by David Starr
Ronsdale Press, 2017
ISBN 978-1-55380-493-2 (sc)
$11.95, 213 pp., maps, ages 9 – 12
The novel The Nor’Wester, set before the onset of the War of 1812, sees fifteen-year-old protagonist Duncan Scott flee Glasgow after attacking a factory owner who callously dismissed his parents’ deaths in an industrial fire. After stowing away on a ship bound for Quebec, the young Highlander joins the North West Company as a clerk and eventually is sent to British Columbia where he takes part in Simon Fraser’s failed quest to follow the Columbia River to the Pacific. Along the way he saves lives, fights villains, falls in love with a Red River Métis girl, and endures incredible hardship as a teenage voyageur and explorer. Star has done a fine job describing the region and original peoples around Fort St. James, although there are some glaring anachronisms (Grosse Isle did not become a quarantine station until the 1830s, and “coffin ships” were a product of the 1845-9 Great Famine). Nonetheless, this is a highly entertaining adventure yarn that offers an educational glimpse into life—food, drink, work, travel— in earlier times.
Classroom Connections: This book is a good read. Based in part on first-hand accounts of Simon Fraser’s exploits, the portrayal of contacts between newcomers and Indigenous peoples rings true, and the descriptions of historical places in Canada mean the novel could be part of a literacy program for older elementary students (perhaps writing diary entries for characters including the evil La MaLice). It could be employed in Geography (mapping the voyage from Red River to Fort George) and History classes (comparing/contrasting events with short excerpts from Fraser’s own journals) as well.
Review by George Sheppard.
This review is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2018 issue.