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Cryptic Canada: Unsolved Mysteries from Coast to Coast by N. Hyde

Hyde, Natalie.  Cryptic Canada:  Unsolved Mysteries from Coast to Coast.  Toronto, ON:  Owlkids Books, 2012. Print.

Many of the ‘unsolved mysteries’ in Cryptic Canada are not mysteries.  Most of the chapters are about well-known archaeological or historic sites where there are always more questions to be asked but their main mysteries have been solved.  Others fall into the realm of pseudoscience. The ‘mysteries’ presented are:  the Oak Island Buried Treasure, the ice mummies of Sir John Franklin’s crew on Beechey Island, L’Anse aux Meadows, the tunnels under Moose Jaw, The Freemasons in Winnipeg, ships sunk in the Great Lakes and the Majorville Stone Circle. 

The authority of the content of this book is highly variable.  For most of the chapters, the facts are well-known, and the material is presented factually.  For example, The Great Lakes Triangle, where many ships have ‘disappeared’, is known to have very bad storms and magnetic anomalies that disrupt navigation equipment.  The only mystery is the location of the sunken ships.  Often the stories are supported by a question and answer with an expert.  In the case of the Beechey Island ice mummies, the expert is Dr. Owen Beattie, the distinguished anthropologist who led the excavation.  For the Tunnels of Moose Jaw, the expert is the cast director for a group that does re-enactments of the illegal alcohol operations during the Prohibition period.  We are not told if that person is an historian. 

The most disconcerting of the mysteries presented is that of ‘Canada’s Stonehenge’, correctly known as the Majorville Medicine Wheel or by its Siksika name, Omahkiyaahkohtoohp.  Hyde presents this as a celestial calendar.  Medicine wheels are Indigenous ceremonial structures.  They are quite common in Alberta, some of them built in the past century.  These “modern Blood Indian structures were built to commemorate the death place of, or the last tipi occupied by, a famous warrior”1 and are unrelated to calendars.  The Royal Alberta Museum cites two astronomers who point out that Indigenous prairie people probably timed their ceremonies simply by observing the night sky and would have had no need for a celestial calendar. 

This book is colourful and nicely designed.  Background colours and textures vary and text boxes overlay images.  Both Matt Hammill’s cartoon drawings and modern and archival photographs are used to illustrate the text and tell the stories.  The text succinctly captures the main concepts of each history/mystery and the language is appropriate to the upper elementary target audience.

While this work can be viewed as just a harmless bit of fun, it may be a child’s first introduction to these histories. With the unfortunate distortion of the stories to emphasize as mystery, things which are not mysterious at all, and the unevenness of the authority of some of its resources, this book would be a good choice only as an alternative for libraries that already have authoritative historical texts.   

  1. “What is a medicine wheel?”  Royal Alberta Museum, 2013

Recommended with Reservations:  2 stars out of 4
Reviewer:  Sandy Campbell

Sandy is a Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Alberta, who has written hundreds of book reviews across many disciplines.  Sandy thinks that sharing books with children is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give.