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Bookends: This Book Gives a Misguided Account of the Events of the Klondike Gold Rush. June 4, 2013

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Bookends: This Book Gives a Misguided Account of the Events of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Klondike Rush

By Dan Davidson

February 20, 2013

The Klondike Gold Rush

By Sandra Dooling

Weigl Educational Publishers Ltd.

32 pages

$26.95

Weigl Educational Publishers Ltd. has had a really good idea in terms of creating interesting non-fiction books for the grade 5 to 8 crowd. The format is a compact 32 page hardcover comic book style presentation. The illustrations are serviceable, if not up to current genre quality, and their potential for telling a story is strong.

Unfortunately the execution leaves a lot to be desired. This book contains a great many errors. Some (like spelling “Carmacks” as “Carmarks” a couple of times) might be simple typing and proofing errors, but others are just plain sloppy scholarship.

Let’s begin with the picture showing the discovery of gold in 1896. It shows Kate (who wasn’t there at the time) and George Carmacks panning together on a riverbank, while Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie cut down a really massive tree (by Yukon standards) in the background. The text reads, “Someone noticed gold in the stream.”

Most historians agree that Jim found the gold, but aside from that there’s this neat wood-frame cabin in the background with a fenced pasture leading away from it to the left. Sorry, they really weren’t homesteading on Bonanza Creek.

As we move on, it appears that the Stampeders trekked over the Chilkoot Pass wearing nothing more than sports coats that they didn’t bother to fasten.

At Bennett Lake we find more wooden cabins and no tents, while the boats that head down the river after breakup have no gear and supplies in them, just people.

Both Whitehorse and Dawson appear to have been fully constructed and waiting for the gold seekers to fill their streets; again, there are no tents in sight.

Sam Steel was the Superintendent – not the Commander – of the Northwest Mounted Police, and when he left in 1899 it was to report to Regina, not Montreal, though he was quick to head off to the Boer War after that.

While the Hän people suffered from a great many diseases imported by accident by the new arrivals, Smallpox did not “decimate” the population. There was chicken pox, tuberculosis, several flu epidemics, measles, diphtheria and tonsillitis, and they took their toll, but “decimation” would be too strong a word.

On page 25 we learn that “The government, concerned by the impact of the Gold Rush on the region, began to negotiate treaties with the First Peoples.”

This is perhaps the biggest error in the text. We have just passed the 40th anniversary of the Yukon Native delegation’s meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, the meeting that began the slow process of Land Claims, which was concluded here in Dawson in 1998. Why were there ever Land Claims negotiations? Because there never were any treaties, neither here nor in most of British Columbia.

This error is repeated in the small “Brain Teasers” section at the end of the book. This is a nice feature, but not if it has bad information.

Surely there was enough existing photo reference material that the two panels dealing with Robert Service could have placed him in his log cabin – but no, because there aren’t any log cabins to be seen in this book at all. Nor did the artist seem to realize that most Dawson commercial buildings of that period were single story affairs with false fronts that make them look like they were bigger.

Moving on, Dawson City lost its capital status in 1953, not 1950 as stated in this book.

The story ends rather abruptly with a family of tourists visiting a dredge. It’s supposed to be Dredge No. 4 from the text, but surely some photo reference could have been used to come up with something like the actual dredge. When the dialogue balloon says it’s eight stories high and you can only see four, something is amiss.

Books of this type generally have a short bibliography at the end and, these days, some website references. I can’t fault the latter, and two of the books listed are fine. Berton’s Klondike is great, though why they didn’t list the junior readers versions of his Klondike works is strange. They are illustrated and more age appropriate. Claire Rudolf Murphy’s Gold Rush Women is probably a good one for that age level.

The spoiler in the list is Howard Blum’s misnamed The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush. It’s misnamed because it’s a pulpish adventure novel that plays fast and loose with the actual events and is therefore not a “true tale” at all, however much fun it may be to read.

So what have we here? We have a really good idea rendered fairly useless by bad research. This is part of Weigl’s Defining Moments in Canadian History series, which the publisher likes to claim “has it all” by pairing “engaging illustrations with educational text to give readers an inside look into the setting and gain an in-depth understanding of defining events” in our nation’s history.

I don’t know about the rest of the books in this series, but what this one has is a lot of mistakes.

-30-

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Comments»

1. andrea Spalding - June 5, 2013

Ouch, sloppy indeed. Were most of the mistakes implied by the illustrations?

klondykewriter - August 18, 2013

The simple visual ones, like clapboard houses, picket fences, nothing but sportcoat style jackets were, but there were other things in the text itself.


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