Canadian pioneer poems

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Reading Between the Lines: Piecing together the life of Elizabeth Boyd McDougallThe Canadian Homeschool Blog hop this month is on the theme of Canadian books and resources. Over my couple of years of blogging I’ve listed a few Canadian books, such as Melanie Bluelake’s DreamCaribou Songs, Shannen’s Dream for a School and a collection of books about Northern Canada.

Today I want to write about a poetry book, called Reading Between the Lines: Piecing together the life of Elizabeth Boyd McDougall by Shirley A Serviss. Elizabeth Boyd McDougall was the second wife of John McDougall, a Methodist missionary in the prairies. The poems start with her journeying out to the west with her new husband, preparing to meet his children, learning to prepare food on the journey, to accept the rough life she has stepped into.

The book is not meant for children. There is one poem in particular with some sexual content. Rip page 13 – 14 out if you are worried about it and page 45. Or better yet, just choose specific poems to share with the kids and keep the book to yourself. Other poems hold deep emotion and discuss tricky situations. The author is a stepmother and wrote partly about the challenges of being a stepmother. Older teens might find the book interesting, particularly if they are reflecting on the life of stepmothers they know, while specific poems are great for sharing with younger children, particularly as part of a unit study about the settlement of the Canadian west.

For younger kids:

  • Make bannock according to the instructions on page 17.
  • Look at the cross hatched writing on page 32. Cross-hatching was a way of writing more on one single sheet of paper. Write a letter cross-hatched, either a real one to someone you know today, or pretending to live in Morley, Alberta in the 1860s or 70s.
  • 38 – 39 Two pages are titled “A true story” and six paragraphs quoted there describe the same story in different ways. Discuss the challenges of determining historical accuracy.
  • On page 42 the poem tells of a native legend about the Chinook. Learn about Chinook winds.

For older kids there are interesting themes to explore. In the beginning poems Elizabeth is being portrayed as being scared of the native people. She is new to their land, she does not know the language. The poems portray her seeing them both as powerful and scary, but also helpless against the upcoming changes. One of the poems compares the upcoming settlement as being like Noah’s flood, and the treaties that John helped promote as being an attempt to “reserve” the natives a place on the ark.

One poem points out the awful control that the treaties put on the natives in Treaty Number Seven.

I am a witness to the way

their trust in us has been betrayed.

Thou shall not roam the land

without a pass, hold a sundance

or sweat. Thou shalt not even

sell a cow without permission.

Who wrote these rules in stone?

The book is littered with religious references. It is a story of a missionary’s wife, after all. I don’t mind the religious references because they aren’t there to convert the reader. Though these are modern poems put upon a historic time, I’m used to reading actual historic writings saturated with even more religious content. That’s just how it is.

There is an ironic element to many poems. A poem on page 58 speaks of how a preacher is expected to be King Solomon, solving problems for the native people he was missionary too and then continues on to talk about:

At night he offers his verdicts

on my day-to-day concerns

without my asking. I wonder

how he thinks I manage all the

months he is away when I must

trust my own wisdom.

If the advice for his wife is unwanted and necessary, does that not leave open the possibility it is just as unnecessary and unwanted by the others who must hear it?

There is a poem based off a speech the historic Elizabeth gave. In it she quotes an awkward, awful line “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” and then goes on to say why she disagrees with it. I would rather no child ever hear that line, but I also know that it is in the series Little House on the Prairies, by Laura Ingle Wilder, which so many people still recommend for kids.

This blog is part of a blog hop with the Canadian Homeschool Blog Team. There is a giveaway with the blog hop… if you’d like to enter you can do it from right here or any of the other posts in the hop.

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6 thoughts on “Canadian pioneer poems

  1. Pingback: Favourite Canadian Books

  2. What an interesting book – I’ve never heard of it before. I love that there are activity ideas related to it and some very great opportunities for discussions about different cultures and our perceptions of them. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Hmmm, sounds very interesting! I’ve heard of McDougall before but don’t know much about him. I do enjoy these homesteader type books so it’s fascinating to learn more. I love the way you’ve broken it down into various ways to use the book! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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