British Columbia Writers of the Last Century: Part I

There are BC coast writers from the past who are a delight to read, though some have fallen into obscurity. The books we’ll review here over the coming months are polished narratives and a window into the past. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of these authors or their titles—but have you read them? You may have to search these titles out through used book sellers, but it’s worth the effort!

The Curve of Time

M. Wylie Blanchet’s The Curve of Time deserves its spot among BC’s literary classics. Blanchet sqeezed her five young children aboard a small boat to cruise the BC coast through in the late 1930s and ‘40s. The adventure of that alone is enough to captivate, but Blanchet’s parallel subjects were the many raw edged characters she met in remote bays and inlets. Wylie arranged each chapter, each its own short story, as linked tales, a form that’s gaining renewed popularity.

Desolation Sound, Logger Mike's hideaway and one of the Blanchet family's favourite haunts.

Desolation Sound, Logger Mike’s hideaway and one of the Blanchet family’s favourite haunts.

One of Blanchet’s favourites among her coastal friends was ‘Logger Mike’ of Melanie Cove, in Desolation Sound. A barroom brawl of his younger days left Mike bleeding and alone for days. He survived, thanks to a tough constitution, and decided to sober up and move to a homestead in Desolation Sound to take stock of his life. And there he stayed, living from the fruits of his homestead and handlogging. By the time Blanchet met the old man, the jagged scar that slashed down his nose and across his cheek was the only visible evidence of a misspent youth. The man had transformed himself into a bush philosopher and his vine-clad cabin was lined with books that he liked to discuss and swap.

A Seagull’s Cry

A lesser-known writer of the 1950s on was Maud Emery. Rifle through your local museum’s archives and you’ll find this prolific writer’s articles, based on extensive interviews with long-time residents. She had a passion for stories and this rugged coast. While historical nonfiction was her mainstay, Emery also wrote some historical fiction, including A Seagull’s Cry.

In this book Emery gives us a counterpoint to the sometimes romanticized stories of coastal pioneers. Her portrayal of English immigrant Mary Connors and her husband shows us the struggle of poverty and isolation on a remote Toba Inlet homestead. The story dips us  into a gritty reality built from a composite of women and men Emery interviewed.  She brings them–and their impossible feats–to life with insight, candor and humour.

Next up, in this book reviews series, are some memorable naturalists.

Have you got some favourite books from the last century that you’d like to review here? Write to us!