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“River Song is more than one man’s historic and literary monument to a body of water that has taken over his soul. It’s history with an edge.” The Beaver.

“Jenkins’ gentle paddle down one of the greatest rivers in the world should find its way onto every cottage bookshelf. It’s the perfect read for a warm summer evening.” The Ottawa Citizen.

“It is a remarkable literary journal filled with the “echo of history coming down the river,” but also charged with the lilt of music and poetry.” The Kingston Whig Standard.

“This is really fine anecdotal history.” Globe and Mail.


Jacket Blurb:

It was the route of explorers and fur traders, the premier entry point for Europeans emigrating to Canada, a haven for pirates and the site of major battles and shipwrecks. It is also the most important commercial waterway in Canada, and a source of both electrical power and awesome beauty. Spanning nearly 1,200 kilometres, the St. Lawrence River runs deep into Canadian history. Award-winning author Phil Jenkins is passionate about the St. Lawrence. In River Song, he sails a tall ship from one end of the river to the other, walks its banks and dives its depths to trace the flow of Canada’s early history. Along the way, he recounts how individual characters have made brief or lasting acquaintance with the St. Lawrence, from the king of Siam to the Molson family magnates to a man named John Smith, who paddled a canoe the length of the river during the Depression.

River Song is a rich panorama that features tales of war, trade, hope, disappearance and triumph. Whales and wildlife abound, canoes yield to streamers and freighters, and newcomers arrive at the river’s mouth en route to Grosse Ile, the quarantine station where the ancestors of an estimated one quarter of Canada’s population first set foot. Smugglers, pirates and sailors, past and present, traverse the turbulent waters- including an engine room stoker who survived Canada’s worst civilian maritime disaster, the sinking of the Empress of Canada, and may have also survived the Titanic and the Lusitania. Decades later, the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway changes the shape of Canada forever, drowning villages as nature is realigned to make way for commerce.

My take.

A big publisher asked for this one, as part of a series mapping out Canada in books. I knew parts of the river, and grabbed the chance to see all of it with both arms and both legs. I thought of it as the ‘wet’ book to go with my ‘dry’ one, An Acre of Time. The brightest highlight among many was sailing from Kingston to Tadousac on the twin-masted Mist of Avalon, a stunning recreation of an 1890’s schooner. The log of that trip is related in one long chapter. The sailing trip gave me the chance to see the river from the middle outwards, which is the best way to see it. As well, I wouldn’t have missed the chance to look up to the surface of the river from a hundred feet down, diving on a wreck. And every Canadian of European descent should visit Grosse Ile’s century of colonial history