Monday, November 7, 2011

Gumption and Grit: Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin edited by Sage Birchwater

Published by Caitlin Press

"Gumption and Grit: Women of the Cariboo Chilcotin, Extraordinary Women Vol. 1" is a well-edited book featuring the stories of 35 women who helped make the Cariboo-Chilcotin area in central British Columbia what it is today. Sage Birchwater has done an amazing job of editing this book. These are survivors of hard work and isolation ranging over the decades of the gold rush, the land rush, ranching, farming, married to men who are married to the land or to their work, leaving their wives to do everything else. Some of these stories are told in the first person, some are not. Their stories are all well-told. They all come from different backgrounds, some have always been there and some came from cities, usually to teach. All the way through the first half of the twentieth century the land was still worked much as always. Technology came late to this part forested and part desert land. The one thing in common geographically seems to be the rocky land.

We learn about such diversity of family life as living in one-room log cabins, no plumbing, no electricity. Women having their babies wherever they end up being born because of the distances between populated areas. Especially bad in the dead of winter, because this area is extremely cold and dangerous for travel. In most of these stories roads were either bad or non-existent, there were no telephones. One woman's story ties in with the arrival of communications when she married the linesman who installed and maintained the brand new telephone lines, often going with him as he worked. These pioneering women had to be as innovative as the men, often working alongside them.

I found the story of Josephine Gregg of particular interest. She lived her life in two cultures, and her story demonstrates how difficult a simple slip of the pen when her birth was registered caused her to fight for thirteen years to get her status as the daughter of a Tsilhqot'in Indian mother and a Scottish father.

The latter part of the book are post-WWII stories. The Cariboo-Chilcotin is still sparsely populated in many areas although Williams Lake and Quesnel have grown tremendously through the years. The area between Highway 97 and the West Coast is one of the more isolated areas of British Columbia. The stories in this section show the women struggling to make a difference in their lives and their world, the struggles are different, but the strength of will, gumption and grit remains. This book is a great read of the development of the wild west of Canada. Men & women were often equal partners in developing the land but the women demonstrate true grit in determination, overcoming obstacles, giving birth in terrible conditions and often alone. This is a slice of Canadian and British Columbian history rarely heard of and well worth reading.

No comments: