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Working the Land: Journeys into the Heart of Canada

by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths

David Cruise and Alison Griffiths are the authors of several popular books on Canadian history and culture. They have covered such topics as the Mounties’ trek west, building the CPR, and the myths of pro hockey. Their latest book examines Canadians who make their living from the land.

Working the Land is divided into five sections, roughly akin to the different regions of this vast country. Their look at the East profiles potato farmers in P.E.I.; two sections on the North explain trapping and diamond exploration; the South deals with the authors’ personal passion – quarter horses; and the West is about a community of Sikh farmers in the Fraser Valley. Cruise and Griffiths do not claim to have created a comprehensive list, but they feel there is enough here to illustrate the strong “passion for the land” that even city-dwelling Canadians have.

The stories here are all enjoyable: the potato farmer’s struggle to find a new strain acceptable to french fry manufacturers; the almost intellectual relationship between the northern trapper and the wolverine that is destroying his traps; and the insider’s view of a horse show. The anecdotes are entertaining and the authors put themselves in the stories, making the discovery of these different lives accessible. Descriptions are occasionally overwritten – it is hard to see Mount Baker as “an embraceable sight” likened to “a Rubenesque woman” whose “curves are glaciers” – but otherwise, most of the writing is vivid and clear.

The idea that we are all “rooted in the land” is a weak connection between these diverse experiences and there is little philosophical musing on the nature of that rootedness. Nonetheless, Working the Land is an informative and lighthearted book about how an interesting selection of Canadians live and work.