CBC put out a list of 100 young adult fiction books that make you proud to be Canadian. I managed to get my hands on a few and I’ll be reading some of them this summer. Book #1? I read Shadow in Hawthorn Bay by Janet Lunn.
Janet Lunn writes a brilliant and strong protagonist into her story and allows her readers to exeprience a moment in Canada’s history: the settling of Ontario. It is clear through her biography on a University of Manitoba website that Lunn was devoted to writing female characters into her stories in order for young Canadians to see that women were here too, not just men.
In Shadow in Hawthorn Bay, Lunn writes about Mary Urquhart who leaves her home of Scotland behind in 1812 to follow the voice of her friend and young love Duncan who has moved to Canada.
In the story, Mary has the ‘second-sight’ and is able to see into the past and the future. Her belief in the Old Ones is strong,yet when she gets to Canada, no one believes in the Old Ones anymore. What happens when you move to a place that no one has lived in before? Well, they become the old ones!
As I was reading this novel I couldn’t help but connect with Susanna Moody, which I suppose was Lunn’s intent–that we learn more about the women in our history. In university I read Margaret Atwood’s poetry collection The Journals of Susanna Moodie and some of the images Atwood created stuck with me, even to this day.
By the end of the book of poems, Susanna Moodie becomes the spirit of the land. She cannot be separated from the land she now rests in, the Ontario forest (or downtown Toronto). In Shadow in Hawthorn Bay Mary, the main character, is afraid of the woods and forests of Ontario because they are black and dark and mysterious. Actually, once she has lived in the area for a while she realizes that the forests are not haunted, but are instead absent of any old spirits.
In Atwood’s brillance, she writes about Moodie burying one of her children in “The Death of a Young Son by Drowning”:
“After the long trip I was tired of waves. / My foot hit rock. The dreamed sails / collapsed, ragged. / I planted him in this country / like a flag.” I planted him in this country like a flag. Those words still haunt me.
In the story, Lunn shows the harshness of a new country and the mental instability that affected many people who were alone and isolated trying to survive in the Ontario bush. In fact, her story revolves around overcoming fears and showing determination and inner strength, all the while relying on a community to survive and the interplay between old beliefs and new ways of living. Mary becomes a strong, independent character who needs to fight her own battles before she is ready to open up to those around her.
I have a copy of Charlotte Gray’s book Sisters in the Wilderness: The Lives of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill which is for sure on my summer reading list this year. I know that one of my friends keeps reacting with surprise every time I say I still haven’t started reading it yet. But this summer I am committed to reading up on some of Canada’s women who are often times forgotten in the history written by men. And then I’ll go back and reread Atwood’s poems again and most likely gain a deeper understanding of the women who helped to form our country and have become the true Old Ones, the spirit of Canada.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2)
” ‘The old ones came to our hills in the ancient times. It began somewhere. It began there long ago as it begins here now. We are the old ones here.’ ” (Janet Lunn)