Debut Canadian novelist Cameron, inspired by stories from her grandparents and uncles, pays homage to the early settlers of Ontario’s northern territory.
This novel celebrates the strength of ordinary people in the face of extraordinary circumstances. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Canadian government, anxious to develop the northern reaches of its Ontario province, began selling cheap acreage to those willing to homestead, clear the vast forests of a rather unforgiving, lonely terrain, and work in the mineral-rich mines in the north. In England, Annie Larsen Kidd’s husband, Jim, sees this as the opportunity they’ve been seeking—a way for the financially struggling young family to finally secure their own home and provide a future for their children: “Listen to this!” he says. “Ye can buy land fo’ fifty cents an acre and just pay a quarter of the price in cash.” Reluctantly, Annie packs up her three children and follows him to New Ontario, where she discovers that he’s built them a rustic, two-room log cabin; their nearest neighbor is a couple of miles away. Thus begins a prototypical immigrant tale of poverty, frustration, and perseverance. Cameron’s focus is on the details of Annie’s daily life: the milestones (including two more births) and the more mundane, repetitive chores. Although the story is light on action, and Annie is the only three-dimensional character, Cameron’s simple, third-person narrative works well to bring readers into the long-lost moments of a past century. There are some compelling sections, when the major events of the era wreak havoc on the small, isolated village; Cameron depicts a devastating forest fire, World War I, and a lethal outbreak of Spanish Flu through graphic imagery, as in this description of Jim’s arrival at the front line in France: “The fields around them were littered with corpses and decomposing body parts; the dead left to decompose where they fell.” In the “Author’s Notes,” Cameron says, “I wanted to put flesh on the bones of those early pioneers and let them live again.” In this, she succeeds.
A generally engaging addition to the expanding library of historical fiction.