UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Gwen

Overcoming adversity is the hallmark of this historical tale about homeless children sent from England to work as domestics in Canada

By Karen Stiller

Gwen
By Carolyn Pogue
(Sumach Press) $12.95



Before reading Gwen, the latest release from Alberta author (and Observer columnist) Carolyn Pogue, I was unaware that part of Canada’s long history of welcoming immigrants includes homeless children sent from England to work as domestic helpers. The records show that as many as 100,000 “Home Children” came to Canada between 1869 and the Great Depression. Pogue’s own grandmother was among them, as she writes in the foreword of the book.

The heroine of Gwen finds herself orphaned and alone when a concerned (but nosy!) neighbour calls Dr. Allan, a physician who runs a home where orphaned children are educated, cared for and trained to become household servants. Pogue modelled Dr. Allan on Dr. Thomas Barnardo, a philanthropist who tried to give destitute children a better life by arranging for them to work in places like Canada.

Like the best of female characters in juvenile fiction, Gwen is full of imagination, fire and courage. Whenever a girl in a book is described as “wilful” by a grumpy adult, we know she will be all right in the end. Gwen survives her training in tea-towel mending and the proper way to set the table and sails to Canada with a handful of other girls who feel they are ready to begin life in a new land. The first family Gwen is placed with treats her like a slave and bad things happen, hinting at the dark and regrettable reality that is a part of the history of Home Children in Canada.

Gwen overcomes this adversity, as we know she will. In the opening pages of the book, Gwen is entranced by the Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson, whose invisible but strong presence suggests to Gwen — and to the reader — that young girls with the odds stacked against them can become very strong women.

I will be passing this novel along to my 11-year-old daughter. She is the intended audience, after all. But anyone with a taste for history and an appreciation for good writing will enjoy this book.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: A Tale of Two Cancers

by Observer Staff

Catherine Gordon's October 2017 feature for The Observer, 'A tale of two cancers,' recently caught the eye of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and his Washington, D.C.-based team, and inspired a short documentary. Gordon talks about the experience of writing the article and participating in the film.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image