________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 5 . . . .October 27, 2006


Renegade Women of Canada: The Wild, Outrageous, Daring and Bold.

Marina Michaelides.
Edmonton, AB: Folklore Publishing, 2006.
176 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-894864-49-2.

Subject Headings:

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

* ½ /4



The front cover of Renegade Women of Canada depicts a “naughty nineties” dance hall girl tossing back a very full glass of red wine. The colourized tin-type photo is of “Klondike Kate,” Kitty Rockwell, a one-time convent school student and Kansas City socialite whose spirit of adventure drew her to Dawson City, Yukon, at the height of the Gold Rush. Once there, she listened to prospectors’ sad stories: “failed grubstakes, families back home that they missed terribly. Kitty listened, danced and got them drunk.” Over the course of eight decades, she made and lost several fortunes, demonstrated a real talent for choosing men who were bound to disappoint, and scandalized many. But, compared to some of the other women featured in this collection, Kitty is a saint.

     In the introduction, author Michaelides states that this is a collection of “real-life sagas and dramas about women who didn’t like things the way they were. So they changed them – sometimes intentionally in pursuit of their vision, other times by accident in pursuit of the truth and very often by design for the sake of equality.” For women such as Dr. Emily Stowe, hockey goal-keeper Manon Rhéaume, or Sen. Anne Clare Cools, this statement encapsulates their reason for inclusion in this book. However, some of the other choices who have been profiled in this collection of 18 mini-biographies – dominatrix Penny Hoar (yes, that’s her real name), con artist Cassie Chadwick, and “naked starlet and movie mogul” (41) Nell Shipman – left me wondering just what was the point of telling their stories (other than the fact of their being defiantly outrageous women).

The mini-biographies cover a time period from 1774 (Rose Fortune) to the 21st century (k.d. lang, Naomi Klein, and Alanis Obomsawin), and range in length from 2 ½ to 13 pages. As I read these bios, I couldn’t discern any sort of organizing principle – chronological, alphabetical, or thematic – for the order in which the stories were presented. The book begins with k.d. lang, which is followed by the story of Rose Fortune (a Black Loyalist émigré who became an eighteenth century policewoman, of sorts), and then goes on to recount the struggles of Emily Stowe, followed by the afore-mentioned Penny Hoar. Each chapter begins with a quotation about the renegade woman being profiled, and the “Notes on Sources” indicate the materials consulted in the compilation of these biographies, and which could be pursued in greater depth, if one’s interest was sufficiently piqued.

To Michaelides’ credit, her storytelling style is lively, contemporary, and engaging. Perhaps due to her background in film-making, she does an excellent job of choosing key episodes to illustrate the lives of her subjects. However, the unevenness of the biographical content, in terms of length and depth and selection, left me wondering how this book might be used in any type of school setting, whether library or classroom. Renegade Women of Canada is, at times, interesting reading, but I can’t advise anyone to purchase it for a school library collection.

Not recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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