Politics vs. a trip to the circus

In September 1864, John A. MacDonald’s ship pulled into Charlottetown’s harbour. Its hold was full of champagne, ready for a great celebration. After all, MacDonald had just reached a deal that would lay the path for the confederation of Canada.

Photo montage of author Anne McDonald with the father of Canadian confederation

In September 1864, John A. MacDonald’s ship pulled into Charlottetown’s harbour. Its hold was full of champagne, ready for a great celebration. After all, MacDonald had just reached a deal that would lay the path for the confederation of Canada.

The townsfolk were in the street partying, bedecked with picnic baskets and parasols. But they weren’t interested in the upcoming conference. Only one man rowed out to greet the political guests and even he was longing to be back on shore.

It seemed the Islanders wanted to celebrate an arrival of a different sort: the circus. And who could blame them? It had been ages since a circus came north to their shores. In the 1800s, East Coast circuses travelled by ship and it was only because of the American Civil War that this one made its way north and toured Canada.

Does it seem farfetched that more people would be interested in the circus than the formation of a country? The story is, in fact, true.

In her just-released book, To the Edge of the Sea, author Anne McDonald follows John A’s campaign to champion confederation. McDonald first learned of the circus incident on a Canadian Heritage TV commercial. Intrigued, she spent nine years extensively researching the events.

In the book, though, McDonald doesn’t just focus on the campaign. She frames the story with the blossoming romance between John A. and a young PEI woman named Mercy Coles. McDonald also inserts two fictional brothers into the story.

The first brother, Reggie, protests alongside his farming relatives, who are fed up with paying rent to the few landlords who owned most of P.E.I. The other brother, Alex, runs away with the circus. He eventually finds himself in Niagara Falls, coming face to face with the legendary tight rope walker, Farini. As it turns out, John A. and Mercy Coles also happen to make a stop in Niagara Falls.

It’s obvious that McDonald loves intriguing, obscure and humorous historical details. She includes many discovered while poring over history books, old newspapers and even a copy of Mercy Coles’ diary tucked away in the P.E.I. archives.

To the Edge of the Sea has a dream-like quality and is playfully poetic. McDonald follows a historical narrative, but is just as interested in language, symbols and metaphors. If you enjoy the writings of authors such as Michael Ondaatje and Sheila Watson, then this is an interpretation of Canadian history that you won’t want to miss. Happy Canada Day!

Heather Allen is a writer and reader who lives in Penticton.

allenh@telus.net

 

 

Just Posted

Police respond to two break-ins

One break-in on Friday may involve missing firearms from the residence

City looking for utility rate committee members

City hall seeking people with residential, agricultural, industrial and commercial backgrounds

Outbreak at Okanagan hospital

Gastrointestinal illness reported at Vernon Jubilee Hospital

21 days for smashing window, stealing phone

The man was arrested and sentenced the same day of the crime at Penticton’s 7-Eleven

Break and enter in Oliver

Tools and clothing taken from Growers Supply Co in Oliver

Video: Strutting their stuff in underwear fashion show fundraiser

Penticton event was a fundraiser to support Discovery House

Horgan says pot smokers may face same outdoor rules as cigarette smokers

B.C. is developing its rules on recreational marijuana

Dedicated volunteers look for clues

Police appreciate work of those who provide extra eyes for missing women investigations.

Truck driver volunteers to take dog lost in B.C. back home to Alberta

Frankie, a pit bull service dog, was found wandering in the Lower Mainland

B.C. teacher suspended after explicit images projected to class

Jeffrey Rohin Muthanna had been viewing porn on a school laptop for two years

Man who pledged to give B.C. hockey team millions charged with fraud

Mike Gould has since repaid $8,000 he allegedly owed Cranbrook restaurant, owner says

RCMP look to reunite owner with stolen tools

Kelowna police seek to identify the owner of tablet and tools seized by RCMP

Were your hockey cards stolen?

The Kelowna RCMP are looking to reunite a hockey fan with their cards

Strong economy fuels housing sales in B.C.: report

Economist says demand for houses is being supported by a large number of millennials entering the market

Most Read