Everyone has heard of the Bathurst Tragedy. A school van bringing a basketball team home from a game one night struck a tractor-trailer; the result was seven team members dead, together with the coach’s wife.
However, not nearly so many people have heard of the sufferings of the Loyalists once they arrived in Saint John, and their struggles with the local government which did not seem to appreciate their plight.
These prolonged efforts to get governments to do right are described in the two books reviewed here: Driven, subtitled How the Bathurst Tragedy Ignited a Crusade for Change by Richard Fort (Goose Lane, $19.95); and Loyalist Rebellion in New Brunswick, subtitled A Defining Conflict for Canada’s Political Culture by David Bell (Formac, $22.95).
Two mothers of the dead boys led the struggle in Driven.
First they tried for an inquest. The story of how they learned the bus had no winter tires and its driver had been on duty for 14 hours when the crash happened, as well as several other forms of neglect — the bus had not received its annual “obligatory” maintenance — is the story of the book.
The writing in Driven is average with no refinement, but it is brightened by the many excerpts from what are obviously taped interviews. There is neither a bibliography nor notes, but there is a good index. Driven starts rather slowly, but soon speeds up.
Loyalist Rebellion brings us closer to the Loyalists as most of them really were when they arrived, and for the next few years. Tired, hungry, ill-clothed and dirty, they were disillusioned by the British government that had let them down, first by its conduct of the war and then by its surrender and the terms of peace. Then when they arrived in Saint John, they found the lands they had been assigned were not even surveyed, much less cleared. In the city, there was not nearly enough accommodation for 10,000 people. Nor was there enough money. It’s greatly to their credit that the vast majority of them stayed.
It is no wonder they reacted against those who were making themselves into the upper classes. The Loyalists were displaced Americans, not English. The story of how they were gradually pushed into submission because many of them had lost their capacity “to distinguish between loyalty to a united British empire and uncritical support for its local government” is the main subject of this book.
It’s a sad story, but one we should know.
Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at Her new address is: 95 Orange St., Apt. 101, Saint John NB, E2L 1M5. or call her at 506-693-5498.