The Secret of Willow Castle


235 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-920656-30-7





Illustrations by Judith Goodwin
Reviewed by Claudia Cornwall

Claudia Cornwall was a Vancouver writer.


The Secret of Willow Castle is an historical novel for children based on the actual lives of the Allan Macpherson family, who lived in Napanee in the 1800s. Allan Macpherson, a resourceful Scot who was nicknamed “The Laird of Napanee,” owned the town’s grist mills, a general store, and a distillery. He was also the first postmaster and the justice of the peace. Eleven-year-old Henrietta was his eldest daughter. The story revolves around her and her secret friendship with a poor (apparently orphaned) girl named Sarah. The friendship must remain secret because Sarah lives with the Carscallion family, whom Allan Macpherson greatly dislikes on account of their “Reformist” politics. That the friendship continues depends greatly on the resourcefulness that Henrietta has inherited from her father. Henrietta finds a secret place in her father’s desk and leaves notes there. A trusted servant girl, Becky, takes the notes and hides them for Sarah in a tree near the Carscallion farm. Thus, meetings between the two girls are arranged. They play in a willow tree close to the Macpherson mill. They call the tree Willow Castle and spend many happy times there. When the Carscallions threaten to send Sarah away to live in the home of some of their relatives, Henrietta vows to do everything she can to prevent such an unfortunate turn of events.

Many interesting “bit” characters add to the pleasure of The Secret of Willow Castle. They include Henrietta’s cousin, John Alexander Macdonald, who was to become Canada’s first prime minister, a helpful black slave named Joe, and even a witch with miraculous cures.

Young readers, especially those with an interest in history, will enjoy this book.



Cook, Lyn, “The Secret of Willow Castle,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024,