REVIEWS

The demise of many newspapers, the decrease and even elimination of book reviews in papers still publishing, along with major Canadian magazines no longer carrying reviews, means reviewers and readers cannot connect the way we have for the past couple centuries. However, the link between writers, publishers, librarians, reviewers, and readers has a future here in cyberspace.

All book reviews below are written by J. Patrick Boyer. They cover books of broad interest to Canadians and titles particular to Canada’s far-famed Muskoka District, his home territory. Reviews previously published in magazines, literary journals, and newspapers are consolidated in this location for your convenience. New reviews by Patrick are published here as originals.

A Life Consumed

Lilly Samson’s Dispatches from the TB Front

by Diane Sims

Published by Your Scrivener Press (2008) ISBN: 978-1-896350-30-1
207 pages, paperback

A Compelling Saga of Life Inside Muskoka's Tuberculosis Sanitorium

Book Review by Patrick Boyer

People arriving for “the Muskoka Cure” usually look for a pleasing period of R&R in a rugged yet refined setting.

But for more than half a century, the cure was something much more specific for those afflicted by tuberculosis.

Doctors in the late 1800s recommended rest, adequate nutrition, and fresh clean air, which is exactly what others had been coming to Muskoka to get since the 1860s. So it seemed the district was naturally primed to become a refuge for those seeking respite and cure from the ravages of tuberculosis.

A Life in the Bush

Lessons from My Father

Roy MacGregor

When Dunc MacGregor died and was buried in Huntsville in 1995, his entire wardrobe on five hangers and his meager life savings in a single bank account, it was the end of the line for a man who lived as close to nature as any contemporary Canadian could.

Alligators of the North

The Story of the West & Peachy Steam Warping Tugs

Harry B. Barrett and Clarence F. Coons

Muskoka's economy and culture were forged in logging. But just as across other Canadian tracts yielding up logs for lumber and paper-making, getting felled trees to mills was the hardest and most hazardous part.

An octagonal home in Bracebridge became an Ontario historic site

Woodchester Villa, Bracebridge, Muskoka

A Pictorial History

Robert J. Boyer

Ontario's best enduring and accessible example of the revolutionary eight-sided buildings that were in vogue more than a century ago crowns a high hill in the centre of Bracebridge. An Ontario Government official historic site marker, near the front door, signals the attraction's importance as part of our country's heritage.

Canoeing and Hiking Wild Muskoka

An Eco-Adventure Guide

Hap Wilson

This is "eco-tourism" at its best. Beyond the arc of Muskoka's well-known summer retreats and busy major lakes, the district still possesses a natural, rugged wildness.

Coming of Age in Muskoka includes First Nations Tales

The Roads to Go Home Lake –Christina Kilbourne
Where Lives Take Root –Christina Kilbourne

Rites of passage from youth to adulthood, a universal theme in literature, feature in many "coming of age" books set in Muskoka.

For Muskokans who grew into adulthood here, the most compelling of works in this genre are those informed by the local point of view. There is the reassurance of self-recognition in John Ibbitson's The Landing, drawn with poignancy from his youth in Gravenhurst, or Jim Bartleman's fictional memoir Raisin Wine, chronicling his rites of passage as a Port Carling youngster, or even Gregor Robinson's novel Providence Island set in the Milford Bay area whose protagonist Ray Carrier is a hybrid of outsider and local.

Early Books Defined Perception of Muskoka

The Free Grant Lands of Canada —Thomas McMurray
Guide Book & Atlas of Muskoka and Parry Sound Districts —W.E. Hamilton

Today anyone travelling to a new area is likely to arm themselves with a map and guidebook. A century and a-half ago, when folk were considering Muskoka, it was no different. In fact, because many heading to Muskoka intended to settle, all available information was ardently coveted. So the way Thomas McMurray and William Hamilton illustrated the district and spun the story of its promise in their respective books, had far-reaching impact.

English Bloods

In the Backwoods of Muskoka, 1878

Frederick de la Fosse, edited by Scott D. Shipman

Frederick Montague de la Fosse did not have a name one would readily associate with a rugged pioneer settler in early days of Muskoka. But then again, those who came to this district's rocky woodlands often had unusual reasons for fetching up here, and de la Fosse was one of those young "Englishmen of means" who fancied farming in Muskoka might be a refreshing New World variant on the life of England's landed gentry.

From Oka to Muskoka

the “Special Case” of Wahta Mohawks

An Indian Odyssey
Tribulations, Trials, and Triumphs of Gibson Band of the Mohawk Tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy
–Sylvia DuVernet

Wahta Mohawks of west Muskoka were not included in John W. Grant's1984 book Moon of Wintertime because, its author believed, in a general account of the aboriginal-Christian encounter, "they were a special case."

Ghost Towns of Muskoka

Andrew Hind and Maria Da Silva

Have you ever been to Emberson, Muskoka Mills, or Hoodstown? How about Lewisham, Millar Hill, or Jerusalem (Muskoka, that is)?

The early promise of a number of Muskoka settlements was never to be realized.

Gilmour Tramway

A Lumber Baron’s Desperate Scheme

Gary Long

Just as Nova Scotia in the 1890s witnessed railway engineer Henry Ketchum's boldly imaginative but ultimately ill-fated construction of a massive tramway to carry ships a safer shorter distance overland from the Northumberland Strait to the Bay of Fundy, so Muskoka was home to a similarly daring plan by lumber baron David Gilmour to defeat nature by imaginative engineering.

Huntsville

With Spirit and Resolve

Susan Pryke

When Huntsville became world-famous in 2011 as host community for a gathering of leaders from the "Group of Eight" major countries, that added another colourful chapter to the town's remarkable history.

Land Use Controversy

The Free Grant Lands of Canada –Thomas McMurray
Guide Book & Atlas of Muskoka and Parry Sound Districts –W.E. Hamilton

Muskoka's land use issues began in the very opening days of settlement, logging, farming, and vacationing.

Because the politics and economics of land use, then as today, largely depend on one's appraisal of the "environment," 1860s Muskoka clearly faced fundamental problems: a number of dreamers and policy-makers jostled with incompatible visions of the district's future.

Let's Dance

A Celebration of Ontario's Dance Halls and Summer Dance Pavilions

Peter Young

A village dance hall with international stars, Dunn’s Pavilion in Bala crowned the classic era of lakeside summer nights through the mid-twentieth century, "the place where all Muskoka dances."

Local History of Muskoka Townships

History of Cardwell Township, 1866–1950 –Hekkla Historical Society
Macaulay Township in Days Gone By –Gary Denniss
My Early Days as a Boy in Ufford –Kenneth Veitch

Local history is its own story, as three books about Muskoka townships remind us.

Six years ago in March 2006 at the Hekkla Community Centre in Cardwell Township, citizens wanting to preserve local heritage formed the Hekkla Historical Society. Under leadership of Doreen Nowak, Bruce Crawford, Earl Marchand, Bruce Wilson, and Ernie Sainsbury, with collaboration of many others, the Society then compiled stories and photos of Cardwell to mid-twentieth century. In 2011 the result was published as History of Cardwell Township, 1866–1950.

MacGregor's Book is to Canoeing What a Valentine is to Love

Canoe Country: The Making of Canada –Roy MacGregor

You can cover a lot of territory in a canoe and master story-teller Roy MacGregor does just that writing about this unique vessel in his new book Canoe Country.

Most Canadians have a connection, either personal or cultural, with the canoe. The number of this magazine’s readers linked somehow to canoeing must be close to one hundred percent. “The canoe,” observes MacGregor, “stands well above most other unifying symbols.”

Making His Muskoka Boyhood into a Universal Story

Raisin Wine: A Boyhood in a Different Muskoka –James Bartleman
Out of Muskoka –James Bartleman

For Jim Bartleman, growing up in Port Carling after World War II was to live in one village but inhabit many worlds.

For openers, there was the aboriginal community of his mother and her relatives, the Caucasian universe of his hard-working father and his wine-drinking philosopher friends. Even within these dual spheres, the boy encountered many additional worlds.

Micklethwaite's Muskoka

John Denison

Coffee table books by definition are so large that about the only place for them is face-up on a coffee table, but John Denison's Micklethwaite's Muskoka is in a class by itself. The book is so supersized that four legs were jokingly attached to one copy to make "a coffee table" itself.

The large format (a foot deep, 14½ inches wide) certainly does justice to its more than 200 photographs that dramatically evoke Muskoka in the era of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The man who took these pictures was English-born Frank William Micklethwaite, himself the son of an itinerant photographer, who came to Canada in 1876 and soon emerged as one of Toronto's leading photographers.

Murder in Muskoka

Liam D. Dwyer

This page-turning whodunit has corpses and clues scattered in familiar places all around Muskoka. The venues are so clock perfect a reader may intermittently set down Liam Dwyer's Murder in Muskoka, just to check over the shoulder for approaching danger or scan the lake for floating cadavers, before resuming the thrilling pace with police detective Ian Murdock as he races fate along Muskoka roadways, through towns, morgue, and airport, then across scenic waterways.

Muskoka by Canoe

The Father Pat Stories –Patrick Gossage
Beyond Mainland –Nathan Tidridge
Trails and Tribulations –Hap Wilson, Ingrid Zschogner

There is only one Muskoka, but there are many ways to experience it and doing so by canoe connects a person to nature in a unique fashion. Three books by canoeists also show how truly varied that experience can be.