October 18, 2018

Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon

Written by Karen Autio
Illustrated by Loraine Kemp
Crwth Press
48 pp.
Ages 7-10
October 2018

For lovers of trees, history, horses and British Columbia, Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon will appeal to all.

Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon is about the history of Wild Horse Canyon, a hidden canyon in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, alongside the Okanagan River. The story, told as a series of dated vignettes in text and pictures, begins in 1780 with an Okanagan man communing with the natural world of the steep-walled canyon. Listening to the flora and fauna, he leaves behind a red-ochre and bear-grease paint pictograph.

Through the years, the Okanagan people find shelter and home in this valley, as do wild horses, alongside the growing ponderosa pines (also known as yellow pines) whose growth the reader observes in every illustration of this book. From seedling, as witness to the community of Okanagan people, and their taming of the horses for transport and carrying heavy loads, to saplings, the yellow pines and other flora give life and assistance to these first peoples. With the arrival of the first Europeans, the Okanagan people offer horses and temporary shelter and the Okanagan Brigade Trail becomes a route for fur traders, explorers and pack-trains.
From Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon by Karen Autio, illus. by Loraine Kemp
Like the seedlings and saplings of yellow pine growing into majestic trees, the canyon is evolving, specifically from a wholly natural element to one impacted by human development. Settlers move into the Okanagan Valley, displacing the Syilx/Okanagan people who are shamelessly shoved onto reserves. Trees are cut, a railway is built and more settlers establish themselves. But, with the onset of World War I, horses are being trapped for military purposes and still more rounded up to be trained, sold or killed because they compete with ranchers' animals. "Soon few wild horses are left in the Okanagan." (pg. 22) Forests are cut, land is cleared, and Wild Horse Canyon is being changed forever.
From Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon by Karen Autio, illus. by Loraine Kemp

Still the ponderosa pines grow and reproduce amidst Wild Horse Canyon.  As with any story in which humans begin to exert their will on the natural environment, Karen Autio recounts that critical time when development begins to be reined in, and the establishment of the Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park heralds the recovery of the area to its humblest beginnings. Even wildfires like the firestorm of 2003 that destroyed a 223-year-old ponderosa pine in Wild Horse Canyon is still a new beginning.
From Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon by Karen Autio, illus. by Loraine Kemp
Don't misinterpret the story of Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon from its title as I did. It is a historical account of a Canadian region unique in its heritage.  Karen Autio makes sure to tell the story of Wild Horse Canyon from all perspectives: First Nations, European settlers, and Mother Nature. By using a ponderosa pine as her focus for the unfolding of the canyon's history, both natural and human, Karen Autio keeps the story fundamental.  She could be critical of the canyon's evolution–I'm thinking of the treatment of the First Nations and wild horses–but she presents its history as simply a timeline of events, warts and all. That completeness of story is likewise achieved by Karen Autio's inclusion of additional details like maps, photos and notes about the Syilx People upon whose lands the story unfolds. With Okanagan Valley artist Loraine Kemp's accurate and appreciative paintings as illustrations for the story, Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon becomes a history book that young readers will welcome and enjoy for its realism and truthfulness.

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