Biblio Files
University of Regina Press / 24 August 2017

Biblio Files: A History of the Regina Public Library Edited by Susan Birley, Anne Campbell, and Jeannie Mah Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $39.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-482-7 When is a library more than a library? When it contains not only a wealth of books but CDs, DVDs, art gallery, film theatre, historical archive, computer access, and multiple programs. Biblio Files: A History of the Regina Public Library, edited by Susan Birley, Anne Campbell, and Jeannie Mah, explores these aspects of the Regina Public Library over more than a century. This book covers the gamut of Regina’s chief librarians from the first, J.R.C. Honeyman, to the current, Jeff Barber. All brought notable achievements. Ron Yeo, for instance, convinced the library board to purchase Canadian books directly from Canadian publishers rather than American and British ones, and Ken Jensen brought automation to the Regina Public Library, making it a forerunner in library automation in Canada. According to editor Anne Campbell, Yeo’s ambition was to make the Regina Public Library the “biggest, best, and first.” Among many firsts, the Regina Public Library’s writer-in-residence program, established in 1978, was the first of its kind in Canada. The library had its…

Fiery Joe

Fiery Joe: The Maverick Who Lit Up the West by Kathleen Carlisle, with Eileen Forrieter Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $39.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-485-8 Fiery Joe: The Maverick Who Lit Up the West is a fascinating story of an incredible man. For those with a political bent, Joseph Lee Phelps was a man of many accomplishments. For those just interested in a good story, his standout feature is his personality. Author Kathleen Carlisle has produced a well-documented character study of an intensely political man. She credits Eileen Forrieter as co-author because her master’s thesis forms an integral part of this book. Using interviews with Phelps and his contemporaries, Carlisle brings him to life on the page. Phelps’ heart was firmly planted in the soil. Actively involved in numerous farm organizations, he juggled work as a telephone lineman in the Wilkie district and tended to his growing family. He later served as president of the Saskatchewan Farmers Union and was instrumental in establishing Saskatchewan’s Western Development Museum. After Phelps was elected to the Saskatchewan legislature as the member for Saltcoats in 1938, a Leader-Post columnist described the rookie: “He is a fighter. He has punch. He has…

Road Through Time

Road Through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move by Mary Soderstrom Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $26.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-477-3 Mary Soderstrom’s Road Through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move may well be the most intriguing archaeological analysis since man set wheels on pathways. Partly memoir, it’s really a condensed history of civilization as seen through its roads. Soderstrom tells the story of humanity tramping through time, exploring, discovering, and moving on. The great trek started with early humans leaving Africa possibly as early as 80,000 years ago and continues to this day. One of the most fascinating chapters is also the most mysterious. Soderstrom outlines possible routes humans may have taken to reach North America. Some facts are known. She notes, for instance, that “every Native American throughout the western hemisphere shows common kinship with people who now live or who did live in parts of Northern Siberia.” But much is conjecture, so she titles the chapter “Mystery Roads.” One mystery she does explain is why, for most of its production period, the Model T Ford was available only in black, and it wasn’t because Henry Ford particularly liked that colour….

To Climb a Mountain
Jean Forbes-King / 5 June 2017

To Climb a Mountain. Growing Up in the Canadian West: Adventure Amid Turmoil and History by Jean Forbes-King Review by Keith Foster ISBN 978-0-9958599-1-3 Jean Forbes-King’s To Climb a Mountain. Growing Up in the Canadian West: Adventure Amid Turmoil and History is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure story of her late husband, William Forbes-King, who endures the devastating drought and depression of the Dirty Thirties, becomes an orphan at age fourteen, and is drafted into the Canadian Army as a teenager. Bill’s father, a British Army officer, survives the German gas attack at Ypres in the First World War but passes away before Bill is born in 1926. The next year, Bill’s mother leaves England with her two boys, moving to the small prairie community of Cadillac in southern Saskatchewan. As a “freckle-faced kid with sun-bleached hair,” Billy Forbes-King is a prankster. He’s also bullied, often coming home with a black eye, bruises, or bloody nose. He later learns why his older brother, Jim, who also bullies him, was himself ridiculed and bullied. After Jim joins the Royal Canadian Navy, Bill and his mother join him in Victoria, BC. Travelling by train through the Rocky Mountains, Bill is overwhelmed with their…

Magnificent Nahanni, The

The Magnificent Nahanni: The Struggle to Protect a Wild Place by Gordon Nelson Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-460-5 Can man and nature live in harmony? Can they even co-exist? These are issues Gordon Nelson addresses in The Magnificent Nahanni: The Struggle to Protect a Wild Place. Nahanni National Park Reserve, located in Canada’s Northwest Territories, is indeed impressive. Nelson describes a magical place with cliffs, canyons, caves, and a waterfall even higher than Niagara Falls. This is a place where wildlife predominates – bright flowers, butterflies and birds, caribou and wolf. The Nahanni River itself “stands out among northern rivers, not because of its size but because of its unique grandeur and rich natural diversity,” he says. All these attributes have been described in other books, but what sets Nelson’s apart is his detailed description of the enormous efforts required to preserve this lush landscape, focusing on the long struggle to conserve the river and its watershed as a national park reserve. The name of the Nahanni River likely evolved from the mysterious Indigenous people who inhabited the area. Nelson notes that the name has a “vague mystical flavour” suggesting the inhabitants…

Firewater
University of Regina Press / 28 February 2017

Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (And Yours) by Harold R. Johnson Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $16.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-437-7 Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (And Yours) packs a wallop as Harold Johnson unveils the harsh truth about alcoholism on Aboriginal reserves. He exposes the truth, and the truth hurts. But by having the courage to confront alcohol head on, he stares it down into submission. Johnson himself is an Aboriginal who has struggled with the crippling effects of alcohol addiction, so he knows what he’s talking about and speaks with authority. Although he directs his highly controversial book primarily at Aboriginals, non-Aboriginals could also benefit greatly from it. Johnson is at heart a storyteller, using the storyteller’s technique of repeating certain words and phrases to create a hypnotic effect on readers. He elaborates on the devastating effects alcohol has had, and continues to have, on Aboriginal people. Johnson’s shocking statistics are real eye-openers. He estimates, for instance, that fully one-half of all Aboriginals on Treaty 6 territory will die from an alcohol-related death, whether they drink or not. He also produces statistics showing that 35 per cent of Aboriginals don’t use…

Outlier: Life, Law, and Politics in the West
Benchmark Press / 7 February 2017

Outlier: Life, Law and Politics in the West by Garrett Wilson Published by Benchmark Press Review by Keith Foster $24.95 ISBN 978-1-927352-28-1 In his hard-hitting autobiography, Outlier: Life, Law and Politics in the West, retired lawyer and author Garrett Wilson doesn’t pull any punches. He tells it as he sees it, exposing scandalous government corruption at both provincial and federal levels. His chapter on Hazen Argue and his wife Jean, for instance, exposes outrageous abuses in the Canadian Senate. The Outlier title may be somewhat misleading as it implies Wilson is on the outside looking in while momentous decisions are being made. But Wilson is not merely an eyewitness to history; he‘s at its very nerve centre and plays a role in making that history. When the Ku Klux Klan tries to intimidate Wilson’s father in the 1920s by burning a cross just outside their village, Wilson may sense he’s in for a rough life. He develops a severe kidney infection and his older brother Kevin is killed in World War II. While studying law at the University of Saskatchewan, Wilson becomes editor of The Sheaf, the student newspaper, winning three trophies, including one for best editorials. He begins to…

Glad I Dropped In
Benchmark Press / 18 January 2017

Glad I Dropped In: A hodge-podge of memories and family lore by June Mitchell Published by Benchmark Press Review by Keith Foster $20.00 ISBN 978-1-927352-27-4 Anyone looking for the pure pleasure of getting lost in a good book need look no further than June Mitchell’s Glad I Dropped In: A hodge-podge of memories and family lore, a memoir sure to evoke both laughter and tears. June, or Junie as she refers to herself in the early portion of the book, tells her life story as she recalls it. In those earlier sections where she has no recollection, she narrates as an outside observer, based on what she heard from others. June inherits her socialist leanings from her parents. Her mother, Marjorie Cooper, becomes the third female Member of the Saskatchewan Legislature, serving four terms for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. June’s father, Edward Cooper, is a high school teacher and fellow member of the CCF. June also develops her social activism from her Aunt Luella. When she witnesses a man dragging a woman down the street, Luella calls police, who ignore her. She then adds that her father has just left the house with a hammer; the police respond immediately. June…

Towards A Prairie Atonement
University of Regina Press / 21 December 2016

Towards a Prairie Atonement by Trevor Herriot Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $22.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-454-4 For the Métis, who lived on the Canadian prairies for centuries, land was everything. They hunted on it, sustained themselves on it, fought for it, and died for it. In Towards a Prairie Atonement, naturalist Trevor Herriot’s same reverence for the land is reflected in the deep spiritual undertones embedded in his narrative. Enamoured with both the prairie and its inhabitants, Herriot pays particular attention to the birds and trees, as is his naturalist inclination. He argues that if man does not take care of the land, nature will exact its revenge, as it did in the raging dustbowl of the Dirty Thirties. If you sit very quietly in the outdoors, he says, you can hear the land moaning its loss. Herriot has a flair for playing with descriptive language, such as “fingers of grassland around bowls of forest” and “men and women as hardy as poplar trees.” He points out that some of our English words, such as coulee, originated from Michif, the Métis language rooted in a mixture of Cree and French. Herriot draws heavily on Métis Elder…

Otto & Daria
University of Regina Press / 14 December 2016

Otto & Daria: A Wartime Journey Through No Man’s Land by Eric Koch Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $25.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-443-8 When Otto Koch, a German Jew, suffers an appendicitis attack, he’s rushed to a hospital in the Third Reich reserved for non-Jews. As the anaesthesia starts to take effect, the last words he hears are his surgeon greeting his staff with “Heil Hitler.” In his memoir, entitled Otto & Daria: A Wartime Journey Through No Man’s Land, Koch vividly re-creates his life in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. He brilliantly captures the tension in the air as the Nazis insidiously gain control. His parents protect him from the encroaching danger and at first he leads an idyllic life, isolated from the terror that is to come. Otto continues his life chronicle, studying at the University of Cambridge in England, when he meets the mysterious Daria Hambourg, a woman at first shy but more than adept at expressing herself through her writing. She’s from a distinguished English family, but with a distinctively bohemian bent. She’s also a Socialist with no qualms about expressing her views. Otto and Daria begin corresponding by…