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Patty Osborne's Blog

Fear and Loathing in Upper Canada

Patty Osborne

In the 1800s, many young women came to Canada from Ireland but not many of them fell in love with black men who had come north via the underground railway.

In the book, Oonagh (Cormorant), Mary Tilberg introduces us to one such woman (by the name of Oonagh) who ends up in Newcastle District in Upper Canada where she falls in love with Chauncey Taylor, an escaped slave. Oonagh is naïve enough to imagine a bright future for herself and Chauncey, but she fails to take into account the rigid and even deadly attitudes of her neighbours.

The story is based on a fleeting mention of such a couple in the writings of Susannah Moodie, and it suffers somewhat from the choice of Oonagh as narrator: we learn the details of Chauncey's life only through long monologues in which he tells Oonagh how he got to Upper Canada, a device that makes his story less compelling than it would have been if it could have been integrated into the narrative. Nevertheless, Oonagh is a compelling read that illuminates an interesting time in North American history.

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