My Dearest Dido
Wood Dragon Books / 7 February 2020

My Dearest Dido: The Holodomor Storyby Marion MutalaPublished by Wood Dragon BooksReview by Keith Foster$19.99              ISBN 978-1-989078-20-4 Marion Mutala’s My Dearest Dido: The Holodomor Story is a passionate account of the Great Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933, known as the Holodomor. Based on actual events and documented eyewitness accounts, this story consists of correspondence between two fictional characters – Hanusia Hrabowa in Saskatoon and her grandfather, Dido Bohdan, in Hafford, SK, supplemented by Hanusia’s personal diary. As a class assignment to write about the Holodomor, Hanusia does her research using a primary source – her grandfather, or Dido, who survived the famine. Sixteen-year-old Hanusia starts writing to Dido, requesting his assistance, beginning each letter with “My Dearest Dido.”  Readers may find it odd that Hanusia chose to write letters when any sixteen-year-old would almost instinctively reach for her cell phone. But discussing such a sensitive subject over the phone would have been too difficult. Corresponding by letter would enable Dido to reread the contents, dwell upon Hanusia’s request, and gather his thoughts. Dido is reluctant at first – the memories are just too painful. As he starts to  open up, he becomes severely ill from…

Homesteaders
University of Regina Press / 6 September 2019

The Homesteadersby Sandra Rollings-MagnussonPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Madonna Hamel$39.95 ISBN 9780889775152 One day, while doing research for her master’s thesis on women and farming, author and professor Sandra Rollings-Magnusson was presented with a stack of questionnaires. Called ‘The Pioneer Questionnaires’, they were compiled and distributed in the 1950s and were still being returned in the 1970s by respondents born mostly between 1873 and 1924. She soon shifted her focus to culling, organizing and transcribing them into a book, determined to “give these people a voice” so they “would not be forgotten.” The result is not nostalgic hearsay but a collection of witness impact statements, verbatim responses to a series of questions divided into relevant categories, covering everything from what Canada’s first wave of immigrants ate and did for fun, to how they survived ill health, storms and isolation. These stories and anecdotes hold the kind of intimacy and immediacy that only direct experience can convey. The Homesteaders is replete with archival photos as well. Memories of immigrants escaping hardships in countries that included Russia, Germany, Poland, England, Norway and Switzerland are made more acute by imagery. As are recipes for pies and pot roasts made more mouthwatering…

Clearing the Plains, New Edition
University of Regina Press / 20 August 2019

Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Lifeby James DaschukPublished by University of Regina PressReviewed by Ben Charles$27.95 ISBN 978088776227 Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics, and the Loss of Indigenous Life, written by James Daschuk and published by University of Regina Press, can be best described as a heart wrenching but enlightening review of the systematic destruction of Indigenous peoples and culture in the prairies via the purposeful introduction of disease, starvation, and health disparities by both the Canadian government and private companies. This 2019 New Edition and winner of the Aboriginal History Prize, Cleo Prize, Governor General’s History and ironically the Sir John A. McDonald Prize, was originally published in 2013 and since then has obviously been praised by critics and readers alike. In fact, this reviewer truly believes that every Saskatchewanian should have a copy of this book on their shelves. James Daschuk, a PhD in history and a current associate professor with the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina, showcases his unprecedented capacity for research and provides the reader with fascinating (albeit sickening) review of the history of Indigenous health both pre and post-contact. During initial contact, while the…

American Refugees

American Refugees: Turning to Canada for FreedomBy Rita Shelton DeverellReviewed by Michelle ShawPublished by University of Regina Press$21.95 ISBN 9780889776258 When I first picked up American Refugees the subject matter seemed obvious. The quote on the back cover highlights the fact that the website for Citizenship and Immigration Canada crashed on election night in the US in 2016 when it became clear that Donald Trump would become the new US president. It was clearly a book about the latest wave of American refugees who, in the words of the title, “turned to Canada for freedom.” But that story is only a tiny aspect of this meticulously researched little book. Journalist and broadcaster Rita Shelton Deverell shares the stories of countless Americans who have made their way north over the years for a variety of reasons, and who have contributed immensely to Canadian society without turning a blind eye to injustices in this country. She focuses on particular periods of history when significant numbers of Americans fled to Canada such as during and after the Revolutionary War, during the period when the Underground Railway was active, and as a result of McCarthyism and the Vietnam War. While Deverell’s words informed and…

No Surrender
University of Regina Press / 18 March 2019

“No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous”by Sheldon KrasowskiPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Keith Foster$27.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-596-1 In No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous, Sheldon Krasowski brings a controversial interpretation to Canada’s numbered treaties – an interpretation that could blow our current understanding wide open. This exposé with the defiant title explores the differences in perceptions of Canada’s treaties by Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Krasowski’s thesis is simple. He contends that much of today’s confusion arises not from a difference in cultures or a misunderstanding of languages, but as a deliberate attempt by Canadian treaty commissioners to cover up a controversial surrender clause. No Surrender provides the historical context of the numbered treaties – Treaties One through Seven signed between 1871 and 1877. Examining eyewitness accounts and private diaries, Krasowski makes a strong argument based on his in-depth analysis of the original treaty documents. He brings a fresh approach to the treaties by incorporating Indigenous oral histories. Accessing them adds a vital dimension to our understanding of treaties. In many cases, they corroborate what’s in the written records. Krasowski suggests looking at all the numbered treaties together rather than individually. Although the treaties were based on a similar template,…

Thunderbird, The Quesnel, and the Sea,
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 10 January 2019

The Thunderbird, the Quesnel, & the Sea by Bev Lundahl Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-1-988783-35-2 In The Thunderbird, the Quesnel, & the Sea, Bev Lundahl takes readers on an investigative journey to track down a stolen grave marker carved in the shape of a mythical Indigenous thunderbird. She invites readers to follow her leads, hoping to find the missing artifact but not knowing if it even still exists During the dark years of World War II, while docked at Alert Bay on the coast of British Columbia, sailors from the Canadian corvette HMCS Quesnel removed the carving from the ‘Namgis First Nation burial ground. The area was notable for its totem poles, and the crew wanted to distinguish their West Coast ship from East Coast ships. A thunderbird mascot would do just that. The thunderbird was in such poor shape that the crew wasn’t sure whether to fix it or simply discard it. They opted to repair and paint it and bolted it to the crow’s nest on the mast. The Quesnel‘s captain, Murdo Smith, wanted the thunderbird off his ship, not because it was stolen, but because he believed it was…

One Lucky Devil
Shadowpaw Press / 9 January 2019

One Lucky Devil: The First World War Memoirs of Sampson J. Goodfellow Edited by Edward Willett Published by Shadowpaw Press Review by Keith Foster $19.95 ISBN 978-1-9993827-6-6 One Lucky Devil: The First World War Memoirs of Sampson J. Goodfellow, edited by Edward Willett, details the incredible wartime experiences of a remarkable man. Sampson Goodfellow seemed to have nine lives, but there was more than just blind luck involved. Born in Scotland, he immigrated to Toronto, then moved to Regina in 1911, working as a machinist. The next year he witnessed a cyclone barrelling through the city. “I watched it coming from the south,” he wrote, “and saw the houses on Cornwall Street tumbling down, one after the other.” Goodfellow enlisted in the Canadian Army when World War I broke out and, because of his mechanical skill, was assigned as a driver. At Passchendaele, German planes bombed troops unloading shells from his truck. Shrapnel smashed through the back seat where he’d been sitting just moments before. Goodfellow transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, renamed the Royal Air Force in April 1918, as a navigator. Understanding aviation concepts better than his instructors, he wound up teaching a course. He survived several crashes…

Homesteaders, The
University of Regina Press / 7 December 2018

The Homesteaders by Sandra Rollings-Magnusson Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $49.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-515-2 Have you ever wondered what life was like for the pioneers who settled the Prairies? Sandra Rollings-Magnusson’s The Homesteaders offers a rare glimpse into Saskatchewan’s homesteading history by the very homesteaders who made that history. Rollings-Magnusson based her coffee-table book primarily on questionnaires the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan devised in the 1950s, asking surviving pioneers for their reminiscences of the 1873-1914 period. The questions were grouped under a number of themes, including the types of food they ate, experiences in one-room schools, injuries and illnesses, and what they did for fun and entertainment. Incorporating the information she gleaned from these questionnaires and other sources, Rollings-Magnusson fashioned the material into a highly entertaining and readable account of these homesteaders In their own words, these pioneers comment on topics as diverse as droughts to blizzards. Besides enduring wicked winter weather, homesteaders had to contend with pesky pests galore – gophers, grasshoppers, cutworms, mosquitoes, bedbugs, and even snakes in one’s bed. Rollings-Magnusson notes that settlers devised ingenious ways of coping, using wooden store boxes and apple barrels for furniture, turning flour sacks into bedsheets and…

Psychedelic Revolutionaries
University of Regina Press / 15 November 2018

Psychedelic Revolutionaries: LSD and the Birth of Hallucinogenic Research By P.W. Barber Published by University of Regina Press Review by Michelle Shaw $34.95 ISBN 9780889774209 Long before Timothy Leary and the psychedelic summer of love in San Francisco made LSD a global phenomenon, researchers were quietly testing the drug’s efficacy and possibilities in the middle of the Saskatchewan prairies. Researchers Humphry Osmond, Abram Hoffer and Duncan Blewett, among others, were fascinated about the possibilities of using LSD and other psychedelic drugs to treat certain conditions such as schizophrenia and alcoholism. Their research occurred at a unique time in Saskatchewan’s history. Tommy Douglas’s Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) government was in power, Medicare was on the horizon and the government was determined to address the huge challenges in the province’s mental health system. The government was looking for new and innovative ideas. Osmond, Hoffer and their contemporaries were in the right place at the right time. Their research appeared so successful that “the province was heralded….as a world leader in mental health in the 1950s, [and h]allucinogenic drugs figured centrally in this research.” Although I knew very little about the topic, P.W Barber’s narrative in Psychedelic Revolutionaries: LSD and the Birth of…

Prairie Populist, The

The Prairie Populist: George Hara Williams and the Untold Story of the CCF: An Essay on Radical Leadership in a Time of Crisis and the Victory of Socialist Agrarian Populism, 1921-1944 by J.F. Conway Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-545-9 The Prairie Populist: George Hara Williams and the Untold Story of the CCF is a scholarly study of a virtually unknown leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, practically forgotten even though George Williams might have become premier of Saskatchewan. Author John F. Conway bases his biography on a Master’s thesis by Friedrich Steininger and an unpublished manuscript by Muriel Wiens, Williams’ daughter. Conway combines Steininger’s academic approach and Wiens’ personal story with his own massive research, uncovering the hidden history of factions within the party and friction among its leaders, to tell the untold story of the CCF. In 1917, Williams enlisted in Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment and a year later was wounded in the last cavalry charge of World War I. His fighting spirit continued as a farm and political organizer. As a full-blown socialist, he argued that the only way to defeat the traditional political parties was to commit totally to…