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Dead Lucky: Life after Death on Mount Everest – Lincoln Hall

23 February 2016

A friend of mine brought in several books the other day and we made a trade. He got a book on creativity, and I got a couple for the shop and one for my Everest shelf in my personal library.

I think he suspected that’s where this one would end up.

You see, Peter always comes into the shop when I’m unpacking an interesting lot; he must smell them as he walks past the door. He comes straight to my desk, picks up the choicest item (to my mind), and says, “How much is this one, Elizabeth?” and I respond, “I’m sorry Peter. <add put-off excuse here>” Once he even got tetchy with me.  I do feel really badly to be denying him a great read. But my selfish streak is more powerful. It’s the collector in me. And I do love my polar exploration and mountaineering books. I really am sorry, Peter.

I like to think this book was his way of saying, “I understand.” LOL Maybe he was saying thank you because I finally let go and sold him one from my Antarctic collection.

I have a particular fascination for Everest, so Dead Lucky got a bump up my reading list – right to the top. And it didn’t disappoint.

Dead LuckyLincoln Hall was part of a pioneering Australian Everest expedition in 1984. The expedition had a bittersweet ending for him: he was the only one of who didn’t summit. He got on with his life, of course, climbing other great mountains, getting married and starting a family, becoming an author and the editor of an Outdoor Australia magazine, and so on. Always tugging at his subconscious, though, was the summit of the world’s highest peak. Deep down, Hall still craved the view from the Top of the World. To be able to say, “Yes, I climbed Everest,” and then, “Yes, I did make the summit!”

His opportunity came with a 2006 expedition, as a cameraman filming the ascent of a teen who hoped to become the youngest ever to summit. He answered the call, even though he really didn’t feel that he was as prepared as he should be.

There are several things I really like about this book. Reading it, I felt more like a friend talking to Lincoln about the whole experience of climbing. He shares his concerns about his readiness, his rationale, his family, his hallucinations on the mountain, his insecurity over the effect of his words and actions on others while he suffered the effects of cerebral edema, how his beliefs came into play and affected his survival…. He is frank. Readers become a part of the experience, perhaps feeling a little off balance at times but never to the point that we are overwhelmed. The harsh reality of climbing in the Death Zone is there. Fortunately, we have a good guide we can trust, very much like Lincoln Hall himself did.

There are betrayals both real and perceived in this story, too, some of which are resolved, others that Hall understands he will never understand. He accepts that and walks away from them. That latter response was one that took a strength of character not surprising, perhaps, in one who has survived something no other climber ever has. Any one of the four conditions he suffered from should have killed him. In fact, he was believed to be, and abandoned as, dead above 28,000 feet. Lincoln Hall’s response to betrayal, more than anything else in the book, has given me a lesson I will be thinking about for some time, all the more so because it wasn’t intended as a lesson, just as a statement of how he coped with what happened to him.

Finally, it’s about drama in real life. People who have so much going for them throwing their lives at a 29,000 foot mountain of rock, ice, snow, thin air, and incredible danger. I still don’t understand that. I probably never will. And what I don’t understand often fascinates me. I never could turn down a good mystery.

Declina’s Tears – Georgina Williams

21 September 2012

A guest review by Lil Anderson

Georgina Williams writes great fiction! She has published four books so far, and a fifth is soon to be published. But they are only fiction in the eyes of the wise and just, Justice John Turnbull, as the good judge believes that the events Georgina writes about could never happen in Canada. But Georgina, who will be reading from her memoirs at Word on the Water Literary Festival in Kenora, is speaking of events that actually happened to her mother, Delcina, and herself. Georgina’s tale is not only true, but also horrific, humbling and gut wrenching.

Her first book, Delcina’s Tears tells of how rapists impregnated Delcina, at the tender age of 12, and how her religious family turned against her. She describes with great detail what happened to Delcina and her ‘bastard’ daughter, (Georgina herself), at the Reformatory of the Good Shepard.

The Catholic nuns and priests treated the inmates, these ‘sinful’ children, with anything from toleration to brutal and deadly attacks. Sexual molestation was a normal part of their stay. Torture, humiliation and degradation were part of their day-to-day life as they toiled as unpaid slaves in the lucrative laundry (similar to the Catholic laundries in Ireland described in the Shafia Trials) at the reformatory. If the laundry needed more labour, young girls were ‘enlisted’ by the local constabulary.

This story is a must read! It reveals just one more ‘dirty little secret’ of how vulnerable children were treated as recently as the ‘50’s and ‘60’s in this great country, and how church, government and Children’s Aid aided in keeping these secrets hidden.

The Ring – Lyn Hancock and Marion Dowler

3 March 2012

Young Dennis Dowler had a severe case of hero worship. The objects of his admiration were his grandparents, Sam Livingston and Mary Jane Howse. Sam died a long time before Dennis was born, but his grandmother lived with his family. He took advantage of every opportunity to ask her about her adventures with Grandfather Sam, or to re-enact in his back yard the adventures of his grandparents. Even when he could probably recite her stories verbatim, Dennis still loved to sit at Jane’s knee, to watch her face as she talked about the old days.

Dennis grew up and married. One day, he showed his wife an intriguing ring – Jane Livingston’s wedding ring. It was gold with a deep band of black enamel, out of which rose the words, “IN MEMORY OF”. It was a ring that had fascinated him as a child; he used to watch his grandmother sitting quietly, abstractedly turning the ring on her finger. Although he asked, she put off telling him its story. That would be a tale for another day….

The authors of this book met through Marion and Dennis Dowler’s daughter, who was one of Lyn’s students. Lyn was intrigued by the story of Dennis’ grandparents. They were not obscure pioneers of the West: Sam Livingston is the celebrated founder of the City of Calgary, and his Métis wife was the daughter of Janet Spence and Henry Howse of the Red River Settlement. The writing duo decided to record the stories Dennis collected as a child in the book Tell Me, Grandmother, which was published in 1985 as a book for older children. The Ring is an updated and expanded edition, published in the fall of 2010.

The Ring is an easy read and makes a fine quality-time read for the whole family. Not only is it a great way to introduce youngsters to an interesting period in the history of the development of Western Canada and the role Red River Settlers played in that expansion; it is a wonderful vehicle for fostering an interest in family history in our youth. This new edition contains lots of historic and other photographs along with the original sketches to help hold the interest of children. It also has appended a moving story of how recording our family’s oral history can have far-reaching and amazing consequences for the lives of others – but I won’t spoil the suspense!

Lyn Hancock is a well-known Canadian author/publisher with over twenty books to her credit. In an era when it can be difficult to engage our youth in their history, her book could be a real boon to those looking for a way to introduce children or grandchildren to the stories of our own ancestors.

Exile in the Wilderness: The Life of Chief Factor Archibald McDonald, 1790–1858 – Jean Murray Cole

25 February 2012 4 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about my family history lately, as this year will be the bicentennial anniversary of the arrival of one of my maternal branches in Canada. The first of them arrived at Red River Settlement (RRS) in 1812. One of the sources I’ve been using to learn more about them has been the journals of Archibald McDonald, so I was really interested in reading this book when I learned of its existence!

When he was only 21 years of age, Archibald McDonald was recommended to the Earl of Selkirk as a suitable man to lead the 1812 recruits both to and in their new home at Red River. Selkirk immediately recognized the young man’s potential when the two first met in Ireland, just as the settlers were about to sail. The earl held Archy back from the expedition and instead took him to London to ensure that he received further training that would be useful to him at Red River. As a result of Selkirk’s decision, McDonald left with the 1813 group to begin an eventful career in North America.

The first section of the book details McDonald’s experience on the voyage and with the fever that took so many lives, enduring the bitter winter near Churchill and the long spring trek to York Factory, struggling to deal with the wickedly clever manipulation of the settlers at the hands of the NWCo’s Duncan Cameron, and through the aftermath of the resultant destruction of the RRS in 1815. It is this section that was of most interest to me, but by the time I finished with McDonald’s involvement in RRS matters, I was curious enough to want to see how Archy progressed in his new career as a family man working west of the Rockies for the HBC. The career move was interesting, particularly when the HBC had just absorbed the NWCo. and our hero found himself working with men whose actions he came to despise at Red River!

This book is well written and very readable, although sometimes there is a hint of sentimentality that creeps into it. Jean Cole, who is the great-great-granddaughter of Archibald McDonald, has taken great care to allow her ancestor’s voice to tell his life story; she uses his journals and many letters extensively. She is obviously very fond of her subject, but perhaps not unjustifiably so; McDonald was obviously well loved by his contemporaries, and a man who accomplished a great deal wherever he happened to find himself. He was a man deeply concerned for the welfare of his neighbours as well as one whose desire was to serve his employer to the best of his ability. The result was that he led a very interesting and rich life that makes for excellent reading.

Manitoba Trip – Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon

28 January 2012

[Originally published in Lake of the Woods Area News Magazine]

The Strickland siblings Samuel and Catherine Parr have left a solid imprint in Canadian Literary history. Their sisters Elizabeth and, more notably, Agnes were well-known contemporaries on the English literary scene. But it is Susanna, married to John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie, who is most widely recognized by Canadian readers for her book Roughing it in the Bush.

The Moodies’ daughter, Agnes Dunbar, married Charles Thomas Fitzgibbon, and illustrated Catherine Parr Traill’s famous book Canadian Wildflowers (1868). The aunt-niece duo collaborated again to publish Studies of Plant Life in Canada (1885).

Given the family’s propensity for writing, and their predilection for the wild spaces of Canada, is it any surprise that one of them should end up in our neck of the woods just as the railway was being built to open up the West?

The Fitzgibbons’ eldest child, Mary Agnes (born 18 June 1851, she used first one and then the other name during her career) was 25 when she ventured northwest to act as governess to a CPR contractor’s children at the Deception Lake railway camp. Her memoir of this experience, and her first book, A Trip to Manitoba (1880), notes the Oxford Companion to Canadian History and Literature, has been “praised as one of the best travel books relating to Manitoba”. Sadly, Northwestern Ontario readers often overlook this wonderful work because the title is now misleading. We must remember that, at the time Fitzgibbon was here, Manitoba laid claim to an area much further east than its current boundary with Ontario. So, Manitoba Trip actually provides a first-hand account of life at an important transition in our region’s history!

Open it up and relish it; Fitzgibbon’s is a wonderful narrative.

The Canadian (rear) and British First Editions

Her account illustrates the route people took if they were in a hurry to get from Toronto to Deception Lake in those days: all aboard for Sault Ste. Marie by train, then into the US and overland to the Mississippi, up that river by steamboat, over to the Red and up to Winnipeg once more by steamboat. Then travellers climbed into the waggons for a vertebrae-crushing ride over the corduroy Dawson Trail southeast to Northwest Angle, by boat to Clearwater Bay and overland to the camp at Deception Lake. Her observations of the country and the people she met along the way are personal and lively; full of humour and empathy, too.

One of the most delightful surprises for me was her account of visiting the Darlington CPR camp. Years ago I found the old railway camp site and brought it to the attention of the Regional Archaeologist. What a thrill to read a first-hand account of it alive as a community and of the canoe trip Mary made from there to landmarks I grew up haunting! It also was interesting to learn that the place names hadn’t changed over the century in time separating us.

Most of her narrative centres in Deception Lake, though. She captures with clarity and vivacity the lifestyle and the characters with whom she lived and worked or who visited that outpost. We can see them smiling around their pipe-stems and smell the tobacco smoke, too. Readers will sense that the stalwart nature and spirit of adventure Mary admires in them unconsciously reflects qualities ingrained in her own character.

Just a few people are mentioned by name, and I suspect those were changed to protect identities. Even her employers are mentioned only as Mr. and Mrs. C___ in that annoying Victorian habit. The value of this book would be increased exponentially if only she’d given us their names. Ah, well….

Another interesting element in Manitoba Trip’s history is related through one of the stories the book tells. On March 26, 1877 Fitzgibbon’s notes were burned when a fire started by sparks from the chimney engulfed the C___’s Deception Lake home. Without those notes, the author was forced to work from memory. The details she weaves into her account are convincing; her experiences must have been deeply imprinted!

Fitzgibbon remained at Deception Lake for a year and a half before returning to civilization in Southern Ontario. She refined her story for her publishers in London, England. A slightly later Canadian edition appended the subtitle “Roughing it on the Line” just to underscore her literary roots.

She continued in her mother’s footsteps by helping her great aunt Catherine Parr Traill prepare her last two books for publication: Pearls and Pebbles (1894) and Cot and Cradle Stories (1895). Fitzgibbon didn’t stop writing herself, though. In 1894 her biography of her grandfather, A Veteran of 1812; The Life of James FitzGibbon was published. It remains the book for which she is best known, although she wrote or co-wrote numerous other articles and at least four other books over the span of her career.

Throughout her life Mary maintained that women offered an important perspective and possessed unique opportunities through which to preserve history. She strove to engage her sex in what was then a male dominated area of interest. To that end, along with Sarah Anne Curzon, she established the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Toronto in 1895 and served as its first Secretary. She certainly proved her point through Manitoba Trip. It remains one of the only preserved written accounts of its period in Lake of the Woods’ regional history – a wonderful legacy – and, unarguably, a railway history written from a very different perspective!

Detail view of the pictoral giltwork on the Canadian First Edition's front board.

Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon died on 17 May, 1915, aged 63, of a cerebral haemorrhage. She was just six months into her own presidency over her beloved historical society.

Manitoba Trip is out of print now. The original edition runs up to about $160, but print-on-demand copies are available for much less. Since there are no illustrations in the book (illustrations seldom reproduce well in print-on-demand copies), the latter option makes for a reasonably-priced cottage read!

He Saw Himself in all His Creatures – Helen Norrie

1 October 2011

Suicide is a topic no one should ever need to discuss, learn about, read about or experience…. Yet, it seems to me that it is on the rise in our society and that there is a very real need to address it. I speak, sadly, from the experience end of things. I’ve now lost five friends who came to the conclusion that they just couldn’t go on. This is another Word on the Water selection I wasn’t keen on reading.

Nine years after her oldest son died in an airplane crash in 1992, Helen Norrie lost her youngest son, who decided to take his own life in the exotic location of Bali. As suicides often do, this one came as a deep shock. Mark seemed to have everything going for him – at least on the surface of things.

When Mark died, Helen Norrie decided to build a positive memorial that probably also served to provide her with some “therapy,” too. She made a decision to remember the good times, the happy (mis)adventures of the aspect of Mark’s life that would bring her most joy in remembrance: his relationship with the four-legged creatures and birds he always seemed to be bringing home.

The result is He Saw Himself in all His Creatures: A Mother’s Remembrance. This is a collection of delightful stories that illustrate the deep, life-long love Mark had for birds and animals. It creates a golden road of laughter, summers on beautiful Lake of the Woods, a boy’s mischief at home and at school, his insatiable curiosity and some of the surprising benefits of living constantly in the company of some very unusual pets. There are occasional glimpses into another side of Mark’s faunal habit: his father’s frustration when animals that should be in the wild ‘misbehave’, the expense of maintaining exotic animals, the challenge of saying goodbyes when things either go wrong or get out of hand. But those issues are, for the most part, glossed over with the one exception of Mark’s final decision. But the author manages even there to be relatively positive.

Mark’s end is not what readers will remember about this book. No, his mother’s memorial to Mark will definitely recall the joyful aspects of his life to the minds of all who turn these pages.


Shaking the Feather Boa – E. C. (Ted) Burton

14 August 2010

I had tea with an old friend the other day, Erica Burton, who informed me that her late husband’s book had just been published. It’s been in the works for years.

I grew up knowing the Burton family. It’s a third generation friendship; Ted’s father and my grandfather were schoolmates at boarding school in England a century ago or more, then coincidentally found themselves homesteading in the same township in Saskatchewan years later, and it was Ed Burton who signed my grandfather up for the RAF when WWI broke out. My parents were nudged together by Ted’s parents. And Ted and Erica’s three children and my brother and I often found ourselves playing or getting into mischief of some sort together throughout our childhood.

So, I had been eagerly anticipating the conclusion of Ted’s memoirs, begun in Journal of a Country Lawyer.

The Burtons moved away from Kenora to live in Thunder Bay while I was in university. The only time I got together with Ted as an adult was when I hosted the Kenora launch his first collection of memoirs. As I read Shaking the Feather Boa, I found myself wishing he was still around, wishing that I’d got to know him better while I was an adult. I would have enjoyed talking to him more about some of the experiences he had and some of the philosophical points of view he brings out in this new collection.

Where his first book was full of stories about interesting events in his career as a defense lawyer, crown attorney and later district attorney, Shaking the Feather Boa is more general in scope, full of anecdotes from his childhood through to his retirement. It is a collection of memories of events that manufactured a life, of happenings that pushed him to the edge of change. Through these reminisces, readers can see the influence of circumstance on a life, how people, places, and events conspire to provide one with the tools and experience to make the decisions (or form the circumstances) that create an individual.

It’s interesting to read what Ted thinks those events were in his life and how he feels they conspired to change or strengthen him. And from another point of view, it is interesting to see how some of those stories he tells may have helped him do the job he ended up doing in a far more effective manner.

Even if you didn’t know Ted Burton, you will find his memoirs engaging. His was a life lived on the threshold of many opening and shutting doors – aviation history, the Great Depression, the old lumber camps, First Nation/White relations, and the lives of those caught up in crime as both victims and offenders. Here was a man who believed in experiencing the fullness of what life had to offer, and in using that experience to help improve the lives of those he met!

Nurse at the Top of the World Launched

15 July 2010

There is something so wonderful about being able to watch a book come to life from the first of the author’s scratchings to the finished, hot off the press, glossy covered end-result of hours, and hours, AND HOURS! of work. On the evening of July 13th, I was at the launch of such a project: Gloria Hunter-Alcock’s Nurse at the Top of the World.

Gloria is a wonderful story-teller, and this memoir of her years spent in Canada’s high Arctic as a public health nurse in the service of Indian Affairs will have you laughing, shaking your head and marvelling at a way of life now lost forever. The book is full of tales of hardship, innovation and friendship – essential experiences of a life well lived. Pick it up. Gauranteed you won’t be putting it back down easily!

Steadfast Man – Paul Gallico

30 January 2009

Steadfast ManI was sorting through some books the other day when I found, to my great joy, another Paul Gallico book. This one is a departure from fiction in the form of a biography of St. Patrick. Rather fitting I should find it this month…

In The Steadfast Man, Gallico attempts to reveal the real man that St. Patrick was. This is quite a challenge given that only two documents written by this Primate of Ireland have survived the fifteen centuries since he set them on paper. Both are appended at the end of the book. Although Gallico refers to works about St. Patrick from time to time in his narrative, he indicates that, although there may be a grain of truth to some of the legends surrounding the saint, most of them are sensational beyond the believable. And, yes, that includes the story about him driving the snakes from Ireland.

There is a fair bit of repetition in the text, something I found mildly annoying. But I think I would read it again if I were travelling to Ireland, as it gives a lot of useful advice to the Patrician pilgrim. I enjoyed sampling a bit of Church history, too, for a change. Even if I don’t agree completely with their messages, I still find many of the great individuals in the history of Christianity inspiring for their faith, their tenacity and their courage.

Getting the Book You Want

17 January 2009

Sometimes it is impossible to find a copy of the out-of-print book/periodical that you REALLY NEED for that research project you have underway.

I found such a thing on Google Books, but it would only give me a snippet view. It looked to be an obituary article or a biography of one of my ancestors – Samuel Brandram, grandson to the Samuel I wrote about in Parallel Lives? Samuel the younger was a famous reciter who had committed Shakespeare’s complete works and many other literary works to memory. An amazing feat! The article I wanted was in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine of 1893, and covered almost seven pages. I had to have it.

I couldn’t find a copy for sale anywhere on the Internet. My next best chance of obtaining it was through Inter-Library Loan. Marg at the Kenora Public Library has come to know me pretty well over the last couple of years as an Inter-Library Loan client. Only rarely has she been unable to help me. A week or so after I had ordered the periodical, she phoned to tell me that she had found a copy, but the National Library would not send it through the system. But (sometimes buts are good…) they could photocopy the pages I required and send them!

The other day I got Marg’s call to say that the copies were at the Library waiting for me along with another book I’d ordered through Inter-Library Loan. There was no charge for the service.

The happy news was that the article had some great gems of information in it, and I learned more about Samuel than I had previously known. Samuel used to perform at Justice Talfourd’s house in Russell Square, where he met Charles Dickens. Dickens was so impressed by Samuel’s rendering of the great novellist’s work that he stated that Brandram was “a man who interprets me better than I can interpret myself.” With recommendations like that, the reciter was in high demand!

So, if you reach a brick wall in finding that tome you require, visit your local library and try out Inter-Library Loan. It doesn’t always work, and there may be a fee sometimes, but it usually brings good results!