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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

Thirteen Minutes

Author: James Davidge
Illustrator: Bob Prodor
Originally Published: 2010
Publisher: Bayeux Arts, Inc
Source: Borrowed from the BF

The Story

From the back of the book:

In 1928, an internship with famed equal persons activist Nellie McClung leads Holly Burnside to clerk for the Alberta Eugenics Board, a group which prides itself on the efficiency of their reviews for government mandated sterilization – 13 minutes a case. She and her two brothers, one a politically charged performance artist and the other a star player in the collapsing Prairie Hockey League, all struggle with finding their place in the world. Follow them over four decades as they encounter endless sorrows and joys from both society and the people closest to them.

The Response

For all that the Canadian Heritage Moments told me about Nellie McClung’s important role on women in Manitoba gaining the right to vote, they certainly did not tell me anything about her role in the Alberta Eugenics Board.

This graphic novel covers some extremely tough subject matter – the Alberta Eugenics Board is not a highlight of Canadian history. Within the 43 years of its existence, this board of four people approved the removal of reproductive organs for close to 5000 people who they deemed as mentally unfit to have and raise children. Close to 3000 of these approved “sterilizations” were actually done. Ouch.

I didn’t know such a thing had ever happened here in this country – or that it had happened up until so recently in our past. The board was only disbanded in 1972. It seems so bizarre to think that in our recent past we were still under the belief that this was an okay thing to do. And so bizarre that so many highly regarded people supported this. It’s just… depressing to think about and baffling to fully understand why this had happened.

This book has been suggested for mature readers – I definitely agree with this suggestion. It’s tough subject matter, and not every parent will want their youngsters to be faced with this on their own without being able to help their children understand the circumstances surrounding what is happening in the story. But it is important subject matter for us all to know happened – I just wish I had known about this sooner rather than later.

As far as the narration of the story itself, I really wish it had been longer. I really wish that the characters had been more fully developed so that I more fully cared about the situations they were going through in their lives. Maybe then, I would be able to understand their motivations a bit more.

The illustrations, though, are absolutely beautiful – especially the illustrations on the title pages for each chapter. Each chapter takes place in a different decade, and one of the highlights of these title pages was that the illustration style fully reflected the art and graphic design of that era. From the art nouveau style for the chapter taking place in the 20’s, to the typography associated with posters from the 1970’s… it’s obvious that research went into the type of design and artwork was popular during that time period before Prodor created these illustrations. Definitely the highlight of the book!

The Bottom Line

This was a good read. A tough read, but a good read. I recommend Canadians familiarize themselves with this part of our history if they don’t already know about it, whether it’s through this book or through Wikipedia.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 7:35 am August 7, 2012.
Category: Historical Fiction
Book Author(s): ,

  • sassymonkey

    I think I knew that about Nellie McClung… maybe from doing research for Canadian Women’s History Month.