Muddling Through: The Remarkable Story of the Barr Colonists

by Lynne Bowen
272 pages,
ISBN: 1550541056

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Brief Reviews
by Allan Levine

FOR ABOUT 2,000 middle-class British immigrants the "Promised Land" in 1902 was a large section of territory located a few hundred miles northwest of Saskatoon. Barren and remote, it was hardly the utopia they had been led to believe awaited them. These novice pioneers had been lured from their relatively comfortable lives in England by Reverend Isaac Barr, a misguided but charismatic Anglican minister who dreamed of keeping "Canada for the British." The story of the Barr colonists` difficult struggles has been told before, yet never so elegantly or objectively as by the British Columbia writer Lynne Bowen in Muddling Through: The Remarkable Story of the Barr Colonists (Douglas & McIntyre, 272 pages, $26.95 cloth). As a descendant of these proud English immigrants, Bowen brings to her writing a personal and human touch that captures the immense hardships they experienced. Though Barr himself has been largely blamed for the fiasco that ensued, it is clear that the Canadian government and the colonists themselves were just as responsible. True, Barr, inspired by the example of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes`s exploits in Africa, conjured up the settlement scheme for Canada. He also made false promises and provided misleading information. Worse, in the colonists` view, was that he personally profited from the scheme through commissions and kickbacks. Nevertheless, from the beginning the federal government wholeheartedly supported the settlement plan, and many of the colonists refused to take advice (especially from "foreigners") about agricultural practices or even basic survival techniques. As a result, much of the book details the multitude of troubles and suffering - the cold, the mosquitoes, the lack of shelter and food -endured by the beleaguered settlers. That Lynne Bowen`s grandparents and others lived to tell about their ordeal is a testimony to their strength of will and spirit.

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