A Forest for Calum.


383 pages
ISBN 978-1-897009-05-4
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Matt Hartman

Matt Hartman is a freelance editor and cataloguer, running Hartman Cataloguing, Editing and Indexing Services.


MacDonald is a Cape Breton journalist and writer, born and bred in Inverness, on the island’s West Coast. In A Forest for Calum, his first novel, MacDonald finds just the right balance between generations of residents and, through his characters, between the past and the present history of a little-known part of Nova Scotia. Young Roddie Gillies is raised by his grandfather, Calum, in Shean, a former coal-mining town. Calum and his friends Bartholomew Fraser and Taurus MacLeod are presented as counterpoint to the teenaged Roddie, his best friend, Duncan MacPherson, and his steady girlfriend, Mary Scotland. Shean’s townspeople are divided between Catholics and Protestants, and where and how they practise their religions plays a major role in the story. Calum and friends speak Gaelic among themselves, and it is the Gaelic alphabet that forms the core of the story. The letters of the alphabet are named for trees, Calum tells Taurus and Roddie. “The elm is A, and the birch is B, and the hazel is C. Ailm, beth, col …,” The ancient language and its Scottish history form a counterpoint to the coming-of-age story of Roddie and his friends. It is Taurus’s idea to plant a forest of trees in the shape of Gaelic letters, spelling out a Gaelic poem of remembrance for the men who lost their lives in the mines.

Roddie, busy growing up, discovering girls, worrying about school, nevertheless has both the breadth and the depth of intelligence that, coupled with the love and respect he feels for his grandfather, allows him to cross the timelines of 200 years of Cape Breton history and grow closer to his spiritual inheritance.

MacDonald has done a fine job. His dialogue and descriptions ring true. Characters and events work seamlessly together to form a highly readable novel.


MacDonald, Frank., “A Forest for Calum.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/27750.