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THE BOOKS: Personal Stories


A Hole in the Woods, 1895

This book tells the fictional story of a man who leaves the city and settles in a small, rural village to become the town’s new Station Master. The community is at the end of the railway line and quite isolated from the rest of the province. He is initially uncertain about his decision to move to such a remote part of Ontario. While grappling with the feeling that he does not belong, he uses his connection to his faith and trust in the community to help make the transition less difficult.

Link: OHQ Historical Fiction


Old Plantation Days…, c.1895

Old Plantation Days is an autobiographical story of the life and history of William Mallory (1826-1907). The book chronicles his birth into slavery, his escape to Canada, his return to fight in the Civil War in the United States and his return to Hamilton where he lived until his death. His life is as much a story of hardship as it is a story of adventure.


Memoir of Elizabeth Jones…, 1838

This memoir tells the story of the life of Elizabeth Jones, an Ojibway girl and a grand-daughter of Joseph Brant. Religion played a central role in Elizabeth’s life and she practised the teachings of her faith with all she met. Elizabeth only lived to see her sixth birthday, but this memoir shows that her compassion and love for others were the greatest gifts she left for those who knew her.


Diaries and journals can provide rich, first-hand accounts of historical events. As a primary source of information, they are often the sources that give us the most detail about a person, place or era. A script writer working on a film might use a journal to learn more about a time period in history. A novelist working on a book might use a diary to learn about the everyday details in someone’s life. When reading personal stories, it is important to remember that some are written long after the event actually took place. This is particularly true of a memoir in which an author writes about someone’s entire life. The earlier details of someone’s life are not as easy to remember as the later details. Does this diminish their value as a source of information? Can the information be trusted as accurate? Are they still considered primary sources if so much time has passed?

These stories have common themes about personal struggle and overcoming obstacles. However, they are also stories about hope and strength in the face of adversity.

  1. What is the point of view of the author for each of these stories? How can you tell this? How does this affect the way you read it?
  2. Is there an intended audience for each of these stories? If so, who was it written for? Why might a person buy this book? What type of person might be interested in this story?
  3. AS PART OF THE CLASS MAGAZINE: Write a one page explanation of what everyday life was like in the 1800s based on evidence from the stories. It will involve some detective work – a good researcher is also a good sleuth! From each of the stories find information that provides you with a better understanding of what it was like to live in this time period. Focus on the day-to-day routines, household items used, prevailing attitudes, etc. You may want to focus on what is missing. For example, there were no automobiles when any of these stories were published, so what was the main form of transportation? Is there any evidence to support this? If so, include it in your research. Use the Sleuth Fact Finder to get you started.


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