This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 18.1.
Outcasts of River Falls
The Red River Resistance (or Rebellion) of 1869, the North-West Resistance (or Rebellion) of 1885; these are pivotal moments in Canada’s history. In the first act of resistance, Métis leaders Louis Riel and Gabrielle Dumont succeeded in establishing a provisional government and treating with the Canadian Government (although it ultimately did not go so very well); in the second, the Métis were completely defeated, and Louis Riel was hanged for high treason. So much is well known, but after the North-West Resistance the fate of the Métis people slips into the fog of history, silenced by a loud English-speaking voice from the politically powerful East. In Outcasts of River Falls, Jacqueline Guest creates a strong voice for the Métis people, telling a small part of their history in a way that young readers will not only learn from, but enjoy.
In Belle of Batoche (2004), Guest introduces us to Belle Tourond, who during the North-West Resistance comes to recognize her own fortitude and abilities. In Outcast of River Falls, Belle helps her young niece Katy discover her own strength and establish a pride in being Métis. Raised in Toronto without any knowledge of her Métis heritage, the orphaned Kathryn is sent to Alberta to join her Aunt Belle. Landed in a strange and hostile environment, Katy must not only learn a new culture, but adjust her sense-of-self to incorporate her new social position as one of the Road Allowance People: the Métis, who were not permitted to own land and so lived on the government-owned road allowances (that is, until someone White or otherwise privileged wanted the land). Katy’s confusion, the mistakes she makes, the questions she has but is afraid to ask: all ring true. Her position as not-visibly Métis complicates her experiences, and helps her—and the reader—truly understand the evils of prejudice and bigotry. The plot involves a mysterious Robin Hood figure who has been righting some of the smaller injustices perpetrated against the Métis people. Add in a crooked, offensive police officer, and a murdered bank guard, and you have the recipe for a culturally sensitive situation to which, ultimately, Katy must actively contribute. In acting to save her Aunt Belle, Katy finally accepts her true heritage: she ends with her Toronto dreams of being a lawyer firmly reestablished, but now altered: she will not only be a female lawyer on the vanguard of Canadian social progress, but a female Métis lawyer, bound by conscience to fight for the rights of her people.
Outcasts of River Falls comes with an effective Novel Study Guide, which includes synopses of the chapters as well as activities (for example, a 1900 Eaton catalogue to price purchases Katy might have made) and thoughtful study questions. This very engaging novel combined with the study guide will help elementary school teachers of early Canadian history immensely.