At 82, Vancouverite Rivett has put together a charming book that recounts her family’s move from England to relatively unknown Canada. Originally inspired by a need to tell her grandchildren where she came from, the book takes readers to Montreal and St. Lambert in 1914 before a 1927 move took the family to Ontario.
Rivett tells how her family came to live in Quebec, arriving by ship, leaving behind family and a way of life that wasn’t always conducive to the French-speaking part of Canada. But Rivett’s family did more than just try to fit in, they carved themselves out a life full of celebrations, gatherings and marvelous vacations where they fell into synch with their new country.
A few asides remind readers how very long ago, not just in years, Rivett came of age. In 1924, the family vacationed at a boarding house in the Laurentian Mountains. “Just to give you a little perspective,” she writes, “1924 was the year Lenin died.”
Rivett lived before the airplane was as common a mode of transportation as a car. Her first trip in a plane was in goggles in an open cockpit. The engine was so loud that only sign language could be understood. Their first car was also a novelty, as were the crystal radio, and signed glossy photos of movie stars such as Clara Bow and Rudolf Valentino.
Rivett spends little time lamenting about the “good old days,” choosing instead to highlight the pleasures of having a close family that knew how to get the most out of life.
There’s also no room for the blame that marks so many books about childhood. From a 1996 perspective, Rivett’s parents seem heavy-handed, but she seems all the wiser because of it
Looking Back will remind, or in some cases inform people that there was life before television, computers and mass media. Rivett leaves a special message for her family, and for the readers who take the time to find this first-time writer’s gentle book.
Barbara Finlay in ABQLA Bulletin, May-August 1997:
Bess Rivett, 82, is a community activist, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Looking Back is her gentle reminiscence of growing up in St. Lambert in the ’20s. The book opens with Bess’s granddaughter asking to hear what it was like when “Nonie” was a child. And so the granddaughter and the reader are taken back on a trip through Bess’s childhood and adolescence. We witness the arrival of baby Bessie and her parents in Montreal, the move to the South Shore, the return to England, and then the decision to come back to Canada for good. The family settles down in St. Lambert, and we meet the neighbours and friends of Bessie’s childhood as she becomes increasingly involved in the community and in school activities.
There is no real storyline in Looking Back, but rather clips of daily life and major achievements in Bessie’s childhood. The text is a bit choppy at times. However, the book is an early read, written in a gentle tone and sprinkled with mild humour. The sedate cover is unlikely to grab most younsters’ attention, but with a bit of pushing this book will do well for school projects on biographies and local history.
Margot Laing in Dandelion Magazine:
“These days, sentimentatlity is a good thing. Looking Back, Burrows’s first book, gives us that. Not an exciting book, but a nice read.”
“The fact that my mother decided to write a book when she was well into her late seventies did not surprise me. There is very little that my mother decides to do that surprises me any more — nor would it be wise to dissuade her, although I did manage to get her to re-think her decision to go ice skating with her great grandson last winter when she was eighty-one.
“What did surprise me was how very interesting her story was. There were no earth-shattering experiences, no fascinating discoveries, no gripping adventures, but I found myself being taken back to a calmer time when enjoyments were far simpler and life was more serene. I found myself being very involved with this spirited, impish, mischievous child, and enjoying and envying the innocence of the era. I’m sure you will, too!” –Joan Rivett.
The author’s family arrives in Montreal in 1918. The girls grow up in a world of outside stairways, vacant lots, sleigh rides, King Tut sweaters, and movie star photos. Bess “comes of age with joys and sorrows, the French-English environment … a rich and exciting world.” (Foreword).
“This first-time writer’s gentle book.” COURIER (Vancouver)
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