Fall of Giants

Book Review
Title: Fall of Giants
Author: Ken Follett
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2010
Spoiler Alert: Not really

If one calculates a good book by how much reading time one gets for the money, then Ken Follett novels really rate at the top. And this one, Fall of Giants, had me mesmerized for a week (29 hours of reading time according to Kobo).

The story winds around four families: the rich aristocratic Brit, owner of a mine in Wales and his sister the Suffragette; a mining family, the father a union activist, daughter a servant at the nobleman’s house and her brother, a miner-become-soldier. Then there are the Russians – two brothers who complicate each other’s lives in unimaginable ways; the German aristocrats and a family of Washington elites. Although worlds apart, their stories weave together like a tight-knit tapestry.

Set during the decade of the Great War from 1911 to the early 1920s, the story delves into every aspect of the war – from the poor peasants, to the German soldiers, to the Russian front, and to the Americans – each with their own set of circumstances. But what really sets it apart from other rambles about the war is Follett’s ability to bring us right into the homes, boardrooms and bedrooms of his characters and into an era of class system and female subjugation. While keeping close to the facts, with a good sprinkling of real historical characters, the writer provides a real taste of what it must have been like to be a Welsh miner, a Russian peasant, or one so immersed in bondage to tradition that they allow it to bury their own humanity.

The only things I can’t figure out are: how did Follett not take an entire lifetime to write it and how could he not have spent an entire lifetime living it?

What a story! Nothing I have ever read before has made me change my political views more than this story. And maybe it was about time. Continue reading

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3 – Part 6

Over 100 years ago, a group of Russian immigrants came to Canada to live a “toil and peaceful life.” For the most part, the Doukhobours lived anything but. Scorned for their culture; children stolen from families; their leader murdered; and a break-away sect bringing terror to small communities – their first century in Canada brought hardships and heartache.

The following was written by Trail historian Elsie Turnbull and is from a periodical, Pioneer Days in British Columbia, Volume 4, edited by Art Downs and produced by Heritage House Publishing, Surrey, B.C., in 1979. Italics is where I’ve added up-to-date place names or updated info. 

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3

By Elsie Turnbull

Part 6 –

Another memorial to a revered spiritual leader is near Castlegar on alternate Highway 3A. Before reaching the community, Highway 3A swings across the historic Columbia River to a broad bench, settled by Doukhobors in 1908. Here on a spur of rock jutting out over the Kootenay River, their leader, Peter Lordly Verigin, lies beneath a massive concrete slab. Surrounded by flower beds. It is a serene spot carefully tended by local followers.

But the area has not always been serene. Several times, the tomb has been shattered by homemade bombs set off by fanatics of the Doubhobor sect. Broken slabs from these attempts have been arranged in a pattern around the base of the monument, recalling turbulence and unrest which has been common to the sect during its years in Canada. But there is little thought given to this violent past when Doukhobors gather to honor their beloved leader who was killed Oct. 29, 1924.

That day, Peter Lordly Verigin, leader of the orthodox Doukhobors, with one of his maids, Mary Strelioff, boarded the train at Brilliant for a journey to Grand Forks. Through the evening, the train wound along the steep bluffs bordering Lower Arrow Lake, gradually gaining elevation until the Farron Summit at 3,976 feet. About 1 a.m., the pusher engine was uncoupled and the descent began down McRae Creek Valley toward Christina Lake. Suddenly an explosion jerked the train to a quick stop. The center of the blast was in the day coach whose roof and side had disappeared. Of some 20 passengers, six were carried unconscious from the burning coach and the rest found beside the track, nine dead or dying and several wounded. Peter Verigin, blown 100 feet, was among the dead and his handmaiden Mary Strelioff, died on the way to hospital. The full force of the explosion seemed to be close by the seat where Verigin was sitting. Found among the debris was a dry battery and bits of an alarm clock. These remnants led a coroner’s jury to declare that the victims were killed by a powerful explosive placed in the coach through ignorance or else deliberately. Who blue up the coach or why is still a mystery. Continue reading

Freedomite Boy Dies as Car Bomb Explodes – 1962

Terrorism doesn’t just happen in big cities. Sometimes, it happens in small towns. The break-away Doukhobor sect, Sons of Freedom, were responsible for 1,112 separate acts of violence in the decades leading up to the 1970s. They bombed or burned schools, railroad bridges, tracks, the Nelson Court House, and also bombed a huge power transmission tower that serviced the East Kootenay. Damage cost over $20 million and resulted in the loss of 1,200 jobs.

In 1964, Vancouver reporter Simma Holt published a tell-all book about the Sons of Freedom, called Terror in the Name of God. Holt risked her life while researching the book, which can still be found in most libraries. It is an incredible read – even today.

I can still remember being at the local movie theatre one night when we all had to clear out. A package had been found under a seat, and it was feared to be a Freedomite bomb.

The following is a reprint of an article in the Trail Daily Times, published Feb. 17, 1962. It relates the tragedy of a young man who paid for bad choices with his life. The newspaper actually published a black and white photo of the boy’s remains. Considered in extremely bad taste, the photo shows what’s left of Harry Kootnikoff on a slab in the morgue. The only identifiable pieces are what is left of the top half of his head. The editor and authorities argued that the photo was hoped to be a deterrent to those conducting terrorist acts in the Kootenays.

Freedomite Boy Dies as Car Bomb Explodes

Widow loses 16-year old son; four under arrest

By Dennis Williams

Editor, The Times

CASTLEGAR: “Oh, my poor son! Oh God, my poor son!”

A Sons of Freedom Doukhobor mother wept over the shattered remains of what once was her 16-year-old son in Frank Richardson’s morgue here this morning.

Mrs. Mary Kootnikoff, widow of six years, identified from hair and clothing her son Harry, blown to pieces when a bomb exploded in a car about 11 p.m. Friday.

The boy must have been carrying the bomb on his lap: his arms and legs, chest and abdomen were a mass of flesh, blood and bits of bone. His face was gone and so were his hands. His internal organs were torn from the body. His head was barely attached to what remained of the trunk.

“He’d come to town to buy a present for his counsin,” wept Harry’s mother.

“She was just going to be married, and he came to get her a gift.”

Then Mrs. Kootnikoff sang a little psalm in Russian and kissed what until last evening had been the top of a young face.

“Is it Harry?” asked RCMP Sergeant John Betts, commander of the Castlegar detachment.

“Is it Harry, your son? We must know.”

Yes, said the stricken mother, examining bits of cloth and the hair. “This was my son.”

Continue reading

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3 – Part 5

Father Pat – B.C.’s young “saint” lived a tragic life but epitomized Christian selflessness.

The following is from a periodical, Pioneer Days in British Columbia, Volume 4, edited by Art Downs and produced by Heritage House Publishing, Surrey, B.C., in 1979. Italics is where I’ve added up-to-date place names or updated info. It’s quite long and covers a lot of territory so I’ve decided to post it in chunks.

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3

By Elsie Turnbull

Part 5 – The Tragedy of Father Pat

In Rossland itself in a small park off the main street is a stone memorial which honors a beloved Anglican clergyman, Father Pat. Built in the form of a lamp and a fountain, it symbolizes the “Light that He humbly followed and the Water of Life He gave them to drink.” At one time, a cairn stood nearby made of ore specimens from the Rossland mines. Father Pat’s premature death shocked the town and he was long remembered, for as the inscription stated: “A man he was to all the country dear.”

Born Henry Irwin in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, he grew up hardened by athletic sports such as riding, boxing, cricket and football. He was fired with zeal to take Holy Orders in the Church of England and serve as a missionary in distant fields. In 1885, when he was 26, he was given his first missionary in the far distant province of British Columbia.

Bishop Sillitoe stationed him in Kamloops as itinerant pastor to the men who were building the Canadian Pacific Railroad through the Rocky Mountains. Two years later, he moved with the construction crew to Donald, a transient town at the first crossing of the Columbia River in the Selkirk Mountains. Services in these rude camps were first held in the courthouse; but the new curate soon gathered together a few willing hands to clear a space in the forest and raise a small frame church. He played a little organ, moving it from place to place on a trolley.

At Donald, occurred an incident which revealed why Father Pat was so respected by his parishioners. Melting snows had blocked the railroad into the mountains, burying two engines, the snowplow and 16 men. Ten were rescued by their companions but six were dead when dug out of the snow. Father Pat went up with the rescue party, joining the men fighting across the top of the snow while avalanches rumbled and thundered around them in a flurry of small slides. He then helped haul the bodies on toboggans down the track to Donald.

In January 1890, Father Pat married Frances Stuart Innes and took up duties in New Westminster as assistant to Bishop Sillitoes. Unfortunately, happiness for the young couple was brief, for late in November, Mrs. Irwin died in childbirth. Father Pat never recovered from the tragedy. After a sojourn in the See House at New Westminster and a visit to his family home in Ireland, he asked to be given pioneer work in British Columbia. The Bishop sent him in 1896 to Rossland, a newly opened mining camp in the isolated Kootenay region. Here, he settled, devoting all his energy to helping the unfortunate, ministering to those in need and giving spiritual counsel to casual and sometimes improvident miners. Continue reading

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3 – Part 4

I’m not sure if it is still there, but something to look for the next time visiting Nancy Greene Lake is a little fence-bordered grave – one of many Rossland stories that should be kept alive.

The following is from a periodical, Pioneer Days in British Columbia, Volume 4, edited by Art Downs and produced by Heritage House Publishing, Surrey, B.C., in 1979. Italics is where I’ve added up-to-date place names or updated info. It’s quite long and covers a lot of territory so I’ve decided to post it in chunks.

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3

By Elsie Turnbull

Part 4

Whose grave is marked at the Nancy Greene Junction

From Anarchist Mountain, Highway 3 winds eastward past Rock Creek where a gold strike was made in 1886, through Grand Forks and past the southern end of Christina Lake. Then it climbs up McRae Creek Valley, Paulsen summit at Nancy Greene Lake  a cutoff leads to Rossland, edging the valley of Lamb Creek, which is really the north fork of Big Sheep Creek. This was the country where Ben Shaw spent his life trapping, hunting and ranching. Today (1979), Ben Shaw lies buried in a grove of fir trees on the edge of the swamp at the  junction of highway and cutoff. Completely hidden from view of speeding traffic, a simple wooden cross inside whitewashed pickets marks the spot where he died.

Born in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Ben Shaw arrived in Rossland at the time of the mining boom. He worked in the Velvet Mine. (There is a really nice pink apartment building on the corner of Highway 3 and Rossland’s Main Street called The Velvet – no doubt in memory of this mine.)

But a decision to engage in packing ore to the Grand Forks smelter led to a momentous change in his life. Going to Colville, Washington, to buy horses, he got into a gun fight and was seriously wounded in his arm and stomach. A young part-Indian girl, Olive Lafleur, nursed him back to health. (Don’t know much about her, but no doubt she was the descendant of one of the French Canadian fur traders or voyageurs who came out with the Hudson Bay Company. In my list of people who arrived in Astoria, there is one Thomas Roy (1794-1838) who arrived in Astoria in the 1830s and married one Marie Lafleur. Not many people in the area in those days, hence someone researching the family may find a connection.) Continue reading

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3 – Part 3

The Okanagan has become B.C.’s fruit basket. But who got the idea to plant fruit trees in all that desert?

The following is from a periodical, Pioneer Days in British Columbia, Volume 4, edited by Art Downs and produced by Heritage House Publishing, Surrey, B.C., in 1979. Italics is where I’ve added up-to-date place names or updated info. It’s quite long and covers a lot of territory so I’ve decided to post it in chunks.

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3

By Elsie Turnbull

Part 3 – The Richter Pass and how the Okanagan got fruit

One other pioneer rancher whom Dewdney came to know while he was building his trail in 1865 was 28-year-old Francis Xavier Richter. A strong husky man, Richter was born in Friedland, Bohemia. Craving adventure, he sailed at 16 for America. After a few years in Texas he set off for the silver mines in Arizona at the time of the deadly Apache raids.

While serving as a scout in Civil War days, he was captured by a band of Apaches who bound and guarded him in a ravine. Secretly loosening his bonds, he managed to spring up, vault on a horse and flee. Wounded by arrows in his neck and foot, he finally got to Fort Yuma and safety.

Gold excitement in California lured him west and then carried him on to Idaho and the Columbia River.

He was mining and running a store at Brewster when he heard about Similkameen and its sunny climate, good bottom land with wild timothy and peavine for cattle feed. Selling his interest in the mine, he invested in 42 head of cattle, and with a partner set off for the northern valley in British territory. Their way led them over the old Indian trail between Okanagan Lake and Similkameen River which is known today as the Richter Pass, and through which Dewdney built his road to the mines.

In 1865, Richter was looking after livestock and baling fur for the Hudson’s Bay Company at its Keremeos post. With the 42 head of cattle, he established his own ranch on 320 acres. Eventually his spread extended to 10,000 acres, in the bunch grass-rich valley of the Similkameen, his “R” brand appeared on 1,500 head of prime beef, fine draft Percheron work horses and fleet saddle ponies. Since hay and grain grew so luxuriantly in the valley, he decided to try fruit growing. Continue reading

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3 – Part 2

Susan Allison raised 14 children and was one tough lady considering all she went through to help settle the interior of British Columbia. And it may surprise some that she mentions a story told to her by an Indian about a “giant of the woods.” David Thompson’s journal also mentions a similar story told by Indians. Obviously, these “giants” or “upright people” existed either for real, or at least, in the minds and stories of local Indians. The legend must have come from somewhere.

This is Part 2 of Elsie Turnbull’s story about pioneer life in B.C. From the periodical, Pioneer Days in British Columbia, Volume 4, edited by Art Downs and produced by Heritage House Publishing, Surrey, B.C., in 1979. Italics is where I’ve added up-to-date place names or updated info.  

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3

By Elsie Turnbull

Part 2 – Men may have got the glory, but women got the work – Susan Allison and the Allison Pass

One of Dewdney’s contemporaries was John Fall Allison, who became a prominent Simikameen rancher, married Dewdney’s wife’s sister and is commemorated by Allison Pass on Highway 3, some 40 miles east of Hope. Allison discovered the pass in 1860 while leading a prospecting expedition for Governor Douglas to a gold discovery on the Similkameen River. But not until completion of the Hope-Princeton Highway, almost a century later did the pass become the travel route to the Okanagan and Southern Interior.

Allison soon left his mining claims; and pre-empted 160 acres at the junction of the Tulameen and Similkameen Rivers, later to be the site of the community of Princeton. Here, with a partner named Hayes, he ran a stock ranch. Every year he drove cattle over the Dewdney Trail to Hope; and on one of these occasions met Susan Moir, a woman 20 years his junior.

Of Scottish extraction, Susan arrived in British Columbia in August 1860, an effervescent young lady. “It was my 15th birthsday when we landed in Hope,” she later wrote, “such a charming busy little place, it seemed to us, nestling in the mountains. We ran joyously up the bank and on top waiting to meet the boat. We met many who proved to be lifelong friends.”

Travelling on the boat upriver with Susan’s family were Walter Moberly and Edgar Dewdney, come to work on roads and trails. Dewdney fell in love with Susan’s sister, Jane, and in 1864 the couple were married in the little Hope church. When Susan was 23 she married John Allison, and then “Began my camping days and the wild, free life I ever loved till age and infirmity put an end to it.”

“We left town just at dusk and in a little over an hour, arrived at Lake House, where we found tents up and a blazing log fire,” wrote Susan in her memoirs. “In the tent a canvas was spread over the floor and a bed made up of mountain feathers (spruce branches) and a buffalo robe. I went to the creek and washed and did up my hair in the darkness and when I regained the camp, Tuctac (one of three Indians who would be companions on many a trip) had spread a canvas in front of the fire with fried trout,  grouse, bacon and bannock that was washed down with tin cups of delicious tasting tea. We sat and talked till late, the Indian boys sitting with us and telling us stories of the place. Here, Yacum-tecum said, one of the Big Men (giants) lived and had been often seen.” Continue reading

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3 –

Right here in southern British Columbia, we owe our lives (and livelihoods) to some of the pioneers who ventured into the wilderness over 100 years ago. Elsie Turnbull was an incredible historian who wrote dozens of articles, periodicals and books – providing a history of those who might otherwise be forgotten.

The following is from a periodical, Pioneer Days in British Columbia, Volume 4, edited by Art Downs and produced by Heritage House Publishing, Surrey, B.C., in 1979. Italics is where I’ve added up-to-date place names or updated info. It’s quite long and covers a lot of territory so I’ve decided to post it in chunks.

Mileposts and pioneers along B.C.’s Highway 3

By Elsie Turnbull

Part 1 – Building a trail that would cheat the Americans out of B.C.

Mileposts of history dot the highways of British Columbia, pointing out to travelers significant features of the countryside. Typical is Highway 3, the Southern Trans-provincial, which heads eastward nearly 600 miles from Hope to the Alberta border. Place names, or plaques with simple wording, recall the name of a person whose life was important to those who lived in that district, or to the province and the nation.

Highway 3 itself is a memorial to a young engineer, Edgar Dewdney. An Englishman from Devonshire, Dewdney was educated as an engineer and came to B.C. in 1859 at the age of 24. He arrived penniless in Victoria but had a letter of introduction to Governor Douglas and, as he said, “a strong constitution and lots of confidence.” He found jobs cutting hay for the Royal Engineers and doing some survey work.

Then gold was discovered in the Similkameen River and Rock Creek area, and Governor Douglas believed it necessary to build a trail to the mines through British territories. In 1860-61, a route was surveyed by the Royal Engineers from Fort Hope on the Fraser River to Vermilion Forks, a settlement rechristened, Princeton, in honor of the Prince of Wales, who had just visited Canada. Dewdney and Walter Moberly won the contract for constructing the 75-miles of trail; and completed it in 1861. Continue reading