite what it was meant to be, that we’ve lost something in the (d)evolution from community policing to simplistic crime fighting, opening the door to militarization and deadly force.

Marquis’ intensive research may just serve as a clarion call to citizens for vigilant attention to the work of those who serve and protect.


Letters from Beauly: Pat Hennessy and the Canadian Forestry Corps in Scotland, 1940-1945
by Melynda Jarratt
Goose Lane Editions

Pat Hennessy of Bathurst, New Brunswick wrote hundreds of letters back home during the Second World War. He was one of thousands of Canadian woodsmen who logged the Scottish Highlands as part of the war effort, but none could have been more prolific, and we the modern readers must be grateful for documentarians like Hennessy.

His remarkable correspondence, along with hundreds of archival documents and photographs gathered by Melynda Jarratt, provide a unique and honest look into the lives of the men who fought fascism with their muscle and sweat.

Along with her previous books on war brides and war children, this work is part of a significant contribution by Jarratt to our understanding of not only the lives lost, but the lives lived, during the Second World War.


Prince Edward Island Then and Now
Photographs by D. Scott MacDonald and from the collection of Vic Runtz
Acorn Press

Vic Runtz first saw his treasured Island during the Second World War, when he was with the navy. He fell in love there, with an Islander and with the Island itself, and spent a carrer there as an editorial cartoonist for The Guardian newspaper. During those years, he took countless photographs, including many detailed aerials from the newspaper delivery plane (piloted by the “Flying Farmer” himself, Elton Woodside).

Retired accountant D. Scott MacDonald was so taken by Runtz’s collection, he decided to recreate the photographs today and compare them to Runtz’s Prince Edward Island of 1947. Not having access to a newspaper delivery plane, he hired a pilot. In the process of finding the locations, he filled in a lot of important blanks regarding Runtz’s pictures with his own thorough research.

The result is a fascinating comparison of a changing yet timeless landscape.


Heroes of the Sea: Stories from the Atlantic Blue
by Robert C. Parsons
Flanker Press

Ann Harvey, “a delicate girl” of about 16, her father, a fisherman, her 12-year-old brother and their dog save 130 passengers immigrating to Canada from Ireland, when their ship, the brig Dispatch, hits a rock off the foggy south coast of Newfoundland. Let us dive slightly deeper into this tale, one of more than 50 from bestselling author Robert C. Parsons. For each is as astounding as the last.

Harvey and her family lived at the eastern entrance to Ilse aux Morts, where wreckage had drifted ashore. They used their 12-foot boat, rowing back and forth from their shore to a rock at the wreck site where survivors clung for dear life. They took everyone they could to their home, back and forth for six days until the arrival of the official rescue ship.

These true tales of oceanic heroism are short, just a few pages each, yet packed with more action than an Ernest Buckler novel. At every turn of the page, just when the fair reader thinks peace is restored, another twist. For example, that “delicate” Ann Harvey, 10 years after the wreck of the Dispatch, saved another 25 lives when another ship ran aground. Back and forth on the rowboat with her now-aged fisherman father.


All Hands Lost: The Sinking of the Nova Scotian Gypsum Freighter Novadoc
by Blain Henshaw
Pottersfield Press

As coastal people, we are enthralled by shipwrecks. Living in this part of the country, we all know people who have been called by the sea, for commerce, for war, for the hunt or, at best, merely for travel. But as a region that has always depended on the sea, we are all-too-aware of its dangers, and more than sympathetic to those women and men who perish at its mercilessness.

And so, we have a wealth of books on shipwrecks. Some are fictional cautionary tales, others deal with the aftermath. What sets Blain Henshaw’s first book apart is that it, while being both of the above, also dares to question the inevitability of one tragedy that was officially deemed an “act of God.”

Meticulous in its use of primary research (through the eyes and memories of relatives of the 24 crew members who went down with the SS Novadoc), All Hands Lost makes us feel the loss, the intense sorrow for the relatives, but also challenges received wisdom, critically examining the seaworthiness of an aging vessel sailing into a raging nor’east storm in the Bay of Fundy.


New London: The Lost Dream: The Quaker Settlement on P.E.I.’s North Shore 1773-1795
by John Cousins
Island Studies Press

This is a beguiling account of the little known attempt, for two decades in the late 18th century, by a wealthy English Quaker named Robert Clark and his followers, to create a commercial outport, a gateway into the new world, on the north shore of what is now PEI.

The story is researched and engagingly told by historian, folklorist and descendent of two of those hundred settlers, John Cousins, an expert on the Island’s history.

Cousins’ story is not only astute and informative, it also sheds light on the fact that the road to the modern world is littered with failed attempts at urbanization, and folks of great ambition and capabilities who were either unlucky or made the wrong choices.


Sweat Equity: Cooperative House-Building in Newfoundland, 1920-1974
by C. A. Sharpe and A. J. Shawyer
ISER Books

As Sweat Equity: Cooperative House-Building in Newfoundland shows, affordable housing is no new issue.

Sharpe and Shawyer take a comprehensive look at a government program that helped build 500 new houses for those who otherwise couldn’t have afforded one. They took loans to buy materials and invested 2,000 hours of their own labour in lieu of a down payment.

The program began in 1952 and was active for two decades, but traces its roots back to the 20s. As the authors point out, Newfoundland is rarely (if ever) mentioned in accounts of the cooperative housing movement. Nova Scotia usually gets credit for kickstarting the movement in the late 1930s.

This account benefits from interviews with surviving members of the cooperatives, showing the emotional power of the bureaucratic program.


Adrift on an Ice Pan
by Sir Wilfred Grenfell, with a Foreword by Edward Roberts
Flanker Press

In the early 20th century, Sir Wilfred Grenfell became a household name when Adrift on an Ice Pan, his account of a harrowing two-day near-death experience, sold 60,000 copies in North America.

Grenfeld was an English medical missionary in Newfoundland and Labrador who opened small hospitals along the southern coast of Labrador.

The event that made him famous happened when a patient had blood poisoning and faced possible death. Grenfeld travelled by komatik sled with eight dogs, fell into the water and lost his sled, dry clothes, food and firewood.

And he was on an ice pan blowing toward the open ocean wearing shorts, socks, shirt and vest.

To survive, he killed three dogs and used their furs to fight frigidity until he was rescued two days later, barely alive. His account is riveting, a slice of history and incredible adventure following folly.


The Church Lads’ Brigade in Newfoundland: A People’s Story (1892-2017) 125th Anniversary Book
by Geoff Peddle
Flanker Press

The year 2017 marks 125 years of service in Newfoundland for the Church Lads’ Brigade. There have been a staggering 20,000 members in Newfoundland alone, 12,000 of whom are still living. That’s 20,000 stories to tell of camaraderie, sport and games, camping, parades and the development of self-esteem, teamwork, good health and good character. To celebrate the organization’s tremendous impact over more than a century, the Right Reverend Geoff Peddle–the organization’s regimental chaplain–recounts the history and ongoing story of the oldest and largest Anglican youth organization in Canada.

Written By

Chris Benjamin is the managing editor of Atlantic Books Today. He is also the author of Boy With A Problem; Indian School Road; Eco-Innovators and Drive-by Saviours; as well as several short stories in anthologies and journals.

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