Canada

The strange stories of Canada’s west coast

I’ve been sharing a series of lectures that I wrote for a Canadian folklore in literature and art class that I used to teach. Here is a lecture I wrote on one of my favorite authors, British Columbia’s Dick Hammond, who was a master of the short story. Please feel free to edit and use this lecture in any class.

Shawn Smallman

Dick Hammond

Terms:

Dick Hammond

House by the Talking Falls

mayoi-ga

Background

  • Canadian author Dick Hammond wrote of the B.C. coast in three volumes, in which he explored the remote communities that dotted Canada’s Pacific edge. 
  • He was born in 1929 and spent his entire life on the part of the Pacific Coast that is called the “Sunshine Coast,” because it is in the rain shadow of Vancouver island
  • He was self-educated, but extremely well-read
  • He used to collect rare operatic recordings (http://www.harbourpublishing.com/author/DickHammond/171)
  • He worked as a salvage logger, a form of life that is romanticized in Canada
  • There even used to be a tv series about it called Beachcombers, which was very popular when I was growing up in the 1970s
  • He married a teacher in 1970
  • Jo Hammond was herself an author, who wrote a memoir of her life: Edge of the Sound: Memoirs of a West Coast Log Salvager 
  •  http://www.abcbookworld.com/view_author.php?id=10107
  • she was quite adventurous and had traveled through the Panama canal on a freighter to come to the West Coast
  • she later worked as a salvage logger herself
  • they had two children, Patricia and Eric
  • Hammond died in 2008, in Sechelt Inlet on the coast
  • His stories often described the lives of the working class, and the strength and craftsmanship that they displayed.
  • His stories often do not have any supernatural characteristics, but focus upon special skills
  • In one story, a black smith is the only person who can repair a broken drill, which would take a week or more to obtain from Vancouver, which would be disastrous for the logging group
  • In another, one man is the only person who knows how to run a particular piece of equipment, and makes a visiting engineer look foolish
  • Some of the skills that he celebrates are quite mundane
  • A tinker who repairs broken pots is honored in one story
  • No skill is too small for Dick Hammond to celebrate it
  • But above all else, he celebrated the skills of the logger
  • Hammond work for years as a small hand logger
  • These men –and they were almost always men, despite his wife’s profession- would travel the coast in their boats looking for isolated stands of timber along the coast on public lands
  • They would work them in a small group, and then take the logs out to sell
  • It was a very hard way to make a life, that required someone who was really self-sufficient
  • That person had to know how to log, how to work machinery, how to run a boat in sometimes treacherous waters
  • These are the skills that Hammond celebrated
  • Very much books to celebrate the working class

The Past

  • But they also evoked a coast haunted by its past, from the recent settlers to the deep history of B.C.’s Indigenous peoples.
  • There is a post by Mackie on a Northwest Archaeology blog that makes a very good case that aspects of indigenous mythology in Haida Gwaii regarding Raven retain memories of the landscape and environment from 12,000 years ago: https://qmackie.com/2009/12/10/raven-walking-geological-transformation/
  • The indigenous peoples of Canada have a history in the region that stretches so far back that their earliest campsites are likely buried deep under the Pacific Ocean, because of rising water levels
  • but traces -including such ephemera as footprints- can be found on some islands: https://www.westernliving.ca/How-Archaeologists-Found-the-Oldest-Footprints-in-North-America-on-BCs-Calvert-Island
  • The BC coast was settled by Europeans in the mid to late nineteenth century
  • Hammond romanticizes this period in some ways, and the strength and independence of the earlier settlers
  • But he is also aware of the negative aspects of this period
  • He talked about the social isolation, particularly for the women who stayed at home, and the family strains that this created, including within his own family
  • The main character in his stories is his father, and they are told as if they were stories that he heard from his father
  • His father had died in 1975, and like his son, spent much of his life as a logger who traveled the coast by boat
  • Other family members are minor characters, such as his uncle, who was gassed while a soldier in World War One and never truly recovered
  • These are strong people
  • Men –and it’s a very male look at the past- were stronger, braver, and less likely to complain than in the past
  • But this approach also gives an air of verisimilitude, an aspect of reality to these stories
  • At times it appears hard to tell- are these stories complete fiction or does he really believe the stories that he is recounting? 
  • The reader is left wondering if the narrator is playing a character, and is he just really good at never breaking character
  • Or are these supposed to be true oral traditions, the memory of one coastal family?
  • Certainly there are many characteristics of oral tales in these stories
  • One can imagine them being told and retold around a family table over the years
  • In one case Hammond said that his publisher insisted on publishing these works as fiction, but they were all true
  • Indeed, he said that his books were all true, and faithfully recorded his fathers’ tales http://www.abcbookworld.com/view_author.php?id=165
  • So perhaps he did views these stories as a record of the settlers’ experience of the coast
  • But Hammond is also very aware that the European history on this coast is a short one
  • This presents a problem, because his work is haunted by the past
  • In one of his less effective stories he tells the story of his father and his friend exploring caves on the coast, and finding some old candles that they learned had been left by the Spanish
  • The story doesn’t work, because it is so awkward to explain how the candles came to be there, or how the men came to learn that they had been left by Spanish explorers
  • At one point, Hammond said that he had the “soul of an antiquary.”
  • To people who have read M.R. James, perhaps the best known author of ghost stories in the English language, it was very clear that Hammond was evoking M.R. James
  • But unlike Hammond there were no ancient mansions, ruined churches, Saxon crowns, or other European aspects of the past to engage with
  • This meant that Hammond had to engage with the Indigenous history of the coast

Michael Crummy’s Galore- a lecture

I am sharing a series of lectures from a class that I used to teach on folklore in Canadian literature and art. Here is a brief lecture that I gave on Michael Crummy’s Galore, a novel which is set in Newfoundland. You are free to use, edit and adapt this lecture however you want for your own classes. I apologize for the formatting changes at points; as you might guess, I cut and pasted in the section on magical realism from a lecture in my “Introduction to Latin America” class.

Be warned- if you are just reading this lecture for fun, there are major spoilers in this lecture.

Shawn Smallman

Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach- a lecture

As you could see from my last blog post, I used to teach a class on Canadian folklore in art and literature. I’m going to share some lectures from that class. Please feel free to adapt and use this in your own classes. Spoiler alert: this lecture contains key plot material, so if you plan to read the novel (which you should), please do that first. You can also see my book review here.

If you are curious to learn more about Indigenous literature, please listen to my podcast episode with Grace Dillon about Indigenous Futurism; it’s episode eight. Or if you’d like to know how Indigenous peoples understood Sasquatch (and Ogopogo, a Canadian lake monster) please listen to this podcast episode of “The Secret History of Canada.”

The odd north- Canadian Folklore in Literature and Art

Henri Julien (1852–1908) Blue pencil, Study for La Chasse-galerie [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Nearly ten years ago I used to teach a short summer course on Canadian folklore in literature and film. I no longer have the opportunity to teach the class, but I wanted to share the syllabus in case it might inspire anyone else. I’ll also share a series of lectures for the class in coming days. Happy Halloween everyone.

Shawn Smallman, 2021

Werewolves of New France

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

In my latest episode of my podcast, Dispatch 7, I talk about the folklore concerning werewolves (in French, the loup garou) in France’s former empire in North America. I used to give this talk when I lectured at the University of Trier in Germany, and it was always popular with the students. I’ll also be sharing some lectures on this blog regarding Canadian folklore in art, literature and film, as we approach Halloween.

Shawn Smallman, 2021

Iran, COVID-19 and a pandemic

新型冠状病毒

Sign to SARS memorial in Hong Kong

Canadian health authorities have announced a positive test for SARS-2-COV in a returning traveler from Iran. Yesterday, Iranian authorities announced two deaths from COVID-19. There are eighteen confirmed cases, which are spread across the country, and include a case in Tehran. It would seem plausible based on a the death count so far, and a case fatality rate of two percent, that there are over a hundred cases circulating in Iran. It is telling that one of the Iranian cases is a doctor, which suggests transmission within the health care system. Given that a case has appeared in Canada, which likely has fewer travelers than Iran’s neighbors such as Iraq, we can expect that health authorities will announce  new cases in these nations in coming days. Unfortunately, two of Iran’s neighbors -Afghanistan and Syria- are in the midst of civil wars, and have damaged health care systems. Sadly, the cases in these countries will likely first be detected in critical cases, which will make it unlikely that these countries can control community transmission. …

Coronavirus and Quarantine

Health education poster, Hong Kong. Photo by Shawn Smallman

As I write these words nurses in Hong Kong are on strike to protest the fact that the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, will not close the border to China. To be clear, the executive has sharply restricted entry to Hong Kong, closed most crossings, and forbidden entry from the most affected Chinese state, Hubei.  But there are still strong calls for a complete border closure coming from within Hong Kong’s medical community.  Similarly, the United States has restricted flights from China to U.S. citizens only; some U.S. airlines had already canceled service to China. All such quarantine measures are controversial.

On social media, such as Twitter, and in the press, a number of experts have denounced all quarantines as being not only ineffective but also in violation of WHO guidelines. These authors worried about panic overcoming good judgement, the economic costs of restricting travel, the stigma imposed on those from affected areas (Chinese in particular, but also all Asia), and the importance of upholding International Health Regulations. These are valid and important points. Some authors have also pointed to studies based on computer models showing that quarantines are ineffective with highly contagious respiratory diseases.

Recently the tone has shifted in the discussion, as it has become clear that some cases of the virus are being spread asymptomatically. The number of cases has grown quickly. Some apparent facts (such as no human to human transmission) that seemed true in mid-January are no longer true. So the stridency of the debate about quarantine has declined, but the debate continues.

So is there any role for quarantines to manage such a pandemic? And is there some other way to make a judgement that relies less on computer models? I would suggest that looking at the past history of respiratory pandemics, such as the 1918 influenza pandemic, might be useful. Can history suggest particular circumstances in which quarantines may work? …

Ghosts across cultures

The Old Burial Ground at the Boston Commons. Photo by Smallman

I’ve long loved Japanese ghost stories, ever since I came across the stories of Lafcadio Hearn. As the epitome of modernity, with its vast urban metropolis of Tokyo, sophisticated infrastructure, and advanced education, you might expect that these supernatural traditions would be fading in Japan. After all, Hearn recorded his stories in the nineteenth century. Instead, the traditions are evolving, as Christopher Harding has described in an article, “Ghosts on the Shore.” In the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami, ghosts didn’t disappear, but their role changed, as they comforted the living. Harding’s well-written and thoughtful piece is worth reading, particularly to hear the thoughts of one Zen priest who has an interesting take on the divide between the living and the dead. …

Crazy Book Prices

As authors, the prices that Amazon and other e-stores charge for our books can be mystifying. Today I received an email from a graduate student interested in accessing a book (Dangerous Spirits: the Windigo in Myth and Legend) that I had written on an evil-spirit being in Algonquian religion. They said that they couldn’t afford over $700 for the book, and asked if I could help them. I was confused and went online to look on Amazon. Sure enough, what I saw was the prices that you can view on the screenshot below. This left me rather mystified. The Kindle version of the book is under nine dollars (U.S. funds), while on Apple books the e-book is selling for just under ten dollars. Why would anyone pay $1,187.50 for the physical book? And why didn’t I save a couple of copies myself to sell on Amazon?

I know that the windigo is a common subject in pop culture, such as young adult novels, television and video games. I also know that a movie on the windigo called Antlers (set in Oregon) is coming out shortly. But these prices are unbelievable. Just to be clear: I certainly receive no share of these inflated prices, and my profits on the book have been quite modest. That’s typically the way it is for academic authors. I spent eleven years researching and writing my first book, and my first (and by far the largest) royalty check was about $220 U.S. dollars. My wife and I used it to go out for dinner to celebrate. You can imagine what the hourly rate for writing that book must have been, especially after spending a year researching amongst dusty papers in Brazil’s military archives. I try not to think about it.

So when you see such elevated prices for a book, please don’t think that this has anything to do with the authors, or that we are somehow receiving a large share of these funds. For anyone who is interested, you can obtain a paperback copy of the book for $19.95 Canadian from my publisher, Heritage House press. If you can afford to buy it from the publisher (and are in Canada), your purchase supports a small, independent house that’s an important venue for books on history.

Want to learn more about the windigo? You can watch a video by PBS’s Monstrum on YouTube here.

Shawn Smallman

Dangerous Spirits on Amazon

Brazil and populism

Few topics have attracted as much writing in recent years as the rise of populism and nationalism. I was interviewed recently by a student reporter at PSU, who wanted to talk to me about Jair Bolsanaro’s rise in Brazil. How does a politician -who served as an officer during the dictatorship, and has made offensive comments about many groups-  win the Brazilian presidency? Of course, Brazilians are exhausted by the endless political scandals, which have left one previous president impeached, and another in prison. Anyone who once promised to shut down Congress will attract votes in this context. The Worker’s Party failed to denounce its leaders for corruption, which cost them legitimacy. I quoted Bolsanaro in my book on military terror in Brazil, in which he said that 30,000 corrupt officials needed to be lined up and shot. He made that statement about twenty years ago. Brazilians have been so frustrated by the massive scandal involving Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, that these and similar comments probably helped more than hurt him. …

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