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April 21, 2011

History – Fact & Fiction

Some history purists don’t like their history in fictional form. Some say that even when its not fiction there is a lot of history that has fictional elements. As the old saying goes – most books are written by the winners.  

Pierre Burton called Champlain an “assassin” while the 2008 book by D.H. Fischer “Champlain’s Dream” added to his position as a hero.

Two new books of fiction by 2 women historians are fascinating reading for those so inclined. 

Bride of New France

Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers tells the story of the need for women in the almost completely male 17th century New France.  A Royal back home decree provided many women from the streets of France to balance the population, keep the men happy and produce babies for the colony.  Desrochers, using her Phd thesis as a basis for her work, created a character Laure Beausejour  as one of the women chosen to be sent to New France. 

Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers 2011

The hell of Beausejour’s life in France continues as she arrives in New France where she is attached to an ignorant and abusive man. She has a love affair with a Native man. This is not a romantic novel but is a powerfully realistic and moving social history in the hands of an expert. My son who is a history buff read the book and enjoyed it. 

Into the Heart of the Country 

The new book above is written by award winning author Pauline Holdstock. (It was reviewed in the Globe & Mail by Suzanne Desrochers, the author above.)  It tells the story of how English fur traders with the Hudsons Bay Company in Churchill, Manitoba handled the problem of no women.  They chose native women in various sometime serial or  polygamous “marriages” to satisfy their needs.

Into the Heart of the Country Paula Holdstock 2011

I have a copy of Professor Sylvia Van Kirk’s remarkable 1980 history book Many Tender Ties on the same topic in my library and have read it and referenced it on occasion.  Holdstock sees how the  relations between the native tribes and the fur traders were helped by these marriages & many mixed or Metis children were born and were well taken care of. 

Holdstock’s book is based on  real life characters mentioned in Van Kirk’s book. Richard Norton’s mixed-blood son Moses and the famous explorer Samuel Hearne at the Prince of Whales  site really existed. There is a photo of Moses in the book. 

The native women also kept the English traders alive by accessing meat, berries and furs and interpreting with the native trappers. 

Holdstock’s novelist capability enhances the story dramatically as Molly Norton develops a fictional relationship with Samuel Herne. In the harsh and bitter struggle with reality Holdstock does offer a positive message in a complex environment. 

These early difficult struggles in the 17ty and 18th centuries are very much a part of our current strength today as these early families evolved. My wife’s family story which I am familiar began in Canada when a French soldier Francois Dusome married a Metis woman Francoise Clermont in an 1823 and produced 13 children including Andrew whose son Joseph is my wife’s grandfather. He had 12 children including Edna, my wife’s mother.  The dozens of original Dusome children and their families have made a remarkable contribution in the Midland-Penetang and other areas in Ontario as have many other early marriages as mentioned in the books above. 

More Books Worth a Look 

I have recommended the Canada’s History magazine (formerly the Beaver) – Canada’s History Magazine -before here. It lists most of the new history books on a wide variety of topics. The latest copy notes Nipissing University Professor Katrina Srigley’s new book Breadwinning Daughters: Young Working Women 1929-1939. Log on to books at Canadashistory.ca for a full profile of current books. 

Their Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids is recommended for preteens. Also look for the Heritage Fairs where thousands of kids, including North Bay, present their research on various history topics. Happy reading or gift giving!! 

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