Ann Birch is a longtime historical researcher and an award-winning Head of English in several Toronto high schools. She has a post-graduate degree in CanLit and is currently a fiction writer, editor, lecturer, and workshop facilitator. This is her third novel.
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For Anne Powell in 1807, life in York (now Toronto) is unbearable. Her mother’s rules of genteel propriety are intolerable, as is her father’s insistence that a daughter’s only role in life is to marry. Anne craves an active, useful existence. When a chance comes to assist the local midwife, she discovers her vocation.
Anne is happy when she is able to save a friend from a botched abortion, deliver a servant’s baby, and nurse the wounded during the American invasion of York. Her parents hate and oppose these activities. They are pleased only when she becomes friends with an eminent lawyer. While this man is studying in England, Anne’s father allows her to travel across the sea to nail down their engagement. But she breaks free of him and spends happy weeks in an English village helping her relatives care for the poor.
Returning home, Anne faces the same parental difficulties. Finally, however, she manages to escape. She flees to New York and boards a ship bound for England. This story of a real
A novel rich with details that illuminate daily life in early nineteenth-century York (now Toronto) and the ongoing struggle of a brave woman of the upper class who confronts the soul-numbing torture of traditional female roles. Ann Birch’s prose is exceptionally fine in its elegance, clarity, and wit.
--Barbara Kyle, author of The Traitor’s Daughter
Duelling in a New World focuses on the amazing career of a flawed but courageous man, John White. He duelled with the farmer politicians in Upper Canada’s first parliament and succeeded in drafting Canada’s first anti-slavery bill in 1793 (long before America or England), all the while engaged in his own personal battles with a failed marriage and a disastrous liaison. John White is a barrister trapped in a disastrous marriage. In 1792, he breaks loose and strikes out for a new life over the sea, leaving Marianne and his children in England. As Upper Canada’s first Attorney-General, he confronts the conflicts of the early parliament. He pushes through a bill abolishing the import of slaves—long before Britain or America—and he fights to give Aboriginals justice in white man’s courts. He also establishes the Law Society of Upper Canada, still in existence today.
In this new world, John finds pleasure in the friendship of Eliza Russell, sister of Upper Canada’s Receiver-General. They support each other in times of tragedy and despair.
But John makes a grave mistake when he has an affair with Betsy Small, a woman of dubious reputation. Realizing his stupidity, John breaks off the affair and brings Marianne and his family over from England. But Betsy is a vindictive woman who insults his wife, and Betsy’s husband challenges John to a duel. At dawn on January 4, 1800, John takes his pistol and sets out to meet his opponent.