Pilgrimage – Diana Davidson

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“Gabriel needs to survive to tell someone Moira’s story.  As his sister said to him as they watched the Northern Lights last New Year’s Eve, ‘There is no such thing as just a story.’ Gabriel looks for the setting sun so he knows what direction west is, clicks his tongue,and pulls the reins to turn Trigger toward the darkening sky, toward home.”

A few months ago, all I knew of Diana Davidson was that she was Matthew’s English professor once and would be hosting the talk with Joseph Boyden at St. Albert Readers’ Fest.  At the readers’ fest, Matthew introduced me to Diana and she was lovely, and I made a mental note to add her newly-released book to my never-ending “to-read” list.

I happened upon Pilgrimage when my boyfriend agreed to take me to Wee Book Inn after a particularly trying day at work – because my coping mechanism with stress and life difficulty is books and buying books (and pizza, that was also part of the deal), and I just wanted to buy some books.  I must have bought about five books, this one included, and I had mentioned to the cashier at Wee Book Inn that I’d had a particularly shitty day.  When my total came to less than I had anticipated, she told me she had given me 10% off and hoped that my day would get better.

This is the second Bookstravaganza read of mine that has “pilgrimage” in the title (first being the Murakami I read).  But these aren’t pilgrimages a la The Way of St. James on the Camino Santiago, or the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.  These are emotional pilgrimages, and in Pilgrimage especially, an emotional pilgrimage made physical by the extremely harsh climate of Canada.  With the cold and snow we get, I can hardly imagine surviving this place, and many characters in this book, in fact, do not.

Pilgrimage is about the settlement in Lac-St. Anne, a community of Métis, French, British, and Irish people who are still trying to understand one another, and often never do.  As a Fort Edmonton nerd and former employee, I especially enjoyed the references to various Edmonton businesses (Jasper House, Kelly’s Saloon, Lauder’s, Reymer’s) because the original buildings or their replicas exist at Fort Edmonton.  As a child, and even now, I hear many people speak about how Canadian history isn’t interesting because it’s so short, that they’d rather learn about the thousands of years in other “more interesting” countries.  But I have always loved Canadian history, and how people came to this harsh place and found ways to survive, to build this amazing country from the ground up.  Not only that, but also the cruelty of Canadian history to Aboriginal people – you do not have to go as far as South Africa; you’ll find a version of apartheid here right at home.

We need more people like Joseph Boyden and Diana Davidson to tell the stories of our local history, to keep this history alive in our consciousness just like the stories of bigger, older places.  This book was heartbreaking, devastating, and an all-too-real reality of what living in Canada must have been like before there were modern advances that helped make the climate easier.  It has been my favourite read of Bookstravaganza so far (I finished the book a few minutes ago and am still a bit teary-eyed), and I recommend it to all who are interested in stories (about women, no less) that involve history that happened right out our back doors.

Books read: 6

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