Searching for Billie.


288 pages
ISBN 978-1-894898-53-9
DDC C813'.6





Reviewed by Melanie St-Onge


Set in Edmonton and its surrounding wilderness in 1897, Searching for Billie explores the fate of Jane Priddle, a young British woman trying to find 13-year-old Billie Thomm and three other home children. Home children were sent to Canada by well-meaning British missionary organizations in an attempt to give street urchins in Great Britain a chance at a better life. These children arrived in Canada with little more than the clothes on their backs, making them vulnerable to unscrupulous employers. Often indentured from a very young age, home children were forced to work in order to survive and did not fare much better in Canada than they had in Great Britain. Billie Thomm is one such unlucky child. Struggling in the tent city that is late-18th-century Edmonton, Billie falls prey to poverty and violence. Running parallel to Billie’s tale of survival is Jane’s own story of self-discovery. As she spends time with a Métis tribe, a couple of mysterious Swedes, and a gruff French Canadian named Luc Langevin, Jane’s character matures in a believable manner as she searches for Billie.


Albertan Freda Jackson’s evocative prose is never maudlin and always rings true. The desolate snowy landscape she paints will feel very familiar to Prairie readers. Not shying away from unsavoury topics such as sexual molestation and rape, Jackson’s novel seems an absorbingly accurate portrayal of the difficulties faced by those attempting to carve out a life for themselves in the unforgiving Canadian landscape. Although the book’s ending is slightly jarring and feels unfinished, there is enough history, romance, and intrigue to keep everyone interested. The presence of sexuality may render this book inappropriate for younger readers; however, this could make a very useful addition to a high school social studies reading list and will be of interest to any Canadian historical fiction fan.


Jackson, Freda., “Searching for Billie.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 26, 2024,