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Alan Haig-Brown
Vancouver, Pacific Educational Press, 1991. 112pp, paper, $14.00
0-88865-068-X. CIP

Grades 6 and up/Ages 11 and up

Reviewed by Adele Case.

Volume 19 Number 4
1991 September

Alan Haig-Brown's book blends the history of a 17-metre-long fishboat with the experiences of a number of fisher­men and sailors associated with the vessel. As with boat owners, sea-going craft have dramatic periods of happi­ness and sorrow, of buoyant youth and the rot that inevitably comes with old age. Though many of the incidents are fictional, the author manages to convey the history of B.C.'s fishing industry in a far more palatable form than statistical data would provide.

The Suzie A took shape to suit the wishes of one of the many expert Japanese fishermen who plied the waters close to British Columbia in the 1920s and 1930s. Haig-Brown explains the details of the building process, wherein the boat is crafted by hand, with planks laid over steam-bent ribs - the traditional way of building a wooden Workboat. Fifty years after her launching, this well-founded craft, built mainly of B.C. products, was renovated for use by the protagonist as a live-aboard.

The book is tightly organized in periods that follow chronologically the history of the craft. The was built for salmon fishing, which was bountiful and profitable in the early part of this century, and the book is replete with details covering the hard work of setting the nets, searching for the big "runs" of fish, and getting the freshly caught haul quickly to nearby canneries. Lively interest is added by the author's knowledge of the nautical danger spots on the coast. He speaks of the dense fog on the ocean side of Vancouver Island and the niggling worry about collisions with another vessel. Then there was the possibility (in the decades before radar) of ships on dead reckoning being set in too close to the reefs and rocks fringing the coastline. At the same time, fisher­men had to contend with gear failures, worries about where schools of fish could be found, and costs to be met in getting the catch to market. This section of the book could well have been expanded.

As counterpoint to the story of the boat, Haig-Brown tells of the succession of owners of the Suzie A and racial prejudice they suffered. After the war, immigrant fishermen from the Adriatic coast took over and renamed the Suzie A. After the wartime years, the boat was used in the pilchard and herring fishery, and then for the heavy work of a seiner. In all the transformations of the boat, the illustrator has included technical drawings that enliven the text. Excellent woodcut illustrations show the men at work.

This small book fills an important chapter in British Columbia history, for few people recall the days of the smaller fishboats, and many coastal canneries have long since deteriorated into ghost towns or have fallen prey to wood rot or the winter storms. Haig-Brown brings to life evocative names that still have the tang of the salt-water fishery: Surf Inlet, Namu, Bella Bella, Tofino, Bull Harbour, Port Hardy. One almost wants to join as a crew member, and cast off from land.


Adele Case, Britannia Secondary School, Vancouver, B.C.
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