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Second Watch

by Karen Autio

Second Watch’s young Finnish immigrant characters are fictional, but the events that surround them are real. The horrific 1914 sinking of the steamship Empress of Ireland at the heart of the book is based on the true story of Canada’s greatest peacetime tragedy.

Saara’s mother has saved for years for a visit to Finland, but a strike at the mill where Saara’s father works in northern Ontario has depleted the money in the trip jar. When her grandmother in Finland falls seriously ill, only Saara, her brother John, and their mother can make the journey. They book passage on the Empress of Ireland, a grand ocean-going liner – and a grand adventure it is until the ship collides with a coal carrier on the St. Lawrence River. Saara is among the survivors, but her mother and brother are missing.

This first novel by Karen Autio, herself of Finnish descent and a resident of Kelowna, B.C., is lively and full of incident. It would work well in the classroom as an introduction to immigration in Canada. Students will find much of interest in the social context, from the routine strapping Saara gets from her father to the higher value placed on boys than girls.
Autio includes photographs of Finnish immigrant life in Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay) where she grew up, as well as a glossary, map, and data on the Empress’s actual losses. The text has some marks of the novice writer – too many adjectives and a tendency to lean on gestures like hair-twiddling for characterization – but it is carefully constructed and plotted, and the tragic climax is not easily forgotten.


Reviewer: Maureen Garvie

Publisher: Sono Nis Press


Price: $9.95

Page Count: 200 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55039-151-8

Released: June

Issue Date: 2005-10


Age Range: 8-13