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Village Of The Small Houses: A Memoir Of Sorts

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Ian Ferguson won the 2004 Leacock Medal for Humor for this outrageously funny book about growing up destitute in the far north. Beginning with the dramatic events surrounding his birth, the richly recalled events of Ferguson's life and a vivid cast of loveable misfits make for a taut and appealingly idiosyncratic tale. In 1959, just one step ahead of the law, Hank Ferguson Ian Ferguson won the 2004 Leacock Medal for Humor for this outrageously funny book about growing up destitute in the far north. Beginning with the dramatic events surrounding his birth, the richly recalled events of Ferguson's life and a vivid cast of loveable misfits make for a taut and appealingly idiosyncratic tale. In 1959, just one step ahead of the law, Hank Ferguson (the Ferguson brothers' con-artist dad) headed north in a beat-up two-toned 1953 Mercury Zephyr with his pregnant wife, Louise. He got as far as remote Fort Vermilion. Passing himself off as a teacher at the local "Indian school," he settled his ever-expanding family in what was then Canada's third poorest community. In this spirited reading, originally broadcast on CBC Radio in September 2004, Ian Ferguson's gifts as a comic actor rise exuberantly to the fore.


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Ian Ferguson won the 2004 Leacock Medal for Humor for this outrageously funny book about growing up destitute in the far north. Beginning with the dramatic events surrounding his birth, the richly recalled events of Ferguson's life and a vivid cast of loveable misfits make for a taut and appealingly idiosyncratic tale. In 1959, just one step ahead of the law, Hank Ferguson Ian Ferguson won the 2004 Leacock Medal for Humor for this outrageously funny book about growing up destitute in the far north. Beginning with the dramatic events surrounding his birth, the richly recalled events of Ferguson's life and a vivid cast of loveable misfits make for a taut and appealingly idiosyncratic tale. In 1959, just one step ahead of the law, Hank Ferguson (the Ferguson brothers' con-artist dad) headed north in a beat-up two-toned 1953 Mercury Zephyr with his pregnant wife, Louise. He got as far as remote Fort Vermilion. Passing himself off as a teacher at the local "Indian school," he settled his ever-expanding family in what was then Canada's third poorest community. In this spirited reading, originally broadcast on CBC Radio in September 2004, Ian Ferguson's gifts as a comic actor rise exuberantly to the fore.

30 review for Village Of The Small Houses: A Memoir Of Sorts

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

    Author Ian Ferguson recalls his time as a child living in a remote community in Northern Alberta. This one is a bit hard to review. Ian has a disclaimer at the beginning of the book noting that this is a “memoir of sorts” in that most of it is true other than the parts that are not. I suppose knowing ahead of time may make it easier when you discover what was real and what was changed, but I was disappointed to find one of the more emotional moments had been completely fabricated. As someone who Author Ian Ferguson recalls his time as a child living in a remote community in Northern Alberta. This one is a bit hard to review. Ian has a disclaimer at the beginning of the book noting that this is a “memoir of sorts” in that most of it is true other than the parts that are not. I suppose knowing ahead of time may make it easier when you discover what was real and what was changed, but I was disappointed to find one of the more emotional moments had been completely fabricated. As someone who champions James Frey’s Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard, maybe I don’t have a right to critique these elements of Ferguson’s book, but I would be lying if I didn’t feel a bit manipulated at the end. That isn’t to say that you should skip this one; not at all. I enjoyed it for the most part. It is a fairly quick and often entertaining read. Although Ferguson won the Stephen Leacock (best in Canadian Literary Humor) in 2004 for this book, there are some particularly heartbreaking moments involving Ferguson’s father and friends Bud Peyen and Lloyd Loonskin. Having lived in Northern Alberta for a time (although, I would not consider Fort McMurray “remote” even if there is only one road out of town; we did have a Walmart after all) I enjoy reading about life in isolated parts of the country. Village of the Small Houses is less tragic and more humourous, but it feels like an important read nonetheless if only to understand the complex relationship between indigenous and white Canadians.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is about a kid growing up in a small town in northern Alberta, and about how his family doesn't really belong there, especially the author. He outgrows the town and sees it for what it really is, and boy he can't wait to get out of there! The book shows us the many splendors of the small aboriginal community such as the Tea Dance and the Town Meeting. Make no mistake, this book is fiction: Bud Peyen was not a stupid, confused, old drunken Indian as he is portrayed in this book. He was This book is about a kid growing up in a small town in northern Alberta, and about how his family doesn't really belong there, especially the author. He outgrows the town and sees it for what it really is, and boy he can't wait to get out of there! The book shows us the many splendors of the small aboriginal community such as the Tea Dance and the Town Meeting. Make no mistake, this book is fiction: Bud Peyen was not a stupid, confused, old drunken Indian as he is portrayed in this book. He was a wise man, and he was also a Medicine Man. The last one in his family, in fact. He was a sober man for many, many years before he died. Also? He died warm in a hospital bed after getting pneumonia. He did NOT get CONFUSED AND SIT IN A SNOWBANK AND DIE. My recommendation for this book, which is purely a work of fiction, is to take it with a grain of salt. Maybe a salt lick, instead.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lbaker

    "Village of the Small Houses is a memoir of sorts, or sort of a memoir. Take your pick. I was born and raised in Fort Vermilion, which is famous for two things. It set a record in 1911 for the lowest recorded temperature in Canada at sixty-one below, a record that wasn't beaten until 1947 by Snag, Yukon. And it was, at the time, the third-poorest community in Canada. Things have improved. Fort Vermillion is now the fifth-poorest community in the country. This book is as honest as I could make it, "Village of the Small Houses is a memoir of sorts, or sort of a memoir. Take your pick. I was born and raised in Fort Vermilion, which is famous for two things. It set a record in 1911 for the lowest recorded temperature in Canada at sixty-one below, a record that wasn't beaten until 1947 by Snag, Yukon. And it was, at the time, the third-poorest community in Canada. Things have improved. Fort Vermillion is now the fifth-poorest community in the country. This book is as honest as I could make it, but I haven't let the facts get in the way of the story I was trying to tell. Nothing that follows is true, except for the parts that really happened." This hooked my interest, and it never lessened through the entire book. It was sad, funny, odd, and fascinating - I truly enjoyed it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Valerie Pate

    A friend recommended this book to me and if they hadn't, I doubt I would have ever known of its existence. It is truly a hidden gem with a rare sort of "storyteller" style; reminiscent of tales told round the campfire. Ferguson's life experiences have been quite extraordinary, and they definitely needed to be shared with a wider audience. Growing up in such a unique location as Fort Vermilion; an extremely rural and isolated artic region of Canada, Ferguson's memories of growing up in the 60's A friend recommended this book to me and if they hadn't, I doubt I would have ever known of its existence. It is truly a hidden gem with a rare sort of "storyteller" style; reminiscent of tales told round the campfire. Ferguson's life experiences have been quite extraordinary, and they definitely needed to be shared with a wider audience. Growing up in such a unique location as Fort Vermilion; an extremely rural and isolated artic region of Canada, Ferguson's memories of growing up in the 60's are more than a little atypical. There are plenty of humorous reveries to keep the audience riveted, but this book also hits upon a more plaintive and moving snapshot of humanity. In a community where native Canadians and white settlers have come together, and yet often remain separated by invisible barriers, Ferguson and his family cross those boundaries almost immediately after their arrival in Fort Vermilion. Ferguson's style and perspective are quite obviously influenced by the cross-cultural experiences of his youth. The memoir's summation is anything but humorous, and yet I was glad of its bare honesty. I wish that Ferguson had written more books that I could subsequently devour, but he has left his audience wanting. His brother, Will Ferguson, however, has been very prolific and is best known for his book, "How to be a Canadian: Even if You Already Are One". I will one day give that one a read for sure.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alan Clark

    Favourite quote: “Just because something is easier doesn’t mean it’s better.” — Augustus Noskiye, page 181.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Arlene

    Funny, heartbreaking, mystical—this book is all that before you get to the half-way mark. You will laugh, your solar plexus will ache with empathy, and you will wonder at the mysteries of life. It is the memoir, of sorts, of a white-man-made-Indian. The story begins with a con artist on the lam, a car chase to a hospital, and thalidomide. It carries on through a surprising and troubled birth into rugged life in the third-poorest community in Canada. It concludes with poignant memories of a mother Funny, heartbreaking, mystical—this book is all that before you get to the half-way mark. You will laugh, your solar plexus will ache with empathy, and you will wonder at the mysteries of life. It is the memoir, of sorts, of a white-man-made-Indian. The story begins with a con artist on the lam, a car chase to a hospital, and thalidomide. It carries on through a surprising and troubled birth into rugged life in the third-poorest community in Canada. It concludes with poignant memories of a mother who inspired, a father who disappointed, and friends who walked troubled paths. Two weeks ago I reviewed 419, the Giller Prize winning novel written by Ian Ferguson's brother, Will. (He's called Billy in this book.) Reading 419 reminded me of Ian's book, which I had read years ago after I heard him speak at the Canadian Authors Association CanWrite! conference in Edmonton. His keynote speech at the CAA Literary Awards event had the audience laughing from the moment he stepped up to the microphone. His date for the night was his mother. After the awards ceremony, he joined a group of us at a local restaurant. In my journal from that time I wrote: "Ian Ferguson also is a genuine pleasure to be around. A funny guy and a decent human being through and through. You can feel the "decent human being" vibes emanating from him." You can feel decent human being vibes emanating from this book, too. Ferguson might be decent, but he's also mischievous, which makes this book darned entertaining; it received the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, after all. The finest moments come when Ferguson's devilish urges collide with his innate goodness. He is one of six children in a family in Fort Vermilion, Alberta. Even though the family is poor, the house has no running water or electricity, and Ian often runs home from school to avoid a pummeling from a childhood enemy, he describes himself as "born lucky." All things are relative, right? "My grandfather says it doesn't hurt to turn into an Indian. But he says it can hurt being an Indian." —Grandson of the Medicine Man It's a testament to Ferguson's writing skill that this book was nominated for a medal for humour when the subject matter is sometimes anything but funny. Ferguson relates the adverse circumstances of First Nations people factually, and therefore most effectively. Never preachy or off-putting, he plainly, lovingly, humorously, and above all, respectfully, introduces us to the First Nations people who saved his life and heavily influenced his life. Ferguson's close friend, Lloyd Loonskin, shows him the difference between being born lucky and being lucky to be born. ". . . these are Indian kids. It doesn't matter if you teach them or not. They don't learn much." —White school administrator in Fort Vermilion Like The Glass Castle, this memoir (of sorts) entertains even as it prompts readers to delve deeply into the human psyche. I highly recommend it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Sad. And cute. But mostly sad. A tragi-comedy, where even the funny parts make you a little unhappy. And whenever I read these slightly fictionalized/embellished accounts of people's childhoods, I always find myself wondering what they tweaked, and why, and what was true. What actually happened? Why did they feel the need to make their life story more intriguing or dramatic? It seems to me that fictionalizing your history has become much more common (or maybe it's because I'm reading more biogra Sad. And cute. But mostly sad. A tragi-comedy, where even the funny parts make you a little unhappy. And whenever I read these slightly fictionalized/embellished accounts of people's childhoods, I always find myself wondering what they tweaked, and why, and what was true. What actually happened? Why did they feel the need to make their life story more intriguing or dramatic? It seems to me that fictionalizing your history has become much more common (or maybe it's because I'm reading more biographies now). I used to think that biographies were supposed to be all true. At least to the best of the author's ability. But maybe they were always embellished, and we're just open about it now? Also, I noticed lately I love everything I read. Hopefully that won't invalidate my opinion; it's much more enjoyable to read books you love than to force yourself to finish one you hate. Which is what I used to do, and finally was able to stop. But, in the interests of fairness I'll try to review something I hate. Or at least was only moderately fond of. I don't want people assuming I automatically and thoughtlessly love everything I read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    This memoir is like Glass Castle except it's from a male perspective, the parents are not quite as whacked, the dad leaves sooner, it takes place in Northern Alberta (primarily), many of the characters are Native, it has more humour in it, and it ends when the narrator is in high school. If Glass Castle was too heavy for you, try this one. I think I'm partial to Village of the Small Houses because it's more enjoyable reading -- lighter, funnier, shorter. And maybe it's because I'm Canadian, but This memoir is like Glass Castle except it's from a male perspective, the parents are not quite as whacked, the dad leaves sooner, it takes place in Northern Alberta (primarily), many of the characters are Native, it has more humour in it, and it ends when the narrator is in high school. If Glass Castle was too heavy for you, try this one. I think I'm partial to Village of the Small Houses because it's more enjoyable reading -- lighter, funnier, shorter. And maybe it's because I'm Canadian, but I enjoy reading books with Native characters more than Southern Americans: better humour and outlook.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    Wow, Ian Ferguson compressed a lot of life into 200 pages. He took us from before he was born until he was 30, and what a gruelling trip it was. Dragged up to northern Alberta by his ne'er-do-well father and helpless mother, he survived years of rough living in a bush town before getting away for good at age 15. He made a close friendship with a sad, doomed young aboriginal boy and watched his town go through the struggles of development after oil and gas were discovered. At times the book was fu Wow, Ian Ferguson compressed a lot of life into 200 pages. He took us from before he was born until he was 30, and what a gruelling trip it was. Dragged up to northern Alberta by his ne'er-do-well father and helpless mother, he survived years of rough living in a bush town before getting away for good at age 15. He made a close friendship with a sad, doomed young aboriginal boy and watched his town go through the struggles of development after oil and gas were discovered. At times the book was funny and seemed slight but then there would be passages that would break your heart. I cried through most of the last chapter. This isn't a masterpiece but it is definitely worth reading if you're at all interested in the time and place he was writing about. I definitely recommend the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ruthie

    Stephen Leacock Award for Humour winner. A funny, charming memoir that reminded me of Angela's Ashes. Ferguson brings a humorous slant to what really was a tough, often grim childhood. There is no self-pity here. I loved the connections his family had with the Native people in his community. Every person mentioned in this book is a rich, interesting, unique individual. The author wastes no words, he has a knack for letting the reader know all that they need in very few words. Ferguson was honest Stephen Leacock Award for Humour winner. A funny, charming memoir that reminded me of Angela's Ashes. Ferguson brings a humorous slant to what really was a tough, often grim childhood. There is no self-pity here. I loved the connections his family had with the Native people in his community. Every person mentioned in this book is a rich, interesting, unique individual. The author wastes no words, he has a knack for letting the reader know all that they need in very few words. Ferguson was honest about the strengths and failings of everyone in his past, and especially his own failings as an adult. A loving look back at a memorable childhood.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kati

    I read this when it first came out b/c my parents had bought it... they had lived/worked in Ft. Vermilion for a few years fresh out of University (moved there right after Ferguson moved away). I enjoyed it as a good story at that time. I re-read it a couple years ago while I myself was living up north, and loved it. A lot of the issues/events that Ferguson writes about are still issues today. I suppose having an "insider's view" gave me a better understanding or appreciation for the book. (Or as I read this when it first came out b/c my parents had bought it... they had lived/worked in Ft. Vermilion for a few years fresh out of University (moved there right after Ferguson moved away). I enjoyed it as a good story at that time. I re-read it a couple years ago while I myself was living up north, and loved it. A lot of the issues/events that Ferguson writes about are still issues today. I suppose having an "insider's view" gave me a better understanding or appreciation for the book. (Or as "insider" as a non-local could ever be in FV :)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cathryn Wellner

    This short memoir of a childhood in one of Canada's northern communities, Fort Vermilion, grabbed me from the first words. The quirky characters who peopled his family and ramshackle community were achingly familiar to me from my own childhood on a scruffy, dead-end street. Ferguson writes of them with loving acceptance. I laughed, shuddered and even shed a few tears. His memoir touched me in a place most don't, and I'm grateful for my library's making the digital version available. This short memoir of a childhood in one of Canada's northern communities, Fort Vermilion, grabbed me from the first words. The quirky characters who peopled his family and ramshackle community were achingly familiar to me from my own childhood on a scruffy, dead-end street. Ferguson writes of them with loving acceptance. I laughed, shuddered and even shed a few tears. His memoir touched me in a place most don't, and I'm grateful for my library's making the digital version available.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I enjoyed some parts, hated others. I loved some characters, hated others. I liked Ian for some parts, hated him for others. I have a sort of love/hate feeling about this memoir. The plot started well, but started falling short near the end. I was quite disappointed in the ending. However, this was one of the few books I had to read for school that I fully and completely finished.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    The story has been written by a man who lived in a small town in northern Alberta, Fort Vermillion during the 1950's. His father was employed as a teacher with the Native population a position he held until it was discovered that he did not actually have a teaching degree. His humorous perspective adds to the enjoyment of the book. The story has been written by a man who lived in a small town in northern Alberta, Fort Vermillion during the 1950's. His father was employed as a teacher with the Native population a position he held until it was discovered that he did not actually have a teaching degree. His humorous perspective adds to the enjoyment of the book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Even if I hadn't been to Fort Vermillion I would have still enjoyed this book. I love small-town memoirs and appreciate the glimpses into the local psyche they offer. I greatly look forward to my next trip to Fort Vermillion. The end of the book left me with a haunting question on my own character: What would I have done? Even if I hadn't been to Fort Vermillion I would have still enjoyed this book. I love small-town memoirs and appreciate the glimpses into the local psyche they offer. I greatly look forward to my next trip to Fort Vermillion. The end of the book left me with a haunting question on my own character: What would I have done?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Scott Harris

    Ian Ferguson's accounts of growing up in Fort Vermillion were tragically funny and interesting. This small, almost unknown, northern Alberta town clearly shaped Ferguson's identity and his ability to draw from those experiences to illuminate not only his life but the lives of those he grew up around are quite evocative. Ian Ferguson's accounts of growing up in Fort Vermillion were tragically funny and interesting. This small, almost unknown, northern Alberta town clearly shaped Ferguson's identity and his ability to draw from those experiences to illuminate not only his life but the lives of those he grew up around are quite evocative.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Liza

    I like how it didn't try to be over-anything. Not overdramatic. Or overly funny. Or tragic or whatever. It just seemed very true and didn't seem to hide any facts ( even though a chunk of it, I suppose, are altered facts ). The writing along with the tone just gave it a very good authenticity and the truth about Canadians ( dun dun dunnn ) is really prevalent. I like how it didn't try to be over-anything. Not overdramatic. Or overly funny. Or tragic or whatever. It just seemed very true and didn't seem to hide any facts ( even though a chunk of it, I suppose, are altered facts ). The writing along with the tone just gave it a very good authenticity and the truth about Canadians ( dun dun dunnn ) is really prevalent.

  18. 5 out of 5

    April

    Loved this book so much I bought copies for friends.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alana

    loved it! was like a Canadian version of the Glass Castle. could not put it down!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Considering that I never really like Ian Ferguson, I enjoyed this book more than I expected. Interesting characters.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Yves Brunet

    Simple read, funny book about a young man who is raise in the Canadian North. It sounds true and funny.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen McRae

    I have never been able to fully see the grim humour in growing up with a father who agenda is himself and not the interests of his family

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    A very enjoyable book. Interesting characters, funny, but a little sad. Everything a memoir should be.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    An honest, humourous and caring memoir. An excellent read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anna Noga

    I read this a few years ago and loved it. I read it again because my sister sent it as a gift for the pandemic. It’s a great book. Although I never lived in Ft Vermillion, I lived in the north. The north attracts its share of interesting characters who just really don’t fit anywhere else. From that you get a lot of interesting and frankly funny stories.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ray Foster

    Sweet and sour This was a delightful story with a slew of colorful characters. The author managed to rise above his isolation and cultural abuse with his sense of humor fully intact. A charming narrative.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gayle

    Loved this book! Funny and sad with rich characters.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina R

    The best memoir of sorts that I've ever read. The best memoir of sorts that I've ever read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    I wouldn’t have believed half of the stuff that happened in this book if my dad hadn’t been able to vouch for some of it. Crazy read and definitely a good read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Trudy Roy

    A look at being white and growing up in Fort Vermilion in the 1960’s. Based on truth but characters are combined and changed to make a story. Very well done. I enjoyed this simple read.

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