Red River Rising by B J Bayle

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Word Press This is a “young adult” book (why are books for older children now called “young adult books”?) about a group of emigrants who leave the Scottish Highlands during the infamous Clearances of the lands owned by the Duchess of Sutherland and settle in the Red River Colony, now Winnipeg. The title’s a bit confusing because it sounds as if the book ought to be set during the Red River Uprising of 1869-70, when it actually opens in 1813 and instead covers the “Pemmican War” between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. However, confusing title aside, it’s an interesting book which covers a lot – the situation in the Highlands at the time, the dangers of the journey across the Atlantic, the development of the settlement, the challenges posed by the climate and the terrain, the enmity between the two companies and its effect on the settlers, and the interaction of all three groups with the First Nations and the Metis in the area.

All the way through this, I had “Letter from America”, the song by wonderful Scottish group The Proclaimers, going through my head, but that’s a sad song and this is the positive side of it. In the end, the settlers prospered. And the companies merged. Then again, more issues arose – hence the Red River Uprising. There are a lot of complex issues here, and they’re still affecting both Canada and Scotland – and this book does a very good job of telling a fascinating story in a way that’s accessible to older children, and not a bad read for adults either.

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