Jean Rae Baxter: Educator, Historian & Award-winning Writer
Jean Rae Baxter (B.Ed. 71) has been referred to as a literary Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because she writes crime fiction for adults and historical fiction for teens (jeanraebaxter.ca). However, when one looks at her careers put together, it is evident that her passions for teaching, literature, and history have been consistent and intertwined. When speaking to her, it is also abundantly clear that she is an educator at heart.
When Jean Rae completed her Bachelor of Education, Duncan McArthur Hall was brand new and McArthur College had just been renamed the Queen’s Faculty of Education. Jean Rae had already completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at University of Toronto, and was married with children. She taught English part-time at Queen’s and for the government. When her son went to school full-time, she realized that a PhD was not feasible and decided that the “natural thing” was to do a Bachelor of Education in order to continue her teaching career.
Jean Rae recalls the walk to West Campus, that Vernon Ready was the Dean, and how faculty and staff were “an uneven batch.” Professor Arthur Mandel was “an academic through and through,” her English curriculum professor Lars Thompson was “extremely practical” and inspired her with his “tremendous appreciation and knowledge of literature,” and former staff member and long-time career counsellor Alan Travers was “extremely personable.” There were also “a few hippies” at the Faculty with “wild lifestyles.”
After graduating from Queen’s, Jean Rae taught English for many years at Ernestown Secondary and Napanee District Secondary Schools in Lennox and Addington County, “Loyalist country,” about 30 km west of Kingston. Her aim as a teacher was to improve her students’ writing skills and to inspire them to “appreciate, enjoy, and grow from studying literature.” She was clearly successful:
“I am very pleased to be in touch with some of my former students on Facebook. It is very wonderful that so many of them have contacted me. I am pleased to have had an impact and to have established friendships that have continued until today.”
When asked her advice for our teacher candidates, she responded: “Be patient, be encouraging. Expect the best from your students and give them your best.”
Jean Rae grew up in Hamilton and her interest in Canada’s past was awakened by family stories about her ancestors who had settled in Essex and Kent Counties on the north shore of Lake Erie. While teaching in Napanee, where the majority of the population is descended from United Empire Loyalists, her interests in Loyalist history led her to find out more about such figures as the Rev'd John Stuart, Sir William Johnson, and Molly Brant. At that time, she began to write short stories that grew out of her experiences as a teacher. As the grade 12 curriculum then included only biased American literature on the American Revolution, she also became determined to tell the history of the Loyalists from the Loyalist point of view.
Following her career as a teacher, Jean Rae returned to Hamilton and became a full-time author. Her first collection of short stories, A Twist of Malice, included the stories based on her experiences as a teacher and was published to critical acclaim in 2005. Her first historical novel about a courageous Loyalist girl during the period of the American Revolution, The Way Lies North, was released in the fall of 2007.
Jean Rae returned to crime for her second novel, Looking for Cardenio, and she published her second collection of short stories a few years later. For her third novel, she returned to historical fiction. Broken Trail follows some of the characters who appeared in The Way Lies North, focusing upon the plight of the native people during the American Revolution. Freedom Bound continues the story, exploring the history of the black loyalists, and the recently released The White Oneida returns to the native peoples and their efforts to negotiate and preserve their space in an evolving North America after the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War. Her fifth novel in the Loyalist series, Hope's Journey, has just been released. It is a story about family reunification, healing from the wounds of war, and beginning new life. Jean Rae's future writing projects include a novel set during the Rebellion of 1837, an important time in our history that few Canadians know much about.
Jean Rae’s historical fiction is carefully researched and meant to be educational. She admitted that she is “teaching through” her books and, at the same time, her fiction is a result of her love for literature.
“I love making up a story. It’s so much more fun than writing textbook history. The historical settings and figures are accurate, but fictitious characters drive the plot.”
For more information, see jeanraebaxter.ca.