Monday, September 10, 2012

Kailana's Favourite HF Set in Canada

A question about favourite Canadian Historical Fiction is what started this event in the first place. We decided it would be fun for each of us to make a list from our respective countries. So, this is my list of five books that are great examples of historical fiction in Canada. (Okay, so there are six... I added a kid's book last minute...)

Early Memory:

Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker

Taken away from her mother by a ruthless slave trader, all Julilly has left is the dream of freedom. Every day that she spends huddled in the slave trader’s wagon travelling south or working on the brutal new plantation, she thinks about the land where it is possible to be free, a land she and her friend Liza may reach someday. So when workers from the Underground Railroad offer to help the two girls escape, they are ready. But the slave catchers and their dogs will soon be after them…
I read this book in the 4th grade and still remember it. When I got a bit older I bought my own copy and have had it ever since. It is a great novel for younger readers about what it is like to escape slavery in the South in the hopes of making it to freedom in Canada. The main characters are young and the readers would be able to relate to them at least from an age stand-point. It is also a good book in general and could easily be read by older readers, too.

Nova Scotia:

The Birth House by Ami McKay
The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife's apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.
When Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau's methods - and after Miss Babineau's death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her.
Filled with details that are as compelling as they are surprising-childbirth in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion, the prescribing of vibratory treatments to cure hysteria and a mysterious elixir called Beaver Brew- The Birth House is an unforgettable tale of the struggles women have faced to maintain control over their own bodies and to keep the best parts of tradition alive in the world of modern medicine.
I loved this book. Set near where I live it was first something I wanted to read because I knew the area that was being talked about. Then I actually read it and I loved it! I have even read it more than once which is a big deal for me considering I believe all the reads were after I had all ready started blogging. Her new book, The Virgin Cure, is also a good read.

Adventure Novel:

The Outlander by Gil Adamson
"It was night, and the dogs came through the trees, unleashed and howling." Mary Boulton, 19, is newly widowed, a result of having murdered her husband. The men with the dogs are her twin brothers-in-law, gunslingers bent on avenging their dead sibling. It is 1903, and the only place for Mary to run is west, into the wilderness.
She is pursued not only by the vengeful twins but also by visions. Mary was raised in a genteel household but married a brute; now, having divested herself of her husband, she is not altogether sane. From an early benefactress she steals a horse, and together they navigate a gothic, ghostly mountain pass, unlikely to improve Mary's mental state. Desperate, freezing, and alone, Mary is now an outlander, as are most of the characters she encounters. The bird lady, the Ridgerunner, Bonny, the dwarf, and the cat-skinner are all earthbound beings inhabiting unsettled lives.
The juxtaposition of Adamson's ethereal landscape and unusual characters make this novel difficult to put down. One is never completely sure if the landscape described is wholly real or a figment borne of Mary's fragile mind. Either way, The Outlander is a poet's journey through astonishing terrain.
I can't even remember why I read this book in the first place. I think I was at the second-hand store and saw it on the shelves, so I grabbed it. I read it relatively soon afterwards and really enjoyed it. While there is a cast of secondary characters the novel is almost all about Mary. We really get to know her and Adamson does a wonderful job telling the story. It is not a happy tale, but it is worth checking out.

Tourist Attraction:

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Tom Cole, the grandson of a legendary local hero, has inherited an uncanny knack for reading the Niagara River's whims and performing daring feats of rescue at the mighty falls. And like the tumultuous meeting of the cataract's waters with the rocks below, a chance encounter between Tom and 17-year-old Bess Heath has an explosive effect. When they first meet on a trolley platform, Bess immediately recognizes the chemistry between them, and the feeling is mutual.
But the hopes of young love are constrained by the 1915 conventions of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Tom's working-class pedigree doesn't suit Bess's family, despite their recent fall from grace. Sacked from his position at a hydroelectric power company, Bess's father has taken to drink, forcing her mother to take in sewing for the society women who were once her peers. Bess pitches in as she pines for Tom, but at her young age, she's unable to fully realize how drastically her world is about to change.
Set against the resounding backdrop of the falls, Cathy Marie Buchanan's carefully researched, capaciously imagined debut novel entwines the romantic trials of a young couple with the historical drama of the exploitation of the river's natural resources. The current of the river, like that of the human heart, is under threat: "Sometimes it seems like the river is being made into this measly thing," says Tom, bemoaning the shortsighted schemes of the power companies. "The river's been bound up with cables and concrete and steel, like a turkey at Christmastime."
Skillfully portraying individuals, families, a community, and an environment imperiled by progress and the devastations of the Great War, The Day the Falls Stood Still beautifully evokes the wild wonder of its setting, a wonder that always overcomes any attempt to tame it. But at the same time, Buchanan's tale never loses hold of the gripping emotions of Tom and Bess's intimate drama. The result is a transporting novel that captures both the majesty of nature and the mystery of love.
Niagara Falls is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and this is one of the best books with it as a setting. If you have ever wanted to visit and just haven't made it, want a good read, or even if you have visited before and want to revisit this is the book for you. I am looking forward to Buchanan's new book next year. She is a wonderful writer!


Clara Callan by Richard Wright
In a small town in Canada, Clara Callan reluctantly takes leave of her sister, Nora, who is bound for New York. It's a time when the growing threat of fascism in Europe is a constant worry, and people escape from reality through radio and the movies. Meanwhile, the two sisters -- vastly different in personality, yet inextricably linked by a shared past -- try to find their places within the complex web of social expectations for young women in the 1930s.
While Nora embarks on a glamorous career as a radio-soap opera star, Clara, a strong and independent-minded woman, struggles to observe the traditional boundaries of a small and tight-knit community without relinquishing her dreams of love, freedom, and adventure. However, things aren't as simple as they appear -- Nora's letters eventually reveal life in the big city is less exotic than it seems, and the tranquil solitude of Clara's life is shattered by a series of unforeseeable events. These twists of fate require all of Clara's courage and strength, and finally put the seemingly unbreakable bond between the sisters to the test.
ah, Richard Wright... You did something right with this book. It is too bad I can't seem to connect with the rest of your books despite trying every time there is a new release... I really liked Nora and Clara. They came alive in this book and you got to know them really well. I enjoyed my time with them and seeing what life was like for them in the 30's. A good read!

A Part of Our Heritage:

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden
Inspired in part by real-life World War I Ojibwa hero Francis Pegahmagabow, this unblinking, impeccably researched novel is the astonishing story of two Cree snipers in the killing fields of Ypres and the Somme, and the winding journey home to northern Ontario that only one of them will make. A remarkable tale of brutality, survival, and rebirth, Three Day Road is an unforgettable reading experience.
This book is obviously only set in Canada some of the time, but I had to include it. If you have ever seen the movie Windtalkers you would know of the important contribution Natives made to the war effort. This is Canada's book version. It blew me away and is one of my favourite books ever. It deserves all of the attention it received.

I also recommend Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery and Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan. They are more Canadian classics than historical fiction so that is why I am just adding them as an aside.


  1. I read The Outlander a year or two ago and loved it - just couldn't put it down. I've got it sitting on my shelf waiting for a re-read. Clara Callan and The Day The Falls Stood Still sound interesting. I must out them on my TBR list. Thanks for the reviews.

    1. I was surprised how much I enjoyed The Outlander. A reread would be great! I would love to reread all of these books, actually...

  2. All new to me. Looking forward toyour reviews.

    1. Hope you get a chance to check some of them out. :)

  3. I've only read "Underground to Canada" and "The Day the Falls Stood Still". Both are awesome. I can add "The Horseman's Graves" by Jaqueline Baker under the heading "Surviving on the Prairie"

    1. I have 'The Horseman's Graves' but haven't read it yet. One day!

  4. I posted a list of my favourite Canadian historical fiction on my blog on Canada Day. I'm glad to see a couple of my favourites (Three Day Road and The Day the Falls Stood Still) also made your list!

    1. Nice! I will have to go find your list. :) I am looking forward to Boyden's new book.

  5. I love these lists! I am keeping them all :)

  6. Just wanted to say that like Missy, I am enjoying all of the lists at the moment. I've got lots of recommendations from them :)

  7. Great list! Clara Callan is a favorite of mine too.

  8. I have The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan in my TBR shelves. Just couldn't resist after reading your review a while back.;-)

  9. Thank you for such an interesting list Kelly. Both The Outlander and The Day The Falls Stood Still are now in my WL!