New Books and Featured Reading Lists

Each week on the 49th Shelf homepage, we highlight new releases. We also make theme-based lists and showcase lists from guest contributors and 49th Shelf members. This page archives these selections so they are always available to our members.

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New Non-Fiction for the week of November 19th : New Life Stories
The Woo-Woo

The Woo-Woo

How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family
edition:Paperback
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The Codfish Dream

The Codfish Dream

Chronicles of a West Coast Fishing Guide
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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A Secret Sisterhood

A Secret Sisterhood

The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf
edition:Paperback
tagged : literary
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For Joshua

For Joshua

An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

I was created to be Anishanabe-niini -- Indian Man. Thus, I was born Ojibway. I emerged onto Mother Earth as a human being gifted with this identity -- male Ojibway human being. Since 1955, learning to be who I was created to be has been my journey, my trial, my ongoing process of creation.

This thing we call Native, Indian, First Nations, Aboriginal, Indigenous, or Original Peoples cannot be found in any one place. It is a cosmology, a belief, a way of being, unconstrained by geography, politics or even time itself. It is too immense to be contained in one simple definition. Only with the utmost simplification can one say, “This is what it means to be Indian.”

The lives of Native people in Canada are ones of endless toil, frustration and heartache. This they have borne with great good humour, grace, and dignity. To say that I am one of them is my greatest pride.

But I am only one -- and this is but the story of one Native life, as experienced against the flux and flow of Canada over forty-six years. If it teaches, that is grace. If it evokes empathy, that is blessing. Should it enable one person, Native or not, to step forward towards who they were created to be, that would be reward enough for one Native life.

R.W.

for Joshua

Once there was a lonely little boy. He had no idea where he belonged in the world. The boy had no knowledge about where his family was or where he’d come from. So he began to dream. He imagined a glorious life with a mother and father, sisters and brothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. He put his dreams down on paper and filled the pages with drawings, stories, poems, and songs of the people he missed so much but could not remember. But he always awoke, the stories and poems always ended, and the songs faded off into the night.

As he grew, the boy carried this emptiness around inside him. Everywhere he went, it was his constant companion. Many people took turns caring for the boy, and many people tried to fill that hole, but no one ever could. Through all the homes he drifted the boy began to realize that all that ever really changed about him were his clothes.

One day, the people around him said that he was old enough to go and find there. It was a magical place, this place called there, because everyone got to choose where there would be for them.

But finding there was difficult. The boy took many roads, many turns, many long lonely journeys trying to find it. He grew older. He lived in many places and with many different people. But inside himself he was still a lonely little boy who could only ever dream dreams, create stories and poems and songs about the kingdom of there.

Then one day he met a kind, gentle old man on one of the twisted, narrow roads he was travelling. This old man had been everywhere and seen many things. He was wise and liked the young man very much. As they sat together by the side of that long, narrow road, the old
man began to tell him stories about all of his travels, and especially about how good it felt to return from those journeys.

“What is return?” the young man asked.

“Why, it’s to get back to where you started, where you belong,” the old man said.

“What does it mean to belong?”

The old man smiled kindly and said, “To belong is to feel right. It’s a place where everything fits.”

“How do you get there?” the young man asked.

“Well, getting anywhere means you have to make a journey. But on this journey, to find where you belong, you really only have to travel one direction,” the old man said.

“What direction is that?”

“The toughest direction of all,” the old man said. “You have to travel inside yourself, not down long, narrow roads like this one.”

“Does it hurt?” the young man asked.

“Sometimes. But anyone who makes that journey finds out that no matter how hard the journey is, getting there is the biggest comfort of all.”

The young man thought about the old man’s words. They were mysterious and strange. In fact, they weren’t answers to his questions at all, just more and more questions lined up one behind the other as far as he allowed his mind to wander. But there was something in the gentle way the old man had of talking that made him feel safe -- a trust that everything he said was true. Even if he couldn’t understand it all.

“Can I get there from here?” he asked finally.

The old man smiled at him and patted him on the shoulder. “Here is the only place you can start from.”

I was that lonely little boy, Joshua, and I was the lonely young man who tried so hard to belong. Like him, I have travelled a lot of hard roads searching for the one thing that would allow me to feel safe, secure, and welcome. Some of them led to prison, poverty, drunkenness, drugs, depression, isolation, and thoughts of suicide. But many were glorious roads to travel -- the ones that led to sobriety, friendship, music, writing, and the empowering traditional ways of the Ojibway people to whom you and I belong.

There were many teachers on those roads. Always there was someone somewhere who offered things meant to teach me how to see the world and my place in it. But like most of us, I only ever trusted my mind-- and my mind always needed proof. The sad thing is that when you spend all your time in a search for proof, you miss the magic of the journey, and I was on those roads a long, long time before I learned the most important lesson of all: that the journey is the teaching, and the proof of the truthfulness of all things comes secretly, mysteriously, when you find yourself smiling when you used to cry, and staying staunchly in place when you used to run away.

I spent many years afraid of the questions. I was afraid of the questions because I was afraid of the answers, and that fear kept me on narrow, twisted roads deep into my life. My greatest fear was that after the search, after the most arduous of journeys, I would discover, at the end, a me I didn’t like, the me that I was always convinced I was: an unlovable, inadequate, weak, unworthy human being. And at that point of discovery I would be alone. Alone with myself. Alone with my fears. Alone with the one person I had spent so much time and energy trying to run away from.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Sam Steele

Sam Steele

A Biography
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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White Pine 2019

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New Fiction for the week of November 12th : New Poetry
Culverts Beneath the Narrow Road
Excerpt

The far culvert failed a couple years back thanks to a flood, I think, and now points upward at the same angle as the Air Farce chicken cannon. That comparison dates me, I know. I don’t know what causes the rust. That morning, like most winter mornings, a crowd of cattails wearing toques of snow stood next to the culverts, so the water quality can’t be too bad, though I have no idea what cattails can tolerate. Their stems might carry the rust all the way up to their heads. I could almost feel the fuzz as we drove by. On days that cold a cattail feels like a lint brush, but the temperature was expected to rise 10 degrees by midafternoon. Stroke it then, eyes closed, and you would

 

 

 

feel once more

 

the velvet

 

dress I

 

wore

 

as a girl.

 

 

 

With my forehead against the passenger side window, I pictured Alice Munro doing the same, her forehead melting the frost, her eyes taking everything into the darkness and sending it forth with a rush into the light. Such brilliance. I’d been thinking about her and her work a lot since she won the prize. Imagine what she could do with this place. The off-kilter culvert, the road with the arm to keep us out, the mining complex beyond, the smokestack standing there like it had too much Viagra

 

 

 

all on

 

top of the Canadian

 

Shield whose

 

curves are covered

 

with the usual

 

lofty

 

blanket of snow.

 

 

 

— from “Culverts beneath the Narrow Road Through the Deep North and Other Travel Stretches”

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Port of Being

Port of Being

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : canadian
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Slinky Naive

Slinky Naive

edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
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Salt Fires

Salt Fires

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Everyone Rides the Bus in a City of Losers
Excerpt

La Rockette

 

No, I will never be as cool as the guy from Les Deuxluxes,

even if I buy him shots and quote his covers,

even if he says to me, “Look, man, all you need is a good friperie.”

Will you never love me, Anna Frances Meyer?

 

But moustaches always made me think of arcade perverts

and my neighbours in Verdun.

After Nirvana played the Verdun Auditorium,

they found Courtney at Bar Côte St-Paul by the Cash’N’Loan.

 

When Jack White saved the Jack White Auditorium,

was it more Massey than Tony Wilson?

If she skips another shower, will the bartender at La Rockette

smell more like Durutti than raclette?

 

The guy from the band says that I should go.

But I won’t go. Not until I meet Anna Frances Meyer.

Not until last call lights up the walls

and she finds me in the bathroom stall writing,

“You just can’t run, you just can’t run from the funnel of love.”

 

Ultramar

 

The last place I went was Ultramar.

I walked my friends there and said,

“You can hail a cab at Ultramar,”

the Ultramar where I bought ketchup chips

and Coffee Crisps and one time even Ringolos.

 

Only the night attendant knew my love of Swedish Berries

and plastic-wrapped smoked meats.

Only the night attendant who blasted Appetite for Destruction

knew my sweetheart’s craze

for M&M’s and Pez dispensers.

 

I bid my friends adieu at Ultramar.

They claimed Verdun was the middle of nowhere.

It’s only the edge, I said to them.

Nowhere is somewhere west, out past the neon

5e Avenue on the New Verdun Diner.

 

My friends scrambled into taxis

shooting northward and eastward.

I bought a coffee at Ultramar.

I caught the night attendant air-guitaring.

I had to move by twelve o’clock.

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New Non-Fiction for the week of November 5th : New History Books
Marjorie Her War Years

Marjorie Her War Years

A British Home Child in Canada
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

DRAFT
Chapter 1: Winifred’s Children

“We insist that parish officers have no right to send children of the poor abroad; we protest in the name of the working classes against this scandalous abuse of their authority … indict the officers for child-stealing; this would probably bring the affair to an issue, disclose the names of some parties who are yet behind the curtain, and prevent this kidnapping of her majesty’s subjects, which we believe is carried to a greater extent than the public are at present aware of.”

“The children on the Tyneside must be shewn the way to Fairbridge.”

It was January 1937 when the lives of the eleven members of the Arnison family of Whitley Bay in the Tyneside area of northeastern England changed forever. It all began when the father, Thomas Arnison, received a letter asking him to give up four of his children. His wife, Winifred, and their children were living in Whitley Bay while he was in the London area working, saving for the day when he could bring his family down to be with him. Thomas replied to the letter, saying, “Providing my wife and the children are willing, I am quite agreeable to what you propose if my wife thinks that they will be better off away any how you have my full permission.” The emigration official that received the letter, unconcerned about the willingness or approval of his wife and children, scrawled across the top “This is a consent.” The father’s permission was all that was required.

Marjorie was in her eighties before she read a letter from her niece stating that it was to her mother, Winifred’s, “eternal distress” that she had lost her children to Canada. Until that moment, she had not known that her mother’s distress matched her own. It took my family many years to understand all the reasons and circumstances that underlay the deportation of Winifred’s children to Canada. Winifred went to her grave with the loss permanently etched on her heart. It has been impossible to heal all the scars, although today we have come to a form of acceptance, easier now with the passing years and a greater understanding of the circumstances. Fortunately, the family no longer blame themselves for failing the children, as they now see, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly admitted on February 24, 2010, that it was “the British government’s fault for failing in the first duty of a nation, which is to protect its children.”
In February 1937, four of the Arnison children — Joyce, Marjorie, Kenny, and Audrey — were removed from their mother’s care and sent to the Middlemore Emigration Home in Birmingham, where they were prepared for emigration to the colonies.
Canadian officials based in London, who had the final say on those who would be admitted into Canada, examined all the children that the Fairbridge Society selected for the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School. Only children who passed the thorough investigation into their background and the testing of their mental and physical abilities were accepted. The children were vaccinated just prior to leaving England.

The use of immigration screening to enact a form of eugenics was not stated, per se, but the belief in it was alive and well in the offices of the Canadian government. Frederick Charles Blair, assistant deputy minister, Department of Immigration and Colonization, Ottawa, Ontario, worked to tighten Canada’s immigration doors throughout his time in office. He not only made it his business to reject “substandard” British children, but he also attempted to keep out all who did not fit his image of the ideal Canadian citizen. Blair’s policies had the support of the Canadian prime minister, Mackenzie King, who, while at the Évian Conference in 1938, instructed his representatives not to support measures to assist refugees. The anti-refugee sentiment was strong in the Canadian government, and in 1938 Blair said, “Ever since the war, efforts have been made by groups and individuals to get refugees into Canada, but we have fought all along to protect ourselves against the admission of such stateless persons without passports for the reasons that coming out of the maelstrom of war, some of them are liable to go on the rocks and when they become public charges, we have to keep them for the balance of their lives.” Allowing only the right stock into Canada was a priority for this government.

Given that, it is interesting to note that most, if not all, of the Fairbridge Farm School children were sent to Canada without birth certificates or passports. Of the first 176 children presented by the Fairbridge Society for consideration for their Canadian farm school in 1935, the Canadian immigration officials rejected close to 75 percent. Reasons for rejection were varied; following are some examples:
“Younger brother mentally defective: rejected. Dislocation of hip — disability will tend to get worse: rejected. Father a soldier, but mother a neurotic hysterical woman: rejected. Underdeveloped: rejected. Nearly dumb, doubtful mentally: rejected. Tuberculosis in family: rejected. Bright but delicate: rejected. Good sharp boy but small. Wears glasses: rejected. Incontinence: rejected. Not good type, parents in trouble with the law: rejected. Child has half-caste appearance. Underdeveloped: rejected. Parents bad type: rejected. A backward child: rejected. Only a fair type of boy and does not impress as being at all bright: rejected. Poor physique: rejected. Physically defective: rejected. Poor musculature: rejected for the time being. Well-built, wears glasses, boy pilfers: rejected. Appears rather a stupid lad: rejected. Fish skin (ichthyosis vulgaris), did not appear very bright: rejected. Mother has epilepsy: rejected. Boy backward and lacking in intelligence: rejected. A dull boy, underdeveloped: rejected. The boy is not up to standard: rejected. Deafness: rejected. Varicocele, flat feet: rejected. Defective heart: rejected. Only fair intelligence: rejected. Poor vision: rejected.Unsatisfactory condition of nose. Not impressed with this boy: rejected. Otitis media: rejected. Backward for age: rejected. Lordosis: rejected. Tic on right side of face: rejected. Below standard: rejected. Too small: rejected. Sulky and a fighter: rejected. Weak type: rejected.”

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Tales of Arctic Whaling

Tales of Arctic Whaling

Collected Writings on Arctic History Book 3
edition:Paperback
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Riding into Battle

Riding into Battle

Canadian Cyclists in the Great War
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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The Last Suffragist Standing

The Last Suffragist Standing

The Life and Times of Laura Marshall Jamieson
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover Paperback
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Rooster Town

Rooster Town

The History of an Urban Métis Community, 1901–1961
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Seeking the Fabled City

Seeking the Fabled City

The Canadian Jewish Experience
edition:Hardcover
tagged : jewish
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Our Voices Must Be Heard

Our Voices Must Be Heard

Women and the Vote in Ontario
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also available: Hardcover
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Displacing Blackness

Displacing Blackness

Planning, Power, and Race in Twentieth-Century Halifax
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This Small Army of Women

This Small Army of Women

Canadian Volunteer Nurses and the First World War
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New Children's for the week of October 29th : New Middle Grade Reads
Wicked Nix

Wicked Nix

edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
tagged : siblings
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Connect the Scotts

Connect the Scotts

The Dead Kid Detective Agency #4
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

1: Black Sunday

 

The moon was high in the clear April sky. It was a Sunday night like any other Sunday night in Sticksville, a small town in Southern Ontario, which is to say that a thirteen-year-old girl and her five dead friends were in the midst of breaking and entering (or committing a “905”) at the historic Sticksville Museum. And that aforementioned thirteen-year-old was one October Schwartz, the protagonist of this series of books (but you probably already knew that).

This was not the first time October and the dead kids had broken into the Sticksville Museum in the pursuit of a mystery. And this time, there was no need to use one of the dead kids’ heads to break open a window, nor were there any troublesome ghost pirates (or substitute teachers posing as ghost pirates) to worry about. (If you haven’t read the three books that precede this one, you really should. Ghost pirates!) October’s dead friends, as ghosts themselves, had no effect on the motion sensors (or whatever burglar alarms use — this is a book about child ghosts, not an Alarmforce training manual). They were also fully aware of where the burglar alarm was located and how to deactivate it. After allowing their living friend to enter, they all crept quietly down the narrow hallway that led from the kitchen and up the uneven steps to the museum’s private administration area, where materials, documents, and artifacts not currently on display were stored. October and the dead kids marvelled at the rows and rows of metal shelving overstuffed with bankers boxes.

“What exactly are we looking for?” Derek, a Mohawk boy who died only a few decades ago, asked.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” October answered, scanning the boxes’ labels for guidance as if one might read, Clues You Desperately Require (1 of 2).

“Super,” Kirby sighed, adjusting the belt of his khaki shorts under his gut. “Improvised detective work is my favourite.”

Though it was the dead French-Canadian quintuplet Kirby LaFlamme’s tendency to provide unconstructive criticism, his snark was justified. The kids had been raised from the dead by October a week ago during the full moon and — as per the seemingly lunar rules of child resurrection — they had only a few more weeks until they’d have to return to the cold ground.

So what, exactly, was October hoping to find hidden in the labyrinthine storage system of Sticksville’s only public museum? As long-time readers of the escapades of the Dead Kid Detective Agency well know, ever since the black-clad dark makeup enthusiast October Schwartz accidentally raised from the dead the five kids with whom she was currently committing a felony, she has been bound to the corpsified tweens — first through their aid in solving the mysterious death of her kindly French teacher, Mr. O’Shea, and then through her offer to help each of the kids discover how and why they died in the historical eras in which they first took dirt naps. As it happens, the dead kids were rather good at detective work (read, “illegal building entry”), being able to walk through walls and get around largely undetected. But they required the shrewd mind (and warm body) that only — let’s presume — October Schwartz could provide to actually solve the riddles of their own demises. In the past six months, October and her ghost friends had solved the mysteries behind the untimely deaths of United Empire Loyalist Cyril Cooper (in 1783) and Scottish immigrant Morna MacIsaac (in 1914), and in both cases something way more sinister than a case of tuberculosis was to blame.

Of the two dead kids’ deaths that October and the team had already solved, 100% of them could be tied back to a seemingly ancient secret society in Sticksville named Asphodel Meadows — a society that may also have ties to long-dead Sticksville resident Fairfax Crisparkle, who may or may not have been a witch. (Reports varied.) Murderer number one was an impostor of a Titanic survivor, Dr. Alfred Pain (who was really Udo Schlangegriff), while murderer number two was the alleged Crisparkly witch himself. More recently, young October discovered that the very same Asphodel Meadows may also have had something to do with the disappearance of her own mother, who departed without much explanation when October was three, leaving her and her father (Mr. Schwartz to you) on their own.

The excursion to the Sticksville Museum — a must-see in any historical murder investigation — was part of October’s search into the cause of death of a third deceased friend of hers, Tabetha Scott, a girl who was born enslaved in 1800s Virginia, escaped to Sticksville via the Underground Railroad (a bit more on that later, just you wait), but died in the relatively placid (and, then, slavery-free) settlement of Sticksville, Ontario. Though even money had it that the dastardly Asphodel Meadows was somehow to blame for Tabetha’s death, October wouldn’t be much of a detective if she just attributed the mystery to Asphodel Meadows without asking the whys and wherefores, right? That impulse to be a competent detective was what led her and the dead kids to the Sticksville Museum, searching for some material on Tabetha and her family or, at least, Sticksville’s role in the Underground Railroad.

However, as it was April and not February — that very short window also known as Black History Month — all the information about the town’s Black history was no longer on display and had been filed for later use (next February). This included, tragically, any information regarding Sticksville’s role as a point in the Underground Railroad — that causeway to freedom for so many oppressed and imprisoned by slavery in the United States. That a soul-crushingly boring and predominantly white town like Sticksville could have ever been a beacon of hope to people escaping slavery was mind-boggling to October (and your humble narrator). October spotted a bankers box with Black History Stuff scrawled on the label in Sharpie, and Derek clambered up the metal shelving to retrieve it. The dead kids opened the box and spread the documents, prints, and objects across the office floor.

“So you’re telling me there’s a Black History Month every February?” Tabetha asked, turning a replica of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin invention over in her hands. Being, for all intents and purposes, a part of Black history herself, she was unaware of the annual observation.

“Yeah,” October said, riffling through papers. “And maybe it’s wrong for me to assume so, but I figured if there was anything about your death in this museum, that’s where we’d find it.”

“Nice how they decided Black History Month should be the shortest, coldest month of the year,” Tabetha grumbled.

“I don’t understand,” Cyril confessed, though one could assume this of him in most situations. “Don’t we all have the same history?”

“Really, white boy?” Derek said, displaying for his Loyalist friend an example of manacles used on a slave ship.

October sighed. “Cyril, you may not realize this because when you were alive, it was assumed by white people that they were, like, God’s chosen ones and destined to be lords of all domains or whatever, but most of history is written from the perspective of certain groups of people who’ve spent, like, a lot of the past ruling over, controlling, and even owning other people. And Black History Month is just one way of trying to counteract that.”

Cyril, thoroughly chastened for his archaic (though, sadly, still quite popular) ideas, returned to searching. But as he was unable to read, he honestly was not much help.

“Given this town was supposed to be an endpoint of the Underground Railroad,” Kirby started, “you’d think they’d have a display up year-round. That would be a pretty big deal.”

“Right?” Tabetha said. For once, she and her constant nemesis agreed. “Thank you.”

“I’ll have to talk to Ms. Fenstermacher about that,” October said. October’s high school history teacher (who took the place of her former murderous one) worked part-time at the Sticksville Museum.

“Wait,” Morna said. “Sticksville had a subway? I don’t remember tha’.”

As Morna had died in 1914, she had heard of electric underground railways (or subways) in London, New York, Paris — even her home country’s own Glasgow — but nothing in Canada. (Toronto didn’t open its subway system until 1954.)

“No, not a subway, Morna,” October explained. “The Underground Railroad wasn’t an actual transit system. It didn’t have tracks or tickets. The Underground Railroad was a nickname for a secret group of people and travel routes to help people like Tabetha, born into slavery, escape the American South and get to freedom in Canada.”

October was paraphrasing for the sake of brevity, but she was mostly correct. As October Schwartz and most human beings around the world (let’s hope) are well aware, the cruel and barbaric practice of slavery had been practised by Europeans throughout the Americas and Caribbean since the first English colony in Jamestown, Virginia. This system, whereby Africans were kidnapped from their homes in West-Central Africa, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere and sold by slave traders to farmers and landowners as enforced labour ironically was thriving when the American Declaration of Independence, asserting that “all men are created equal,” was signed. (As with most laws written by white men in America, exceptions applied when it came to men and women of colour.) Shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, right about the time that Cyril Cooper died in Sticksville, most northern states passed laws to abolish slavery, though the practice grew and calcified in the Southern states, where one in four families owned other people. Black men, women, and children were sold on auction blocks like cattle, whipped and beaten in a cruel effort to impose obedience, and even hanged.

In the early 1800s, the Underground Railroad emerged, though it didn’t emerge so much, since secrecy was the key to its success. As October explained to Morna MacIsaac, perhaps more patiently than I might have, the Underground Railroad was not an actual rail system, but more a covert movement against unethical laws and institutions. It’s been said the resistance used the lingo of railways, with safe houses being “stops” and “stations” and organizers being “conductors” who would guide small groups of freedom seekers from one station to the next. To maintain secrecy, conductors — made up of free Black Americans, Native Americans, Quakers, and white abolitionists — often knew their section of the “track,” but not full routes. Railroad “passengers” would, by way of foot, wagon, or boat, move from barn to cave to church basement on indirect routes from the Deep South to the northern states or Canada. (Canada was preferable, as bounty hunters and federal marshals would pursue and apprehend escaped slaves only as far north as upstate New York.)

Over the Underground Railroad’s history, over 30,000 enslaved people escaped to Canada, with most of the Black families arriving through the station of Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Ontario. Many settled in Southern Ontario in the Lake Ontario and Michigan Peninsula, though many returned to the United States during or following its Civil War (after which, slavery was — in theory — abolished).

But before any Canadian readers feel too smug about Canada’s role as “Promised Land” and end destination of many Underground Railroad routes, please keep in mind that slavery was only abolished in this country in 1833. Though the slave trade in Canada was never the massive institution it was in the United States, there were thousands of Africans enslaved during Canada’s early history, including those brought by Loyalists fleeing the newly independent U.S.A. (much like Cyril’s family). And even after slavery was abolished, discrimination against Black people in Canada was rampant. (In Saint John, New Brunswick, the town legally banned Black residents from practising a trade or selling goods until 1870!)

Apparently, another Underground Railroad terminus — not as celebrated and heralded as Amherstburg, ’natch — was Sticksville, Ontario, the home of our own intrepid heroes. Not that you’d know it from looking around the Sticksville Museum. (October was going to have to speak to Ms. Fenstermacher. Kirby was correct: it was a really big deal.)

“Over here,” Kirby called. “I found something that may be of interest.”

Kirby, not typically one for understatement had, well, understated. Resting on the mottled carpet was a placard clearly used in the Black History display, with information about the town’s role in the Underground Railroad. More importantly, the placard was accompanied by a map showing what was believed to be the terminus of the Underground Railroad in 1860 Sticksville.

“October, d’you know where that is?” Tabetha asked, pointing at the storehouse marked on the map.

“Sort of,” she answered. “Don’t you? I mean, this map is more from your time than mine. And you were actually there at one point.”

“That’s Acheron Creek,” Derek asserted, pushing his finger through the blue gulf on the map.

“So, this is fairly far north in town,” October said.

“We lived near the creek,” Tabetha said. “Me n’ my dad. He built a house not far from where we arrived, near a storehouse by the mill. White folks didn’t like people who came up on the Railroad to move too far from where they came from.”

“If it’s north by the creek, this has to be where the fairgrounds are now,” October decided. “There won’t be anyone up at the fairgrounds these days — not until June, at least.”

“Maybe we can snoop around and see if we find any clues,” Derek said.

Tabetha, encouraged by the first real break in her mystery since ever, was overwhelmed with enthusiasm: “We could go tonight!”

“It doesn’t look like we’ll find anything more about Tabetha or the Underground Railroad here,” Kirby said, riffling through the remaining contents of the Black History Stuff box. All that remained were posters about Elijah McCoy and Portia White: important Black Canadians, yes, but ones who never lived in Sticksville nor had any connection to the Scott family.

October glanced at the office wall clock, to discover it was past 1 a.m. “I don’t know . . . the fairgrounds are pretty far . . .” Though far more nocturnal than most thirteen-year-olds (and possums), she was acutely aware that tomorrow was a school day and her father was liable to check on her empty bedroom at any given hour, given how many times she’d snuck out in the past several months. “Maybe we could leave this until tomorrow?”

“Why wait?” Morna asked. “I’ve been dead so long, I don’t even remember what it’s like to sleep anymore!”

Morna: helpful as always.

Having placed the maps and historical objects and bric-a-brac back into their proper boxes, the group descended the stairs from the office area into the museum proper. October was not relishing the several additional hours during which she would now have to be awake, nor was she entirely sure how she and the dead kids would get to the fairgrounds, the pathetic Sticksville bus service having ended around ten. But, like a proper detective, she asked Tabetha to recount what she remembered of her life over 150 years ago in Sticksville, so as to give her some rough guide to what she should be looking for at the Sticksville Fairgrounds.

“Tabetha, when did you arrive in Sticksville, at the warehouse by Acheron Creek? How did you and your father get here?”

“I dunno,” she said. “I was pretty young. I think about seven?”

Tabetha Scott’s childhood recollections were cut short by the sound of a low hum, like a far-off riding lawnmower, emanating from the darkened part of the stairs. Cautiously, the six continued downward until a bright white shape took form in the darkness, revealing itself to be a snarling, agitated Dalmatian — an unorthodox choice for a guard dog, but a choice, nonetheless.

“That’s new!” Kirby said.

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Dodger Boy

Dodger Boy

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

At that moment Dawn came back. She was with a boy who was just about as opposite from the be-in as you could imagine, a kind of anti-matter of hippie. He had very short, tidy hair shaved up the sides of his head, and he was dressed in crisp jeans and a white T-shirt. He was so clean that he seemed to have a little halo around him. How was he staying so clean?

The second he arrived at the blanket, the sun peeped out.

“This is Tom Ed,” said Dawn. “He’s from Texas. He’s a draft dodger.”

Later, when Charlotte saw those T-shirts that declared, Today is the first day of the rest of your life, she thought of that moment.

The damp blanket, her muddy toes, the music in her pores, the hippie-sweet air, and the tall, bright-faced Texan.

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