Book Review: ‘Original Highways: Travelling the Great Rivers of Canada’ by Roy McGregor.

34127974Marci and I read this one together. It wasn’t what we were expecting, but it was very good.

Roy MacGregor takes a close look at sixteen iconic Canadian rivers: the Columbia, the Fraser, the Bow, the North Saskatchewan, the Red, the Dumoine, the Ottawa, the Don, the Grand, the Niagara, the Muskoka, the Rideau, the Gatineau, the St. Lawrence, and the Saint John. He writes as a journalist, with an eye to current events and contemporary stories. but he is also well aware of the history behind these rivers. I actually expected more history (and would have welcomed more), but what was there was accurate and well-written, and I suspect most Canadians would learn more about the story of their country from reading it. He also writes as a keen canoeist who has paddled many of these rivers. This hands-on perspective adds what might be called a water-level view to the narrative, and I enjoyed it.

This book also tells a sad story. Most of these rivers are in difficulty because of human activity. Some of them have been brought back, but some have not. We depend on the water from these rivers, but we continue to pollute them with industrial waste, sewage, garbage, and chemicals. In the words of Jacques Courcelles (whose family have lived near the Red River in Manitoba for five generations), “Sometimes you have to think beyond your lifetime”. Some Canadians are getting this message. Many, sadly, are not. It’s ironic that many of the same people who get agitated about leaving government debt for their grandchildren to deal with seem to have no such qualms about leaving their grandchildren to deal with the consequences of their (our) environmental irresponsibility.

I would recommend this book to all Canadians who want to earn more about our country’s history and geography. I would also recommend it to newcomers to this country. If you want to find out about the soul of Canada, this is a good place to start.

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