Fire Canoe


Dundurn Press

Fall 2015

ISBN 978-1-4597-3208-7

How The West Was Won…

With Canada’s sesquicentennial (the 150th anniversary of Confederation) coming in 2017, Canadians will be reflecting on how their nation was born. At the middle of the 19th century, as the fathers of Confederation cobbled together a nation of four English- and French-speaking settlements in the eastern half of North America, what would eventually become the Canadian West looked remote and unavailable. So then, what sparked Canada’s rapid expansion from coast to coast?

Steamboats, that’s what! Or “fire canoes,” as aboriginal people called them. In large measure, the national dream of a Canada that stretched from sea to sea was realized aboard the large, Mississippi-style paddlewheel steamers that began plying western waterways on the eve of Canadian Confederation. In Fire Canoe, historian Ted Barris describes how and why this happened:

  • U.S. interests offered cash for first steamboat to reach Ft. Garry (Winnipeg)
  • Hudson’s Bay Company demanded faster water transport
  • Experienced First Nations pilots, stevedores & engineers offered skilled crews
  • The rapid military response to the Riel rebellions of 1870 & 1885
  • Steamboat commerce deterred U.S. political, commercial & military expansion
  • Winning the West meant massive immigration only possible by steamboat
  • Competition for business & territory sparked cutthroat steamboat races
  • Life on the boats attracted all manner of gamblers, speculators & remittance men

Fire Canoe brings the first-hand accounts of the steamboat packet owners, captains, stevedores, engineers, firemen, immigrants, soldiers, and carpetbaggers who travelled the inland waterways of the West between 1859 and the turn of the 19th century. The Mark Twain−like tales of their sudden arrival, the exploits of the people they carried, the impact of their regularly scheduled trips on waterways across the prairies, all come alive in Barris’s unique, you-are-there storytelling.

Critics’ praise for Fire Canoe:

“Ted Barris has done for the steamboat what Pierre Berton did for the railway…” – Globe and Mail.

“[This book] will surprise Canadians who weren’t aware that on the bald plains, riverboats once turned cities like Winnipeg, Prince Albert, and Edmonton into thriving ports.” – Toronto Sun.

“Barris’s best subjects are the personalities of the era – those adventurous and eccentric steamboat captains, traders and pioneers…” – Canadian Press.

“The book deserves a place in the library of those interested in the history and development of western Canada.” – Alberta History.

“An exciting narrative of the extension of the Canadian frontier across the prairies … with stories of over 100 steamboats that have never appeared in any other book.” – Steamboat Bill magazine.

The Great Escape: A Canadian Story

The Great Escape: A Canadian Story

Dundurn Press

September 28, 2013

ISBN: 9781771022729

On the night of March 24, 1944, eighty Commonwealth airmen crawled through a 400-foot-long tunnel, code-named “Harry,” and most slipped into the darkness of a pine forest beyond the wire of Stalag Luft III, a German prisoner-of-war compound near Sagan, Poland. The event became known as The Great Escape. The breakout, more than a year in the making, involved about 2,000 POWs and a battle of wits inconceivable for its time. Within days of the escape, however, all but three escapers were recaptured; subsequently, Adolf Hitler ordered fifty of them murdered, cremated, and buried in a remote corner of the same prison compound.

What most casual readers, history buffs, moviegoers, and even some who participated, don’t readily acknowledge is that The Great Escape was in many ways “made-in-Canada.” In The Great Escape: A Canadian Story, bestselling author Ted Barris recounts this nearly mythical escape operation through the voices of those involved, many of whom trained in Canada, served in RCAF bomber and fighter squadrons, were shot down over Europe, imprisoned at Stalag Luft III, and ultimately became co-conspirators in the actual Great Escape.

Based on his original interviews, research, and assembly of memoirs, letters, diaries, and personal photos, Ted Barris reveals that many of the escape’s key players – the tunnel designer, excavators, forgers, scroungers, security and intelligence personnel, custodian of the secret radio, and scores of security “stooges” and sand-dispersal “penguins” – were all Canadians.

The book reads like a Hollywood movie, but is, in fact, the true story!

Praise for Ted Barris’s The Great Escape: A Canadian Story

“A magnificent story … I spent 18 months in Stalag Luft III North Compound [as a POW, but] I was unaware of the vast work that went on. … So many of the interviews are all news to me. [This book] brings it all to life.”  Albert Wallace, Second World War RCAF officer and former POW at the Great Escape camp

“As always, Ted Barris, our best writer on Canadians at war, paints small personal stories on the broad canvas of epic conflict, and in The Great Escape, gives us the real truth on a story we thought we knew. Riveting.” – Linwood Barclay, bestselling author of  Trust Your Eyes

“With new insights and a fresh perspective, Ted Barris takes us deep inside The Great Escape. In fascinating and meticulous detail, he unravels the plotting and planning, completely befuddling German prison guards, that led to one of the most daring real-life dramas in modern history.” Lloyd Robertson, CTV News

Ted Barris writes Foreword to new book Syncopated: Black Stories

In a new book of biographies (compiled by author Ed Brown) about Black musicians in Canada, Ted Barris was invited to write the Foreword.

The star attraction was not in the house that night. While many others – the luminaries of the Canadian jazz scene – performed on stage, perhaps the country’s best studio and jazz concert drummer of the day was absent. In fact, it was because he was absent, that all the stars came out. It was in 1967 when Toronto-born musician Archie Alleyne suffered serious injuries in a car accident. He was not able to work … at either of his jobs.

“I didn’t have a car, so I had to carry my drum kit on streetcars and the subway,” he told my father, Alex Barris, back then. “I’d play from 9 at night to 1 a.m., get home with my drums by 3 a.m. and be up four hours later to go to my day job.”

Deadlock in Korea

DIK_COVER_JUNEDeadlock in Korea: Canadians at War, 1950-1953

Thomas Allen Publishers, May 2010

ISBN 9780-0-88762-528-2

Politicians called it a “police action.” The Canadian working volunteers who went to Korea to fight the Communists remember it as a bitter, grinding shooting war.

In the summer of 1950, thousands of Canadians – some veterans of the Second World War and regular army servicemen as well as adventure-seekers, unemployed and even some in trouble with the law – eagerly signed on for a UN-sponsored mission to stop the Communist foray into South Korea. They joined a forty-eight-nation, U.S.-led expeditionary force that quickly found itself embroiled not in a “police action,” but a full-scale hot war.

Ted Barris interviewed hundreds of Korean War veterans to then retell their stories of heroism and survival, tragedy and absurdity, successful operations and total snafus.

The Korean War was the first explosion in cold war between the USSR and the US after 1945. Canadian air force, naval and infantry volunteers were among the first to join the defence of South Korea. They etched locations such as Chinnampo, Kap’yong, Chail-li and Kowang-san onto the list of notable Canadian battlegrounds. Then, after twelve months that saw U.N. troops fighting up and down the Korean peninsula and drew Communist China into the conflict, the war settled into a bloody stalemate in the mud and cold around the 38th parallel.

Deadlock in Korea tells the stories of the men who fought in Korea, giving this war – that cost Canada more than a thousand casualties and was virtually ignored back home – its rightful place in Canadian history.

The book was a national best-seller on both the Maclean’s magazine and National Post top-ten lists in 1999-2000; and it has been officially recognized as the official history of Canadians at war in Korea by the Korea Veterans Association of Canada (Barris was made an honourary member of the KVA).

Breaking the Silence

book-breaking-the-silenceBreaking the Silence: Veterans’ Untold Stories from the Great War to Afghanistan

Thomas Allen Publishers
October 3, 2009

ISBN-10: 0-88762-465-0

“Never talked about it.”

That’s what most people say when they’re asked if the veteran in the family ever shared wartime experiences. Describing combat, imprisonment or lost comrades from the World Wars, the Korea War, or even Afghanistan is reserved for Remembrance Day or the Legion lounge. Nobody was ever supposed to see them get emotional, show their vulnerability. Nobody was ever to know the hell of their war.

About 25 years ago, Ted Barris began breaking through the silence. Because of his unique interviewing skills, he found that veterans would talk to him, set the record straight and put a face on the service and sacrifice of men and women in uniform. As a result of his work on 15 previous books, Barris has earned a reputation of trust among Canada’s veterans. Indeed, over the years, nearly 3,000 of them have shared their memories, all offering original material for his books.

Among other revelations in Breaking the Silence, veterans of the Great War reflect on an extraordinary first Armistice in 1918; decorated Second World War fighter pilots talk about their thirst for blood in the sky; Canadian POWs explain how they survived Chinese attempts to brainwash them during the Korean War; and soldiers with the Afghanistan mission talk about the horrors of the “friendly fire” incident near Kandahar.

Breaking the Silence is a ground-breaking book that goes to the heart of veterans’ war-time experiences.

Victory at Vimy


Victory at Vimy, Canada Comes of Age: April 9-12, 1917

Thomas Allen Publishers
January 26, 2007

ISBN-10: 0-88762-253-4

From the author of JUNO: Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944, comes a new book about the Famous Canadian Victory at Vimy Ridge.

At the height of the First World War, on Easter Monday April 9, 1917, in early morning sleet, forty-nine battalions of the Canadian Corps rose along a nine-mile line of trenches in northern France against the occupying Germans. All four Canadian divisions advanced in a line behind a well-rehearsed creeping barrage of artillery fire. By nightfall, the Germans had suffered a major setback. The Ridge, which other Allied troops had assaulted previously and failed to take, was firmly in Canadian hands.

It was the first time Canadians had fought as a distinct national army, and in many ways it was a coming of age for the nation. Based on first-hand accounts, like JUNO: Canadians at D-Day, Ted Barris paints a compelling and surprising human picture of what it was like to have stormed and taken Vimy Ridge.

Behind the Glory

book-behind-the-gloryBehind the Glory, Canada’s Role in the Allied Air War

Thomas Allen Publishers
October 14, 2005

ISBN 0-88762-212-7

In this 60th Anniversary edition is Ted Barris’ telling of the unique story of Canada’s largest World War Two expenditure – $1.75 billion in a Commonwealth-wide training scheme, based in Canada that supplied the Allied air war with nearly a quarter of a million qualified airmen.

Within its five-year life-span, the BCATP supplied a continuous flow of battle-ready pilots, navigators, wireless radio operators, air gunners, flight engineers, riggers and fitters or more commonly known as ground crew, principally for the RCAF and RAF as well as the USAAF.

While the story of so many men graduating from the most impressive air training scheme in history is compelling enough, Ted Barris offers the untold story of the instructors – the men behind the glory – who taught those airmen the vital air force trades that ensure Allied victory over Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. In Winston Churchill swords, the BCATP proved “the decisive factor” in winning the Second World War.

This 60th Anniversary edition arrives as Canada continues to celebrate 2005 as the Year of the Veteran. Ted Barris interviewed more than 200 instructors and using their anecdotes and viewpoints he recounts the story of the flyers who coped with the dangers of training missions and the frustration of fighting the war thousands of miles away from the front without losing their enthusiasm for flying.

Days of Victory

book-days-of-victoryDays of Victory, Canadians Remember 1939-1945

Thomas Allen Publishers
March 12, 2005

ISBN 0-88762-175-9

When the German capitulation in Europe came on May 8 – VE Day – celebrations swept the continent. Festivities also spilled into the streets of Halifax, Ottawa, Sudbury, Regina, and Vancouver back home. It was a sweet day and a bitter one for millions of people whose lives had been changed forever by nearly six years of global war.

This volume of wartime remembrance carries the reader from the early days of the Second World War – through the struggles in western Europe, Italy, and Hong Kong to the Canadians’ ultimate march to victory that began on D-Day in 1944 and culminated in VE and VJ Day, more than a year later.

From interviews, research, and images originally gathered by father and son writing team Alex and Ted Barris, best-selling author Ted Barris has broadened this revised edition to include stories of Canadian heroism in the Pacific war, accounts of Canadian war correspondents battling to beat the censors, more first-hand impressions from the Canadians who liberated Europe – and from the civilians they liberated in Italy, France, Belgium, Denmark, and finally Holland. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of VE Day this book gives voice to that generation who won the world a second chance.

The Days of Victory text is enhanced by 32 pages of personal/archival photographs and maps.


book-junoJuno, Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944

Thomas Allen Publishers
January 24, 2004

ISBN 0-88762-133-3

On June 6, 1944, nearly 15,000 Canadians – at sea, in the air, and on the ground – joined the long-anticipated D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on the Normandy beaches. The piece of ground on which the Canadians fought so hard against heavily armed and embedded German troops was codenamed Juno. On that day, the Canadian infantry fought their way farther inland than any other Allied troops. For Canada, and all Canadians, this was a coming of age, an extraordinary moment of courage and sacrifice.

On the eve of the 6oth anniversary of D-Day, Barris takes us back to those momentous few hours that forever changed the course of our history in the voices of those who were there. In what might be described as Canada’s longest day, we follow the course of action hour by hour, minute by minute, as we meet and follow the soldiers who leapt off landing craft into the shallow waters off Normandy, who were strafed by machinegun fire before they could even reach shore. We meet the airmen who flew fighters and bombers in the early hours of the summer morning, as well as the sailors who manned the guns of the ships offshore.

Ted Barris has interviewed hundreds of veterans to piece together one of Canada’s proudest days, and one of the most significant battles of our time.

Making Music

book-making-musicMaking Music, Profiles from a Century of Canadian Music


Hardcover ISBN 0-00-200056-3
Softcover ISBN 0-00-639163

Bryan Adams · Susan Aglukark · Blue Rodeo · Glenn Gould · Oscar Peterson · k.d. lang · Ben Heppner · Guess Who · Guy Lombardo · Diana Krall · Healy Willan · Neil Young.

Making Music celebrates 200 remarkable Canadian musical artists – including the above – who have entertained audiences at home and around the world from the early 20th century to the present day.

Written by father and son veteran broadcast journalists Alex Barris and Ted Barris, Making Music offers much more than standard biographical entries. It is a showcase of the duo’s combined 80 years of show business experience. Their thousands of interviews and proximity to musical artists have given them an incredible store of anecdotes – and insights – into the greats of Canadian classical, jazz, opera, big band, folk, rock, country and alternative music. With more than 150 photographs, Making Music is a must-have reference for Canadian music fans.