Calgary Herald Review - Honore Jaxon

Reviewed by: Naomi Lakritz

University of Calgary historian Donald Smith could not have latched on to a more oddball character out of Canada's west than Honore Jaxon, self-styled Metis, poseur, classically educated intellectual, social justice reformer, phoney military major, gentle con artist par extraordinaire and secretary to Louis Riel.

Born William Jackson, this son a straitlaced eastern establishment Methodist family was headed for the fringe from Day One. It had to have been in his genes. How else to explain how we finished as one of those eccentric little old men living in a basement apartment in New York surrounded by a firetrap of books and papers?

Casting his youthful lot with Riel, he came to believe that Riel "had been commissioned by God to purify (the Catholic) Church." Charged with treason along with Riel, Jackson's profession of "Rielism" at his trial saved him from hanging. He was declared a "dangerous lunatic," shipped to an asylum, escaped and wandered to the U.S.

Passing himself off the rest of his life as a Metis, Jackson concocted what he thought was a Metis name - Honore Jaxon - and used it the rest of his life. 

A ne'er-do-well who did construction work and bounced from cause to cause, embellishing his persona as the years went by, Jaxon found a spouse who could tolerate his eccentricitie and pathological lies ("I am very glad of my Virginia ancestry," he wrote his wife, Aimee, despite the fact that he had no such ancestry). 

He and Aimee lived in separate houses because even in New York City, he tried to duplicate the bare-bones shanty of a 19th-century Canadian prairie wanderer and she wanted something more comfortable. 

Smith admires Jaxon greatly for his non-conformist ways, but he does not delve into whether Jaxon suffered from mental illness. While he skilfully evokes Jaxon's vivid character, Smith leaves the reader wondering why that discussion doesn't take place in his book.

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