Saskatchewan History Review - Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues
Reviewed by: Dwayne Yasinowski
A hundred years old - when people reach this milestone in their lives others stand back around them in amazement whispering - "what sights they must have saw, what events they must have witnessed, what experiences they must have had." This year Saskatchewan has reached that momentous occasion and there is cause to celebrate. But, in contrast to a person reaching 100 years of age, in the framework of history, Saskatchewan is just out of diapers. How many times has it been said, "Why study Saskatchewan history. Other than Louis Riel and the Rebellion, and Tommy Douglas and Medicare, what has ever happened there?" The fact is the Province has a rich, vibrant history - a history filled with peaks and valleys, and turbulent times, which have produced many, many colorful characters. Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues attempts to shine a light on a dozen of these characters.
Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues is a 201 page biographical account of twelve relatively unknown, but extraordinary people. For the most part, history written before 1960, tended to ignore the important contributions of women. "Old-fashioned" historians followed the "Great Men" theory of writing history, with almost all the men being Europeans or decendents of Europeans. Millar should be applauded, as she has made a conscious effort to provide equal representation to both the "Great Men" and "Great Women" in Saskatchewan history. In doing this, Millar has not only placed herself in the category of "Modern historian", she has brought to the forefront the exploits of Kathleen Rice, Jean Ewen, Gladys Arnold, Joan Fletcher, and the "Doukhobor spy" Emma Woikin.
Millar, by her own admission, has produced Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues, with the intention of rescuing "from oblivion some lesser-known heroes, rascals, adventurers, and trailblazers in our colorful past and thrust them back into the limelight. This book also attempts to prevent other, older and forgotten books about these characters from being thrown in the trash bin." In this respect Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues is a colossal success.
Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues is peoples' history. The twelve biographies in this interesting and entertaining read wets the appetite of anyone interested in discovering the intrigues of Saskatchewan history. Millar introduces the reader to Charlie Parmer an old cowboy living in a "soddy" near Dundurn, who claims to have known Jessie James and worked for Buffalo Bill Cody. The reader is told of the exploits of the one-legged figure skater from Saskatoon - Norman Faulkner, and the gun flashing rogue Morris "Two Gun" Cohen, who rose to fame as a bodyguard for Dr. Sun Yat-sen the leader of the Chinese Nationalist movement. Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues brings to light the lives of these male and female adventurers who out of sheer determination have carved a place for themselves in not only the history of our province, but also in the history of the world. In writing Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues, Ruth Millar has once again demonstrated the fact that Saskatchewan does have history; the problem is much of it remains unexplored.
The title Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues is a trifle misleading as it would be a stretch for Saskatchewan to claim five of the twelve people Millar has chosen to profile in her book. Kathleen Rice for example grew up in Ontario, spent six months in Saskatchewan and then moved to the northern wilderness, where she lived near The Pas until she moved to Minnedosa in 1963. Ernest Dufault a.k.a Will James was born in Quebec. He spent approximately four years 1907 - 1911 in Saskatchewan and then moved to the United States where he died in Hollywood in 1942. Even "Two Gun" Cohen's ties to Saskatchewan are iffy at best. "Two Gun" was born and raised in London England and his rise to fame occurred in China. When he did return to North America he lived in Montreal before he moved bak to England where he died. Throughout his life he spent approximately six years in Saskatchewan - 1905-1911.
Millar, in her chapter "Morris 'Two-Gun' Cohen: A Life of International Adventure and Intrigue", makes the statement, "historical novels are usually a complex alloy of fact and fiction." This reviewer concedes that in a historic novel there will be a mixture of fact and fiction. But, in a scientific analysis of history, or in biographical history such as Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues, the attention to fact, detail, and historic accuracy is essential to the success and credibility of not only the work, but also the author. Millar has either forgotten this or cannot decide whether or not her work is a historic novel. Far too often she speculates, using words such as "likely", "probably", "perhaps", and "maybe". For example when describing Will James' exploits Millar writes, "Perhaps he actually did kill a man in a barroom brawl, and maybe he was thrown iin the clink for a spell...." In her chapter "Big Tom Hourie: Saskatchewan's Paul Revere", she writes, "Hourie may have been one of the scouts who saved the day for the government side at Fish Creek." That is a large amount of credit to give someone if he does not deserve it, not to mention the fact that it changes the way in which history would portray Hourie's role in the Rebellion.
Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues is a light, interesting read, that needs to be taken for what it is - an introduction into the lives of some very extraordinary Saskatchewan people. For a person looking for an entertaining reecollection of the lives of these people, this book fits the bill. For academics seeking to improve their knowledge of Saskatchewan history the book falls short of the mark. What Saskatchewan Heroes & Rogues will do, is provide academics with a starting point for their research through its endnotes.