No Feather, No Ink


190 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-920633-02-1





Reviewed by Michael O. Nowlan

Michael O. Nowlan was a teacher and writer in Oromocto, New Brunswick.


Few figures in Canadian history have commanded such attention as Louis Riel, who led a band of rebels in the Red River Rebellion and the North West Rebellion. To mark the hundredth anniversary of the battle of Batoche (March 25, 1885), Thistledown Press published No Feather, No Ink, an anthology that contains a diversity of responses from poets over the last century.

Included is Gabriel Dumont’s account of the North West Rebellion and four of Riel’s own lyrics. Dumont was often considered Riel’s adjutant-general, who masterminded many of the rebel chieftain’s maids. Many of the poems make reference to Dumont and his work.

The poems are a broad range of expression from the detailed six-part “Riel: In the Season of His Birth” by Erin Mouré to Don Polson’s concise “Canadian Heyday.” Other poets include Milton Acorn, Dorothy Livesay, Elizabeth Brewster, Raymond Souster, Andrew Suknaski, and Kim Dales. All of them take a specific point of view and depict Riel as either villain or hero. Dorothy Livesay calls him “prophet of the new world,” Elizabeth Brewster questions whether anything was “settled” at Batoche, and John Newlove records Riel as crazy because “politics must have its way.”

No Feather, No Ink is a very significant collection that will serve as an important instrument in Canadian history lessons. No one will ever settle the controversy which permits the many images of Riel to have validity. To teach history through poetry might be a good challenge for many teachers.


“No Feather, No Ink,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,