Rogues and Rebels: Unforgettable Characters from Canada’s West by Brian Brennan provides a survey of some famous, notorious, and little known people who contributed to Canadian history. In Brennan’s profile of Margaret “Ma” Murray (1888-1982), the reader can tell that he is pleased with his subject. As a young lady, Margaret did the books for a saddle company in Kansas City, where she “amused herself by including personal notes with the saddles being shipped to Alberta.” When “some of the cowboys replied and sent photographs of themselves,” she moved to Canada “in hopes of meeting and marrying a handsome cowboy of mythic proportions.” She took a bookkeeping job with a Vancouver newspaper where she met her future husband, the owner of the newspaper. Together they started the Bridge River-Lillooet News, where she “churned out the provocative opinion columns that would become her trademark. Written in what she liked to call ‘flapdoodle vernacular,’ they were sprinkled with such salty expressions as ‘damfool critters’ and ‘that’s fer damshur.’” Brennan’s biography of Ma Murray is insightful and witty, reflecting her character and dry sense of humor.
Brennan includes several individuals who are either from Saskatchewan or spent time there. Jack Krafchenko (1881-1914) was a career criminal who was convicted of cheque forgery in Regina. He is reported to have escaped by jumping off the train en route to the prison in Prince Albert. Morris “Two Gun” Cohen (1887-1970) was a “pistol-packing Englishman in the Chinese Revolution” who did time in Prince Albert Penitentiary for pickpocketing before eventually becoming “a bodyguard to the Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen”. Political leader Tommy Douglas (1904-1986), whose government gave us Medicare, also “brought power to 50,000 Saskatchewan farms,” improved “roads, health, welfare, and education services,” “integrated rural and municipal telephone networks into a single system, […] and launched a provincial bus company.” Journalist Gladys Arnold (1905-2002) covered the Regina Riot for the Leader Post before becoming Paris correspondent for the Canadian Press. Wrestling promoter Stu Hart (1915-2003) was born in Saskatchewan and learned how to wrestle at the YMCA. Hal Sisson (1921-2009) was a “lawyer, author, comedian, and marbles player” who grew up in Moose Jaw, where he “developed his flair for comedy” before heading off to law school in Saskatoon. “One of his most celebrated stunts involved borrowing a friend’s horse and taking it up several floors in a hotel elevator so the animal could be his guest at a law-school function.” These are just a few examples of the remarkable people who made interesting contributions to Saskatchewan history.
Brennan quotes from actual individuals where possible and tries to parse the truth from, at times, many versions of the story. It does not read like an encyclopedia, but more like a series of short, though journalistic, nonfiction biographical profiles about people of both sexes, and many races and colors, who braved strange circumstances and made waves. I was moved by Rogues and Rebels, especially since it is clear that Brennan had a lot of fun writing it.
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