First Folks and Vile Voyageurs


170 pages
ISBN 0-439-98857-8
DDC j971'.002'07





Illustrations by Bill Dickson
Reviewed by Steve Pitt

Steve Pitt is a Toronto-based freelance writer and an award-winning journalist. He has written many young adult and children's books, including Day of the Flying Fox: The True Story of World War II Pilot Charley Fox.


The name of Coquitlam, a town in British Columbia, is taken from the
Coast Salish word for “stinking with fish slime.” Puvirnituk,
Quebec, is a town named after the Inuit expression for “smells of
rotting meat.” Kejimkujik Lake, Nova Scotia, is a Mi’kmaq word for a
body part that should not be mentioned in polite society, and Horsefly,
B.C., is named for ... a horsefly. This hilarious chapter book by Claire
Mackay boldly combines hard fact with an offbeat sense of humor to take
the ho-hum out of Canadian history.

The book begins with this country’s early years (when mammoths were
woolly and beavers were nine feet tall) and moves on to the arrival of
Aboriginal peoples and the Vikings. Then Mackay introduces the European
explorers; but the portraits of Cabot, Cartier, Champlain, and others
have rarely been presented in a such an irreverent light. Here’s a
typical entry: “1583 Humphrey Gilbert (half-brother of Walter Raleigh)
explores Newfoundland, claims it for England, doesn’t ask Beothuk if
they mind. Rude. More flags stuck in this new-found-land than in your
average golf course.” Accompanying the humorous text are dozens of
comical illustrations by Bill Dickson. A second book covering Canada’s
more recent history is in the works. This is one Canadian history book
that students will want to read. Highly recommended.


Mackay, Claire., “First Folks and Vile Voyageurs,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024,