The best books that reveal the hidden history of Western Canada

Lynne Bowen Author Of Whoever Gives Us Bread: The Story of Italians in British Columbia
By Lynne Bowen

The Books I Picked & Why

The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia

By Jean Barman

Book cover of The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia

Why this book?

A mule-drawn wagon train moves precariously along a narrow road carved out of a steep rock wall—this book lives up to the promise of its cover. The book jacket blurb entices lovers of history like me: “British Columbia is regularly described in superlatives both positive and negative—the most spectacular scenery, the strangest political campaigns, the mildest winters, the most rain, the most aggressive resource developers, the biggest peace and environmental movements, the closest Canadian ties to Japan and China, and the richest native culture.” The author, Jean Barman, is one of my mentors and an inspiration to everyone who is interested in British Columbia history.

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The Englishman's Boy: A Novel

By Guy Vanderhaeghe

Book cover of The Englishman's Boy: A Novel

Why this book?

I love a book that weaves fiction into historical events. The Cypress Hills are on the Canadian side of the international border where it cuts through the North American central plain. This was a gathering place for First Nations and Metis people, but the area also attracted American whisky traders and wolf hunters. The reasons for the massacre that occurred in 1873 are disputed, but fifty years later, the last living survivor, by then a grizzled bit player in Hollywood, tells his story to a young screenwriter.

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Broken Ground

By Jack Hodgins

Book cover of Broken Ground

Why this book?

Jack Hodgins, Western Canada’s literary wunderkind, put Vancouver Island on the literary map with his short stories and novels which demonstrate the truth in the adage “write about what you know”. As a writer I learned this from Jack and I also learned that if I find a subject fascinating my readers will too. In Broken Ground, his seventh novel, Jack writes about World War One veterans, still haunted by the horror of the trenches, as they struggle to farm amid the massive stumps of a former old growth forest.

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The Dunsmuir Saga

By Terry Reksten

Book cover of The Dunsmuir Saga

Why this book?

The late Terry Reksten, a researcher par excellence, spent much of her career writing about Robert Dunsmuir, a former indentured coal miner who became the richest man in British Columbia, and his descendants. Terry devoted most of this book to the building of Craigdarroch Castle and to the way Dunsmuir’s children and grandchildren spent his fortune, but it complements the coal mining books I have written that tell the stories of the men who dug the coal that built that fortune.

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The Stone Angel

By Margaret Laurence

Book cover of The Stone Angel

Why this book?

Who would have thought that a novel about a ninety-year-old woman determined to avoid being put into a nursing home would become required reading for high school and university students? And yet this novel has been listed by several sources as one of the greatest Canadian novels ever written. Laurence’s writing style inspired me and gave me the assurance to write about Western Canadian history. It demonstrates one of the reasons why Laurence was named posthumously as “A Person of National Historic Significance” by the Canadian government in 2018.

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