________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 6. . . .October 8, 2010


Canadian Railroad Trilogy.

Gordon Lightfoot. Art by Ian Wallace.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi Press, 2010.
56 pp., hardcover, 2010.
ISBN 978-0-88899-953-5.

Subject Headings:
Canadian Pacific Railway Company-History-Juvenile literature.
Railroads-Canada-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Reesa Cohen.

**** /4



There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run,
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun.
Long before the white man and long before the wheel,
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real…


These famous rhythmic lyrics are the first verse from the Canadian Railroad Trilogy by the world renowned singer, Gordon Lightfoot, chronicling the building of our Canadian Pacific Railway. This song was commissioned by the CBC for a special broadcast on January 1, 1967. It was to commemorate Canada's Centennial year and to recount the building of the Transcontinental railway.

     There is no denying the eloquence of Lightfoot's word, as he describes with passion our "verdant country." As with most stirring folk songs, a story is told, at once thrilling and powerful, yet true in the depiction of the dark side for the workers and the native people of our country. Lightfoot acknowledges the highs and lows of this process. Although built by optimistic politicians and engineers for future generations and the prosperity of a young country,

For they looked into the future and what did they see,

They saw an iron road runnin' from sea to sea.

Bringin' the goods to a young growin' land,

All up from the seaports and into their hands.

     Hundreds did lose their lives, particularly the Chinese labourers. Lightfoot gives the efforts of these forgotten, nameless "navvies" who sweated from dawn to dust their due and describes with poignancy the devastating effects on the First Nations people and Métis who were displaced from their land. Lightfoot's beautiful moving song makes the construction of the railway real, intense and emotional.

internal art      I don't know of another more skilled Illustrator who could have done justice to these amazing words than award-winning illustrator Ian Wallace. The visuals are just jaw-dropping spectacular! The chalk pastel illustrations capture the sweeping majesty and vibrancy of our country and bring the song to visual life, depicting the people of that time, the builders, the waterways, the docks, the first nations people and especially the lavish landscapes in different seasons. This expressive choice of medium allows Wallace to strut his stuff in vivid images, and he draws the reader into an appreciation of nature's elements as he portrays mist, fog, rocky terrain and magnificent trees. Several pictures simply take a reader's breath away. One of my favourites is a full page spread of a railway steam engine puffing its smoke into an awesome prairie sunset sky. Another wonderful example highlights the snow-laden Rockies, drawn in blue and white, with wolves howling. Wallace is an artist who manages to appeal to all our senses.

      Canadian Railroad Trilogy is a resource that could provide a multitude of connections to the curriculum, including history, geography, poetry, and, of course, art. Detailed notes on each illustration supplied by Wallace are welcomed and could be used wisely by a teacher as these pictures are studied by a class. Also included are the music and lyrics of the song, itself, a brief history of the CPR, and suggestions for further reading.

Highly Recommended.

Reesa Cohen is a retired Instructor of Children's Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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