Books

The Elusive Mr. Pond: The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer Who Opened the Northwest

The Elusive Mr. Pond - Barry GoughBy Barry Gough, BEd’62
Douglas & McIntyre
230 pages

Peter Pond is a ghost to history. Alexander Mackenzie, the Scottish explorer who mapped the river that bears his name, is not. But Pond’s maps of the Canadian northwest and his understanding of the Athabasca waterways, as well as the First Nations who lived there, contributed to the success not only of Mackenzie but arguably the explorers Lewis and Clark. Yet no portrait of Pond survives. In The Elusive Mr. Pond: The Soldier, Fur Trader and Explorer Who Opened the Northwest historian Barry Gough fills in the blank spaces. Gough shows that an inflammatory personality, a lack of education and the whims of fate placed Pond on the margins despite his substantial contributions to history. Pond opened up the northwest. He was a founding partner in the Hudson Bay Company’s fur‑trading rival, the North West Company, and his maps led to the discovery of the route to the Pacific. He was also implicated in two murders.

Pond was born in 1739 to a Puritan shoemaker in Milford, Connecticut. His life, says Gough, follows the rise and fall of the First British Empire – a time of national ambitions and imperial rivalries to increase geographical knowledge and expand trade routes. Pond fought under General Amherst when the British defeated the French at Montreal in 1760. He was one of the original members of the now infamous Beaver Club, a club for gentlemen who had endured the savage dangers of the Canadian fur trade. And he witnessed firsthand the smallpox epidemic that wiped out many Native peoples.

The Elusive Mr. Pond tells the story of a pivotal figure lost to history but also tells the story of the destruction of land and people in pursuit of profit. In 1778, his first year trading, Pond amassed 100,000 beaver pelts. By the end of the twentieth century, the beaver had been trapped to near extinction. In his memoirs, Pond describes a prairie landscape teeming with buffalo, Lake Winnipeg full of pelicans, First Nations tribes that were plentiful and powerful. Pond’s story is a reminder that even those invisible to history have an impact on the future.


Closing Time: Prohibition, Rum Runners, and Border Wars

Closing Time - Daniel FrancisBy Daniel Francis, BA’69
Douglas & McIntyre
186 pages

If the connection between prohibition and the war on drugs is not immediately apparent, then you should read Daniel Francis’ book Closing Time: Prohibition, Rum Runners, and Border Wars. Peopled with exciting characters and rife with engaging anecdotes, the thoroughly researched book (which includes more than 200 images) illustrates how difficult it was for the Canadian provincial and federal governments to enforce a law that nobody wanted to obey.

Prohibition had been an issue since 1864, when the Canada Temperance Act prohibited the retail sale of alcohol – but only if supported by a majority vote. It was not until 1918 that all provinces, with the exception of Quebec, enacted prohibition under the War Measures Act. Prohibition banned the manufacture and importation of alcohol, but each province had different terms. As a result, there was an opportunity to make a handsome profit through interprovincial trade and export to the United States, where alcohol was banned from 1920 to 1933. Closing Time shows that attempts to restrict alcohol created syndicates of crime and violence. What started as an attempt to control the social habits of ordinary Canadians had unexpected effects. In Francis’ words: “Criminals became folk heroes; ordinary people became criminals.”

Doctors and pharmacists became bootleggers, a term derived from smuggling bottles of alcohol in boot tops. Farmers built illegal stills. Fishermen used their boats to smuggle liquor into the United States. Brewers marketed their beverages as healthy fruit tonics. In the 1920s, liquor tourists from the United States travelled north to participate in nightlife “fuelled by liquor and driven by new music.” By the end of that decade, liquor tourists from the States spent an estimated $300M in Canada.

Violence resulting from policing prohibition gradually turned the public against the law. In one case, police shot at a boat pulling out of a dock near Toronto, killing one bootlegger and wounding another. When the case went to court, the judge ruled that no officer could use firearms to enforce the Ontario Temperance Act. Essentially, the solution was proving worse than the problem. Francis argues that this remains true today: the prohibition of recreational drugs, such as marijuana, is an opportunity for larceny, profit and violence.


Naked in Academe: 50 Years of Creative Writing at UBC

Celebrating Fifty Years of Creative Writing at UBCEdited by Rhea Tregebov
McClelland & Stewart
400 pages

“There is a moment of impact that is the last instant of things as they are.” This is the second last sentence of an excerpt from Steven Galloway’s award‑winning novel The Cellist. It is reprinted in an anthology celebrating fifty years of creative writing at UBC. There are almost 50 pieces in Naked in Academe, including short stories, poetry, film scripts and narrative essays. Each carries as much wallop as the last.

“Sheets of rain splatter on the water like frying bacon” in Eden Robinson’s essay “The Octopus Beds” in which the Haisla author describes her home at the head of the Douglas Channel. In Laisha Rosnau’s poetry, we “are gutted by splendor”. In Bill Gaston’s story about a woman who discovers sex is killing her, we discover “The sweetness of long‑lost. That lovely glue.” In other pieces, characters come unglued. Lee Henderson’s story of a man set adrift on a glacial shelf explores the conflict between man and nature but, in the end, the conflict is with society. A magazine intern in New York has imaginary conversations with Joan Didion. A Jewish man “raised with the paranoia of extinction” imagines the cosmos inside him after taking a hit of acid and realizes that all the world’s pain and suffering is an illusion.

Naked in academe was the name of UBC’s first‑ever creative writing course, taught by poet Earle Birney. Writer Jack Hodgson’s narrative essay, “Postscript from a prehistoric”, recalls Birney’s fiction class as a place where: “We asked. We learned. We tried again.” That single course, which started in 1946, grew into an entire department by 1963.

Editor Rhea Tregebov had a wealth of solid writing to draw upon. Naked in Academe is at once fresh and modern, and includes some literary luminaries yet to enter the limelight, as well as writers like Giller prize‑winner Steven Galloway and poet George McWhirter, a life member of the league of Canadian poets. Naked in Academe represents the diversity and strength of the UBC writing program. It is an excellent read.


Canoodlers

Canoodlers - Andrea BennettBy Andrea Bennett, MFA’12
Nightwood Editions
73 pages

It is hard to believe that certain words, like canoodler, are real but according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a canoodler is a person who shows affection in public places. Andrea Bennett’s poetry collection, Canoodlers, is a public display of all that makes one raw: love, sex, friendship and family. Her choice of a relatively unknown and absurdly silly sounding word as the title points to the wit and intelligence layered in these 73 pages.

The title‑poem comes halfway through. Two canoodlers sit nose‑to‑nose in a restaurant booth at Buffalo Bill’s in Whistler. The poem is presented as a first‑person account, as are many of the book’s pieces. Bennett tells this story about the canoodlers at Buffalo Bill’s to her friend, who replies: Oh no, nothing can be named that after you’ve seen Silence of the Lambs. Pop‑cultural references – like this one about the fictional serial killer Jame Gumb, nicknamed Buffalo Bill in the book Silence of the Lambs – are peppered throughout. Few are explained. Most are laid out as a reminder of what fills the empty spaces between noses in restaurant booths, between friends on road trips, between family members at Thanksgiving dinners. Family members make regular appearances with the exception of Bennett’s brother, who has flown her home more than once in exchange for a promise she would never write about him. Her father starts the collection in the Epigraph, her Nana appears many times, as does her stepfather and mother.

In a poem called “There’s a Story”, a 12‑year‑old Bennett crosses her mother by mistakenly comparing her with a girl in too‑short cut‑offs. In “There’s another story”, Bennett’s mother drinks at the Air Force Club and refuses to let Bennett drive her home. By page 37, Bennett’s mother de‑friends her on Facebook.

Bennett gropes and mauls, pokes and prods, until she uncovers much of her life – but it isn’t an idle exercise in self‑reflection. Bennett pulls the universal out of her personal tales. Her writing is incisive, her humour hilarious, her poetic sensibility solid.

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