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April 2010 issue



BOOK REVIEWS

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RAINCOAST PLACE NAMES
A Complete Reference to Coastal British Columbia
By Andrew Scott
Harbour Publishing Co., 664 pp., $49.95 hardcover

PLACE NAMES OF CANADA
Second Edition
By Alan Rayburn
Oxford University Press, 328 pp., $24.95 softcover

Travelling throughout Canada, people come across, and raise their eyebrows at, some pretty unusual place names —Eyebrow, Sask., for instance. A new book by author and journalist Andrew Scott takes a look at the origin of place names along the coast of British Columbia. The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names, which the Victoria Times-Colonist calls “one of the most important books about British Columbia published this century,” gives the location, name and history behind each point on the map. Exhaustive in scope, Scott’s book covers the mundane — places named after explorers and their companions — and the weird, such as a body of water called Useless Bay, because surveyors found it completely choked with sand. Alphabetically ordered, this book is a good companion on a drive down the British Columbia coast.

Also published recently, a newly expanded version of former Canadian Geographic toponymy columnist Alan Rayburn’s Place Names of Canada. The book has been revised and, in addition to more official place names, now includes the history behind them. Take Toronto, for instance, a city whose Mohawk-derived name actually means “trees standing in the water,” not “place of meeting,” as is oft repeated.

— Emma Lehmberg



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THE PTARMIGAN’S DILEMMA
An Exploration into How Life Organizes and Supports Itself
By John and Mary Theberge
McClelland & Stewart, 320 pp., $34.99 hardcover

Filled with colourful descriptions of wood ducks and birdsongs and clear explanations of how wolves with similar genes can look so different, John and Mary Theberge’s The Ptarmigan’s Dilemma allows non-scientists to easily understand evolution and the many factors and processes that can impact it. The Theberges, wildlife ecologists best known for their study of wolves in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park, bring science to life as they share stories from their adventures in the field. In their study of captive ptarmigans, they explore how nature and nurture work together to create evolutionary change: controlling the birds’ diet, for instance, prompted the ptarmigans to form gallbladders, an organ wild ptarmigans do not have. It’s easy to get lost in the Theberges’ descriptions of the wildlife they’ve encountered in their 30-plus years of working together — and easy to forget that you’re reading about scientific theory.

— Ainslie Cruickshank


KANATA
By Don Gillmor
Viking Canada, 456 pp., $34 hardcover

It’s not often that geography lovers and map geeks get to sink their teeth into a piece of historical fiction. But the making of maps and the building of a nation figure prominently in this ambitious and absorbing novel that spans the period from colonial times to Confederation. Using an inventive story structure, Don Gillmor — the author of Canada: A People’s History and a multiple National Magazine Award winner — triangulates the tragic heroics of explorer extraordinaire David Thompson, the Zelig-like experiences of his descendant Michael Mountain Horse and the history of Canada, “a series of accidents balanced against inevitable forces.” Making guest appearances along the way are large and messy personalities such as Riel, Bethune and Diefenbaker.

— Alan Morantz


HARVEST PILGRIMS
Mexican and Caribbean Migrant Farm Workers in Canada

By Vincenzo Pietropaolo
Between the Lines, 144 pp., $49.95 softcover

Every spring, roughly 20,000 people come to Canada to work — and most of us never see them. They’re farm workers from Mexico and the Caribbean, and until the fall harvest is finished, they work for wages that many Canadians wouldn’t tolerate. Then they go home, until the migration begins anew in the spring. Photographer Vincenzo Pietropaolo has been visiting these workers on farms across Canada since 1984 and has travelled to their homes in Mexico, Jamaica and Montserrat. In Canada, they are a subculture isolated from the communities where they are based; at home, they have fresh haircuts and are success stories. Through dramatic black-and-white photographs and insightful text, Harvest Pilgrims shows Canadians the real stories behind the foreign faces responsible for our “local” food.

— Jessica Sims


VANCOUVER SPECIAL
By Charles Demers

Arsenal Pulp Press
271 pp., $24.95 softcover

This book is not a travel guide — it is a collage put together by an insider who examines Vancouver’s culture, contradictions and history. Vancouver Special, by activist and performer Charles Demers, maps the city and navigates its more contentious points with comic wit. “I don’t have kids,” he writes, quoting fellow comedian Erica Sigurdson, “because I don’t own enough yoga gear.” This book covers the rich, the poor, the druggies, the politics, the First Nations and the neighbourhoods that make Canada’s Olympic city so special. It tackles city life head-on, and it has the pictures to prove its points: artistic black and white photographs by Emmanuel Buenviaje show drug use, yoga moms, protests, punks and everything in between. Demers explores the multiplicity of Vancouver so well that even his fellow locals will learn things they didn’t know about themselves.

— Mathew Klie-Cribb



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