One of the challenges of using Ambleside Online is that the curriculum is made for American students. Because of that, I’ve spent the last six months or so thinking a lot about how to include living books on Canadian history into our homeschool. Personally, I found Canadian history dreadfully boring back when I was in high school! Our teacher would go through a chapter of an uninspiring textbook, we’d fill in a worksheet, and another day of ‘learning’ was checked off. Yeah, that is NOT what Charlotte Mason had in mind for history!
While searching about for engaging, well-written accounts of Canada’s story, I came across the Great Stories of Canada series . . . and so far (I’ve read two of the thirty-three titles), they live up to their name! I thought I’d include a few book reviews on my blog in case other Charlotte Mason homeschoolers are looking for excellent historical literature to read with their children. The book review template I’m using comes from the blog of another AO homeschooling mom, Nelleke Plouffe, I’ve found her blog invaluable when it comes to hunting down good Canadian resources!
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Title: The Bold Heart: The Story of Father Lacombe by Josephine Phelan
Series: Great Stories of Canada #10
Publisher: Macmillan, 1956
Availability: Out of print, but available used online via Book Finder
Time Period: 1850 – 1900 AD
Setting: Western Canada, particularly the Alberta region
Grade Level: probably Year 4 or Year 5 +
Verdict: Heartily recommended!
1. What is the story about?
The Bold Heart is a biography of Father Albert Lacombe (1827-1916), a French-Canadian Catholic missionary priest in western Canada. The book begins in 1853 with Father Lacombe moving from the Red River to the North West Territory (modern day Alberta), and the first half of the book chronicles his various interactions with the Cree and Blackfoot tribes. In the second half of the book, Father Lacombe is given many other assignments – chaplain to a railway building crew, partaking in treaty negotiations, traveling to Europe on behalf of a bishop, setting up schools, fundraising, working as a parish priest in small towns, and so forth.
2. Is it written by a single author with a passion for his/her subject?
Yes! The Bold Heart was written by Josephine Phelan, a woman whose first love is history. It shows in her writing. Father Lacombe’s life was varied, rugged, and interesting, and her biography does it justice.
3. Does it have ideas, not just facts?
Yes. I found this book fascinating; there were so many different ideas to ponder, especially with regards to the First Nations people of Canada! First, a caveat. The book does use outdated language (for example, referring to the Metis people as ‘half-breeds’, First Nations people as ‘Indians’ and First Nations women as ‘squaws’), and, seeing as it’s a book about Father Lacombe, tells the story from the point of view of the settlers of Canada.
Some of the thought-provoking ideas brought up by The Bold Heart include:
– What a good missionary looks like.
Father Lacombe worked hard to learn the language of the Cree and Blackfoot, shared the gospel, nursed the sick during epidemics, and was unfailingly generous. “Everything that came into his possession was either loaned or given away. Even the clothes he didn’t happen to be wearing were at the disposal of any poor traveller who arrived cold or wet at his mission house. His pass on the Canadian Pacific Railway was no exception to this rule. He loaned it more freely to others than he used it himself and his right to do so was never questioned.”
– How the sale of Rupert’s Land to the government of Canada meant an end to the First Nation peoples’ way of life.
The settlers poured in after the sale, just as they had done in the USA. I felt such sympathy for the First Nations who were losing their way of life, and couldn’t do anything about it! The book also talks about how around the year 1880 the buffalo just disappeared, and how the tribes would talk hopefully about when the buffalo would return. I think we can all sympathize (to a lesser degree, most of the time) with that hunger for the way things were.
– The Hunting Life vs. The Agricultural Life
There were two sections of the book that particularly memorable. One described a long winter journey Father Lacombe made with a small group of starving First Nations people. This group had suffered poor hunting all autumn, and were now without ammunition and hope. Father Lacombe and the small group traveled for nine days with only a rotten, diseased buffalo carcass to eat.
The second section described the First Nations people adjusting to post-treaty life on the reservation. “The Indians were uneasy and unhappy in their new life. They didn’t like the white man’s food. It was neither as good nor as plentiful as they had expected. They didn’t understand or like farming, although the idea was slowly getting through to them that that was part of the bargain they had made. They were to learn to be farmers and grow their food. Even the young boys found this humiliating. When an old warrior passed they would drop their hoes and stand with empty hands, ashamed to be seen at this unmanly work.” That last line about young boys dropping their hoes, ashamed, is a picture I can’t forget.
– How the Canadian Pacific Railway changed Canada.
Father Lacombe worked as a chaplain on the railway for two years, and Josephine Phelan painted a vivid picture of the railway workers’ culture of swearing and rough edges.
– The complexity of understanding a different culture.
One thing that stood out was how Father Lacombe called himself an Indian. He loved, loved, loved being among the First Nations people. He loved their simple way of life and learned their languages, and the Blackfoot in return befriended and respected him and named him, Arsous Kitsi Rapi, the man of good heart. At one point, when he’d been appointed parish priest in Winnipeg, Father Lacombe wrote, “I continue to do penance by remaining in the midst of modern civilization. More than ever I long for the Indian missions.” But he didn’t totally understand the First Nations people. He kept trying to teach them farming when they were committed to their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. He also built boarding schools to which the Blackfoot refused to send their children.
4. Is it well-written?
Yes, it is engaging and well written. Here’s an example of a description of Father Lacombe during his travels to Europe: “The French Oblates were full of curiosity about the Canadian missionary. They found him not quite as they had expected. It is true he had the piercing eagle eye, the forthright manner of the plainsman. But his silvery white hair, his kind and lively face suggested a personality distinguished and fine, not at all the stern disposition they had expected in a man whom Indian chiefs called brother. But his speech! Who in France had ever heard such speech? To his native Quebecois accent he had added the racy, picturesque phrases of the trappers and voyageurs. The French found him enchanting, but drole, n’est-ce pas?”
Josephine Phelan also occasionally quotes delightful snippets from Father Lacombe’s journal: “Notwithstanding all the beautiful things which I have seen in this France and England, I have looked on sights as fine in the beautiful valley of the Saskatchewan… I am writing you today from a nobleman’s palace but it is not as precious as my poetic tent in the wilderness, where I wrote on my knees my sermons in Cree and Blackfoot.”
5. Is it inspiring?
Absolutely. Father Lacombe lived a busy, dynamic life! (See above.)
6. For what age group would this book be a good fit?
This is a tricky question for me, as my children are 7 years old and under. I would guess this would work well for students in Year 4 or Year 5 and above.
7. What noteworthy historical events occur during the story?
– the sale of Rupert’s Land to the Canadian government, and subsequent settling of the West
– treaties made between First Nations tribes and the Canadian government
– the Riel Rebellion
– the building of the Canadian Pacific railway