Val's Book Reviews

Canada, By Jove

by Betty Annand

Airdrie, Alberta: BWL [Books We Love] Publishing, 2021
$16.99   /  9780228619437 (Amazon price and Amazon print ISBN)

Betty Annand’s book, Canada, By Jove, is a charming tale of two young brothers, Ernest (Ernie) and Hubert (Bert) White, who leave England in 1910 for an adventure in Canada.

Ernie hopes to find a better life for himself and his fiancée, Ada, and assures her he will return for her once he becomes established in Canada. His brother Bert is persuaded to accompany him and, always ready for an adventure, willingly goes along.

Bert has no really strong ties in England, other than his beloved grandmother (Gladys) who he will miss, but the lure of the unknown beckons him. Both Ernie and Bert are machinists by trade so believe they should easily find jobs, but Bert is also willing to put his hand to anything to make a living. Even on the ship travelling to Montreal, he finds ways for the brothers to make a little money. They both left England almost penniless, but Bert is a talented musician so he offers to play his violin aboard ship and Ernie conducts a few church services. The brothers arrive in Montreal with enough money in their pockets to be able to sightsee before looking for jobs.

Courtenay writer Betty Annand with a previous book, 2017

Bert is a happy-go-lucky young chap and this part of his character comes across strongly in Annand’s book. Ernie, on the other, is more cautious, but the combination of their differences makes for an amusing and enjoyable read. The novel is the story of their travels across Canada in the early years of the 20th century from the east coast to the west. It is certainly fascinating to discover all the hardships those early travellers had to endure, which today we could never imagine.

Betty Annand is very familiar with the tales of the brothers, because Bert White was her father and over the years he loved to relate these stories to his children. After Ernie eventually returned to England to bring back his fiancée, Ada, Bert stayed on in Calgary where he met and fell immediately in love with Nell, a young girl from Nova Scotia who was there visiting her sister, Jean. After a few years of marriage and the arrival of four children, Nell agreed to continue the cross-country adventure with her husband to Vancouver as Bert still longed to see the west coast and the ocean. He was by then tired of prairie, mountain and tree landscapes.

As roads between Calgary and Vancouver were practically non-existent and they would be travelling in their over-laden motor vehicle with four children, plus Bert’s younger brother Chris who had also come to Canada by then, and their tents and camping gear, they had to divert south into the United States before returning north again to Canada.

The hazards and dangers that occurred on this part of the journey would certainly have taxed less hardy folk, They include meeting “gangsters” and crossing the border with whisky unknowingly stowed aboard their car; meeting a group of gypsies, some Doukhobors, and a few rather frightening characters along the way that Nell was convinced would kill them all and steal their belongings. But Bert’s cheery disposition usually won everyone over and luck for the most part was with them.

Miners’ houses at Bevan, ca. 1915. Courtesy Cumberland Museum and Archives

Once safely in Vancouver, the adventures continue and the family must still overcome numerous setbacks. A fifth child (Betty) joins the family as Bert’s many talents see them through the depression years. I particularly enjoyed the author’s description of Betty’s older siblings, Bruce, Marion, Kenneth and Lloyd all with their varied personalities.

The family eventually settles in the house Bert builds on Capitol Hill and Nell finally has her dream home. After all the hardships she has endured since marrying the love of her life, she certainly deserved it, but once again problems ensue and the job market becomes dire. Bert is forced to look elsewhere for work and decides to look on Vancouver Island where he is offered a great job with a large salary in Bevan, a small mining town near Cumberland and Courtenay, and when Betty is ten, the family is once again on the move over to Vancouver Island. Nell, and the older children still living at home, must once again adapt to their new surroundings.

94 year-old Betty Annand, 2021. Photo by Terry Farrell. Courtesy Comox Valley Record

Betty Annand’s descriptions of scenery and places across Canada is fascinating and pulls the reader into her story as these hardy pioneers try to build a new life for themselves against all odds in the early 1900s. The talents, imaginations and personalities of the two brothers and their families that loved them, saw them through some hair-raising experiences, all of which they overcame with humour and determination.

After his beloved wife, Nell, passed away in her late sixties, Bert was persuaded by his family to return to England for a visit after a sixty-one year absence. By then he only had one remaining brother and two sisters living there. Upon his return, he was quoted as saying, “It was rather nice to see my brother and sisters again, but to me, ‘home’ is Canada.”

Betty Annand has produced a delightful story documenting her father and uncle’s journey across Canada which makes for an excellent read. She lived in Courtenay for the rest of her life where she later began writing comedy plays for seniors before writing two history books about early settlers in the Comox Valley. Her first novel was published in 2017. Canada, By Jove is her fourth novel and is based entirely on stories her father told her and her own early memories that perfectly capture those exciting times.

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