09 May 2011

The Good Soldier Comes to Canada

The Good Soldier: The Story of Isaac Brock
D.J. Goodspeed
Toronto: Macmillan, 1967

With just over a year until the War of 1812 bicentiennial, things are becoming busy in my part of the country. Our cousins immediately to the south are perhaps a just bit less active. What some American historians call "The Forgotten War" is a conflict David Paterson didn't want recognized. In 2009, the then-governor of New York, the central state in the struggle, vetoed the creation of a War of 1812 200th Anniversary Commemoration Commission. Paterson now gone, the body was finally brought into being through a bill passed the month before last. No finances attached.

The commemoration of what was in essence a failed war of conquest should be interesting. I'll be paying particular attention to the treatments of Tecumseh and Isaac Brock in relation to, say, William Henry Harrison.

There is no Tecumseh Street in our little town, but Brock has been so honoured. It's not at all surprising. "If it had not been for Isaac Brock," writes author Goodspeed, "Jefferson's prediction that the conquest of Canada would be 'a mere matter of marching' might well have come true."

Published more than fifteen decades after the man's death, written for the children that followed another war, this book provides an excellent introduction for anyone coming to Brock's life for the first time. Donald James Goodspeed, a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, Senior Historian in the Canadian Defence Force's Historical section, had a talent for writing clean, clear and concise histories. His book on the Canadian Corps, The Road Past Vimy, covers the rather complicated story in just 185 pages. The Good Soldier is even shorter – 156 pages, punctuated by twenty line drawings – yet it provides not only a remarkably thorough account of Brock's life, but some good background on the causes of the conflict.

Volume #29 in the Great Stories of Canada series, The Good Soldier follows a strict format in that it features no references. Yet, it is possible to identify at least some of Goodspeed's sources: A Veteran of 1812, Mary Agnes FitzGibbon's 1894 life of John FitzGibbon; and The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, KB (1845) by Brock's nephew and correspondent, historian Ferdinand Brock Tupper.

Goodspeed limits all comment and opinion to the very last paragraphs. It's here that the lieutenant-colonel mentions Jefferson's prediction, adding: "Thus, in a very real sense, Canada's present independence is the gift of the soldier from Guernsey."

I wonder what that Channel Island has planned.

Trivia: D.J. Goodspeed is my club name.

Object: A slim hardcover in black and red boards, with drawings by sometime Great Stories of Canada illustrator Jack Ferguson (who, the dust jacket tells us, lives on a farm that once served as a campsite for Brock). My copy of The Good Soldier, a reprint of the 1964 Macmillan first, appears to have been issued at the same time as a paper edition.

Access: A couple of acceptable copies of the first edition are available from online booksellers at about $26. As one might expect, the reissue is cheaper. Brock University has a copy, as do a number of other academic institutions. Only two public libraries hold the book in their collections both, sadly, as non-circulating reference copies. In other words, children cannot take this book home to read.


  1. I bet you spin some good tunes as DJ Goodspeed. Only Canadians, of course. Leonard Cohen, Robbie Robertson, Rufus Wainwright, k d lang, Alanis Morrisette... Maybe some Anne Murray? Or Klaatu! Remember them?

  2. Klaatu? You mean the Beatles... they weren't Canadian. These days it's all Neil Young and Arcade Fire, with a good amount of Amy Winehouse, early Pulp and Warren Zevon thrown into the mix. ""The French Inhaler" and "Desperados Under the Eaves", do they not seem like the very stuff of pulp noir?

    (And don't the trees look like crucified thieves?)

  3. Music lesson for the week:

    "Klaatu's members were John Woloschuk, Dee Long and Terry Draper. They are all from Toronto, Ontario, Canada."

    More info at the offical website for the band http://www.klaatu.org/

    I never heard of that Beatles attribution until I visited their website. I've known about their identity since that late 1990s.

    (How could I have overlooked the late, very much missed, Warren Zevon?)

  4. I'm old enough - just- to remember the rumour that the Beatles were behind Klaatu. Though a very young pup, I never believed a word of it.

    Zevon was a high school favourite. After years of effort, I was fortunate to catch him in Toronto... just weeks before he was diagnosed with inoperable mesothelioma. Much missed.

  5. Hey There,

    DJ Goodspeed was my grandfather! You can get a paperback copy of The Good Soldier at the Niagara Historical Society Museum in Niagara-On-The-Lake, ON this year in commemoration of the war of 1812.

    1. Good to know that the book is available, Kate. Thanks for the info.