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Frog Lake Reader Review

The diverse voices manifested in primary and secondary sources, popular and academic works often diverge in Myrna Kostash’s award-winning non-fiction work the Frog Lake Reader to present contrary views of the little known Frog Lake massacre.  Read more >

– By Darlene Chrapko, Alberta Sweetgrass


Reviewed by Mary Horodyski

“Myrna Kostash has assembled a fascinating and complex montage of excerpts from historical records and interpretations of the Frog Lake events of 1885….In the Reader, Kostash tries to bring the First Nations, Métis, and white perspectives together. The voices clash, but as Alexander Morris, a treaty negotiator said, “It [is] impossible to listen to them without interest.”

Prairie Fire review


“The narrative form is fresh, creative and culturally sensitive. Acknowledging she is but one voice among many, Kostash gives space to perspectives of the past alongside historians of today … By collapsing time, Kostash helps us to realize how these past events still shape our present.”— Diana Davidson, The Edmonton Journal


“The story of the Frog Lake Massacre, one of the most fascinating, if tragic, episodes in Canadian history, is made all the more poignant and dramatic told through the eyes of people who were actually there. A great read.”— Maggie Siggins, author of Riel: A Life of Revolution


“Myrna Kostash transforms the controversial history of the Frog Lake Massacre into a compelling drama of individual voices, her own calm voice guiding us through this harrowing tragedy.”— Heather Robertson, author of Reservations Are for Indians


“It’s brilliant reading. Kostash’s decision to include all of these voices and versions creates a compelling human drama out of long-dead events…. Kostash hits the perfect pitch between the events that constitute history and the voices that shape it.”— Jay Smith,  Alberta Views


Winner of  the 2009 “Exporting Alberta Award,” presented to Myrna Kostash May 28 2010 by the Canadian Authors Association Alberta Branch. Read the full quotations from the Award’s three (anonymous) judges:1. The Frog Lake Reader is a book of massive cultural significance. Exhaustively researched, intrepid and ingenious in its approach, [the book] pieces together an array of accounts and perspectives surrounding the circumstances of the Frog Lake Massacre of 1885. The many voices play off each other, contradict and at other times resonate, and the reader becomes immersed in the complexity of the tragic events and key players at this critical juncture in Canadian history. A fascinating read and visionary accomplishment.

2. The Frog Lake Reader is history at its best. Myrna Kostash weaves together both eyewitness and historians’ accounts of the events that led up to the Frog Lake Massacre itself, and the aftermath. She introduces us to the many characters involved and lets us hear their often conflicting truths. This riveting book gives us insights into the different urgencies, currents and personalities that make up our history. Myrna Kostash is careful to let us make up our own minds. She gives historian Heather Devine the last word: It wasn’t that long ago.”

3. By combining historical accounts from many sources into a single narrative, Myrna Kostash has breathed new life into the events that led up to and followed the incident that many people call ‘The Frog Lake Massacre.’ We get to see Big Bear and Wandering Spirit come to life again, representing two aspects of the many that exemplified the native of the day – those felt the need to sign and follow the treaties, and those who were opposed. But nothing is clear-cut, and as the government failed to live up to its obligations, and the native populations faced harsh winters and starvation, Kostash shows us a clear path to uprising. The selection and order of quotes, and her own observations are well thought-out. The Frog Lake Reader is a must-read for those interested in understanding the flow of history, and the tide of events that can lead to unspeakable acts. I can see this book being on the reading list as a required text for many courses across Canada, and beyond.”


“[Kostash] says in her introduction that she conceived of The Frog Lake Reader while doing research for Reading the River, her 2007 book about the North Saskatchewan. She ‘learned of the only mass hanging in Canadian history, of eight First Nations men on November 27, 1885,’ and started keeping a file. We are fortunate she did.”— Diana Davidson, Edmonton Journal Oct 25/09


My (unpublished) response: ‘In his review of my book, The Frog Lake Reader, Robert Fulford finds “grim comedy” in contradictory accounts of the mass hanging of Aboriginal men at Fort Battleford in 1885. This is precisely the point. The Reader is neither a history nor the history but a gathering of literature from 75 separate sources about the events known as the Frog Lake Massacre. Their “objectivity “lies in their far-ranging multiplicity and diversity, not in their unobjectionable points of view. Indeed, from the aggrieved tone of Fulford’s review, we can see that 125 years after the events, interpretations of what happened are still contentious. Fulford’s great-uncle John Delaney was killed at Frog Lake. A century of opinion dominated by White authority has finally given way to voices which speak of Delaney also as a sexual predator among Cree women. Unsurprisingly, Fulford finds “contemporary opinion” as well as new scholarship “stifling.”‘

— Robert Fulford, National Post 12/8/2009


“Kostash’s book brings our attention to the conflict at Frog Lake settlement, north-west of modern-day Lloydminster, over Easter 1885…Ten people, including Indian Agent Thomas Quinn, were killed and three others taken hostage. After surrendering to authorities, Wandering Spirit and seven of his warriors were hanged in Battleford in November of that year…The Frog Lake Reader is not a typical anthology: Kostash writes the entire book as a series of dialogues. Her voice is in conversation with both historical figures (such as Big Bear) and her contemporaries (such as novelist and exhaustive Big Bear biographer Rudy Wiebe)….It is particularly interesting to hear the voices of women who witnessed the buildup and aftermath of the events at Frog Lake.“The narrative form is fresh, creative and culturally sensitive. Acknowledging that she is but one voice among many, Kostash gives space to perspectives of the past alongside historians of today. By framing The Frog Lake Reader in this fashion she also acknowledges the importance of the oral tradition in First Nations and Metis cultures. By collapsing time, Kostash helps us to realize how these past events still shape our present.”

—Diana Davidson, Edmonton Journal Oct 25/2009


Kostash has presented as many sides to the Frog Lake story as she could find. Ranging from the testimonies of Big Bear’s granddaughter, Isabel Little Bear, to “the two Theresas” taken captive, and from old-school historians George F.G Stanley and Desmond Morton to the contemporary commentaries of Sara Carter, Rudy Wiebe and Heather Devine, the quality of texts is mesmerizing. Aboriginal writers and historians Joseph Dion and Reverend Edward Ahenakew underline the importance of aboriginal voices in Canadian history. Throughout, Kostash provides apt interstitial insights. It’s brilliant reading. Kostash’s decision to include all of these voices and versions creates a compelling human drama out of long-dead events…. Kostash hits the perfect pitch between the events that constitute history and the voices that shape it.”—Jay Smith, Alberta Views December 2009

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