Book Detail

Chaudière Falls: A Novel of Dramatized History


On March 7, 1800, Philemon Wright, a farmer from Woburn, Massachusetts, arrives on the north shore of the Ottawa River in Hull Township. On September 1, 1860, on the south side of the river, Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Albert Edward, lays the cornerstone for Canada’s Parliament Buildings on Barrack Hill in Ottawa.

While the novel dramatizes the real events that unfold between those two dates—Wright’s determination to establish a community of farmers, the political scheming that results in Ottawa becoming Canada’s capital—it’s also the story of immigrants struggling for survival in a new world. Among them, Jedediah Jansen, who is ten years old when his family arrives with Wright’s party. Jed marries, enters the volatile timber business, is overwhelmed by both, and his life spirals out of control.

The settlers’ attempts to establish a peaceful community are further exacerbated when the government in York (Toronto) refuses to confer legal status on Bytown (Ottawa). And because its inhabitants resent Colonel By’s civil authority, the lawless settlement is rampant with self-serving politics, religious bigotry, and barbaric violence.

ISBN: 978-1-77257-113-4 (PB)

Additional information

Weight 1.02 kg
Dimensions 22.86 x 15.24 x 4.06 cm

3 reviews for Chaudière Falls: A Novel of Dramatized History

  1. This dramatized history relates in gripping detail how a lawless lumber town became the civilized capital of the nation. The author’s superb research brings to life the heart-breaking challenges faced by the men and women who founded Bytown, including Colonel John By, the determined engineer who built the Rideau Canal that was to become the region’s military and economic lifeline. David Mulholland skillfully and feelingly relates the enormous obstacles By and his Master Stonemason Thomas McKay faced, and solved, through their ingenuity and persistence. Not the least of these challenges was the construction of a bridge over the turbulent Big Kettle, the churning bowl of water at the base of the Chaudière Falls, whose implacable elemental power resonates throughout the novel.

    Mulholland takes us inside the sad plight of the Irish labourers on the Canal who undertook the backbreaking and dangerous labour of cutting through two miles of rock, at least sixty feet deep. We enter into their tragic and brief lives, marred by disease, crippling and often-fatal accidents, poverty and prejudice. We meet the thuggish lumber king Peter Aylen, who recruited disaffected, unemployed Irish navies to form the Shiners, a gang contemptuous of civil order and of the value of human life that terrorized Bytown residents for years. One of the book’s most chilling scenes shows the Shiners ousting the official toll keeper from the Chaudière Bridge; then hurling those who refuse to pay their exorbitant tolls to their deaths in the boiling Kettle below.

    Chaudière Falls draws us into the equally tumultuous political fight of Reformist leaders seeking to throw off colonial controls, and Bytown’s own fraught efforts to win recognition as an incorporated community. Mulholland vividly depicts the community’s striking transformations, with the building of the Market Square, Notre-Dame and Christ Church Cathedrals, the arrival of the Grey Nuns and the founding of the Bruyère Hospital, the ever-growing variety of shops and artisans on Rideau Street, where geese, pigs and cows once roamed free amongst pedestrians, and ultimately, the rise of the new capital’s Gothic Parliament Buildings on Barrack Hill.

    Through his fictional protagonist, Jedediah Jansen, who from boyhood onward seeks emotional refuge on “his” rock overlooking the Chaudière Falls, Mulholland shows us the physical and emotional toll the lumber industry took on an individual. Jed’s life is marked by risk, financial uncertainty, violence and the loss of loved ones. The long, hard seasons in the bush tax his marriage, resulting in a tragic train of events and his troubled quest for redemption.

    Readers will find plenty to reward and amaze them in this superlatively well-researched book that illuminates Ottawa’s painful and painstaking development, and introduces the countless men and women who made its growth possible.

    Wendy MacIntyre is a writer in Carleton Place, Ontario. Her novels include Mairi, The Applecross Spell, Apart, Lucia’s Masks and the forthcoming Hunting Piero.

  2. “Combining meticulous, historical research and fictionalized characterization, Chaudière Falls brings to life a significant pioneering period in the Ottawa Valley. It captures the events and daily lives of an era underappreciated in Canadian literature. The author is to be commended for cleverly assembling an engaging novel from very demanding research, and for succeeding in giving readers delightful insights into a past we still share today.” ~ Robert W

  3. Chaudière Falls: A Novel of Dramatized History, written by Ontario native David Mulholland, is both an orthodox and atypical addition to the genre of historically-based fiction. It is Mulholland’s third novel, seven years in the making. Recounting the birth of our nation’s capital, it follows the lives of various settlers and immigrants as they begin to organize their community along the banks of the Ottawa River.

    It is epic in scope, not something that is particularly common to the telling of Canadian history. At over 650 pages, Chaudière Falls covers roughly sixty years of history, as Ottawa grows from a small farm town to the city that would soon become Canada’s capital. It’s filled with tensions between farmers, government and native Aboriginal groups. There’s violence and war, as Colonel By brings disharmony to the settled township of Hull. Of course, there are both fighters and lovers: Chaudière Falls features the romantic drama typical to epic tales, giving heart and emotion to what would otherwise read as a history book. Characterization, however, is a secondary concern to Mulholland. His detailed accounts of Ottawa’s history are what matter here. His townspeople and government officials serve as conduits to the far more important events that are taking place.

    “Detailed” is certainly the right word when it comes to describing Chaudière Falls. The last pages of the novel list the dozens of sources Mulholland consulted in the writing of his novel. He makes it clear in his note to the reader that Chaudière Falls is a work of dramatized history, not historical fiction. Whereas authors of the latter try to “hide their research,” and focus on the humanity behind the events, Mulholland chooses to place his research in the foreground, integrating every fact he can into his novel.

    Yet, the epigraph that caps off this lengthy literary affair plays contrary to Chaudière Falls’ factually-driven accounts. Mulholland quotes Nietzsche’s famous words, “There are no facts; only interpretations,” challenging his own telling of Ottawa’s pre-capital days. History can only be seen through a glass darkly, and Mulholland’s experiences with writing Chaudière Falls prove to be no different. “My research turned up several contradictions in the ‘historical record,’” he writes. “If I could find at least two reliable sources to confirm ‘a fact,’ I used it. If not, I went with whatever made the most sense.” The validity of history is a recurring theme in Mulholland’s work, also playing a significant role in his novel Duel.

    Ultimately, Chaudière Falls is a labour of love, a thoughtfully crafted history of a story not often told. While history is easy to mythologize, the novel’s sober approach shows the author’s remarkable eye for detail. For the history fiends who like fact to work in tandem with fiction, Chaudiere Falls is a can’t miss.
    By: Joel Redekop

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