Beneath My Feet: The Memoirs of George Mercer Dawson

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McClelland and Stewart, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 350 pages
George Mercer Dawson is a towering figure in Canadian history — and science — as the man who led the Geological Survey during its exploration of the Canadian West, mostly from horseback or from a canoe. A tough job for anyone, it was an extraordinary achievement for Dawson. Born in 1849, Dawson was crippled by a childhood illness that left him hunchbacked and in constant pain. He never grew taller than a young boy, and he never let his disabilities stop him. An avid photographer, amateur painter, professional geologist and botanist, and by necessity an ethnographer, Dawson wrote constantly: poetry, journals, reports, notes, and more than five thousand letters, his first at the age of six and his last just two days before he died in 1901.

But Dawson never wrote his memoirs. So, a century after his death, Phil Jenkins has lent him a hand. Using Dawson’s own words, and filling in the gaps in Dawson’s voice, Jenkins presents the man who left his heart in western Canada. Their countless stories — from witnessing the last great buffalo stampede to encountering the timeless customs of the Haida — evoke the real excitement of the age of exploration. Dawson knew the pain of unrequited love, suffered the bite of a million mosquitoes, and yet he travelled on, over mountainous physical odds, to become one of the most respected and enjoyed of Victorian Canadians, in the thought-provoking times of Dickens and Darwin.

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About the author (2007)

An author and performing songwriter, Phil Jenkins has written for a number of magazines, including National Geographic Traveller, Equinox, and Heritage Canada, and was a feature writer for Ottawa Magazine for five years. His first book, Fields of Vision: A Journey to Canada’s Family Farms, a national bestseller, was published in 1991. His second, An Acre of Time, published in 1996, won the Canadian Author’s Association Lela Common Award for History, jointly won the Ottawa Citizen Non-Fiction Award, and was made into a play nominated for a Governor General’s award. His third book, River Song: Sailing the History of the St. Lawrence River was published in 2001. From 1991 to 1996, Jenkins was the book columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, and he currently writes on interesting city rooms for the newspaper. He has also recently released a CD, CarTunes, with the band Riverbend. He lives in Chelsea, Quebec.

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