When you pick up a new book there is always a moment of expectation, a hope of what you will discover inside. In the case of non fiction it could mean a heavy dive into pretty detailed content. It could be a slow paced read full of facts and timelines. Or it could be a read that opens up the world in a new light – a refreshing read with humour and amusing stories duly able to spark the imagination and transport you in place and time. In the case of Lindy Mechefske’s book Sir John’s Table, it does just that. It brings Canadian history to life.
For all I had learned – as an amateur history buff – about our First Prime Minister, nothing made Sir John A. quite so easily human to me as Lindy Mechefske’s writing. Sir John’s Table reads like a juicy tale suited for storytelling. It makes a lot of interesting opportunities for the line, “Did you know that…?” A brilliant treat for info-junkies like myself living in Canada’s sesquicentennial year.
I finished reading the first Chapter of Lindy’s book when our family was up in Ottawa for a weekend stay. I wasn’t the one driving back home to the 1000 Islands; so that meant I had free time in the passenger seat. I could have happily tucked my nose into the book for Chapter two, but I couldn’t. Sir’s John’s Table is the kind of read that calls out to be shared; and so, on the 1.5 hour drive back home to Gananoque, I force captured the attention of my husband and our two sons aged 11 and 8.
“OK guys, it’s Canada’s 150th Anniversary year and you need to hear this!” I called back, switching off the music in the car.
“No seriously, you guys will like this!”
I started reading the first Chapter again. The humble beginnings of Sir John A.
By the time I finished reading about Sir John’s boyhood trip with his family in steerage class across the Atlantic, everyone was in. The description of the food, and the conditions, and the length of time under deck was enough to hook two adventure seeking boys. It even amused the well read Dad who majored in history. (For him any accurate history that works to get our boy’s attention is good stuff.)
The truth is, Lindy’s book allowed our two boys to imagine our First Prime Minister in all his humanity. It has all the best tidbits. (
Which is why my husband read the book right after I was done). For our kids, John became someone once in their age range, a kid who had to rough it for a VERY long time on the water, stuck in a small space, with his whole family, under-deck. That information really put our 1.5 hour trip into perspective. Even our 15 hour drive back to see family in the Maritimes pales when held up against young John’s story. It’s not like the ship could pull up for a rest stop and a quick Timmy’s break. That one chapter made Sir John A. more than just an iconic figure, recited from memory, to our two boys. It made him a figure easily recognizable in the stories of immigrates to Canada today. In school they’d call that schema, a text to life connection, an opportunity for empathy and understanding.
The fact is, you learn a lot about someone when you learn about what they eat, how they eat, who they eat with and why they eat that way. Take that information and plug it into any good plot and you get a brilliant adventure story. That one chapter led to a family conversation on all kinds of topics that related to John A. MacDonald, immigration, ships and the the St. Lawrence, jobs in the 1800s and, of course, the food people grew, prepared, traded and ate. Those tangents of conversation lasted a good half hour – quality family time.
No wonder food writing and food entertainment has garnered such attention over the past decade. Food has always been, and always will be, a defining part of our culture and situation in life. It factors in every day, every page.
Most of my favorite novels have food factor in somewhere. In wartime historic fiction there is always mention of the rations, the scarcity of food and lineups for a few meat bones. At the worst, there are stories of people stripping wallpaper off walls in hopes of boiling it down for the paste. There are always memories and hopes of better times, abundant flavours and full bellies at the low points in stories. In popular dystopian fiction, it factors in. In mysteries, food factors in with poison and knives and gatherings where anything could happen. In romance, there it is again in all its succulence. Suspense, thrillers, westerns – is there a genre that doesn’t mention food or drink? Maybe not. Is is so much a part of who we are and what we need to survive that, maybe, we can’t write without it.
“– is there a genre that doesn’t mention food or drink? Maybe not. Is is so much a part of who we are and what we need to survive that, maybe, we can’t write without it.”
And so, returning back to Sir John’s Table, it’s the kind of book you can finish in a few short sittings with pleasure, even though your stomach may be growling. It’s a perfect read to set the tone for a Canada 150 Celebration.
Without a doubt, Sir John’s Table is sure to delight everyone who takes part in the 1000 Islands Writer’s Festival Launch Party Fundraiser on April 1st, 2017. For one evening the adventure in the mind will move off the page and into our present world. Together with the persona of Sir John, the music of Turpin’s Trail, the words of Lindy Mechefske, and a sampling of food of the time and place, The Culinary Life and Times of Canada’s First Prime Minister will be brought to life.
The Celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary will happen on April 1st at 7:30 pm at the Thousands Islands Playhouse Firehall Theatre. Tickets are available online and at the Gananoque Public Library.
A look over the shoulder to see our past, a moment in the present to see where we stand, and a look to the future to imagine who we wish to become. The 1000 Islands Writers Festival will capture our identity as Canadians through our writers and our stories. Here we live, Reading by the River.