The North Star: Canada and the Civil War Plots Against Lincoln (Hardcover)

The North Star: Canada and the Civil War Plots Against Lincoln By Julian Sher Cover Image
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A riveting account of the years, months and days leading up to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the unexpected ways Canadians were involved in every aspect of the American Civil War.

Canadians take pride in being on the “good side” of the American Civil War, serving as a haven for 30,000 escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. But dwelling in history's shadow is the much darker role Canada played in supporting the slave South and in fomenting the many plots against Lincoln. 
   The North Star weaves together the different strands of several Canadians and a handful of Confederate agents in Canada as they all made their separate, fateful journeys into history.
    The book shines a spotlight on the stories of such intrepid figures as Anderson Abbott, Canada’s first Black doctor, who joined the Union Army; Emma Edmonds, the New Brunswick woman who disguised herself as a man to enlist as a Union nurse; and Edward P. Doherty, the Quebec man who led the hunt to track down Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
    At the same time, the Canadian political and business elite were aiding the slave states. Toronto aristocrat George Taylor Denison III bankrolled Confederate operations and opened his mansion to their agents. The Catholic Church helped one of Booth’s accused accomplices hide out for months in the Quebec countryside. A leading financier in Montreal let Confederates launder money through his bank.   
    Sher creates vivid portraits of places we thought we knew. Montreal was a sort of nineteenth-century Casablanca of the North: a hub for assassins, money-men, mercenaries and soldiers on the run. Toronto was a headquarters for Confederate plotters and gun-runners. The two largest hotels in the country became nests of Confederate spies. 
    Meticulously researched and richly illustrated, The North Star is a sweeping tale that makes long-ago events leap off the page with a relevance to the present day.

About the Author

JULIAN SHER is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including “Until You Are Dead”: The Wrongful Conviction of Steven Truscott and White Hoods: Canada's Ku Klux Klan. He co-authored two books on biker gangs, The Road to Hell and Angels of Death, and wrote two books on crimes against children, One Child at a Time and Somebody's Daughter. As an investigative reporter, he worked for the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. He was a Senior Producer of CBC's the fifth estate, Canada's premier investigative TV program, for five years. He has directed and written major documentaries, covering wars and intrigue across the globe. His documentary Nuclear Jihad, produced for the New York Times and CBC, won the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. His 2021 film, Ghosts of Afghanistan, won three top Canadian Screen Awards, including Best Documentary. He is also active in protecting media freedoms, as a Senior Fellow at Toronto Metropolitan University's Centre for Free Expression and working with Journalists for Human Rights. More information at

Praise For…

"A thrill. . . . In Sher’s telling, we get memorable details . . . and rich characterization. . . . [The North Star] is an important corrective to the history Canadians have clung to for far too long.” Montreal Review of Books

“Fascinating. . . . A riveting  . . . read that makes one think about how the Civil War affected the nation and its lingering role in the South’s development . . . . [The North Star] will remind readers why knowing and remembering our past is essential.” Seattle Book Review

“A fascinating read. . . . [The North Star] shines a light on Canada’s little known and troublesome role in the American Civil War. . . .  Sher's timely exploration of this unpalatable slice of Canadian history not only inches us closer to what really happened in those far-off days but teaches us the need to know, however unpalatable.” Oakville News

The North Star is a valuable and welcome addition to our understanding of the many roles played by Canada and Canadians in the Civil War before, during and after that tragic conflict. Meticulously researched and enlivened with intriguing characters and bold tales, Sher writes with the deft touch of a skilled storyteller.”  —John Boyko, author of Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation

“I love a mystery. I love a mystery that deals with history. But I especially love a mystery that deals with our history, and The North Star delivers on all counts. Julian Sher does what he always does: an amazing job of digging deep, in this case uncovering the Canadian origins of a 150-year-old story that still haunts this continent.” —Peter Mansbridge, broadcaster and author of Off the Record and Extraordinary Canadians

“The North Star is a significant addition to the corpus of Civil War literature. One of the major voids in the history of that tragic event is the role Canada played in providing a sanctuary to elements of the Confederate Secret Service, without whom John Wilkes Booth could never have assembled his team of conspirators or made his escape following his assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Sher’s impressive research and highly readable writing provide a detailed account that is long overdue.” —Edward Steers, Jr., author of Blood on the Moon and Getting Right with Lincoln

“In The North Star, Julian Sher brilliantly illuminates the many ways Canada was involved in the American Civil War, revealing aspects of history that have been overlooked or not understood until now.” —William P. Binzel, Vice President of the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia

“In The North Star, Julian Sher offers a robust and comprehensive view of Canada and the American Civil War, bringing to light a great many unknown stories. The prose is elegant, the analysis concise, the narration masterful, and there are also delightful surprises along the way.” —Afua Cooper, historian, author of The Hanging of Angélique and co-author of Black Matters
“In this engagingly written book, Julian Sher explores how Confederates in Canada were involved in plots of spycraft, theft, arson, germ warfare and even assassination. Through his expert research, Sher lifts the veil on a long-shrouded portion of Civil War history.” —Dave Taylor, historian and author of
Product Details
ISBN: 9781039000292
ISBN-10: 1039000290
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Publication Date: April 25th, 2023
Pages: 480
Language: English