Thank you for taking the time to read excerpts from my
If you clicked on the book’s cover and read the short
explanation, you know what the story is about.
My author’s note at the front of the book explains that,
although the genre is historical fiction, this is “a novel of dramatized
history.” Unlike authors who attempt to hide their research, I haven’t done
that: my research is out front, including key dates.
There are only three excerpts from scenes involving Jed
Jansen, my main fictional character (the first two when he was a still a
youngster), because I don’t want to give away what happens to him. Suffice to
say, he faces a lot of adversity.
I’ve told the story in the present tense, and divided it
into seven parts. I hope these excerpts will entice you to read the whole
story. I found it intriguing to write; I trust you’ll find it intriguing to
Part one begins on the north shore of the Ottawa River in
Hull Township, Lower Canada. Ten-year-old Jedediah Jansen has just arrived with his parents
and Philemon Wright’s associates:
Friday, March 7, 1800
He’s proud of his new slingshot. He’s pretty sure it’s just like the
one David used to slay Goliath in the Bible story his mother gave him to read.
They were almost ready to leave Woburn when he was attaching the leather pouch
and he asked his father if the place they were going to would have stones for
slinging. His father laughed and said, yes, there’d be plenty of stones.
What a dumb question!
Plenty of stones?
There’s nothing but stones!
And rocks! And trees! The river! And the
The burly men in the plaid shirts and leather
boots they met on their way here, the men whose words he couldn’t understand;
Mr. Wright says they trap animals for their fur, and he says they told him if
they went far enough they’d come to the Chaudière; that’s what they call
the falls on the Ottawa River. Mr. Wright says it’s the French word for
“boiler.” The water tumbles over the rocks just like any other falls, but when
it gets to the bottom it churns and churns like it’s boiling.
A gull screeching. He’s standing at the
shoreline, gazing out over the water. He wants to walk along the rocky shore,
get closer to the falls, but he isn’t sure . . . Oh! Look! The gull is
zigzagging over the water. He picks up a small stone, loads the slingshot,
swings it round and round and lets the stone fly. Missed! Darn. Oh! Look at
that! The gull is holding its body in the wind; it looks kinda like a white
kite. It’s lighting on a rock, but on the opposite shore. Too far away now. The
cliff over there . . . it’s huge! It looks solid.
Why have they come to this
place? Some important man—his father says a governor—he
said they could have the land if they were loyal to England. His father and the
other men took an oath. Free. The land is free. And there’s plenty of it. His
father says Mr. Wright says the land will be good for farming. He could tell
because of the trees. All those trees mean the earth will be good for growing
crops. They’ll have to chop down a lot of trees, clear the land, before they
can plant seeds.
is from a scene depicting the new settlers first encounter with
a tribe of Algonquins living in the vicinity. Although there’s
more than one version of the “historical record,”
as far as I can determine, in essence, this is what took place.
I wrote most of the scene from the point-of-view of ten-year-old
The hazy sun in the eastern sky has hardly begun its
day’s journey when the forest resonates with the ring and thud of axes; a
rhythmic cacophony unintentionally giving rise to hours of rugged counterpoint.
The adults, intent upon their tasks, do not notice the approaching party.
Jedediah runs out of the forest and comes to an abrupt halt. Two more children
come running behind and almost bump into him. Who? Perhaps thirty feet away, a
tall, raggedy, bearded white man, clothed in buckskin, holding his long-barrel
rifle by his side, is standing in front of some twenty Indians clothed in
breechcloths and buckskin leggings. One man at the front is wearing a feathered
“Father!” Jedediah cries.
“Father!” The axes halt one after the other. The Indians’ white man comes
forward. Wright lays his axe beside the tree and moves to meet him.
“What can we do for you?”
Wright asks. Then, fearing he may have been too abrupt, hastily adds: “Welcome
to our settlement.” The man’s throaty baritone emits a mixture of garbled
accents: English, French, and an Indian dialect. But his accent is thick with
English when he speaks his name: George Brown. Wright introduces himself, then
introduces Daniel Wyman, who has come up alongside him. “What can we do for
you, Mr. Brown?”
“Indian friends . . . ,” he
turns sideways and gestures towards the men who stand quietly several feet
behind him. “They Algonquin from Lac
They want know who give you right to take their land, cut down their trees.”
“By the authority of the
Great Father who lives . . . their Great Father, Governor Sir Robert
Prescott, who lives on the other side of the water at Québec City, and by the
authority of Sir John Johnson. Perhaps you know the government’s Indian agent,
the man who gives them their annual dues for the land they surrendered to the
Brown spits a stream of
yellow tobacco juice, staining the snow and the bare patches of bronze pine
needles. He turns and speaks to the man wearing the headdress. The settlers had
encountered a few Indians on their journey, but, from his tone of voice, Wright
cannot interpret the intent of the Indian’s reply. Brown turns again to face
Wright and a few of the other men who have moved up beside him.
“Ogima Machecawa. He chief.
He fear you take beaver, kill deer, otter, bears, their muskrat; steal sucrerie.
He say cut down trees, drive animals away. Cannot live without animals.”
“Tell your chief, we will
hunt and fish only to feed ourselves; we will grow food. We will clear the
land, but will do our best to protect their animals, and their fishes.” Wright
pauses. “Tell him we need to make use of their sucrerie; we will pay him
a fair price to use their sugar-making tools.”
Is there going to be a fight?
A few steps and he could be standing beside Mr. Wright and the other men. He
steps forward, reaches around and feels his back pocket; his slingshot is at
the ready. He looks at the ground, checking for small stones.
Brown speaks to the chief.
Machecawa appears to listen carefully to the interpreter, his high cheekbones
taut, his eyes unblinking, betraying nothing. When the chief replies, the
interpreter’s expression is one of dismay, and he speaks sharply in return,
only to have the chief repeat the same words more forcefully. With a shrug of
resignation, Brown turns again towards Wright and the others.
“I advise not do this, but
Ogima Machecawa say you give them thirty dollars, they give up claim to their
Thirty dollars! That’s a lot
of money! Maybe not so much for land. He really doesn’t know how much land you
could buy for thirty dollars. Only four small stones at his feet, the others
are too big for his slingshot. He won’t have enough, if there’s a fight.
There’s a shuffling of feet
and rumble of voices among the newcomers. Then Wright says: “Tell your chief I
will show him the papers that give me possession of the land. If he believes
the land is his, show us the papers, and I will give him thirty dollars.”
The message relayed, and the
reply received, the interpreter informs Wright that the Indians have no papers.
“Ogima say he not know they give up land. He say trinkets government give them
not worth giving up land.”
What is Mr. Wright going to
do? It’s like when his mother told him about Chief Metacom of the Wampanoag. He
called himself King Philip, his mother said. She said grandfather fought him. A
lot of people got killed. But they won! Mr. Wright’s walking away. He’s going
to his sleigh. Maybe he’s going to get his rifle. It’s a standoff. Like the
stories he heard at home about the cavalry and the Indians. Here comes Mr.
Wright. He doesn’t have his rifle. He has a piece of paper.
“This is signed by Sir John
Johnson,” Wright says. “These are his words: ‘The Indians have consented to
relinquish all claims to the land in compensation for which they receive annual
grants from the government, which shall be withheld if they molest the
Brown repeats the words in
the Algonquin tongue. The chief nods. And then Wright says: “Tell your chief,
when the snow melts, I will go to Montréal and consult with authorities in the
Indian Department. Tell him we wish to live peacefully among them. Tell him we
will build sawmills and gristmills; they will not have to crush their grain
with stones.” Brown repeats this information to the tribe, who break into
relaxed banter. The chief poses another question for their interpreter.
“He want look at your axes,”
Brown says. “Axes, they larger and stronger than their axes.” To this, Wright
agrees, and gestures for them to come forward. For the next hour, the two
groups mingle; the settlers demonstrate the use of their axes and draw knives,
the women pour black coffee for their guests. Before departing, Wright gives
them tobacco and rum; the Indians, through Brown, promise to return with sugar,
venison, and wampumpeag.
There wasn’t a fight. Darn.
Better pick up some small stones, in case they come back. Father says you can’t
trust an Indian. He didn’t say why. But these Indians aren’t like the ones in
Woburn. Maybe this new place will be more exciting than he thought it would be.
Part two begins in
Shernfold Park, Frant, Sussex, England:
Monday, February 27, 1826
When the letter arrives, Lieutenant-Colonel John By
is in his living room reading George Culley’s Observations of Live Stock
Containing Hints for Choosing and Improving the Best Breeds. He places the
book on the side table and, with noticeable anticipation, breaks the missive’s
“What news, John?” Esther,
his wife, is seated in an embroidered armchair diagonally across the room. “Are
Gother and Anne well?”
“I’ve been ordered to return
to the Canadas. Gother says Wellington told him to select an engineer to build
a canal on the Rideau River. He’s appointed me
“It is what you expected
“Yes. Now it’s official.
Westminster has been talking of this for some time. He says Lord Dalhousie has
purchased 400 acres on the Ottawa River to accommodate the eastern end of the
“Does Gother say when we are
to leave?” By scans the letter and tells his wife that they are to sail on The
Endeavour from the port at Deptford on April 21st. “I’ll tell
the girls.” Mrs. By rises and walks down the hall to the children’s playroom,
where she finds seven-year-old Esther and four-year-old Harriet playing a game
“One, two, buckle my shoe; three, four, open
the door; five, six, pick up sticks; seven, eight . . .”
Gother is General Gother
Mann, inspector-general of Fortifications; By’s commanding officer and good
Following the end of the
Napoleonic wars, By and several of his fellow officers were retired on
half-pay. When Mann promoted him to lieutenant-colonel, and then two years
later returned him to active duty, he knew a posting would soon follow, and he
suspected it would be to the Canadas.
Colonel By hires
navvies—to build the
canal. Most have a difficult time adjusting to their new circumstances. Here’s
the story of one of them:
Jack Hardy likes to joke
that he was born a Hardy because “hardy” he has always had to be. There was no
end to scrambling and fighting with his siblings over the last, half-rotten
potato—perhaps the last potato in county Cork—if
blight had decimated that year’s crop. His Ma, her spirit suffocating under the
burden of nine children, soon gave up screaming at them to stop. His Da’,
shuffling from one piddling job to another—when he could find one—was
seldom home. When he was home, he was either stumbling towards a hazy
consciousness, or beginning the day’s journey to oblivion.
And Jack is only twenty. Now, here he is,
wielding a shovel on a rainy afternoon at the beginning of March, excavating
something called the “Deep Cut” for a canal. It’s not that he planned to leave
county Cork, but there was a ship, and some of his mates said they were going,
and why didn’t he come with them? He could not think of a good reason—no
reason at all, really—not to. As for leaving his
Ma and Da’ . . . it would be one less mouth to feed.
A half-crown to rent one of Colonel By’s
lots. Ha! He doesn’t have half a penny. With other navvies, he’s thrown up a
hovel by the side of the excavation. Someone has named this tottering
collection of lean-tos “Corktown.”
Potato soup! That’s what this godforsaken
clay reminds him of. Ya can’t shovel the goddamn stuff! It slides right off the
goddamn shovel! It’s no wonder Pennefather—the contractor—no wonder he quit. The first thing Jack heard when he hired on was that every
time Pennefather’s men removed a tree or boulder, they’d be drenched by a hidden
spring, and the sides of the excavation would collapse. All that digging—maybe
the entire day’s work—for nothing. So Pennefather
McKay, the new boss, he’s making use of the
streams. He’s not a bad sort. For a Scotsman, that is. He says use your shovel
to guide the clay into the stream and wash it down into the gully at the bottom
of the cut. So that’s what he’s doing. He’s shiverin’ a bit now. It’s the rain.
The air has a nip to it. Up to his arse in mud. But it’s less tiring than
tryin’ to shovel the goddamn stuff. Fourteen hundred yards. That’s how long
this channel has to be, McKay says. From Entrance Bay, he says. He told them
they’re gonna build eight locks. And the last one will be eighty-one feet
higher than the first one. Eighty-one feet! He straightens his back, stretches
out the tightness. Along the row of the cut, his fellow navvies—all
Irish, except for a few Frenchies—they guide the clay into the
stream. The work is back-breaking, as his Da’ liked to say. Not that his Da’
ever done that much work. But then, what if he’d stayed in Ireland? In Cork? He
shovels more sand and clay into the stream.
Part three begins in
a tavern in Bytown:
“Here’s yar goddamn shiner!”
This from a stooped, arthritic Irishman as he tosses a newly minted half-crown
towards Joseph Galiput, who is standing behind the bar in his Sussex Street
chêne-faucheuse!” Through the black bush concealing his lips, Galiput spits the words at
his patron while snatching the coin out of the air.
Irishman flashes anger through the rheumy mist in his eyes. In his younger days
the slur would have triggered violence; the balding, corpulent tavern keeper
would be dodging a chair. But the proprietor is right—he
is “an old oak-cutter.” Years of swinging an axe have left him bent and wobbly,
the ache in his gnarled fingers challenging his grip on the venerated quart of
patrons are almost exclusively Canadiens: the Paddy is here only because
this is the closest tavern to his Clarence Street abode. Walking any distance
causes his arthritis to flare up. He spits on the planked floor, turns away
from the bar, and winds his way towards a vacant table in the far corner. He
slams the quart down, causing suds to spill over the rim. Other than the gob of
stained saliva, and the snarl on his sallow, rumpled face, he’s unable to
retaliate. But younger Irish . . . this slight—as with all slights to the
Irish—will not be forgotten.
Here’s a portion of a letter
from Colonel Fanshawe in London to Lieutenant Pooley in Bytown. Pooley is one
of the royal engineers who assists By in building the canal:
My Dear Pooley,
This is my first opportunity
to write since the completion of your Work on the Rideau Canal. Please accept
my sincere congratulations. Colonel By has mentioned on several occasions the
invaluable assistance you accorded him throughout the undertaking.
Alas, I am saddened to
inform you that our dear Friend’s contribution to the defence of the Colony is
not well regarded here at Home. Sunday fortnight I was a guest of Major
Pilkington’s at his splendid residence in London. Colonel Durnford was also in
attendance. There was considerable discussion with regard to the government’s
treatment of Col. By. I detected frustration in their voices. In my own as
well. The Whig government ––– it is understandable, I suppose ––– those Members
who opposed the building of the canal ––– that is they opposed the Home Office
paying for its construction ––– they are now in government and have been
apprised of the Expenditure above the amount granted by Parliament. They afford
every Opportunity to express their outrage. It is being soaked up by the
Newspapers and the gullible Citizenry. To be fair, some Newspapers have
examined the Circumstances more thoroughly, and have taken to defending the
After learning the timber trade
from Braddish Billings, Jed Jansen goes into business for himself. Lumberman
Peter Aylen’s Irish navvies, who are known as “Shiners,” haven’t bothered him—until now:
The first time Jed took a
raft through the locks following completion of the canal he came through fairly
quickly. Since then, with a plethora of steamboats on the waterway, he often
finds himself lining up behind them. On this occasion, it’s dusk by the time his
raft of fifty-eight cribs clears the last of the eight entrance locks and is
floating on the Ottawa River. The Crown’s timber agent has left for the day.
Previous experience at night will enable him and his crew to guide the raft
down the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers.
For the past two
trips, rather than haul supplies over the gutted roads to his cabin on the
Rideau, he’s been waiting until dark and leaving them on the south bank covered
by a tarpaulin camouflaged by dirt shovelled on top. It’s risky: they could be
stolen. So far, he’s been fortunate. Looking over at the mound on the shore, it
the raft close to the bank, careful to avoid becoming grounded. Two of his men
scrape off the dirt and remove the tarpaulin. They begin handing the cases of
supplies to their confrères who have formed a receiving line from the
shore to the crib where the cook’s cambuse is situated. They soon
establish a rhythm: tea, coffee, tobacco, bread, tightly wrapped salt pork, and
other staples are quickly being brought on board. Only a few more cases and
they’ll be on their—
Sounds like the
tramping of heavy boots.
But from where?
The handing off
of supplies comes to a halt. The crew looks up: spread across the ridge is a
large contingent of men silhouetted in the fading light. The raftsmen stare at
them as if . . . but no—it's not a mirage: there’s
no mistaking the intent on the snarling faces staring down at them. Even though
Jed’s limit is several miles from the village, they’ve heard stories of the
Shiners; everyone has heard stories of the violence. It’s a long way to the top
of the ridge, and although the descending darkness makes it difficult to
distinguish faces, Jed recognizes the angry countenance of the man standing in
front of the others: Peter Aylen. The raftsmen still seem transfixed, knowing,
but in denial. And now, with clubs and shillelaghs and Limerick Whips
raised over their heads—an unwitting, graceless
salute to the men below—the Shiners come bounding
over the ridge, descending the rocky terrain, their shouting and cursing
dispelling any doubt that might still be lingering in the minds of Jed’s crew.
Here’s MP and former Bytown mayor John Scott reading a newspaper report
of a riot in Lower Town’s market square. As with all newspaper excerpts, this
is the actual report:
Bytown, C.W., Wednesday,
Sept. 19, 1849
It is with mingled feelings
of regret and gratification we take up our pen to record the events of Monday
last—Regret that our hitherto peaceful Town should be the
scene of riot and bloodshed—Gratification that in the
midst thereof, and while apparently surrounded by insurmountable difficulties,
we were able to defeat the Hellish designs of the reckless and cowardly leaders
of the Radical party in this District, and teach them a lesson, by them to be
remembered so long as there is a Shinor left to throw a stone or a Frenchman
“Who yells” and runs away
That he may live to howl
paragraph of The Ottawa Advocate’s report on what some are already
calling “Stony Monday” raises John Scott’s ire and he has to resist crushing
the paper into a ball and dropping it into the wicker basket beside his chair.
In the second
paragraph, the writer says he will report on the row in an impartial manner,
leaving the “naked truth” to be doubted by the Editor of the Packet, who, with
that unblushing effrontery so characteristic of the Rebel-rewarding party, in
all probability might endeavour to attach the blame to the Conservatives.
assurances of an “impartial” report in the same sentence brings a smirk to the
lawyer’s thin lips. He reads on and discovers that, after the Reform leaders
left the market, soldiers guarded the platform while the Tories approved their
own address to the Governor General—should he visit Bytown. Not
surprisingly, the address condemns his policies—emphatically.
Part six begins with one of several mishaps Lord Elgin has to contend
with while trying to establish a stable government in Ville de Québec:
Bytonians might very well
ask themselves: “Is destiny on our side?”
The most recent
reason for optimism: on February 1st, the renovated Parliament
buildings in Ville de Québec burn down.
This time, the
fire is not started by a supporter of the Conservative Party.
overheated, but it couldn’t be determined why it overheated.
There are no
injures: the fire began during the night.
But there is a
loss: half of the 17,000 books in the parliamentary library have been
destroyed, as well as valuable manuscripts and paintings.
portrait is living a charmed life: it’s been saved for a second time.
Les Soeurs de la
Charité (Grey Nuns) have offered to house Parliament in their church on
Richelieu Street until Lord Elgin finds new quarters. The Governor General has
accepted the offer, and preparations are underway to accommodate sittings.
“Do you think
the Almighty is trying to send a message to Parliament?” Henry Friel, one of
three men elected in January to represent East Ward, is speaking to Edward
McGillivray, who is serving his second term as a councillor for West Ward.
chosen Friel to be this year’s mayor. It’s his turn.
McGillivray says. “I think it more likely to be Lucifer; he’s the one who knows
how to handle fire!”
petulant, deep-set eyes flash with amusement at the councillor’s wit: the dour
Scot is not known for his clever quips.
Part seven begins with the ongoing political struggle to
establish either a permanent capital, or to continue alternating it, every four
years, between Ville de Québec and Toronto. Again, the quotes from MPs and
newspapers are actual transcriptions:
“The children of Israel
travelled 1,750 miles in 40 years, and the children of Canada have beaten them
in a 15-year pilgrimage.”
Mackenzie’s facetious comment during the latest debate on the
seat-of-government question provides much-needed levity for both
parliamentarians and residents of the competing cities.
MPs who want a
permanent capital have a potent argument: the expense and inconvenience of the
recent move from Ville de Québec back to Toronto.
And many of the
province’s newspapers are supporting them.
It is worse
than foolish to stave off the question any longer, says an editorial in The
Brockville Recorder. Every removal costs the country nearly £100,000. No true man will
vote to sustain this waste.
editorial has inspired Lewis Drummond. Following La Fontaine’s resignation,
Head appointed the member for Shefford attorney general for Canada East. Rising
in the Assembly, he presents a motion to limit the cities for consideration to
Toronto, Ville de Québec, Montréal, Ottawa, Kingston, and Hamilton.
put forward, but when all members who wish to speak have done so, the motion
Now, each city’s
supporters put forward motions calling for their city to become the permanent
When the debate
concludes, Ville de Québec receives the most votes.
As for Ottawa,
an amendment to replace ‘Québec’ with ‘Ottawa’ is defeated. In fact, Ottawa
receives fewer votes than any of the other cities.
We know that, eventually, Ottawa
is successful in becoming Canada’s capital. Here’s a scene between two city
councillors following a vote in the provincial legislature. The men they’re
referring to are Mayor Edward McGillivray and Ottawa MP Richard Scott:
“Well, we won!” Nathaniel
Blasdell’s raised eyebrows tell Lyman Perkins that his pronouncement has the
ring of someone attempting to convince himself of its truth.
Lyman,” Blasdell says. “Yes, in our parliamentary system, a majority of five
votes is a majority—but a decisive victory?”
“I know, I
know,” Perkins says, “but we have council votes—
wasn’t passing a bylaw prohibiting pigs from wandering up and down Rideau
you’re right.” It’s early Wednesday afternoon. The brothers-in-law usually get
together Friday afternoons, but Mayor McGillivray has called a special meeting
of council for 3:30 to discuss plans to celebrate the victory. On this bitterly
cold day, they’ve moved from their usual table and are sitting closer to the
hearth in the British Hotel’s taproom. “I want to hear what Richard—
“I spoke to him
yesterday at his office,” Blasdell says. “He came back to take care of some
legal business, mine included. We spent most of the time talking about the
vote. He said eleven Québec members voted for Mr. Sicotte’s amendment and seven
in ridings around Québec City voted against it. If they had voted for the amendment,
it would have carried.”
“Why would they—
Macdonald and Mr. Cartier were clever enough to say in the Throne speech that
the government will move to Québec City until we put up Parliament buildings.
If they’d voted against Ottawa, Cabinet could have said we’re staying in
clever by half, as someone said.”
“Why is that?”
William McDougall—he’s the member for North Oxford—moved
an amendment that would have kept Parliament in Toronto until we were ready for
it here. He said Mr. Sicotte was still chafing because his amendment was
defeated. He argued that members who voted for Ottawa weren’t in favour of us
becoming the capital. They voted that way because they didn’t want the
government to fall.”
“That may be
true,” Perkins says. “What happened to Mr. McDougall’s amendment?”
Mr. Macdonald was in fine form. He spoke to it for four hours. He said
he made numerous points, but the most important was to remind the House that,
in 1857, members agreed that Parliament would move to Québec until new
buildings were put up in whatever city the Queen chose for the permanent
capital. Mr. McDougall’s amendment was defeated seventy-six to thirty-eight.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Richard said Mr. Bureau then moved an amendment
to have the government move to Montréal for the interim; it was defeated
seventy-three to twenty-nine. Then came the vote on the Throne speech provision
to move to Québec City in the interim. It passed fifty-nine to forty-seven.”
is going to Québec until we have permanent accommodations here.”
“It looks that
way,” Blasdell says.
“You don’t seem
“Nothing about this issue is
certain. Those opposed may try to find other ways to prevent it from happening.”