Ottawa’s a great place to live and work and to meet interesting, creative people. We’ll introduce you to some of them in The Ottawa Scene, a feature that will appear in our newsletter and on our blog or Facebook page once in awhile. We’d welcome your feedback, including who you’d like to see here, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month, we feature David Mulholland, an author who writes historical fiction (with a qualification that you’ll see below). His new book, Chaudière Falls, is about how our National Capital Region came into existence, including the establishment of Bytown/Ottawa, the village of Aylmer, and the founding of Hull Township by Philemon Wright — interesting because Philemon Wright was recently touched upon, briefly, by another article in our newsletter.
Chaudière Falls: A Novel of Dramatized History
by David Mulholland
The genre is historical fiction, but Chaudière Falls is “a novel of dramatized history.”
Unlike most authors of historical fiction, I haven’t tried to hide my research. For the parts of the story about the founding of Hull Township, construction of the Rideau Canal, the transition of Bytown into Ottawa, and the political manoeuvring that results in the city becoming our nation’s capital, my research is out front, including key dates. On the other hand, between 1800 and 1860, to the best of my knowledge there was no one by the name of Jedediah Jansen living in the townships where the story takes place. Although integrated with the machinations of the timber and sawn lumber industries, his personal story is entirely fictional. The novel is divided into seven parts and narrated in the present tense.
Part One describes the challenges and setbacks faced by Philemon Wright and his associates while carving out a farming community amidst dense forest. Wright does not want to be in the timber trade, but Britain is at war with Napoleon’s France, and the British navy is in dire need of lumber to build ships. The squire’s reckless ambition plunges his company and the eponymous village of Wrightstown into ruinous debt. As an adolescent, Jed Jansen is confused and frustrated by his yearnings for Wright’s daughter, Abbie. He learns the timber business from Braddish Billings, founder of Gloucester Township, starts his own company, marries, and is overwhelmed when his life begins to unravel.
Part Two is about the building of the Rideau Canal under Lieutenant-Colonel John By. The Commanding Royal Engineer (CRE) divides the settlement into Upper Town and Lower Town. The civilian population resents By’s authority, and with the Upper Canada government refusing to confer legal status on the village, the tribal mix of Scots, Brits, Canadiens and Irish explodes into ethnic and religious violence. Bytown teeters on the brink of anarchy, and its lawless reputation spreads throughout British North America and the eastern United States.
In Part Three, the now functioning canal finds unemployed Irish navvies – known as Shiners – hired by Peter Aylen, an unscrupulous timberman who leads them in attacking Canadien lumbermen, wreaking havoc in Lower Town, and unimaginable public displays of debauchery. One veteran of the Napoleonic wars says the carnage on the streets reminds him of bloody fields of battle in France. A tragedy in Jed Jansen’s life adds more stress to his already shaky marriage, and although his timber limit is on the Rideau River, several miles south of Bytown, the violence being perpetrated by the Shiners finally catches up to him.
In next month’s newsletter, I’ll describe what happens in parts four through seven: the impact of the reunification of the Canadas; the passing of Philemon Wright; the legal status of Bytown/Ottawa; a chance encounter that changes Jed Jansen’s life forever; and the unscrupulous political manoeuvring that eventually results in Ottawa becoming our nation’s capital.
Stay tuned. It gets even more intriguing.
David Mulholland was born in Kingston, Ontario and raised in the Ottawa Valley town of Arnprior. He now lives in Ottawa. David began his writing career as an advertising copywriter in private radio. He went on to work as a researcher, story editor, and occasional interviewer for CBC Public Affairs television; a general-assignment reporter and music reviewer for the Ottawa Citizen; a syndicated country-music columnist; a part-time stand-up comic with Yuk Yuk’s; and a speech writer for a number of departments in the federal government.
During those years, David wrote fiction when time permitted. In the spring of 2001, he began devoting full-time to writing a novel. The result is McNab, which was published by General Store Publishing House in October 2006. DUEL, his second “novel of dramatized history,” was published in October 2009. Chaudière Falls, published in November 2016, is his third. He is currently working on the next one (which he hopes will not take eight years to complete).
The author will be reading a scene describing Hull Township founder Philemon Wright’s first encounter with the tribe of Algonquins living in the area at an event on Sunday, February 19th. Details of the event are available on his website: www.davidmulholland.ca.
Ottawa Life Magazine’s feature writer Joel Redekop has recently reviewed the novel. Here are some excerpts from his review: “Chaudière Falls: A Novel of Dramatized History . . . is both an orthodox and atypical addition to the genre of historically-based fiction.” “It is epic in scope . . .” “Ultimately, Chaudière Falls is a labour of love, a thoughtfully crafted history of a story not often told. While history is easy to mythologize, the novel’s sober approach shows the author’s remarkable eye for detail. For the history fiends who like fact to work in tandem with fiction, Chaudière Falls is a can’t miss.” Here’s the link to the complete review.