Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold
Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold
Dip, pull, swish. My gear rolls as the waves grow. My bare toes grip the belly of the boat. The huskies move closer to me. The bow of the boat rises as we go into open water without the shelter of the land. Dip, pull, swish.
“We’ll row directly into the big waves,” I shout over the wind. “If the waves roll up the sides of the boat, we could capsize“
Dip, pull, swish. I look over the side of the boat like I’ve done so many times before. Is the water darker? Deeper? Even though I’m rowing as hard as I can, we make very little progress in the waves. They pull us farther from shore instead of toward Burrito Bay. My arms hurt so much I can’t feel them anymore. Dad makes this look so easy.
Dip, pull—splash! A giant wave crashes up over the bow of the boat, soaking me and the huskies, Then another. I clutch the oars with every bit of strength I have left. Dip pull—splash! Another wave covers the boat. Whiskey and Wine bark madly, shaking like they do after a swim, their paws splashing in the water growing in the boat. When they move the boat becomes even more unsteady.
Dip—splash! The wave knocks one of the oars out of my hands, it plunges into the deep water, before popping up again and being carried off away from me. Oh no! This isn’t good at all. What will I do with only one oar?
“Pepier! Please help us to Burrito Bay!” I pray.
Bernice is an eight-year-old Métis girl who lives with her devoted family in a Georgian Bay lighthouse. It is 1914, and she has been reading Treasure Island, and so when she overhears a guest speak of gold she is excited. When this visitor, who happens to be the artist Tom Thomson, leaves behind a chart and a picture, she is convinced they refer to a treasure trove. Bernice dreams of changing her family fortunes and sets out to follow the clues that will lead her to gold on a neighbouring island. After a series of misadventures and misunderstandings, Bernice learns there is no treasure greater than family.
Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold can be enjoyed on one level purely for the winning combination of a promise of hidden treasure, the intrigue of life in a lighthouse and the appealing glimpse of Tom Thomson. However, it has much more to offer since it also interweaves aspects of Métis culture, such as customs, language and beliefs, into the quiet tension of the plot. The author has based the book on her own family’s past and has included old photos from the period showing the lighthouse and family. An addendum showing the history of the real Bernice and her family adds richness and authenticity.
The text reads fluidly, with a well-paced plot line and gently painted portraits of siblings and parents and especially of Memier, Bernice’s grandmother. Bernice, herself, is a strong, resourceful and realistic character who loves the land she lives on and the people around her.
Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold will be well-received by children aged 9-12, although the small text might be a deterrent for younger children within the age category. However, with its window into a specific part of Canadian culture and history, it could have a wider appeal. The book would also make an excellent complementary read for indigenous or Canadian history studies. It is a worthwhile and thoughtful read and an admirable way of paying tribute to past generations.
Aileen Wortley is a retired Children’s Librarian from Toronto, Ontario.