About the Author

Pierre Berton

Pierre Berton is Canada's foremost popular historian. He is a three-time winner of the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction, a Companion of the Order of Canada and a member of the Newsman's Hall of Fame. He has published more than forty-five books, which have redefined Canadian popular history.

Books by this Author
Cats I Have Known and Loved
Excerpt

Cats are the ultimate survivors. They truly have nine lives, and they are careful to use them up sparingly. Once they have ceased to be kittens they are on their own and they know it. Their mother becomes a stranger, totally disinterested in their welfare. Their credo is simple: Look after number one!

We know all those dog stories -- the faithful canine standing guard over his master’s body, refusing to eat, resisting all efforts to pull him away. Such fealty is not for cats. The master of the house may topple to the kitchen floor clutching at his heart, but the family cat will walk over his prostrate form to gobble a saucer of milk. And all the while he is watching over his shoulder in case some predator is lurking round the corner. That’s why cats survive.

My favourite cat survivor story comes from my neighbours, the Gordons, next door. Next door? Their home, on the rim of the Humber Valley is actually several hundred yards from our own. They look out, as we do, on a small forest of pointed Christmas trees -- white cedars that clothe the slopes leading down to the river. Here, the Humber Valley stretches off to the north, a misty, evergreen realm, the home of wild coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and small herds of deer who follow the river and use the valley as protection. Sometimes they venture up the slopes to gnaw at the bark of newly planted birch and poplar trees on my front lawn. I forgive them, for the sight of a delicate little doe and her two speckled fawns is worth the grief.

It was in this environment that the next-door cat performed his vanishing act. He was, in many ways, a crazy, mixed-up cat. He had two names, which suggests the two distinct sides of his personality, a not-unknown quality in cats. Lying on the living room couch, slobbering away and purring loudly, he was a feline Dr. Jekyll. Creeping through the undergrowth below the house and pouncing savagely on small mice, voles, and even chipmunks, he was Mr. Hyde -- the terror of the neighbourhood.

He was already a survivor when our neighbour’s daughter, Julie, found him abandoned in a ditch, a lost kitten mewing hungrily for room service. Julie, who was stabling her horse in a nearby barn, turned the kitten over to an accommodating mother cat, who licked him down furiously and looked after him as well as she did her own tribe. There, the cat bonded with Julie’s horse, Sydney, snuggling up to him for warmth and putting his nose against Sydney’s, almost as if he was kissing him. Later on, the memory of that would help the cat to survive.

The kitten eventually grew to adulthood and moved into Julie’s parents’ home. She called him Killer, a name that reflects his hobby of ripping the hides off small furry animals. But when the family moved to their new house near us on the rim of the Humber Valley, her mother balked at the prospect of having to shout “Here Killer, Killer!” across the fields. She discarded the outdoor name and opted for an indoor name: “Pousse-Pousse.” That too presented a problem. In our area, if you shout “Here Pousse-Pousse” out the door, half a dozen assorted felines turn up, expecting a handout. Everybody I know calls their cat “Puss” more often than not. The cats don’t know the difference because they think “Puss” and “Pousse-Pousse” are synonyms for lunch.

Inside the house, the killer cat turned into a bit of a wimp. When he wasn’t creeping through the forest, he was stretched out on the living room sofa, yawning in his sleep. No hint of a killer instinct there. When he had nothing else to do, he padded down the hall and into the bathroom, sat in the empty bathtub, or even curled up and went to sleep. Cats, as we all know, seek out confined spaces. It gives them a false sense of security. Later, in this memoir, you will encounter Ruby, my tabby, who likes to curl up in a wooden salad bowl that seems to have been especially designed for her; and also Spooky, who snoozes in my in-basket, a move that plays havoc with my personal papers. Any cardboard box, filing cabinet, cupboard, drawer, pail or tub is fair game for house cats. Surrounded, on at least three sides, safe from fancied predators, they feel protected. We have had several cats who, on arriving at our place, check out the bathroom, discover the bidet, and immediately climb into it. It’s not just that they seek protection; they are also insatiably curious.

Pousse-Pousse, a.k.a. Killer, didn’t really have to hunt for food. He would leave the bathtub, stroll into the kitchen, and mew for a handout. A stubborn cat, who wouldn’t take no for an answer, he had learned to get someone’s attention by nosing them, as he had once nosed Julie’s horse, Sydney, back in the barn.

He was a special cat because, unlike your average tabby, he had six toes, complete with claws. His feet were like snowshoes, and that came in handy in the winter, when he would slide across the ice on the driveway or pond, or pad over the crusted snow. He liked to show off by using his extra toes to pick up a ball, a trick at which he became especially adept.

The extra toes, I think, convinced him that he was not really like other cats. They gave him an edge in the mouse-catching business, and Pousse-Pousse, in his killer role, was one terrific mouser. He maintained an enviable collection of mouse tails, which turned up in chinks and crannies and also baskets and sofas about the house. Of that collection, the six-toed cat was justifiably proud. I suspect that he considered himself indestructible, a dangerous assumption as it turned out.

Vain? You bet he was vain. One day a partridge struck the Gordons’ picture window and fell to the ground. Pousse-Pousse pounced on it, carried it proudly into the living room, laid it at Julie Gordon’s feet, and pretended he’d killed it. Julie insisted that he believed he had killed it. Her mother gave it to us, and Janet and I had it for dinner.

There are three types of house cats: the inside cat, the outside cat, and the in-and-out cat. Pousse-Pousse belonged to the last and most crowded category. He would stand at the front door and meow to be let out. A little later, having been released, he would stand outside the same door and meow to be let back in. There is no ignoring in-and-out cats; they are totally in charge, and you must indulge them.

When he was outside, Pousse-Pousse would creep through the tall grass and explore his way through the forest below the house, past the wild apple orchard and the new crop of fiddlehead ferns beneath the cedars until he roamed as far as the banks of the river itself. The river was high that spring, a rushing torrent fed by the melting snow pouring in streams down the slopes. In my garden the Nanking cherries were in bloom -- a soft pink cloud against the cloudless sky. The first daffodils were popping open, and in the woods the perfect white flowers of the big-leafed bloodroot could be spotted. Across the river, a vast meadow of white trilliums, interspersed with their darker red varieties, enlivened the pathway.

So now we come to that fateful April day. Exhausted from his prowling and taking his ease on the Gordons’ patio, Pousse-Pousse was a cat without a care in the world -- a cat so sure of himself that he would lie stretched out, eyes shut, soaking up the spring sunshine, oblivious to the world around him.

The view from this spot is exquisite. In the morning, soft mists rise from the hidden river, clothing the cedars in a filmy mantle. In the evening, the dying sun briefly anoints their upper branches with a film of gold. Not that Pousse-Pousse gave a hoot. He slept with confidence, secure in the belief that he was safe.

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Drifting Home

Drifting Home

A Family's Voyage of Discovery Down the Wild Yukon
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Klondike

Klondike

The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899
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Marching as to War

Marching as to War

Canada's Turbulent Years
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Excerpt

Overview

The Uncertain Country

The last war fought on Canadian soil ended in August 1814 when an invading United States army — unpaid, mutinous, diseased, and dispirited — skulked out of Fort Erie and vanished across the Niagara frontier, never to return. For the remainder of the nineteenth century, Canada basked in its reputation as the Peaceable Kingdom: no Crimean adventure for her, no Caribbean crusade, no pitched battles save for a few skirmishes with the Fenians and the Métis.

That untroubled era ended with the Victorian Age, followed by half a century of turbulence — the most remarkable period in our past. Between the autumn of 1899 and the summer of 1953, young Canadians marched away, not once but four times to do battle in far-off fields, in wars that were not of our making. Only in this one period have we devoted nearly 30 percent of our time to war.

Turbulent years, indeed! And not only because of the battles we fought on the African veldt, the ravaged meadows of Flanders, the forbidding spine of Italy, and the conical hills of Korea: turbulent because these were Canada’s formative years, when she resembled an adolescent groping with the problems of puberty, often at odds with her parents, craving to be treated as an adult, hungry for the acclaim of her peers, and wary of the dominating presence of a more sophisticated neighbour.

The change was spectacular. In half a century we were transformed from an agricultural nation, where the Masseys became quasi-aristocrats simply by getting rich selling farm machinery, to an industrial economy with a bedrock of natural resources. Canada, one of the least military nations in the West, was forced to cope — always at the last moment — with unexpected conflicts for which she was never properly prepared. In doing so, the nation grew up.

In the long tug of war between the forces of history and geography that marks those years, geography, in the end, won out. When the Boer War broke out on the eve of the new century, we were a vassal state within the British realm, cheerfully rushing to the colours when the imperial trumpets sounded. Over the years the emphasis shifted. When the Korean War began in 1951, we found ourselves giving token support to American troops in what was essentially an American conflict.

In addition to war, two other tremors rattled the foundations of the emerging society. The first was the sudden, almost explosive creation of a new Western empire, stretching from the Shield to the Rockies, that would upset the political balance of power. The second was French Canada’s burgeoning nationalism, which emerged at the outset of the South African conflict and reached its apogee in the conscription crises of the two world wars that followed.

As early as 1890, when the new province of Manitoba launched its plan to keep the French language out of its schools, the West had signalled its reluctance to accept the bilingual accord stitched together at Confederation. Thus the country found itself split down the middle — East versus West, French versus English, prairie farmers at odds with central Canadian capitalists. In war, it has been said, we found our maturity. It is equally true that in war we came close to tearing ourselves apart, creating a series of political crises that are still at the root of our national dilemma.

Our love-hate relationship with our neighbour mirrored our own international uncertainty in those early years. What, we asked, is a Canadian, anyway? British? American? French? Free trader? Protectionist? We couldn’t be sure. The Great War victories symbolized by a single magical word, Vimy, made us cocky. But the wave of cultural nationalism that followed was diluted by a nineteenth-century literary mindset inherited from Mother England. Realism? We scorned the hard-boiled Yankee style. Four years of wartime propaganda had conditioned us to swallow the most preposterous lies and the most audacious masquerades. The Great War had helped transform the Age of Faith into the Age of Gullibility.

A giddy optimism pervaded those roller-coaster years of boom and bust, war and peace, dogma and doubt. In the days of the Last Best West, Wilfrid Laurier claimed that the new century belonged to Canada and predicted five transcontinental railways and a population of 100 million people by the millennium. The Great War shattered the dreams of the railway builders. A generation later the Great Depression burst the bubble of the dizzy twenties. Ironically, it took a new war to get us out of the slump.

Peace at any price? That was the cautious view of the Depression politicians, alarmed at the appalling bloodletting of 1914—18 and also at the cost of a military buildup, not just in dollars but also in “national unity,” the all-Canadian buzzword. To its shame, the Canadian government opted for appeasement at the very moment when its own man at the League of Nations was calling for tougher sanctions on the international bullies. Thus a new war — a sequel to the old one — became inevitable.

There is a paradox here. Canada has entered each of its four wars with hesitation and reluctance. We have produced only one first-rate general — Arthur Currie — and treated him shabbily. Yet at the outset of each conflict, Canadians have enlisted in astonishing numbers, drawn as much by the enthusiasm of youth as by a sense of duty. On each occasion our military leaders and politicians have misjudged the dimensions of the conflict. Home by Christmas! Young men eager to see action before the war’s end have believed that flawed forecast. And Canadians, with their allies, have trusted the judgment of certain charismatic generals — Haig, McNaughton, Mountbatten, Montgomery, MacArthur — who let their own hubris cloud their vision with disastrous results.
Save for a few months at the ends of the two major wars, Canada’s effort has been voluntary, making this country something of an international oddball. We have always started from scratch, unprepared, unoutfitted, and largely untrained. The miracle is that we have managed to turn a tiny peacetime army into a massive fighting force, far larger than could have been imagined when the first shots were fired. We sent green soldiers into battle and learned that, trained or not, Canadians will always fight fiercely and with courage.

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My Country

My Country

The Remarkable Past
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Niagara

Niagara

A History of the Falls
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Pierre Berton on the Young Queen Elizabeth II

Pierre Berton on the Young Queen Elizabeth II

In 1953, Maclean’s Sent a Special Correspondent Behind the Scenes of the Royal Household. A Seven Part Series from the Pages of the Magazine
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Pierre Berton's War of 1812
Excerpt

The invasion of Canada, which began in the early summer of 1812 and petered out in the late fall of 1814, was part of a larger conflict that has come to be known in North America as the War of 1812. That war was the by-product of a larger struggle, which saw Napoleonic France pitted for almost a decade against most of Europe. It is this complexity, a war within a war within a war, like a nest of Chinese boxes, that has caused so much confusion. The watershed date “1812” has different connotations for different people. And, as in Alice’s famous caucus race, everybody seems to have won something, though there were no prizes. The Russians, for instance, began to win their own War of 1812 against Napoleon in the very week in which the British and Canadians were repulsing the invading Americans at Queenston Heights. The Americans won the last battle of their War of 1812 in the first week of 1815—a victory diminished by the fact that peace had been negotiated fifteen days before. The British, who beat Napoleon, could also boast that they “won” the North American war because the Treaty of Ghent, which settled the matter, had nothing to say about the points at issue and merely maintained the status quo.
 
This work deals with the war that Canada won, or to put it more precisely did not lose , by successfully repulsing the armies that tried to invade and conquer British North America. The war was fought almost entirely in Upper Canada, whose settlers, most of them Americans, did not invite the war, did not care about the issues, and did not want to fight. They were the victims of a clash between two major powers who, by the accident of geography, found it convenient to settle their differences by doing violence to the body of another. The invasion of Canada was not the first time that two armies have bloodied neutral ground over issues that did not concern the inhabitants; nor has it been the last.
 
Of all the wars fought by the English-speaking peoples, this was one of the strangest—a war entered into blindly and fought (also blindly) by men out of touch not only with reality but also with their own forces. Washington was separated from the fighting frontier by hundreds of miles of forest, rock, and swamp. The ultimate British authority was an ocean away and the nominal authority a fortnight distant from the real command. Orders could take days, weeks, even months to reach the troops.
 
Like some other wars, this one began bloodlessly with expressions of civility on both sides and the conviction that it would be over by Christmas. It did not end that way, for horror breeds hatred, and no war (certainly not this one) can be free of atrocity. Nor was it free of bombast. As in most wars, the leaders on both sides were convinced that their cause was just and that the Deity was firmly in their camp, leading them to victory. Slogans about “freedom” and “slavery,” “despotism” and “liberty” were batted back and forth across the border like shuttlecocks. Each side believed, or pretended to believe, that the other was held in thrall by a pernicious form of government.
 
At the outset, it was a gentlemen’s war. Officers on opposing sides met for parleys under flags of truce, offered hospitality, exchanged cordialities, murmured the hope that hostilities would quickly end. Belligerents addressed one another in flowery terms. The same men who declared they would never be slaves of the enemy had “the honour to be y’r humble and obedient servant.” When Isaac Brock fell at Queenston, the men responsible for his death joined in the general grief. Roger Sheaffe, his successor, expressed in writing his great regret for the wounds suffered by an opposing commander— wounds that put him out of action and helped Sheaffe win the day. “If there be anything at my command that your side of the river cannot furnish, which would be either useful or agreeable . . . I beg you will be so good as to have me apprised of it,” he wrote to the enemy. When the first word of the declaration of war reached the British post at Fort George on the Niagara frontier, its officers were entertaining their American opposite numbers at dinner. They insisted that the meal continue as if hostilities had not commenced, then, with much handshaking and expressions of regret, accompanied their guests to their boats. Within a few weeks, the former dinner companions were ripping through one another’s homes and fortifications with red-hot cannonballs.
 
For a war of thirty months’ duration, the casualties were not heavy. In those same years many a European battle counted far more dead and wounded in a single day. But for those who did fall, it was a truly terrible war, fought under appalling conditions far from civilization and medical aid. Those victims who were torn to pieces by cannon-balls, their brains often spattering their comrades, might be considered lucky. The wounded endured agonies, banged about in open carts, exposed to blizzards or driving rain, hauled for miles over rutted tracks to the surgeon’s table where, with a musket ball clamped between their teeth and when possible a tot of rum warming their bellies, they suffered the horrors of a hasty amputation.
 
As the war progressed, it grew more vicious. There was savagery on both sides by white frontiersmen as well as Indians, who scalped the fallen sometimes when they were still alive. Men were roasted in flaming buildings, chopped to pieces by tomahawks, sliced open by bayonets, drowned, frozen, or felled by sickness, which took more lives on both sides than all the battles combined. There were times when a third of an army was too ill to fight. The diseases were given vague names like “ague” and “swamp fever,” which might mean influenza, pneumonia, malaria, typhus, dysentery, or simply that the combatants were too cold, too weary, or too dispirited to march or even stand. And no wonder: on both sides the armies, especially the citizen soldiers of the militia, were ill equipped for war. Men were forced to trudge through ankle-deep snow and to wade freezing rivers without shoes; to sleep in the open without blankets; to face the Canadian winter lacking mitts and greatcoats, their clothes in tatters, their hands and feet bound in rags, tormented by frostbite in January and insects in June. The military may have seen the war coming, but the politicians were not prepared to pay its price.
 
At the planning level, the war was marked by incredible bungling. As in so many wars, but especially in this one, the day was often won not by the most brilliant commander, for there were few brilliant commanders, but by the least incompetent. On the American side, where civilian leaders were mixed in with regular army officers, the commands were marked by petty jealousies, vicious infighting, bitter rivalries. On certain memorable occasions, high-ranking officers supposedly fighting the British preferred to fight each other with pistols at dawn. Old soldiers were chosen for command simply because they were old soldiers; they acted like sports heroes long past their prime, weary of the contest, sustained only by the glamour of the past, struggling as much against the ambitions of younger aspirants as against the enemy. Some were chosen capriciously. One general was given an important command solely for political reasons—to get him out of the way.
 
On the Canadian side, where “democracy” was a wicked word and the army was run autocratically by British professionals, there was little of this. Many of these men, however, were cast-offs from Europe. The officers gained their commissions through purchase, not competence. With certain exceptions, the cream of the British Army was with Wellington, fighting Napoleon’s forces on the Iberian Peninsula. Aging veterans made up part of the garrison forces in Canada. Boys of fourteen and fifteen fought with the militia. Lacklustre leadership, incompetent planning, timidity and vacillation were too often the concomitants of command on both sides of the border.
 
The militia on both sides was a rabble. Hastily summoned and hastily trained when trained at all, they fought sometimes reluctantly, sometimes with gallantry. On the Canadian side these citizen soldiers were drilled about three days in a month. They were called up when needed, placed away from the centre of the line, on the flanks (when the line existed at all), and, after an engagement, sent back to their homes and farms until needed once more. The more patriotic signed up for the duration and became seasoned warriors. The American army was a confusion of regular soldiers, state militia, and federal volunteers recruited from the militia for terms of service that ranged from one month to a year or more.
 
On both sides men thought nothing of leaving the scene of battle to thresh their grain at harvest time. For most of the men who fought it, then, it was a part-time war. Some refused to fight. In spite of the harsh discipline, men on both sides mutinied. Soldiers were shot for desertion, forced to ride bent saplings, to stand barefoot on sharpened stakes, branded, or flogged almost to death. Neither threats nor pleas could stop thousands of American militiamen from refusing to fight on foreign soil. To the dismay of their commanders, these amateur soldiers took democracy at its face value, electing their own officers and, on occasion, dismissing them. In Upper Canada treason worked its slow poison, even invading the legislature. Farmers were hanged for abetting the enemy; tribunes of the people took refuge on foreign soil to raise squads of traitors; dark suspicions, often unfounded, seeped down the concession roads, causing neighbour to denounce neighbour.
 
The war, like other wars, brought disaster to thousands and prosperity to thousands more. Prices rose; profits boomed. The border might be in flames, its people at each other’s throats, but that did not prevent merchants on both sides from crossing over in the interests of commerce. Americans on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain fed the British troops fighting on the western side. Montreal middlemen grew rich supplying the needs of New England. Pork, beef, and grain from Vermont and other states found their way into the commissariats of Upper Canada. Before the invasion came to an end, two out of every three soldiers fighting for the safety and honour of Canada were subsisting on beef brought in by enemy contractors.
 
In the Atlantic provinces and the neighbouring New England states, the war scarcely existed. On July 3, 1812, the Lieutenant- Governor of Nova Scotia issued a proclamation announcing that his province and New Brunswick would abstain from predatory warfare against their neighbours and that trade would continue “without Molestation.” Between Maine and New Brunswick it was more than business as usual; it was frolic as usual. The border town of St. Stephen, realizing that its American neighbour, Calais, could not obtain fireworks for its Independence Day celebration, obligingly helped out with a gift of gun powder.
 
But on the fighting frontier it was civil war. There is a story that the man who fired the first cannonball across the river during the battle of Detroit killed his best friend on the American side—a legend, possibly, but perfectly plausible. Almost everyone had a friend or a relative on the other side of the border. Sheaffe, the British general, had a sister Margaret in Boston. William Hull, the defender of Detroit, had a brother Isaac living on the Thames. The border was irrelevant; people crossed it as they would a street. Many owned land or had business interests on the other side. One of these was John Askin of Sandwich, Upper Canada, the venerable fur trader and patriarch (various members of whose extensive family will appear from time to time in these pages). During the war, Askin continued to correspond with his friend and kinsman Elijah Brush, the militia commander at Detroit, who was married to Askin’s daughter Adelaide. When the Americans invaded Sandwich and Askin was forced to flee, Brush obligingly detailed some of his men to harvest Askin’s crops. When Detroit fell, Brush consigned his personal papers, money, and members of his family to Askin’s care. None of this prevented Askin’s sons, nephews, and grandsons from taking up arms and killing Americans.
 
They did so reluctantly, for this was a war that almost nobody wanted. The British, who had been embroiled with Napoleon for seven years, certainly did not want it, did not believe it would occur, and in a clumsy, last-minute effort tried to prevent it. The Canadian settlers, struggling to master a forbidding if fertile wilderness, did not want it either; at best it was an interruption, at worst a tragedy. The majority, whenever possible, did their best to stay out of it. Nor did the mass of the American people want to go to war; a great many, especially in the New England states, sat it out; others fought half-heartedly. Congress, in the words of a Kentucky editor, was “driven, goaded, dragged, forced, kicked” into the conflict by a small, eloquent group that Thomas Jefferson dubbed the War Hawks.
 
America went to war as a last resort because her leaders felt that the nation’s honour had been besmirched to a point where any other action would be unthinkable. In their zeal to conquer Napoleon, the British pushed the Americans too far and dismissed their former colonists with an indifference that bordered on contempt, thus repeating the errors of 1776. In that sense, the War of 1812 was a continuation of the American Revolution.
 
It began with Napoleon, for without Napoleon there would have been no war. (The President, James Madison, remarked after the fact that had he known Napoleon would be defeated his country would have stayed out of it.) Great Britain, fighting for her life against France, was bent on all-out maritime warfare. If a neutral America, reaping the economic benefits, was bruised a little on the high seas, well, that was unfortunate but necessary. America, in British eyes, was a weak, inconsequential nation that could be pushed around with impunity. In the words of the London Courier , “two fifty gun ships would be able to burn, sink and destroy the whole American navy.”
 
This attitude was expressed first in the British policy of boarding American ships and impressing American seamen for service in the Royal Navy on the grounds that they were deserters from British service. At least three thousand and perhaps as many as seven thousand fell victim to this practice, which infuriated the country and was one of the two chief causes of the war.
 
The other was the equally galling Orders in Council, the last enacted in November, 1807, as an act of reprisal against the French. With cool disdain for the rights of neutrals as well as for American sea power, the British warned that they would seize on the open ocean any ship that dared sail directly for a Napoleonic port. By 1812 they had captured almost four hundred American vessels, some within sight of the U.S. coast, and played havoc with the American export trade.
 
There were other irritants, especially in the more volatile southern and western states, where a serious economic depression was blamed, not without reason, on the British blockade. The slump hit the Mississippi Valley in 1808, shortly after Britain proclaimed the Orders in Council. Prices collapsed. Cotton and tobacco could no longer be exported. This, combined with the growing Indian threat to the frontier settlements, was used to bolster the arguments of those seeking an excuse for war. In Kentucky especially—the most hawkish of states—and in Ohio and the territories, it was widely believed that British agents were goading the various tribes to revolt. There was talk of teaching the Indians a lesson, even driving the British out of North America, thereby breaking the fur monopoly, opening the land to settlement, and strengthening the Union. Certain western expansionists also saw the coming war as one of liberation. It was widely believed that most Canadians wanted to become Americans. If they did not, well, that was their destiny.
 
In the summer of 1812, with three American armies threatening the border strongpoints—Amherstburg, Queenston, Montreal, and Kingston—the early fall of Upper Canada and the subsequent collapse of Quebec seemed certain. In British North America there were some three hundred thousand souls, in the Union to the south, almost eight million. In Upper Canada, three out of five settlers were newly arrived Americans, people of uncertain loyalties, lured from New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut by the promise of cheap land. They scarcely thought of themselves as British, though they were forced into a token oath of allegiance, and they certainly did not call themselves Canadian. (That word was reserved for their French-speaking neighbours, many of whom lived on American soil in the vicinity of Detroit.) Surely these people would not oppose an invasion by their compatriots!

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Prisoners of the North
Excerpt

Foreword

In the Yukon, where I spent my childhood and much of my teens, the old-timers had a phrase for those who had been held captive by the North. “He’s missed too many boats,” they’d say. When the sternwheeler Casca puffed out into the grey river on her last voyage of the season toward the world we called the Outside, the dock would be crammed with veterans waving goodbye — men and women who had given their hearts and their souls to the North and had no intention of leaving.

Dawson City in those days was a unique community, a cosmopolitan village where everybody knew everybody else, full of adventurous spirits who had come from every corner of the globe to profit from the great stampede of 1898. In my boyhood, the gold rush was history, but they were still here, this handful of survivors from the gaudy days.

They did not talk much about adventures that would seem prodigious to us today; it was old stuff to them. They had clawed their way up the passes, hammered together anything that would float, defied the rivers and the rapids, and notched the logs for their own cabins when at last they reached their goal. They had made it! When others flagged, or failed, or fled, they had hung on, secure in themselves, and isolated from the outside world — prisoners of their environment but free from the cacophony, and the glare, and the breathless bustle of the settled world. They had had their fill of all that. I once asked George Fraser, an old-timer who lived on Dominion Creek forty miles from Dawson, why he hadn’t paid a visit to town in fifteen years. “Too many bright lights!” he told me. That says it all.

The North has its own sounds, but in my day when the temperature dropped and the roar of the river was stilled and the whine of the big gold dredges had ceased, the world of my youth was silent. Nothing seemed to move. Smoke rose from the chimneys in stately columns that did not waver. It was as if the entire community had been captured in a motion picture freeze frame. For many, I think, that was one of the attractions.

They came from everywhere, these old-timers we called sourdoughs. Men like Mr. Kawakami, a Dawson fixture who sold us fireworks and incense along with Japanese parasols and kimonos from his little shop on Third Avenue. A block away in her corner store, a distinguished, grey-haired Frenchwoman, Mme Émilie Tremblay, displayed the latest Paris fashions for the town’s socialites as well as for the town’s demimonde. No stranger just off the boat would have realized that in 1894, two years before gold was discovered on Bonanza and before Dawson existed, she and her husband had climbed the Chilkoot Pass and made their way into the empty Yukon.

One of her customers was the Chicago-born doyen of Dawson society, Martha Louise Black, who left her husband and climbed the Chilkoot pregnant, bore her baby in a one-room log cabin, and went on to become the second woman in Canada to win a seat in Parliament.

At St. Paul’s Pro-cathedral on the Dawson waterfront I would watch the morning procession each Sunday, often led by the bishop, Isaac O. Stringer, who had been obliged to boil and consume his sealskin boots to ward off starvation on the Rat River trail, thus providing Charlie Chaplin with a memorable scene for his film The Gold Rush. At the other end of the social scale was a rough-hewn Slav, Jan Welzl, who had come to Dawson from Prague by way of the Arctic, so he claimed, with the help of the Inuit. He spent his time trying to develop a perpetual motion machine in an abandoned warehouse while bemoaning the fact that he had sold the rights to his memoirs, Thirty Years in the Golden North, for one hundred dollars before it became a Book-of-the-Month Club best-seller.

I went to school with the second and third generations of these captive Northerners. One classmate, Chester Henderson, was the grandson of the famous Robert Henderson, officially acknowledged as the co-discoverer of the Klondike’s gold. Another was the son of Percy de Wolfe, known as the Iron Man of the North because of the hazards he encountered with his dog team on the mail run between Dawson and Eagle, Alaska. Helen Van Bibber, who beat me to stand first in our class, was the mixed-blood offspring of a marriage between a native Indian and a male descendant of Daniel Boone.

My father was one of these Northern hostages. He could have had a teaching job at Queen’s but he chose the Yukon, refusing to quit even when the so-called Stikine Trail became a heaving swamp. He opted for the Chilkoot, built a raft, and made his way to the goldfields, intending to stay for two years. He found no gold but stayed for forty, and his only regret, I think, was when the Depression forced him to leave.

I was thinking of people like Mme Tremblay, Martha Black, Chester Henderson, and Helen Van Bibber when in a book for would-be authors I made a facetious suggestion: get yourself born in an interesting environment. It was my great good fortune, thanks to my father, the sourdough, and my mother, the journalist’s daughter, that I was born in what was then the most interesting community in Canada. The North has been a rich literary source for me — far more valuable than the nuggets Chester’s grandfather dug out of his Klondike claim.

In this work I have again gone back to my Northern heritage. It is my fiftieth book, and I have discovered, somewhat to my astonishment, that no fewer than twenty-seven have included some reference to the North or the Klondike — sometimes no more than a few paragraphs, sometimes a chapter or more, and on several occasions an entire book.

Time and again my heritage has intruded into my literary output, occasionally without my realizing its presence. Like my father before me and like the five remarkable characters that follow, I, too, in my own way am a prisoner of the North.

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The Arctic Grail

The Arctic Grail

The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909
edition:Paperback
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The Joy of Writing

The Joy of Writing

A Guide for Writers Disguised as a Literary Memoir
edition:Paperback
tagged : reference
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Excerpt

Prologue
Letters to the Author

“I think I’m at wits end . . .”

Dear Mr. B.: Enclosed please find a poem of mine. I am sending it to you in blatant attempt to use your influences, experience, or direction, whatever, to get it the recognition it deserves . . .

Dear Mr. B.: It is my understanding that you have some consideration of Canadian writers, or do know one who do write books, etc.

I am not a writer, but do have an idea for a book that would make Gone with the Wind look like the amateur hour. I may be mistaken, or perhaps my idea has already been used, but to my knowledge it has not. I am not looking for wealth.

What I am trying to say, I guess, is that I would like to be introduced to or be given, the name of someone who writes, and could put my ideas in print. If the Canadian government and the U.S. government would allow it to be published, it just might make a difference in all our priorities.
I apologize for bothering you like this . . .

Dear Mr. B.: I wonder if you would give me some advice. I am a Senior Citizen and have just completed a book, a very simple one, but it has been a challenge, which I have enjoyed.

It is of a semi-religious nature, containing my own thoughts, plus those of more authoritative and better-known individuals.

I wrote it for two reasons, one already mentioned, a challenge, and because I wanted to have something to leave my family . . .

The temporary title is “How to Find Lasting Happiness” and contains about 25,000 words . . .

I would appreciate any advice you can give me, because I know nothing whatever of the publishing business . . .

Dear Mr. B.: I need help. I don’t know exactly why I’m writing you but . . . I think you must be an honest person who still possesses the spark of humanity. This latter trait seems to have been completely smothered in the writers or public figures I’ve happened to meet.

In a nutshell -- I write. I write well. This is no misplaced ego but merely an evaluation and resulting statement. I do a few things well in this life but creative writing is one of them.

I am not selling -- or rather my work is not selling. Or is it the same thing in this game? And I would like a little advice, maybe a few answers.

For example Chatelaine has had a number of my short stories but they are lambs and I am Mary. Okay, sure, if I had any serious doubts about the quality of my writing. But I don’t. There is lots of rooms for improvement & I will steadily improve but at the present I can write as well as writers who have had their stories published in this particular magazine. Better than some, worse than others . . .

I do not want to become famous. That is not why I write. I do so because I have something to say or a discovery to share or a problem’s solution or an atmosphere to put across. And I need money, so lately I have been submitting. And submitting. I do not want to return to a 9-to-5 job . . . I love being a home-maker . . . I’ve had about 56 part-time, temporary, full-time jobs from gas station attendant to nurse’s aid . . .

I write stories, articles, novels (I’ve just completed one, another is 1/3 finished), ads, poetry, and letters . . . How does one get started? Is the decision to publish really based on quality? Help!

Dear Mr. B.: I intend to write a book about 300–350 pages, a pocket edition, partly fact and partly fiction style. I have laid down the outlines but in order to make it more vivid and descriptive I have to seek the help of book-writers. Will you kindly suggest the name of one or two writers who could spare time to write and publish it, please?

Dear Mr. B.: I write this letter with great expectations to quote a title for Dickens.

To begin with I have written a book and that is a very strange thing for me to do because if you knew me you would understand this. For instance, I have no education beyond grade four of public school. In school I hated pen and paper and had one of the highest hooky records in the city of Toronto, but the one thing I have always loved is reading, and I have endeavoured to try and read good books . . .

I have a wife and seven children . . . but due to an accident . . . I can no longer work . . . Being an ardent reader about famine, hydrogen bombs, germ warfare and these continual bloodthirsty wars, I felt I had to do something as a human being and this strange story popped into my head. The characters ran around in my brain, they woke me up out of a deep sleep and they pestered me until I started to write them down and they kept at me until I finished it. When it was over I found that they lived. They lived in my mind and now they live in the pages of this manuscript. It is a strange story but I believe it could happen. I call the book “It Could Happen Tomorrow” or an alternative title, “The Cave.”

I do not know how I go about getting publishers to look at it, that is why I have written to you asking your help . . .

Dear Mr. B.: It is Christmas time and what better time is there hoping Santa Claus (you) will make a dream come true. I am 58 years old and my children think I’ve gone off my rock. Since they are grownup, married, and made me a grandmother, instead of retiring to a rocking chair and clasping my hands and watching the world pass me by, I have decided to write a book. I have always had this idea but never discussed it with anyone because I have been too busy until now . . . My problem is how to protect my material from being copied or disclosure of ideas if I sent in a script . . . It will probably end up in a wastebasket but I want to try anyway. Well I have taken up enough of your valuable time and hope you can advise me . . .

Dear Mr. B.: I am writing a true story, a “biography” but I am not a writer. I have a grade ten education and know very little about writing only by experience of reading a lot of books . . . What I have decided to put on paper it’s my true experience and I’ll tell you that it’s between “Grapes of Wrath” and “Peyton Place.” I’ve read “Peyton Place” twice and what I tell you it will sound like a children’s story comparing to mine . . .

I write exactly as I remember it, to make sure you know I’m not lying. But I cannot publish it because I wouldn’t want my children to be facing cranks of all kinds and saying I know it’s your mother that wrote this. Therefore it would have to be all names and places anonymous to protect the innocent. I don’t know why you couldn’t help to write this book . . .

Dear Mr. B.: I think I’m at wits end trying to get started in my writing career. It’s not really the money that I’m interested in, but expressing my feelings to the public. I guess you would know what I mean. I would like to write for my own local, but I’m having no luck at all. Some people don’t seem interested in getting me on the right road at all. I’m in a rut. Please could you tell me how I could get my work published?

Dear Mr. B.: As a Canadian citizen who has been going through the ordeal and the frustrating experiences which are similar to those that have been experienced by the genuine Canadian writers -- have been advised to seek your valuable advice.

My manuscript is very original and controversial. It is about 200 pages of facts, charts and tables which may be considered as one of the valuable resources that deal with man’s nature. It has taken more than ten years of my life to formulate. To some professionals it is seen as extremely provocative, others are longing to possess a copy of it as a useful indispensable book, and to the layman it would be fun to read. It has been read critically by some professionals whose comments extend from extreme positive (i.e. “it is a masterpiece of work that is very much needed” and “it will certainly need a noble prize”) to extremely negative, (i.e. “it is filthy” and “it must be banned because it has a mighty potential that would rock the boughs of some professions.”) Since it has been read by some leading professionals, I have been having difficulty in seeking employment with any of my three fields of specialization, i.e. sociology, psychology, and education . . .

My endeavours with the publishers have been failing. I shall appreciate your valuable advice as to how to go about publishing my manuscript with little or no fanfare needed. If justice reigns, I have no doubt whatsoever that my little book will find a respected place in the national and international markets gradually but steadily.

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The Klondike Quest

The Klondike Quest

A Photographic Essay 1897-1899
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback Hardcover
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The Last Spike

The Last Spike

The Great Railway, 1881-1885
edition:Paperback
tagged : north america
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The National Dream

The National Dream

The Great Railway, 1871-1881
edition:Paperback
tagged :
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The Promised Land

The Promised Land

Settling the West 1896-1914
edition:Paperback
tagged :
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The Wild Frontier

The Wild Frontier

More Tales from the Remarkable Past
edition:Paperback
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Welcome To The 21st Century

Welcome To The 21st Century

More Absurdities From Our Time
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

I Dreamed I Was Superman In My Maidenform Undershirt

I had a curious dream the other night, which recurs from time to time. I dreamed that I was a reporter on the Toronto Daily Planet and my name was Clark Kent. Well, that wasn't really my name; actually, my name was Superman. I came from the planet Krypton, see, and I had super-vision, super-strength, super-everything. Instead of underwear, I wore a natty Superman suit in blue and scarlet under my normal threads. I was dedicated to fighting crime in the Big City.

Whenever I heard of a mastermind controlling the underworld I would tear off my clothes in an alley or a phone booth and dash off into the sky crying "This is a job for Superman!" But if you read the comic books you know all about this anyway.

Well, in this dream it was a busy Tuesday morning on the Daily Planet. In my role as Clark Kent I had just turned in a three-paragraph story dealing with flower arrangement classes at the museum. My next assignment was the upcoming TTC meeting to decide on the new chairman of the transportation commission. I had my hat and overcoat on when my eye happened to catch the duplicate copy of an item turned in by my beautiful colleague, Lois Lane of the women's department. The story read as follows:

A master criminal of incredible cunning and avarice appears to be the Mr. Big behind the bootlegging of thousands of pounds of coloured "spread" into local grocery stores, police said today.

It is believed that all of gangland is held in thralldom to this fiend incarnate whose infiltration of the butter market here is said to be one of the most callous criminal acts in history.

Thousands and thousands of farmers, unable to sell their butter, are destitute as the result of the machinations of this monster whose product, tinted a deceptive yellow, is selling for as little as fifty-two cents a pound.

It is believed that the gangland king has thousands of housewives in his employ colouring by hand pound after pound of brand-name margarine, which is then repackaged and bootlegged to the trade.

Police admit they are baffled in this case.

"It will take superhuman powers to bring this devil to justice," Inspector J. Harvey Grebe told the Daily Planet.

Fortunately, there is a private alley behind the Daily Planet, used mainly by delivery trucks. I slipped down at once, removing my overcoat, scarf and hat and piling them in an obscure corner. Then I took off my newly tailored three-piece Ivy League suit, folded it neatly and placed it on top of the overcoat. I removed shirt, tie, tie clip, cufflinks, socks and shoes and laid them in the alley, too. Then, costumed as the Man of Steel, I headed for Roncesvalles and a small grocery store with a mighty bound. It was here that my super-senses told me I would find the key to the riddle.

The trouble was I kept worrying about my suit back there in the alley. It had started to rain and I wondered how I would look covering the TTC all rumpled and muddy.

The TTC! I had forgotten my assignment, and the deadline for the Three Star Edition was only minutes away! I bounded back into the alley, leaped into my sodden clothes, assumed the role of Clark Kent and took the subway to Davisville, just in time. I phoned the story in to rewrite and then searched about for some place to change my clothes again so I could reassume my role of Superman.

First, I went down to the Bi-Way and bought some of those folding coat hangers that travellers find so useful; also a clothes brush and whisk. I then searched about for an obscure telephone booth since I recalled, in my dream, that Superman in the comic books was always removing his clothing in obscure telephone booths when he was not using unfrequented alleyways.

I first stepped into one of the phone booths in the Park Plaza Hotel, but this proved impossible. A lineup of people formed, and one of them began hammering on the door, so I got out of there and headed for Exhibition Park; the phones there do not work except at Exhibition time. I carefully removed my outer clothing and hung it neatly on the coat hangers. I was glad to get out of it since my Superman suit had got damp in the rain, and I was starting to itch.

Then in another mighty bound I headed back to the innocent-looking grocery store on Roncesvalles.

I took up a position on the roof and waited for one of the mastermind's spies to make an appearance with the illegally coloured margarine. Unfortunately, I could not wait too long because at 2 p.m. I had to interview a man who was roller skating around the world. I left my post shortly before the hour to retrieve my clothes in the telephone booth, but somebody had stolen them, so I was forced to go home and get a new suit. I was beginning to see the problems facing Superman. Fortunately, I had twenty-seven new suits hanging in my closet for just such an emergency. I figure Superman goes through about three a day.

I interviewed the champion roller skater, wrote the story and turned it in to the city desk. I had scarcely finished when Lois Lane burst into the women's department crying that the margarine fiend had struck again!

There was no time for hesitation now. Our own alleyway was jammed with delivery trucks loading Final Editions, every phone booth was in use, and so in desperation I decided to use Pearl Street, a one-way alley directly north of King Street. I was just pulling off my trousers, trying to avoid creasing them, when a society columnist for the Globe and Mail, slipping out the back way for a spot of sherry, uttered a piercing shriek. Several policemen arrived, and I was taken off and charged with indecent exposure in a public place. Oh, the shame of it!

Unfortunately, my own newspaper would offer me little protection in court, since I had scarcely been seen around the office for days. One of the Crown witnesses at the ensuing trial-a newspaper delivery driver-testified that on several occasions he had seen me removing my clothing in the alley behind the Daily Planet. I was taken off to prison where, as luck would have it, my cellmate was the Margarine Fiend, who was apprehended the same day as a result of clever police work by Toronto's finest.

And that is the end of my dream, which, incidentally, was in wide screen and colour. Wonder what's showing tonight?

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Worth Repeating

Worth Repeating

A Literary Resurrection
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
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Excerpt

"This is more than an anthology.  It is a resurrection.  The various pieces that follow--essays, articles, bits of history, chapters from out-of-print books, the occasional verse, a stage sketch or two--were written over a period of fifty years.  All have long since been interred in the graveyard of dead manuscripts; gone, yes--but hopefully not forgotten, at least by me."

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Women of the Klondike

Women of the Klondike

The 15Th Anniversary Edition
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Paperback
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Because We Are Canadians

Because We Are Canadians

A Battlefield Memoir
by Charles Kipp
edited by Pierre Berton
introduction by Pierre Berton
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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