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Seven Rivers of Canada by Hugh MacLennan
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Seven Rivers of Canada

by Hugh MacLennan

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In this book, published in 1961, Hugh MacLennan explores the terrain and history of seven major rivers of Canada. On the Mackenzie, he encounters tough old prospectors and learns how to cope with "northern time". On the St. Lawrence, he reflects on the good fortune of the settlers in this area and the river's importance to travel and trade. On the Ottawa, he explores the history of the rough-and-tumble lumber town that eventually became Canada's capital. On the Red, he ponders the unusual geology of the area (the river is actually the remnants of an ancient lake, so when the Red floods, it's reverting to the ancient lakebed) and discovers deltas teeming with wildlife. On the Saskatchewan, he traces the river's path along the lone prairie from its source in the Columbia Icefield and reflects on the harshness of the prairie homesteader life. On the Fraser, he tells the tale of Simon Fraser, who explored the namesake river, and the utter scariness that would be travelling down through the Black Canyon in just a flimsy canoe. And on the St. John, he discovers a slice of Old New England and discusses the river's abundant salmon and interesting hydrological features (the Reversible Falls).

The book originally began as a series of essays for Maclean's magazine, so it's very easy to pick up and put down. Each river is illustrated with a map of the terrain, including major towns and cities and other tributaries and bodies of water. Some essays are longer than others (the Ottawa and the St. John ones are fairly short), but all of them contain some interesting information. MacLennan also makes use of his own travels and experiences, comparing some stretches of river to the Thames or the bigger cities in Canada to other cities he's visited.

Of course, one must also bear in mind that this book was published over 50 years ago -- MacLennan makes a few predictions that haven't quite panned out, and presumably a lot of the places he visited have become much more urbanized. Still, a lot of the geography and early history is pretty timeless, as is the observation about no true Montrealer ever taking Toronto seriously ;-) Recommended if you're into books about the early history and geography of Canada -- for example, the stories of people like Susanna Moodie, Catharine Parr Traill and George Mercer Dawson, or novels like The Outlander (Gil Adamson) or Guy Vanderhaeghe's Western "trilogy". ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jul 26, 2013 |
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