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Scoundrels and Scallywags: Characters from Alberta's Past

Brennan, Brian.
Calgary: Fifth House, 2002.
216 pages
Contains: Photos, Bibliography, Index
$16.95
ISBN 1-894004-92-2
DDC 920'.07123

Tags: Alberta Alberta scoundrels and scallywags biographies

Alberta’s wildly entertaining history goes well beyond the characters
and events you may read about in a standard prairie history text.
Luckily, we have Brian Brennan around to tell the stories of the many
scoundrels and scallywags who have added some color to Alberta life.
Brennan offers: “This is a book about people who dared to be
different, characters who were either bad or good, naughty or nice,
notorious or obscure, and who definitely would not tolerate being
ignored.”

Brennan’s preferred definition of scallywags and scoundrels is that
of a rascal or a rogue, or the individual who “resisted being
stereotyped, domesticated, branded, ignored, or taxed.” The more than
40 profiles cover people ranging from well-known scoundrels (e.g.,
legendary Rocky Mountain prospector and trapper William “Wild Bill”
Peyto [1868–1943], whose image graces the front cover) to individuals
whose infamy is derived from less glamorous or adventurous origins
(e.g., Elizabeth “Sweaty Betty” Abott [1919–1989], an Edmonton
slum lord in the 1970s and 1980). Treatment of the individuals in
Brennan’s gallery is fair and entertaining. Brennan manages to capture
the notoriety of the controversial characters by repeating the gossip
that originally elevated them to their rogue status. However, when
possible, he tempers the sensationalism by recounting how some of these
stories were later proven to be exaggerations or complete fabrications
spread by neighbors who could not tolerate eccentricity.

Brennan’s sources are mostly secondhand, drawing heavily on what he
refers to as “raw material,” very often clippings from fellow
journalists’ personal collections. The book is written in an informal
style, reminiscent of tales that could have been told around the
campfire in years gone by. Future historians may wish for more detailed
documentation of sources. However, Brennan’s intention was clearly to
create a book that would be readable, informative, and entertaining
rather than a tome that would be used only by history aficionados.
Photos included from the Glenbow Archives and the Calgary Herald help to
illustrate the rascally personages that the readers of this book will
hopefully come to appreciate.

Geoffrey Harder:

Geoffrey Harder is a public services librarian and manager, Knowledge Common, in the Science and Technology Library of the University of Alberta.

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