Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 3, Summer 2009, pp. 250-251
Ruth Gorman was a powerful person. When I encountered her in the early 1990s at her home in Calgary I was immediately impressed with her indomitable spirit. At that time she was engrossed in writing a biography of her dear friend John Laurie. Her writing task was complex, and yet she was clearly driven to complete it. The end result of her tremendous effort is Behind the Man, part biography of John Laurie, part personal memoir, and part history of midcentury Alberta and Laurie and Gorman's work advocating civil rights for Canada's Indian peoples. Frits Pannekoek and his editorial team completed the book after Gorman's death, and the work now stands as a testament to the will of Gorman and her views of Western Canadian history.
Behind the Man can be read in a variety of ways and appeals to readers from different disciplines. Editor Pannekoek has gone to some effort to present Gorman's work in the context of relevant academic literature on Western Canadian Aboriginal and women's history. Gorman's manuscript itself is quite lengthy, and in this version is amply augmented with archival photographs, additional explanatory references, a timeline appendix, as well as a thorough index. The story of John Laurie, as told by Gorman, moves chronologically through his life, beginning with his childhood and ending with his death. The book's last chapters then move into Gorman's story about her own role in Canada's amendment of its Indian Act in 1960.