"Lawson spins a good yarn and creates a compelling set of characters, some based on actual
historical figures and others who are purely fiction. It is not an easy task to blend  fact and fiction,
but Lawson is a pro and handles the challenges of the genre with ease."
  —  Island Parent

The Story behind the Stories

I first heard about Dear Canada when an editor from Scholastic asked if I'd write for the series, specifically on the history of the Canadian Pacific Railway. A daunting task! How could I write about the CPR in the voice of a young girl who's keeping a diary that covers only a year, with historical bits seeded throughout in a believable way? And give the diary the shape of a story so it could be read like a novel with a conflict that's resolved in the end? Wait, there's more —

And write an epilogue to describe the life of the diarist into adulthood and an extensive "Historical Note" to give more information on the subject of the diary (that is, all the stuff that a young girl would not record)? Hang on, still more —

And search for archival images to give readers a visual context to the story? And get permission to use them? And write the captions? And address any comments or queries raised by the fact-checkers and editors and the historical experts who are called upon to vet all Dear Canada titles?

Could I do all that? To be honest, I didn't know! But I was game to try.

Challenging? Yes! Rewarding? Absolutely!

I loved writing A Ribbon of Shining Steel. So much so that the day it was launched I was pitching a proposal for a diary of the Halifax Explosion. And even before No Safe Harbour was published I was jotting down ideas for a third Dear Canada title.

The girls in these books became my girls and still live on in my mind. Especially Charlotte of No Safe Harbour, who turned out to be the closest to my twelve-year-old self. (Although Kate, in A Ribbon of Shining Steel, is the character I would most like to have been.)

I particularly enjoyed writing my Dear Canada books because of the personal connections I had with each title. My maternal grandfather, a Swedish immigrant, worked for the CPR from the time he arrived in Canada until his retirement, and my paternal grandfather, a multi-generation Nova Scotian, was a patient in a Halifax hospital on December 6, 1917, the day of the explosion. Writing these novels allowed me to delve into the history behind many of the stories I'd heard as a child.

My third title in the series, Where the River Takes Me, is largely set in the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Victoria, the birthplace of the city where I was born and raised (as were my parents and paternal grandmother), and where I now make my home.

Scholastic Canada, 2002
ISBN: 0-439-98848-9

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The Railway Diary of Kate Cameron

CLA Book of the Year Award, Short-list
Hackmatack Award, Short-list
Chocolate Lily Award, Short-list

The building of the Canadian Pacific Railway through BC's rugged Fraser Canyon was a treacherous undertaking, and those involved in its construction — particularly the Chinese labourers who blasted the tunnels — were in constant danger. In her diary, Kate worries about her father's safety and records the various accidents that take place. But her diary is much more than that, as she paints a vivid picture of daily life in the thriving town of Yale BC. Making friends (and losing them), attending the one-room school, going on adventures with her older brothers, suffering from the whooping cough, travelling to New Westminster by steamer in order to have a tooth removed (torture!), learning about "womanhood" from her mother, celebrating her 13th birthday, rescuing a dog, getting caught in a fire — Kate's life is anything but boring. As a budding journalist, she occasionally works at the local newspaper, and takes great care in making her diary entries accurate. Accurate in terms of her opinions, too! She rails against the unfair treatment of the Chinese and the racist attitudes of the period, even when it means a falling-out with her best friend. Kate is anything but mild-mannered and ladylike. She's gutsy, adventurous, unconventional, unflinchingly honest and totally likeable (in my unbiased opinion).


Kate's spirited voice makes this an engaging read … Historic detail about the building of the railway, attitudes toward the Chinese and aboriginal labourers, gender expectations and education make it illuminating.

Toronto Star

Kate's diary chronicles not only the challenges and daily tragedies of the workers — scurvy, rock slides and blasting accidents — but also the racism and callous disregard that was shown the thousands of Chinese labourers. Interlaced into this history is the wonderful story of Kate's struggles with friendships, school and growing up in a raw and difficult place. Lawson's obvious fascination with the railway makes this diary both appealing and revealing.

Victoria Times-Colonist

Lawson has thoroughly researched the building of the CPR through the Fraser Canyon. Further, the entries in Kate's diary provide readers with a vivid portrait of life in the late 1800s in this particular area of British Columbia. Indeed, the diary entries include references to actual people and events of the era, and Lawson effortlessly weaves "fact" into Kate's fictional narratives.

CM Magazine

The Halifax Explosion Diary of Charlotte Blackburn

Winner of the Hackmatack Award
Runner-up for the Chocolate Lily Award

The year is 1917, and the world is at war. For her 12th birthday, Charlotte receives a diary from her older brother Luke, a soldier fighting in the trenches of France. He wants her to write about life on "the Home Front" so that when he comes home, he'll be able to read what he's missed. Charlotte leaps into the task, faithfully recording the ups and downs of life at home, at school, and in the city itself; the mischief-making and comic-book project she undertakes with her twin brother Duncan; the bullying she endures from her older sister; and the various activities that she and her friends take part in for the War Effort. But life as she knows it is about to change.

On December 6, 1917, the Mont-Blanc, a French steamer loaded with munitions, collides with another ship in the Narrows of Halifax Harbour. Almost at once the Mont-Blanc is on fire. The crew and pilot, aware of the danger, take to the lifeboats and row to safety as the abandoned ship drifts toward a pier at the north end of the harbor. The fiery spectacle draws crowds of onlookers, unaware that they are watching a floating bomb.

Twenty minutes after the collision, the Mont-Blanc explodes. The force blasts the 3,000-ton ship into a spray of metallic fragments and instantly takes the lives of 1,600 people. Hundreds more perish in the tsunami and fires that follow. Thousands are left injured and homeless. Wounded and orphaned, Charlotte turns to her diary to help her cope with the disaster and to keep her promise to Luke by recording what happened. With her twin brother missing and possibly dead, Luke may be her only surviving relative.

Scholastic Canada, 2006
ISBN: 978-0-439-96930-7

Also available in French as Sans Havre

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Author Julie Lawson lures readers into the rhythm of daily life in Halifax at that time. This, of course, makes the impact of the explosion feel even greater when it shatters that rhythm. Even readers who have studied the Halifax Explosion in school will find this fictional account to be absorbing, informative and revelatory. Because Charlotte's journal entries continue well beyond that fateful day, readers are given occasion to think about how life resumed in the weeks and months following the disaster, and how those affected had to pick up and carry on. And meanwhile, the war in Europe was raging on, wreaking its own havoc on lives all over the world.

CM Magazine

… Some of the emotional passages in No Safe Harbour are intense, and give a feel for what the disaster victims experience. But here, Lawson uses white space as effectively as a musician uses silence. When Charlotte gets too upset, she simply stops writing, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. We can see her choking up and turning away as the tears spill over. But Lawson is not manipulative. The emotion is appropriate for the experience.


hi Julie … I just wanted to tell you that I read No Safe Harbour. I loved it! I finished it in 2 days and I couldn't put it down! I nearly cried when Duncan was thought to be dead. It was like Charlotte and Duncan were my twins too! I got so attached to the characters.

e-mail from a 12 year-old fan

Scholastic Canada, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-545-95620-8

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 The Hudson's Bay Company Diary of Jenna Sinclair

Bolen Books Children's Book Prize, Finalist

Jenna's life is anything but dull! An orphan, and rebellious from an early age, she lives in Fort Edmonton with her prim aunt Grace who is quick to find fault with her high spirits and tendency to break the rules. She has a kindred spirit in her Cree Grandmother and in her Métis friend Suzanne, but soon she moves south to Fort Colvile. The journey is long and difficult but Jenna, an aspiring Novelist, relishes the spirit of Adventure with a capital A.

Shortly after arriving at Fort Colvile, she hears about a "real" school at Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island, and persuades her aunt to let her attend. Another Adventure! With a small brigade, she makes another harrowing journey down rivers and over mountains to Fort Langley on the Fraser River, and from there, she crosses the strait by canoe to Vancouver Island and her new life at Fort Victoria. But even there, Jenna is restless. School is horrible, and the teachers, real-life Rev. Staines and Mrs. Staines, are even stricter than her aunt. It is not at all what she expected.

Longing for more freedom, she sneaks outside the fort walls, spies on the Company officers, and visits the forbidden native village across the harbour. Through her exploits she becomes embroiled in a mystery involving theft and attempted murder, and finds more than she bargained for in the way of friends — and enemies. She faithfully records her observations of the world around her, describing three very different HBC trading posts, and makes surprising discoveries about herself, and about Heroes, Villains, and the unlikely places where Adventure can be found.


Lawson's book has brought history to life. She has perfectly conveyed the voice of a young girl, and Jenna makes a connection with the reader because she seems so alive. The diary format of the book is very realistic, and the epilogue, which sums up the rest of Jenna's life, only adds to the reader's belief that this may have been a real child. Where The River Takes Me is a very good novel for anyone who even has a passing interest in Canadian history.

CM Magazine

Lawson brings a taste of the culture of Canada's west coast and the history of the Hudson's Bay Company into the lives of her readers. The meadows are bright with blue camas and chocolate lilies, and Jenna's Songhees friend Kwetlal introduces her to the joys of soopolallie, a frothy delicacy unique to the area. Lawson has created a lively, bouncing account that wraps its history in an appealingly jaunty tale.

The Star

Twelve Tales of Christmas

A collection of eleven original stories that give readers a chance to reconnect with their favourite Dear Canada characters.

What's Kate Cameron up to?

In Stirring up a Storm, Kate is excited about her Grandma Forrest coming to Yale to spend Christmas with the Camerons and help out with Kate's new baby sister. Excited that is, until the actual arrival of her formidable grandma! Fiery Kate stirs up more than the plum pudding in a story that combines a missing ring and a budding romance with the understanding that first impressions should not always be trusted.

Scholastic Canada, 2006
ISBN: 978-0-439-95270-5
Also available in French

Scholastic Canada, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-545-99003-5
Also available in French


Tales of Comfort and Joy

Reunite with Jenna Sinclair, Charlotte Blackburn and other Dear Canada girls in the second volume of Christmas tales.

When War Hits Home is an exchange of letters between Charlotte and her brother Luke, a soldier who has recently been posted overseas. They are written between December 1916 and January 1, 1917 — a year away from the explosion in Halifax that will profoundly affect their lives. Luke describes in humorous detail the military training he is undergoing in England in preparation for the trench warfare in France, and expresses his impatience to go "Over There" and "see some action" before the war is over. While Luke is anxious to fight the Germans, Charlotte is being shunned by classmates because of her friendship with a girl whose father emigrated from Germany. Where should her loyalty lie? With her best friend? Or with her brother and the other girls? Her confusion comes through in her letters as she struggles to make the right decision.

In The Daft Days of Christmas Jenna Sinclair is living with her aunt and uncle and their 19-month-old daughter at their remote farm outside of Fort Victoria. For the first time she's celebrating both Christmas Day and the Scottish New Year's (Hogmanay) not in an HBC fort but in a real home. Never one to shy away from adventure, Jenna finds more than her share when she ends up stranded at Fort Victoria during an unexpected and severe snowstorm. Two nights of sharing a bed at the school is enough, however, and she takes off on the long journey home on her own. Or is she? Something (or someone) seems to be following her. Later she discovers that her compulsive Storytelling and blending of Fact and Fiction can have unforeseen consequences.

Where to Buy these books

Titles in the Dear Canada series are available:

1. at your local bookstore or children's bookstore.
2. by placing an order with your local bookstore or online bookseller.
3. directly from the publisher, Scholastic Canada. (1-800-268-3860)
4. as e-books from many e-book sellers.