In his debut novel, Robert MacBain has penned an epic story of a Canadian family whose lives encapsulate the story of this country in just about every aspect. Two Lives Crossing is one of those sprawling family sagas that begins in the early years of the 1900s in rural Scotland, and ends in the modern metropolis of Toronto, spanning four generations, and crossing two very disparate cultures. And, although it was written well before the current Idle No More protests, it is as timely a book which deals with the place of our First Nations people in the Canadian mosaic, more so than even Guy Vanderhaeghe’s recent A Good Man.
Two Lives Crossing is the story of how two brothers, Gordon and Bill, were separated shortly after birth, knew nothing of the other’s existence, and who meet again as adults. The boys’ father is a young Scot who, with his own older brother, travels to Canada from their father’s rented farm in rural Scotland. The two make their way out to Alberta to work on a cattle ranch there. Tom, the older of the two, realizes that ranching is not for him, and decides to make his way in the city, eventually ending up in Toronto. Bill stays in Alberta, falls in love with a young First Nation girl, marries and fathers Gordon and Bill Jr.
Tragedy strikes when Bill’s wife dies bearing the second boy, and Bill himself is killed during the Battle of Hong Kong in the Second World War. The two orphaned boys are separated; Gordon off to Toronto to live with his Uncle Tom and his wife, and to be raised as their own child, while Bill goes to live with his mother’s sister on the Big Thunder Reserve in Alberta, there to be raised as a member of the Blackfoot tribe.
We follow the two boys as they mature into intelligent young men, each reflecting their upbringing, coming as they do from very different cultures. Gordon marries well and gets into conservative politics. Bill is a brilliant student and earns his PhD in Sociology, determined to see his people’s heritage brought into prominence. The boys are forced to confront some painful realities when they clash over a proposed oil pipeline through the Big Thunder Reserve.
As Hollywood as it sounds, MacBain makes a credible case for his two protagonists and their dilemma. Bill grows up on a successful reserve with step-parents determined to make him rightly proud of his First Nations heritage. Gordon has been fascinated with politics since he was a teenager, and his wealthy connected father-in-law easily grooms him for public office. Both boys are intelligent, if a little naïve, and often find themselves in situations where they have lost control of their fates. Yet both draw strength from their strong, stubborn, yet resilient Scottish stock, and are determined to make the best of things. They embody so much of what it means to be Canadian that Two Lives Crossing becomes a parable of contemporary Canada, its echoes resounding in today’s daily news events.
Robert MacBain spent years as a journalist for the Toronto Star, The Telegram and the Globe and Mail before becoming News Director at 1050 CHUM. He also worked as a public relations consultant, and as a speech writer for Liberals Don Johnston and David Peterson. He is married to Maria Minna, long-serving former Member of Parliament for Beaches-East York. For more information, or to order a copy of Two Lives Crossing (also available as an e-book) visit robertmacbainbooks.ca.