The Victoria Times-Colonist review of Canadian History
Canadian history is interesting. Just ask Will Ferguson.
Better yet, pick up a copy of Ferguson's book, Canadian
History for Dummies, and discover how entertaining our
past can be.
Who knew there was a Pig War? What group of Canadians were
called hyenas in petticoats? Who were Galloping Head, Radical
Jack and The Man in the Mask? What was the most famous graffito
in Canadian history?
Most of these subjects were covered in school, but not
like this. Winner of the 2001 Canadian Authors Associations
Lela Common Award for History, Canadian History for Dummies
is fun but it's also well-researched and organized, with
plenty of sidebars, lists, quick reference guides and Web
site addresses for more information.
There's a Cheat Sheet listing all the prime ministers;
the kings and queens and when they ruled over Canada, and
the provinces and territories and when they became part
of Canada. You'll also find The Part of Tens chapters such
as "Ten Political Firsts for Canadian Women" and "Ten Important
But this is more than a book of lists; this is a book of
stories, 450 pages packed with information, all easily readable
and actually interesting. It starts with the First Nations
and their initial contact with Europeans and takes us through
to the people and events of the present day, such as APEC
and the Pepper Spray and the formation of the Canadian Alliance.
Ferguson spent a year writing and researching Canadian
History for Dummies, but he had a head start. He had
just completed Bastards and Boneheads (Canada's glorious
leaders, past and present) when he was approached to
write the Dummies book, which ended up 100 pages longer
than intended. Perhaps it was all that research he had already
done, or maybe it was just that Canadian history is so full
of good stories that he couldn't bear to leave any of them
There's talk of revising Canadian History for Dummies
as a school textbook, and it's an idea worth pursuing. Ferguson
is already talking about the changes that will have to be
made, such as adding review and essay questions.
By the way, the most famous graffiti in Canadian history
was written on a rock in 1793 by Scottish explorer Alexander
Mackenzie, who had followed the Peace River into the Rockies
and then portaged, hiked and paddled his way through the
mountains and down to the Pacific.
After spending a terrifying night under the threat of imminent
attack by the warlike Bella Bella, Ferguson writes, Mackenzie
beat a hasty retreat, but not before he dabbed his name
and the date on a large boulder.
It read: Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land,
22nd July 1793.
I remember learning that in school, but I never thought
of it as graffiti and I never considered that explorers
could be scared. Maybe that's what makes the people in Ferguson's
book so real and the events so compelling.
As for The Pig War, Radical Jack or The Man in the Mask,
you'd be well advised to grab a copy of Canadian History
for Dummies and look them up just for fun.
May 20, 2001